16.7.17 – Reasons For Rejoicing – Peter Cheyne

I have no really good reason for this except that I read 2 Thessalonians myself recently and I thought it was good stuff. So, I thought we might all look at 2 Thessalonians. Can I encourage you to have your Bibles open?

On his missionary journeys, Paul had visited Thessalonica, preached the gospel and some people had been converted. But, as usual, there was opposition. There was a riot and Paul was forced to leave town… which meant that these baby Christians were born into a context of persecution. Paul was really worried about them but, in fact, they proved faithful and the church flourished and Paul was delighted.

This is a letter full of love and appreciation. He does not have to chastise them or correct them but, being a disciple-maker, he, of course, does urge them on to greater things.

Picking up on Paul’s enthusiasm and encouragement, let’s look at the reasons for his rejoicing. Read 2 Thess 1. (Go to next slide, vv.3-4 again)

V.3: Paul said that he always gave thanks to God for them. Why? What were the characteristics of a church that delighted the apostle Paul?

v.3 – “because your faith is growing more and more… and the love you all have for one another is increasing.” Faith and love. Paul was happy – and, presumably, God was happy. Faith and love.

But faith and love were not simply present. They were both growing. It is their growth that delights him – and presumably God. It is not a static faith but a faith that is getting bigger and deeper and stronger. It was not simply the faith they had had when they were saved. It was a growing faith present in their daily lives. It was not that they loved one another but that they were loving each other more and more.

What do you think a growing faith would have looked like?

We get one clue in V.4. Paul skited about the Thessalonians. When he visited other churches, he told them about what was happening at Thessalonica. He was proud of them. Here were young Christians, experiencing persecution, but going on for Jesus. In these other churches, he boasted about the Thessalonians’ perseverance in the midst of persecution and trials.

There would be some Christians who would say that as your faith grows, you receive more and more of God’s blessings. God wants you to be healthy and wealthy; just have faith. But no, the faith that Paul told stories about was the faith of people suffering and enduring.

Why would you persevere when persevering bring suffering? Why not give up? Many people obviously have faced persecution and have given up. What is the difference between persevering and quitting?

The difference is faith. You persevere only if you trust God to keep His promises. Why endure suffering now? Only because you believe that God will do what He has said He will do. Only because you trust that if you suffer now, but remain faithful, God will be faithful and will give you future blessings – if not in this life then certainly in the next. Why not have peace and security now? Only because we trust God for peace and security in the future, if we remain faithful now.

You might remember that earlier this year there were several suicide bombings of Coptic Christian churches in Egypt and recently 28 Copts were gunned down while travelling by bus. In April, Amr Adeeb, perhaps the most prominent talk-back host in Egypt, was left speechless. Twelve seconds of silence is an awkward eternity on television. Amr Adeeb, leaned forward as he searched for a response.

“The Copts of Egypt … are made of … steel!” he finally uttered.

What caused that? He had just watched a colleague speak to a newly widowed woman in a simple house in Alexandria. The woman’s husband had been a guard at St. Mark’s Cathedral. On Palm Sunday, he had redirected a suicide bomber through the perimeter metal detector, where the terrorist detonated. That guard was probably the first to die in the blast but he saved the lives of dozens inside the church.

His widow, with her children by her side, had told the reporter, “I’m not angry at the one who did this. I’m telling him, ‘May God forgive you, and we also forgive you. Believe me, we forgive you. You put my husband in a place I couldn’t have dreamed of.’”

Stunned, Adeeb stammered about Copts suffering atrocities over hundreds of years, but one thing, in particular, shocked him. “How great is this forgiveness you have!” his voice cracked. “If it were my father, I could never say this. But this is their faith and religious conviction.”

Millions marvelled with him across the airwaves of Egypt. [Christianity Today, April 20,2017]

Perseverance in the face of persecution is the aspect of faith mentioned here but I am sure that Paul was perhaps also excited about their use of their spiritual gifts – trusting God to use them supernaturally – about their sharing the gospel – trusting God to bring other people to faith, etc.

The second reason for rejoicing was their growing love for one another.

The descriptions we have of the life of the early church emphasise the degree of community and togetherness – the worshipping together, the eating together, the sharing of possessions so as to care for the poor, etc. There is a famous quote from the second century. It actually comes from a Christian priest, Tertullian, but he imagines a pagan saying, “Look, how these Christians love one another!” For onlookers, the love that Christians had for one another was just as stunning and mind-boggling as the forgiveness that the Egyptian Copts extend to their persecutors. The church showed what community and compassion and sacrifice were like. And, in Thessalonica, that love for one another was growing and growing. No wonder Paul was delighted.

What could we do; what could you do, that would mean that people look at this church and are stunned? Conversely, if our faith and love are growing, we can be sure that God is delighted with us.

Then we come to another reason for rejoicing – judgement! What? How can that be? Is it not interesting that, right at the beginning of this letter, in the midst of the thanksgiving and affirmation, Paul wrote six verses about judgement – and as a reason for rejoicing? That really does not fit with our modern thinking. We do not like talking about God judging. How can Paul rejoice in the fact that people will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord? Is he just ghoulish and vindictive and nasty? Or is there something else going on here?

The context is still the persecution. Is it fair and right that good, God-fearing people should suffer? No. So the reason to rejoice is that God is going to sort that out.

Look at the phrases Paul uses here. “God’s judgement is right (v.5).” There would be plenty of people today who would say it would be wrong for God to judge but that is not the biblical view. The biblical view is that judgement is right. When Paul knew that the Thessalonians are suffering unjustly for their faith, He also knew that to restore justice would be right. Sorting out injustice is just the right thing.

They will be counted worthy of the Kingdom of God (v.5). They were suffering; they were rejected and despised but when God sets things right, these faithful, sincere, godly people will be counted worthy of the Kingdom of God. That is the way it should be! That is great!

God is just (v.6). God will do what is absolutely right. There are all sorts of injustice now but a just God is going to act. That is something to rejoice in.

Now here’s the sticking point: God’s justice will mean that the unjust will be punished. Justice means we reap what we sow. Those who have troubled the Thessalonian Christians will be troubled by God (v.6). And the Thessalonians will receive relief (v.7). At the moment, their persecutors rejoiced and the Christians experienced turmoil but one day the situation would be reversed. The persecuted will receive relief and the persecutors will reap what they have sown.

We possibly struggle with the idea of God punishing anyone but Paul describes it as a great day. It is a day of great majesty and glory. Jesus will be revealed from heaven in blazing fire with His powerful angels (v.7). This is the day that God asserts Himself and justice is finally done. We pray “Your Kingdom come”. Here it is. God will reign and all those who have taken control and defied God and abused other people will be punished. Those who do not know God and those who do not obey the gospel will be punished. Those who reject God; those who don’t have a relationship with God because they have rejected the Saviour and rejected the gospel – the good news of God’s grace – experience the consequences of their choices.

Does God enjoy punishing people? Absolutely not! Let us be clear about this. The Bible says that God finds no pleasure in judging, that He wants no one to perish but everyone to come to repentance; that He wants everyone to be saved. But if people oppose God and dishonour God, God will win.

The consequences are severe. Again, Paul doesn’t pull any punches. V.9: they will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His might. On the other hand, God will be glorified in His holy people and marvelled at among all those who have believed (v.10). God, who is currently rejected and ignored and mocked, will receive the glory that is rightfully His. What a great day! Hallowed be Your name. May You be honoured and glorified!

Paul says that these Thessalonian Christians will be amongst those who glorify God and marvel at Him, because they believed in Jesus. We see the past, the present and the future in these verses. The past is that they believed in Jesus. Because of that, they are currently being persecuted and suffering injustice but they are growing in faith and love. And the day will come when God will reign in His Kingdom; He will be glorified; and they will be in His presence.

Paul Windsor was once running some preacher training in Cambodia. In one session he was teaching them about the story of the Bible – the story the Bible tells from beginning to end. But it wasn’t going well. The Cambodians were not engaging with it at all. Paul and his team felt they were missing the mark. There was no response. They somehow were not reaching these people – until they got to the end of the story. When they talked about Jesus returning in victory and judging the whole world and establishing His Kingdom of justice and peace, the Cambodians started cheering and clapping and stamping their feet. If you think about their history, the knowledge that God would establish justice, was huge for them.

So, as Paul starts this letter with reasons for rejoicing, two reasons related to the Thessalonians – that they were growing in faith and loving one another more and more. And one reason related to God. Jesus will return. Jesus will judge what is wrong and will reign over His Kingdom, where His people will experience His glory.

Yes, God, You will receive glory. Yes, God, your suffering people will be vindicated. Yes, God, there will be no more injustice because You are just and Your judgement is right. Christians, rejoice when you se growing faith and growing love. And rejoice, God’s Kingdom is coming.

If there is a challenge here for us, we might ask “Is that true of us that our faith and our love for one another are growing? What would God have us do so that it might be more true of us?”

Secondly, of course, there is the challenge of judgement. Which group will we be in on that day? Have you, like the Thessalonians, put your faith in Jesus? Do you look forward to the coming of His Kingdom? Or, is judgement a frightening prospect for you?

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2.7.17 – It’s The Doers Who Are Blessed – Peter Cheyne

Read James 1:19-26

One morning Jeremiah got up and read his Bible, as he did, indeed, every morning.

James 1:19-21     My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry because our anger does not produce the righteousness God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.

He nodded and thought how wonderful and how profound the word of God is. “Imagine”, he thought to himself, “how the world would be if everybody was quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. God’s ways are exactly what this world needs.” He then said a little prayer. He had read his Bible; he had prayed. In his own mind, Jeremiah had done exactly what God asked of him. How wrong he was.

He then headed off to the bathroom. Looking in the mirror, he noticed how his hair was sticking out at all angles. There was sleep in his eyes, a day’s stubble on his chin and tomato sauce around his mouth from last night’s sausages and chips. What is more, he noticed that he still had his pyjamas on.

Jeremiah then turned away from the mirror and immediately forgot everything he had just seen. He had some breakfast, packed his lunch and headed for work on the train. He did notice that a lot of people looked at him, some with puzzled looks. Many glanced, looked away and smiled at one another, raising their eyebrows. So many did it that he began to get a little irked. By the end of the trip he was quite upset that people would be so rude and insensitive. Was there some conspiracy to make fun of him – something everyone knew about except him?

In his own mind, Jeremiah thought he was looking pretty sharp that morning. How wrong he was.

Walking through the foyer at work, the youngest recruit sidled up to him and said, out of the corner of his mouth, “My Jeremiah, you’ve got you pyjamas on.”

That was more than enough! Jeremiah snapped at him, “Get lost, you young twerp! What does someone your age know about pyjamas? Have more respect for your elders.”

He stormed to his desk but soon became aware of some sniffling. How could he work with that sort of noise? He looked up to see Jennifer with her head in her hands, her shoulders shaking and a pile of tissues on her desk. “Jennifer!” Jeremiah exploded, “What on earth are you doing? Stay at home if you can’t keep quiet. People here are trying to work.”

Jennifer’s sniffling turned to sobbing. She packed up her things and left the building.

All day Jeremiah noticed people talking about him but no one talked to him. He went home thoroughly miserable.

The next morning, he again read his Bible.

James 1:22          Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourself. Do what it says.

Jeremiah nodded. “Wow, God’s word is so relevant and true. Imagine if everybody did what God says.”

In his own mind, Jeremiah thought that he was quite religious. God frowned as He watched Jeremiah close his Bible. In fact, God wished they knew each other.

Meanwhile, that same day, in another house, Jemima got up and read her Bible.

James 1:19-21     My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry because our anger does not produce the righteousness God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.

She nodded and thought how wonderful and how profound the word of God is. She read her Bible notes and wrote a reflection in her journal. “Imagine”, she thought to herself, “the impact I might have on other people if I was like that – quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. God’s ways are exactly what I need.” She then said a little prayer. “Loving Father, please help me to be just like that – quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. In other words, dear Lord, please help me to relate to others like Jesus did.”

Jemima then headed off to the bathroom. Looking in the mirror, she noticed how her hair was sticking out at all angles. There was sleep in her eyes. There was no stubble on her chin, or tomato sauce around her mouth. She had taken care of that last night (the tomato sauce that is, not the stubble) when she had looked in the mirror. She did notice, though, that there were bags under her eyes from all the recent late nights. And, of course, she still had her pyjamas on.

And so, she set to work. She got dressed and she spent quite some time in the bathroom – as women are wont to do – making herself presentable, repeatedly checking things in the mirror.

On the train, a number of people glanced her way, then looked at each other with very approving expressions. It wasn’t as if she was a 20-something sex-bomb. Jemima just knew that she looked smart.

She didn’t dwell on it though. As she travelled, she pondered again her Bible reading: quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to become angry. Listening should be the first response, she realised. God’s way was to not speak until you have listened. Quick to listen and slow to speak. And definitely be slow to get angry. Jemima noticed that it didn’t say, “Do not get angry”. “Maybe there are times to get angry,” she pondered, “just be slow to do that. Before I get angry, I must listen – listen well – and only then speak. In fact, if I listen and speak calmly, we might avoid anger”, she thought, remembering Proverbs 15:1: A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

Walking through the foyer at work, the youngest recruit grinned at her. “Mrs Jemima, you look stunning – as always.”

“Why, thank you, Joanna. That is very kind.”

Jemima went to her desk but soon became aware of some sniffling. She stopped to listen. Someone was upset. She stood slightly to peer over the dividers and followed the direction of the noise. Her eyes fell on Jemma who sat with her head in her hands, her shoulders shaking and a pile of tissues on her desk.

Oh no, not Jemma! Jemima had always found Jemma difficult. For some reason, Jemma seemed to want to undermine her. Jemima saw her whispering to others and glancing her way sometimes and, at morning tea, there were often sarcastic remarks about Jemima. It had got under Jemima’s skin. She wanted to defend herself. A couple of times – OK, maybe more – she had bitten back with a less-than-positive comment. When Jemma made that comment about Jemima being mutton dressed up as lamb, Jemima had responded – just loud enough for everyone to hear – that that was better than dressing like a tart. There was a little bit of a running war between them. The feeling was always frosty.

Plus, Jemma always seemed to want to draw attention to herself. Was that the point of this public display of, presumably crocodile, tears? Jemima’s scepticism and distaste rose up in her.

But the Holy Spirit brought to mind this morning’s reading. “Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.” Jemima was glad that she had memorised it. What if she was obedient to God?

She walked quietly over to Jemma and put her hand on her shoulder. “What’s the trouble, Honey?”

Jemma was startled, looked up at her with wide eyes and then dissolved into sobs.

“How about we go to the staffroom and you can tell me about it – but only if you want to.”

In the staffroom, Jemma poured out a story about how she and her boy friend had both been high on pot and how they had fought and he had kicked her out. She had stayed last night with a friend but was afraid that, now, with no permanent accommodation, she might not be allowed to have her 5-year-old daughter to stay on the weekends.

Jemima had often felt angry about Jemma’s lifestyle and the impact it was having on wee Jessica. She was tempted to make a comment but she held her tongue. As Jemma kept talking, Jemima heard a tale of abuse and deprivation. “This poor kid,” she thought, “How can she possibly know how to be a mother when she hasn’t had a good mother of her own. How can she make good decisions about her lifestyle when no one has modelled it for her? How can she get out of her relationship when he controls her so much? And how can she save, when she has to pay off his never-ending debts?”

Jemima pulled Jemma to her and they both cried. When they had stopped, Jemima sat quietly for quite some time. Then she asked Jemma if she would like to come and live with her and her husband, Jonah.

Jemma went to sleep that night in a warm bed for the first time ever. Jemima went to sleep with a warm glow in her heart.

The next morning, she gently woke Jemma, as they had agreed. They read the Bible together and Jemima helped Jemma memorise the verse.

God smiled and said, just loud enough for Jemima to hear, “That’s my girl!”

READ James 1:19-27 again.

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25.6.17 – Jesus Gives Life – Peter Cheyne

This shorter reflection was part of a family service which had focused on the raising of Lazarus.

The raising of Lazarus shows Jesus’ power over death. It is an example of Jesus giving life.

Lazarus would die again. But on the basis of his faith in Jesus, we can assume that he would also have eternal life – the life made possible by Jesus resurrection and defeat of death. The prospect of eternal life is fantastic.

But what about now? Is life to be miserable now and fantastic later? Well, Jesus also promised an abundant life now. What does that look like?

John 10:10          The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

What is this life that Jesus gives – this full and abundant life? Are the Christians you know living this abundant life? Are you? How can we?

Satan messes up people’s lives. He promises much… “Life will be better if you do this. You will be happier if you do this. Why should you have to sacrifice? Enjoy yourself.” But the end result is always misery. He literally robs, kills and destroys – robs us of happiness, sometimes literally kills people, destroys lives and relationships.

Satan impoverishes our lives. But Jesus promised to enrich our lives with overflowing abundance.

Here’s a question: What does God make available to only Christians and to all Christians? It has to be only to Christians because this abundant life is found in Jesus. And it has to be available to all Christians because this is something Jesus promised. It cannot be for just some. What do you think?

We might think of abundance in terms of material wealth or of ease – floating lazily on the sea in a tropical island paradise.

But for some people becoming a Christian means persecution. Some have all their possessions taken from them as soon as they become Christians. Some are brutally treated and maybe killed. Does that mean that the very bravest of Christians do not receive God’s promises and only the affluent and comfortable do? How can we say that the life of the Syrian or Sudanese Christian is abundant? If people can lose everything they own and suffer beatings and humiliation, how is that abundant?

I think there are answers throughout the Bible but I realised a good place to start was the Beatitudes. There Jesus says, “Blessed (or happy) are those who…” and it is not the rich and famous. It is those who know their need, who are gentle, who hunger and thirst for righteousness, who are merciful, who are pure in heart, who are peacemakers, who are persecuted. What are the blessings promised to them?

Jesus lists 8 blessings:

  1. the Kingdom of heaven.
    1. The greatest blessing, the greatest wealth we can possibly hope for is heaven – God’s perfect, blissful new creation. We don’t experience that just yet of course but we can have a certainty about it. The expectation we have is a life-changing blessing.
    1. Our circumstances might be excruciatingly painful but Jesus promises His people comfort. Even in the midst of turmoil, Christians rich and poor can know the peace that passes understanding. The person who has peace, knowing that he/she is loved, and cared for, by God, is rich.
  2. Inheriting the earth.
    1. That is a bit tricky and we don’t have time for a more careful look. Let’s just say that while it looks like the powerful rule the earth, Jesus is saying that the meek will inherit everything – will own all things.
  3. Will be filled.
    1. No lack, no emptiness, no longing, no regrets, full. It reminds me of David, in Psalm 23, saying, “My cup overflows. I have a superabundance of blessings.”
    1. God forgives. Mercy stands in contrast to judgement. The person who messes up but is forgiven by God is rich indeed.
  4. Seeing God.
    1. Wow! What a privilege to be in the presence of God Himself and to be welcomed there and loved there. There will be nothing to compare with seeing God. Would you rather have several billion dollars or see God? Who is richer?

God is so unbelievably awesome that to see Him will be the greatest experience.

  1. Being children of God.
    1. The God of all the universe – the God enthroned in heaven – says to the Christian, “You are my child. We are family. Oh I love you and I will protect you like a dad protects his children and I will give you good things just as a dad wants good things, and a bright future for his children.” The person who is a child of God is rich beyond measure.
  2. Great reward.

That list covers things like peace, hope confidence, being loved…

Can I quickly suggest a few more?

  1. The Holy Spirit.
    1. The Holy Spirit is God with us. God’s greatest gift, available to all Christians, is His presence.
  2. Significance, meaning, worth, purpose.
    1. What makes life worthwhile? People can pursue money or pleasure but, in the end, what will it amount to? The person who dies with the most toys still dies. Will God be impressed by fast cars or the number of romantic relationships?

But Jesus said, “I have chosen you to bear fruit that will last [for eternity.]” Now that gives life meaning. We can work for God and do things that will really have significance – eternal significance. If you lead another person to faith in Jesus, that is significant.

  1. The blessing of giving.
    1. Our first thought might be that an abundant life is about what we receive but Jesus said it is more blessed to give.
  2. The adventure of faith.
    1. I’m talking about living on the edge – actually trusting God for the things only He can do, and seeing Him do them. People who are obediently stepping out in faith see God. They see God at work. They see God’s power. They might also be killed for that faith but they die experiencing the reality of God. That person is rich.

It seems to me that those things are available only to Christians but they are available to all Christians. The Syrian or Sudanese Christian can know all of those things. Maybe they are more likely to than western Christians.

I say these things are “available” because not all Christians are living the abundant life. In fact, many Christians are living very boring lives. It is as we show mercy, as we make peace, when we are meek and poor in spirit, as we give and obey and bear fruit; it is as we serve that we experience the abundance Jesus gives.

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18.6.17 – The Heart Attitude We Need To Bring To Our Bible Reading/Study – Fergus Sime

Let us pray.
God of life and truth,
you have taught us
that we cannot live on bread alone,
but on every word
that comes from the mouth of the Lord.
Feed us with the word of life,
and by your Spirit
lead us into truth;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

Peter is away today so he invited me to preach on the next topic in the series he is doing on the Bible called, ‘The Heart Attitude we need to bring to our Bible reading or study.’

Most books I have on Bible study spend most or all of their time on methods of studying the Bible, which are very helpful and useful. However, very few focus on how we should prepare ourselves to approach Bible study.

In his book called Methods of Bible Study, the Rev Dr Griffith Thomas says quite bluntly I think, ‘Anyone with brains can become an expert in the first four stages of Bible study, which he lists as Textual Criticism, Literary Criticism, Biblical Exegesis, and Biblical Theology. The fifth stage needs qualities and conditions far beyond intellectual capacity and attainment.’ That is quite a statement from someone with a Doctorate of Divinity! I’ll repeat that last part: The fifth stage needs qualities and conditions far beyond intellectual capacity and attainment. So what does he say is this fifth stage? To be a Christian, that is a believer who has accepted Jesus Christ as their Saviour and Lord and received forgiveness for their sins and received the Holy Spirit. Why? Because we need God’s Holy Spirit to interpret the Bible to us and help us discern what God is saying to us through the Bible. Without the Holy Spirit, Biblical interpretation is just an academic exercise. He adds that the Christian must be growing in their faith and closely following what the Bible teaches if Bible study is to be of the highest and best value. God wants a growing and deepening relationship with his people. Bible study is an essential way of doing that.

So what Biblical qualities does God want the Christian person to be growing and developing as they approach studying the Bible? Isaiah 66:2 is a good place to start. ‘This is the one I esteem: the person who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word.’

Firstly we need a humble spirit. A humble spirit grows in a proper understanding of who God is and who we are in relationship to Him. God looks for a particular spirit as we approach His Word – precisely because it is His Word. The Bible is communication from the high and lofty One, the One who lives forever, whose name is holy, but who lives with the person of a humble and contrite spirit (Isaiah 57:15). This Word (or the Bible) is the most complete revelation given by God who is eternal, divine, holy, and personal. God gives His Word a place of highest honour, Psalm 138:2 says, ‘for you (God) have exalted above all things your name and your word.’ When we grasp the reality that we’re actually studying God’s Word, we realise that we cannot come to this Book on an equal footing with it. The human mind cannot fully fathom the thoughts, the character, the person of God.

We also need to be hungry to study the Bible and hear God speak. As Christians we need to be keen, willing and eager to study the Bible and keen to hear what God wants to say to us. If not, God is unlikely to speak if we are really not hungry to listen. We need to be teachable so we can hear God speak to us. There is always more to learn and hear from God. To think we know it all and can learn nothing more or new from the Bible is to place ourselves equal with God, which is very arrogant as none of us are divine and equal to God. That is far from the humble spirit God requires!

God calls us to emulate this spirit of humility and hunger, whether we are accomplished students of the Bible or new converts. Intelligent, diligent, careful study is important, but the Bible doesn’t relinquish its bounty to high IQs and polished Bible study skills alone. While it is true that the Bible is in many ways like any other book, it is absolutely unique. This Book reveals “God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began” (1 Corinthians 2:7). Wisdom that no eye has seen “but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit” (1 Corinthians 2:10).

Biblical truth isn’t discovered; it is revealed, interpreted, explained, and taught by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God alone knows the thoughts of God (1 Corinthians 2:11), and He communicates “spiritual truths in spiritual words” (2:13) to the human spirit. The language He uses is not Greek, Hebrew, or English; it is spirit. The Holy Spirit whispers it to humble spirits. So like the psalmist, let us cry out, “Let me understand the preaching of your precepts” (Psalm 119:27). Charles Simeon (1758-1836), an English preacher who taught others how to preach, wrote, “The more lowly we are in our own eyes, the richer communications we shall receive from Him (or God).” It is important as we approach Scripture that because the Bible is God’s Word to us, God is divine and perfect and we are human and imperfect, that we let the Bible judge us, and point out our sins and shortcomings, not the other way around. If we sit in judgement of the Bible, deciding what is credible and what is not, we will not hear God speak and we will be ruled by our sinful nature eventually running the risk of putting us back into a non-Christian state. If we want to follow God we must obey God. (Matthew 28:20).

In a similar vein we should not approach Scripture looking to bolster our own opinions on matters but seeking to know God’s truth and be willing to change our views when we see we are wrong. If we come with a humble and contrite heart, trembling at God’s Word we should be open to hear what God has to say, and we may need to see things God’s way rather than our own.

As we approach Scripture, our heart attitude needs to be one of openness to respond to God when God speaks to us, and make changes in our lives on the basis of what we have heard God say. As humans none of us are perfect. We all have defects and flaws, so we need to be open to make the changes God requires, however easy or tough that might be. We need to be willing to put in the required effort to preparing ourselves to study the Scriptures so we can hear what God is saying to us with a humble spirit.

Secondly, we are also to approach Scripture with a contrite spirit. A contrite spirit has an acute awareness of its failings. This awareness is accompanied by deep distress, but also gratitude that there is refuge in the mercy and grace of God.

A concordance defines contrite as “smitten, maimed, dejected.” It only follows that if we picture our fallen humanity compared to God’s holy splendour, we will be bruised by the contrast. As Isaiah lamented after seeing the Lord in His glory, “woe to me!” (Isaiah 6:5). But, of course, the glory of the Gospels is that the “bruised reed he will not break” (Isaiah 42:3). Jesus doesn’t break those bent with contrition. Rather, He blesses those who are poor in spirit and mourn over their sin (Matthew 5:3-4). “The LORD is close to the broken hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18).

The Word lovingly bruises as well as blesses us. If we come to the Word as self-sufficient, self-satisfied consumers of blessing, the blessing cannot penetrate the armour of self. The Word of God must pierce our thick skins, must strike stinging blows at times, must hold a mirror before our faces that we might see what our sin does to us. The Word must wound before it binds up. Otherwise, far worse sores fester out of sight, waiting to erupt and destroy us. A contrite spirit welcomes God’s work that reveals who we really are. It limps to the throne of grace to receive the healing balm.

We must face our defects and acknowledge that we have barely begun to face them. We must acknowledge our biases and blindness and know that we are still blind to them. We must come as open-minded and openhearted as we can with the full realisation that we are entangled in the sticky web of our humanity. And we must grieve. That is contrition.

Thirdly, God wants us to come to the Bible as those who tremble at His Word. That means we need to take God seriously and believe that the Lord is who He says He is, that He thinks and acts just as He says. Trembling at His Word is equivalent to the “fear God” used so often throughout the Scriptures.

Josiah was the kind of “trembler” God esteems. During his reign the long neglected Book of the Law was found in the temple. When Josiah heard the message of the book and realised the extent of the nation’s disobedience and the judgement that would surely fall on them, he tore his clothes and wept in anguish (2 Kings 22-23). Josiah approached the scrolls with a prior commitment to obey them with all his heart and soul. He reinstituted the celebration of the Passover and began a vigorous campaign to rid the land of false gods. His responsiveness characterises the man or woman who takes God’s Word seriously.

A trembling heart prepares our spirits for greater intimacy with God’s Word. God said His Word is the necessary bread that will satisfy (Isaiah 55:1-3, Matthew 4:4). It is like snow and rain that falls from heavenly realms for a purpose. God’s Word comes to nourish and refresh, to make us fruitful and effective. The Bible is not ineffectual; we can expect something to happen when we receive God’s message to us (Isaiah 55:10-11).

So before you open your Bible, stop! Reflect. Pray. This book is spirit, and you need the indwelling Holy Spirit working in your spirit to receive spiritual truth. The Author of this book is your Interpreter. Who else knows the deep things of God except the Spirit of God? He will read to your spirit the language of your Father. The Spirit works both to bruise and soften your spirit, then to unfold the mysteries of God to you when you can receive them. Be alert to your spirit because it is a Book interpreted Spirit to spirit.

As I have prepared this sermon I have felt personally challenged to improve my preparation before I study the Bible. My prayer is that this will help you all as you too continue to study God’s written Word to us in the pages of this wonderful book called The Bible.

Amen.

 

Let us pause for a period of silence to consider how God has spoken to us this morning. In a few moments I will conclude with prayer.

Silence

Let us pray.

Lord God, thank you for your message to us this morning. Please help us to prepare appropriately to study your Word to us in the Bible. May we be the person that Isaiah describes as ‘the person who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word.’

We pray this in Jesus name.

Amen.

 

 

 

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11.6.17 – Get A Grip On The Bible – Peter Cheyne

There is an old illustration that was developed by Dawson Trotman, the founder of the Navigators. It uses a hand, with the fingers and thumb representing five activities that enable us to get a grip on the Bible.

The little finger represents hearing the Bible.

The little finger is, of course, the weakest. Hearing the Bible read in church or read by an app on our phones, is of value but only of very limited value. We need to add other practices.

The ring finger represents reading the Bible.

Without a doubt, reading the Bible is hugely valuable. It is to be hoped that all Christians are in the habit of reading their Bibles regularly. But the ring finger is still pretty weak. Someone could easily snatch the Bible out of your hand if you were holding it by just your ring finger (or even you little and ring fingers together.)

The middle finger represents studying the Bible.

This finger is much stronger. Dawson Trotman once asked some young men what the difference was between Bible reading and Bible study. One said that when we read more carefully it becomes study. Trotman said no, we should always read the Bible carefully. Bible reading becomes Bible study when we use pen and paper (or, these days, a computer.)

Bible study involves:

  1. Not just reading and moving on but grappling with the text
  2. Asking questions of the text and seeking to answer them
  3. Writing our discoveries down. One real advantage is that writing requires that we clarify our thinking. If we just listen or read, our thoughts can remain very fuzzy. Someone has said, “thoughts disentangle themselves passing over the lips and through the fingers.”
  4. Looking at more than one passage. What do other passages say about this same topic? What light is shone by other passages?
  5. Using other tools such as a concordance, or a commentary, or a Bible dictionary.

One simple method is to make marks on your Bible. People underline verses that seem particularly powerful. The so-called Swedish Method involves putting a question mark next to things you don’t understand, an exclamation mark next to something that strikes you as important or challenging and an asterisk next to any verse that hurts and you need to do something about.

It is possible to do more serious study asking just three questions:

  1. What does it say?
  2. What does it mean?
  3. What will I do?

The index finger represents memorising the Bible.

The index finger is the strongest finger of all. We might forget most of what we hear or read but we retain 100% of what we memorise.

Ps 119:11            I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.

When we memorise scripture, we can use it any time we need it – to resist temptation (like Jesus did) or to worship God or to encourage or guide someone else.

Our grip on the Bible is much stronger when we listen, read, study and memorise the scriptures.

The thumb represents meditating on the Bible.

Think how limited your hand would be without the thumb. The thumb can be used in conjunction with each of the other fingers. We can listen and meditate, read and meditate, study and meditate. And, if we have memorised scriptures, we can meditate on them at any time. If we want a good grip on the Bible, we need to soak ourselves in it – hearing it, reading it, studying it, memorising it and meditating on it.

God also told Joshua to get a grip on the Bible. What we see here is not exactly the same as the hand illustration but similar. Moses had led the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt and, for forty years, as they wandered in the desert. But then Moses died and Joshua was his successor and commissioned to lead the nation into the promised land. God gave these instructions to Joshua…

Joshua 1:7-8       Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.

God promised Joshua success that success depended on what he did with the scriptures – the law he had received from Moses. Joshua had been Moses apprentice as he was trained to take over. He had heard the teaching from Moses’ lips. Tradition says that Moses wrote the first five books of the Old Testament, and that is borne out by this passage. Joshua had a written copy. So, he had heard and was able to read the scriptures. He was also told to keep it on his lips. That suggests he was to speak it out as he gave instruction to the people, as he settled disputes, as he taught. Speak scripture. Keep it on your lips.

But that also implies that he had memorised it. What Moses had spoken to him, he had memorised and, having memorised it, he was able to speak it.

But then God said that he was to meditate on it. Meditating simply means to ponder it; think about it; turn it over in your mind. Joshua was to mediate on it day and night. He was to be constantly be thinking about God’s word so as to hear God speak and gain understanding.

But ultimately, he was to put it into practice. Twice God said that Joshua’s success depended on obeying all of it (v.7) and being careful to do everything written in it (v.8). The point of all Bible listening and reading and study and memorising and meditation is application – putting it into practice. Success does not depend on reading or studying but on doing.

One of the questions I have been asked has been “But what should I read? I don’t want to just keep going back to the same favourite passages.”

I talked two weeks ago about where someone new to the Bible might start but what about the long-time reader?

  1. Read the whole Bible

As these people have indicated, it is easy to just read the bits we like and to avoid the bits that are more difficult or more challenging. That is a temptation we should avoid because, to quote 2 Timothy 3:16, all scripture is inspired and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness. Some parts are easier to understand and seem more applicable but all scripture is inspired and all scripture is useful. If we don’t read it all we are missing out on some of its usefulness.

In his farewell address to the Ephesians elders (Acts 20:27) Paul said that he had not shrunk from declaring to them the whole counsel of God. There are aspects of biblical teaching that we would rather avoid. It would be nice, wouldn’t it, to talk about the love of God but never about the wrath of God? But Paul didn’t dodge the less palatable aspects. He taught the whole truth and we need to read the whole Bible to have that full understanding of the things of God.

Reading the whole Bible is pretty daunting. I don’t mean in one sitting! There are ways to make that easier. There are Bible plans and devotional books that will lead you through the whole Bible. If you want help finding a reading plan, let me know. I have lots. Some will suggest a mix of Old Testament, New Testament and a psalm each day. Perhaps the simplest method is simply to have a table with a space for each chapter so that you can tick it when you have read it and make sure that you have covered the whole Bible.

Another way of knowing what to read is to…

  1. Pray about it

We shouldn’t underestimate the value of being led by God. Pray and try to hear the voice of the Spirit.

We might not be very good at hearing what God is saying but, even if we don’t always get it right, on other occasions God will lead us to the passages that He knows are what we need to read.

  1. Read big portions

God can speak through random verses but we need to progress beyond just tiny sound-bites of scripture. We need to know how to read whole letters as they were intended to be read and whole books as they were intended to be read. When Paul wrote letter to a church, he presumably never imagined that they might read one sentence from the middle of it and then put it down again. The whole letter was a unit. Paul’s thinking was developed over the course of that letter. We do not understand the message of the letter by picking out a few verses. The gospel writers told a story with a beginning, a middle and an end. We need to hear that story, not just a few selected verses.

So, study books as books. Try to get the 30,000 foot view where you can see the structure and the thinking of the whole book. Ask questions such as:

  • Why did the author write this letter? What was his main concern and how did he make his point?
  • What is the theme of this book?
  • Are there words or phrases that are repeated often and that give a clue to its emphasis?
  • What was the context in which it was written and the issues being addressed?
  1. Plan your own growth

Our Bible study shouldn’t be random. Imagine if children went to school and the teacher picked a book at random and picked a page at random and that became the lesson for the day. Such a disjointed approach would not achieve much. Teachers assess where the class is at and what is relevant.

Rather than reading random things, where are we up to in our growth? What is God highlighting as an area of emphasis at the moment? What topics are pertinent and needed?

For example, maybe God is saying that you need to be careful about the way you use your tongue. So, hunt out what the Bible says about the use of the tongue. It has a lot to say about that. Or maybe you realise you don’t know enough about discipleship. So, study Matthew. Maybe you are suffering or you want to help someone else who is suffering. The Psalms or Job or 1 Peter might be a treasure trove of relevant material.

In other words, your Bible reading and your life should be connected.

I love it when I see people who want to get a better grip on their Bibles because, just as it was the crucial factor in Joshua’s leadership, there is nothing more crucial in our lives as Christians. We need to know what God says and to align our lives with what God says. So often, in the scriptures, success is linked to knowing and doing the word of God. To get a strong grip, we need to listen to the word, read the word, study the word, memorise the word, meditate on the word and, most importantly of all, obey the word.

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4.6.17 – Reading With God Alongside – Peter Cheyne

I would like to show you a wee video clip. This gentleman is colour-blind but watch his reaction when he puts on glasses that enable him to see as other people do. (You can stop watching at 1:40).

That is an illustration of what it is like to suddenly be able to see what the Bible says. He couldn’t believe the difference. It was overwhelming and did you hear him say, “It’s so clear I can’t believe it.”

Many people have tried to read the Bible and found it completely incomprehensible. It just doesn’t seem to have anything meaningful to say. Some of us might have experienced the same thing. “I can read the words but I just don’t get anything out of it. I certainly don’t feel that I hear God talk.”

But equally, millions of people have experienced a complete transformation when they have become Christians. And again, that might have been your experience. They have said, “The Bible suddenly came alive to me. Previously, it had been just hard work. Now, each day I was excited by what I was seeing.” The transformation is even more dramatic than it was for the man in the video. Suddenly, I see.

How can the Bible be obscure one day and alive and active the next? Did the Bible change? No. Did the person change? No. It is because the Bible is impossible to understand without the Holy Spirit.

1 Corinthians 2:14      The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them because they are spiritually discerned.

The person without the Spirit does not understand spiritual things. Our hearts are hard; our eyes are blind. We cannot understand the things of God… until God reveals Himself; until the Holy Spirit gives us that understanding.

2 Corinthians 3:15-16 15 Even to this day when Moses is read [i.e. when the Old Testament is read], a veil covers their hearts. 16 But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.

2 Corinthians 4:4        The god of this age [Satan] has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so they cannot see the light of the gospel of Christ, who is the image of God.

The man in the video could see the shapes and he could see some colours but there was a whole lot he couldn’t see. When we read the Bible, without the help of the Holy Spirit, we can see the words and we might get some impression of what it is about but its real meaning remains lost on us. And yet, turning to Jesus and receiving the Holy Spirit is like putting on those glasses.

Think about the two people walking along the road to Emmaus after the crucifixion. Their physical eyes were open. They could see their surroundings. They could see the person walking with them. But their spiritual eyes were blind. They did not recognise that it was Jesus. Then suddenly, their eyes were opened. They later said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” Jesus opened the scriptures to them. They had read them before but they simply had not seen the clear message there about the Messiah.

It is what happened on the Day of Pentecost (which we celebrate today) when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the Apostles. A crowd of Jews, who probably knew the scriptures well and had gathered in Jerusalem for the Jewish festival of Pentecost (i.e. they were religious people) suddenly saw all the Old Testament passages that Peter referred to, in a new light and they were convicted. They were cut to the heart. The Holy Spirit not only inspired Peter and the Apostles as they preached but he also opened the eyes of the hearers.

When Paul preached in Philippi, Acts 16:14 says, “One of those listening was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who was a worshipper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.” Lydia was already a worshipper of God but she didn’t know Jesus. However, when she listened to Paul’s preaching, the Lord opened her heart to respond.

Jesus had previously told the disciples that part of the role of the Holy Spirit would be to teach.

John 14:26          But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.

John 16:8            When He [the Holy Spirit] comes, He will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgement.

John 16:13          But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all truth…

The Bible is impossible to understand without the Holy Spirit. We are blind to spiritual things until He opens our eyes. J.I. Packer has been one of the great theologians and Bible teachers of the last century. In his book, Keep In Step With The Spirit (p.239), he says, “It is through the Spirit that Jesus thus communicates understanding, and apart from the Spirit there is no understanding. The whole New Testament assumes this.”

If we think we can sit down with our Bibles and understand them, we are wrong. We need the humility to say, “Lord, I don’t understand Your word, Your ways, Your will. Open my eyes.”

There are many prayers in the Bible just like that:

  • Lord, open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law (Ps 119:18).
  • Teach me your decrees (Ps 119:12, and many similar verses)

God answers those prayers. God will open our eyes. God will teach us. The Spirit of God offers to come alongside and be our teacher. That is what Jesus promised would happen. It is what did happen.

In John 6:45, Jesus quoted Isaiah as saying, “They will be taught by God.” Isn’t that amazing? We might be naturally blind but Jesus affirmed that His people would be taught by God Himself. It is as if, when we sit down to read the Bible, God, the Holy Spirit, sits beside us, running His finger along the lines, to teach us.

Read Ephesians 1:15-23

I said there are many biblical prayers for the Holy Spirit’s illumination. One was in our reading. Paul, writing to the Ephesian church, was delighted by their faith and their love for other Christians. He said he had not stopped giving thanks for them. But he also wanted to bless them and he wanted to see them grow. So he had another prayer for them. In fact, he said that he kept on asking God for this one thing. He repeatedly prayed this same prayer for the Ephesians. What was it? What would be key to their growth?

“I keep asking that… God… may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation so that you may know Him better.” “the Spirit of wisdom and revelation”. Should “Spirit” have an upper case or a lower case “s”. is it the Holy Spirit? Well, yes, according to the translators of the version we read. Paul’s prayer is for God to give the Ephesians the Holy Spirit… so that, as their eyes were opened to the things of God, they would know God better. What more important prayer is there than that we know God better?

Then he prays “that the eyes of your hearts may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints, and His incomparably great power for us who believe.”

That is a prayer that we can pray for ourselves and we can pray for one another. What might happen if we prayed that prayer every day for our church? Wouldn’t it be absolutely wonderful if all of us had growing knowledge of the things of God; if we knew with certainty the hope to which we have been called – If we had an unshakable assurance about the future God has for us, and about the inheritance He has for us, and about His incomparably great power (the same power that raised Jesus from the dead). Imagine if our eyes were opened to the incredible power of God. And Paul says that power is for us. God is willing to use His incomparably great power for us. Are there depths here that we (or certainly, I) don’t yet understand? Do we need Holy Spirit insight into this?

Paul wanted the Ephesians to have the Holy Spirit insight; that He would open the eyes of their hearts.

The Holy Spirit inspired the Bible in the first place and the Holy Spirit gives us understanding as we read the Bible. When the person without the Holy Spirit reads the Bible he/she sees history or literature or ancient religious ideas. It seems just human. He/she may, or may not, agree with it. It might have no impact. But the person with the Holy Spirit sees something completely different.

Firstly, the Christian has a Holy Spirit certainty that what he/she is reading is from God. As you read your Bible, do you just know that this is God’s word? This is not an ordinary book.

1 Thess 1:13        And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe.

Secondly, the Christian has Holy Spirit understanding. Things make sense.

Thirdly, he/she has Holy Spirit conviction. He/she hears what God is saying to his/her heart – the personal word God is speaking to him/her.

This is the word of God. This is what it means. And this is what God is saying to me.

So, what can we do? The first step is to ensure that you have turned to Jesus; have been born again; have received the Holy Spirit? Take that opportunity today.

If we have, we can seek illumination. Lord, open my eyes; reveal to me. The people in the Bible regularly prayed that prayer and it was the priority prayer that Paul prayed for the Ephesians. We need to hunger for God to reveal Himself and reveal His ways. If you have felt that the Bible is barren and uninspiring, I hope that you will hunger to hear God and will pray, “Lord, open my eyes.”

We can expect illumination. God is able to give understanding. He can open our eyes. We don’t need to be experts and we don’t need experts to teach us. That is not to say that there is not benefit in developing our skills and in reading what experts have to say, but we are not dependent on them. God can show us profound, life-changing truths even when we are not experts. God can speak.

But we have to have that desire; we have to ask; we have to open ourselves up to hearing from God. God is not reluctant. He has given us His Holy Spirit as our teacher. If you, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask (Lk 11:13). The Holy Spirit is right there, waiting to help us, if we will only ask.

We must submit ourselves to His words. When God speaks, the appropriate response is to believe Him and to act.

The Holy Spirit is waiting for us to ask. We can ask for ourselves. We can pray that prayer from Ephesians 1:17-19 for ourselves. But I encourage you to also make it a regular prayer for our church. What if God answered that prayer? What if we had that Spirit of wisdom and revelation; we knew what God says? What if our eyes were opened so that we knew the hope to which God has called us, and we knew the glorious riches of the inheritance that is ours? Are we enjoying all that God has for His children or is there more? And what if we knew His power? Lord, open our eyes. Holy Spirit be our teacher.

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28.5.17 – Bible Reading: Where Do I Start? – Peter Cheyne

The preacher had been saying that we should read our Bibles. Oh dear! Of course, he was right. I wanted to know more about the Bible – you know, understand properly about the stalactites and parasites and Vegemites, and be able to tell the difference between an apostle and an epistle – and according to him, God speaks through the Bible. I wanted to hear God talk. So, I thought, “I really must read this thing.”

So I found my Bible. It was propping up one corner of the piano. And I thought, “Right, where do I start?”

Well, it’s obvious, isn’t it? Page 1. Genesis. What did that mean? The first jolly word and I couldn’t understand it. There had to be thousands of long words in this thing. How was I going to manage this? I wondered if there is an easier part and opened it at random. People do that, apparently.

Isaiah 17:10        Because thou hast forgotten the God of thy salvation, and hast not been mindful of the rock of thy strength, therefore shalt thou plant pleasant plants, and shalt set it with strange slips:

I wasn’t sure I was hearing God talking! “Shalt set it with strange slips”? This was impossible!

Sam, I’m really struggling here. What does this verse mean? [Pause] What do you mean, what translation is it? I don’t know. I thought there was only one Bible – the authorised one. I don’t want to read an unauthorised Bible. [Pause] Really? Dozens of translations. I can choose one I like? Cool. Is there one that doesn’t mention sin? [Pause] Oh, that’s a pity.

Should I go to the Bible shop and have a browse and get back to you? [Pause] You’re kidding me! I can get it on my phone? Any translation I like and probably free. This is amazing. God will talk to me on my phone! I remember the preacher comparing prayer to having a phone line to God but I thought it was just an illustration. You really can use your phone and hear God talking? You’re not having me on? OK, which apps are good? The YouBible or the Logos Bible. Thanks. I’ll check it out.

So, I got the YouBible. Strange name but it seemed pretty good. I could just dial up any part of the Bible in any translation and it would even read it to me. I’ll show you that in a minute.

One of the best things though was that it had devotional reading plans. Apparently, with the Bible, you don’t have to start at page 1. If you don’t know what to read each day, the reading plan tells you. There were heaps. I read one on ‘how to read the Bible’. It was just for 7 days but each day there was a 3-minute video and a verse or two to read. It was only short but it was really convenient and it gave me an overview of the Bible. Or there are plans, for example, that will lead you through the whole Bible in a year. There’s heaps of options.

I discovered one problem though. I ran out of money on my phone and wasn’t going to get paid for another fortnight. I told Sam and he gave me some of his old Scripture Union notes. Apparently these Bible reading plans come printed on paper too. It was just as good. They last for two months and you can subscribe and have them sent to you. Sam suggested that, when I get my phone working again, I choose a plan on the biblical principles of financial management. I’m not sure what he is driving at.

Anyway, I found these devotional things pretty good but Sam said I shouldn’t rely on them too much. He said they are great but I might find I want something more. It is good having someone explain the Bible passage to you but Sam said I need to learn to hear God myself. I needed to read the Bible, not just someone’s comment about the Bible. And also, he pointed out that some of these devotionals have precious little Bible in them – maybe only one verse. He said, if I was super-diligent and did my reading every day, it would take me 2,054 years to get through the Bible one verse a day. I haven’t got that long!

So, I decided I was a big boy now and could do this by myself. But Sam said, “Best to start small.” I googled “shortest book in the Bible”. That’d be a good place to start. 3 John apparently. I’ll read it to you.

READ 3 John

I read that and I didn’t have a clue what God was saying to me. For a start it was addressed to some guy… us. So I felt a bit weird. It was like secretly reading someone else’s mail. And I didn’t know Diotrepehes and Demetrius. I imagine they are dead by now anyway, so what point is it?

Sam, it’s all gobbledygook. Why do I need to know that John hoped Gaius was enjoying good health? [Pause] Have I prayed? It’s a spiritual book and I need spiritual help to understand it? Really? I thought I was a big boy now and could do it all myself.

Sam said I should pray, read, pray. I needed to pray first for ‘illumination’, he said. Well, I wasn’t trying to read it in the dark! I’m not that dumb! But he said that was like God shining a light on the page that would show me what was really being said. And I needed to pray afterwards to respond to what God had said.

So, I tried it. Sam suggested Psalm 119:18 was a good prayer: “Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your Law.” I prayed that then read the passage again.

This time I saw the issues in the letter. John was encouraging Gaius to live a faithful Christian life. Firstly, he told him how much joy he was giving John by being faithful to the truth. That was perseverance. Then John told Gaius that he had heard reports of his hospitality towards fellow Christians – even those who were strangers. So, perseverance, hospitality. But there was someone in the church – Diotrephes – who was not being hospitable. He was selfish. He loved to be first and so he was ignoring Paul and was not welcoming other believers. And, if other people did welcome them, Diotrephes even expelled them from the church

Then John urged Gaius not to imitate evil – to continue doing what was right and not to be influenced by Diotrephes’ example. Anyone who does what is good, is from God. Anyone who does what is evil is not from God.

Pray. Read. Pray. Dear Lord, I want to be faithful in doing what is right. Please help me to avoid bad examples and to be a good example. I see that my actions reveal whether I have a relationship with You. Thank you for your help. Amen.

Then Sam asked me if I really wanted to be a big boy. I sure did. So, Sam said that as soon as I could remember that sequence “pray, read, pray” I could graduate to stage two of personal Bible reading. I was highly motivated now. Three months later I had mastered it.

I’ve got it, Sam. Test me. [Pause] Yep, I’m pretty confident. Ah, let me see: pray, read, pray. Is that right? [Pause] Oh, thanks, Sam. It’s not all that clever. So, what is stage two?

Whoa! Seriously? That’s a 33% increase. Give it to me slowly. [Pause] Pray [Pause] Read [Pause] Question [Pause] Pray.

Sam said that I would get a lot more out of the passage if I asked questions of it. For example, what does it say about God?

Hmmm, I hadn’t really noticed anything but when I looked back over it, I noticed there were some hints. John exhorted Gaius to send these strangers on their way “in a manner worthy of God”. I asked another question: what is God worthy of? I realised that John was saying to treat these people exceptionally well because God is worthy of our very best.

Also, when John said that those who do good are from God, it suggests that God is good. God is good and those who know Him become like Him.

The second question Sam suggested was “What does it say about people?” Well, that was easy. Gaius was an example of good. Demetrius was an example of good. Diotrephes was an example of evil. Good comes from God. Evil comes form not knowing God.

The good in Gaius that John rejoiced in was his faithfulness to the truth. He continued to walk in the truth. And he was faithful in loving and welcoming fellow Christians.

Diotrephes was the opposite: not welcoming; arrogant, aloof, a gossip and slanderer who, far from helping and supporting traveling Christians was undermining other Christians. John made an interesting comment about him: he loved to be first.

I noticed the difference. Gaius cared about others. Diotrephes cared about himself. His self-centredness revealed the fact that he had not seen God.

Maybe there were other lessons but that struck me and became my prayer: “Lord, please help me to not be self-centred. Please help me to forget about myself and to genuinely love others. May my life show that I know You.”

Then I remembered that I hadn’t yet asked Sam’s third question: What is God asking of me? I too wanted to be hospitable. I went to my pastor and said that, if there were missionaries coming to our church, I would love to host them in my home. I have to say I have been hugely blessed by having them. Thank You, God. You spoke to me through Your word.

I told Sam that I was starting with the smallest books and working my way up. He laughed. He said that was fine but it was a little unconventional. I was surprised and asked him what he advised for people who were developing a habit of Bible reading. Where should you start?

He said he normally advises people to start with one of the gospels. There’s lots of cool stories there so they are easy to read and it means the person starts straight away by learning about Jesus.

Yeah, Sam, but there are four gospels. Which one?[Pause] Mark is fast-paced and full of action? OK, so people often like that. [Pause] Or John – more of a focus on Jesus’ teaching. OK. Thanks. Then what? [Pause] Why Acts? [Pause] Again, full of action and telling the story of the church and the spread of the gospel. Then what?

Sam said I shouldn’t get too far ahead of myself but sometimes people then read Genesis and Exodus. I know what Genesis means now so it is not nearly as scary. It’s a power company. I guess it is because of the power of the Bible. Genesis and Exodus are again narrative (or story) and so are easy to read and they lay the foundation for what the rest of the Bible is about. Sam said maybe read a psalm each day as well. Then he suggested Romans – good meaty teaching about salvation.

He gave me a Bible handbook too. That was very nice. We had them on sale at church one week. That gave me the background to this letter and provided more understanding.

And you know what? One of the best things he said to me was “write it down”. I now use an exercise book and each day (well, I can’t say that it is absolutely every day, but most days) I write down the answer to those questions: What does it say about God? What does it say about people? What is God asking of me? Writing it forces me to slow down, to look at the passage carefully and to clarify my thinking. It also means I have a record of what God has said to me. I forget some stuff but it is fantastic being able to read it again and be inspired once again.

Well, I’ve got a long way to go but I’ve also come a long way from when I didn’t know where to start. I have to be disciplined. I’ve had to set aside a particular time each day and find a place where I am not distracted, but, you know what? I’m loving it. And I am hearing God talk.

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