Reading the bible yourself

Joy not sorrow… (Nehemiah 8:9-19)

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The renewal that started as Ezra read out the from the Book of the Law in 8:1-8 continues into a second day of rediscovering God’s word. In verse 13 we read that a group of people; heads of household, levites and priests got together for the express purpose of studying God’s Word together.

As they do so, they uncover a festival (the festival of Booths/Tabernacles) that had been ignored. It was a festival that looked back on the goodness of God’s care and provision for the people of God during the Wilderness years. They instruct the people to not mourn but to rejoice and to partake in this 7 day festival of feasting, sharing and joyful thanks to God.

So what? What relevance does this have to your life and mine?
Two things strike me from this verses.

1. Reading in Community

This rediscovery of God’s will for His people came about because a group of people got together to study God’s Word together. Historically, God’s word has not been read primarily in private but was more a communal activity.

We find this hard to imagine in our era which has the Bible unprecedentedly available on every device we own, and many believers frequently having more than one Bible in their homes.

There is something powerful about reading God’s Word in community, with others, allowing God to speak to you through others and to others from His Word. I love how this renewal of this festival God had initiated 1000yrs earlier was re-discovered as it were by the returning exiles as they read God’s word, studying it together.

I urge you to, not just read the bible alone, but to find ways to read it ‘in-community’. This will not only stimulate group learning but will also help to keep you from incorrect conclusions as you read and also provides some form of accountability for what you’ve felt God say through His Word.

This is one of the reasons in our church we have a Bible Reading Plan! By doing so, we are creating the context where by you and I can read the same passage in a day and share with one another even if we are not physically able to be in the same room.

You can also read in community, with your TRIO (A TRIO is 2-3 Christ followers who have committed themselves to an intentional spiritual friendship focussed on helping one another to follow Christ and His mission for their lives and the church) and or your Community Group.

2. The Ultimate Fruit of Repentance

The second stand out in this passage, is that the re-sensitisation to God’s word, the realisation by God’s people that they had sinned and failed to obey God’s commands did not only result in repentance and contrition.

When we have sinned and we see it, contrition (sadness over our sin) is appropriate but it is not appropriate to stay in that place! Contrition is part of repentance, it makes repentance possible in one sense but for repentance to be complete it needs to make way for the ultimate fruit of repentance which is JOY.

Where there has been true repentance joy is appropriate because having seen one’s sin, and having taken responsibility for one’s sin, and having asked God to forgive you of your sin, and having turned from your way of sin to a new way – then joy is the only appropriate response.

Scripture is clear that if we confess our sin, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). Because God is faithful to forgive the repentant sinner, joy is the appropriate response for those who have been forgiven, as joy honours God as having forgiven.

Therefore, to wallow in self-pity and shame does not honour Jesus but rather implies that Jesus can’t or hasn’t forgiven you, or implies that what Jesus did on the cross was not enough or that God has withheld forgiveness from you.

Friend, when we see that we have sinned, wronged God, wronged others, contrition is appropriate but it leads to what is ultimate because of Jesus – the joy of having been forgiven and set free.

So, face up to your sin, be sad about it but then repent and be forgiven and then rejoice in your great Jesus who is able to save you to the uttermost (Hebrews 7:25). Amen.

 

 

 

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Wellness & God’s Word (Nehemiah 8:1-8)

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Wellness is a just modern term for an old idea.  Wellness refers to the holistic mental, physical, relational & spiritual well-being of a person.  I would argue that the term could also be applied to a group of people – the whole groups sense of stability and well-being in all these areas.

In terms of physical & relational wellness, the people of God in Nehemiah’s time had returned to the Promised Land and to Jerusalem, they had rebuilt the walls together side-by-side in a show of unity and as a result were secure and had rebuilt their esteem before the other nations, relationally injustices had been dealt with through repentance and restitution and yet something was still missing…

As we saw from the previous devotional, Nehemiah clearly had a life-giving relationship with God, but the people’s spirituality, their rhythms of worship had broken down and their lives did not reflect God’s covenant or God’s commandments.  So although there was great improvement there was still a need for spiritual renewal amongst God’s people.

Nehemiah chapters 8-12 records the spiritual renewal of God’s people that all started with the reading of God’s word in Nehemiah 8:1-8 by the priest & scribe – Ezra.

And all the people gathered as one man into the square before the Water Gate. And they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses that the Lord had commanded Israel.  (Nehemiah 8:1)

We read that all the men, the women & the children who could understand gathered as a mighty assembly to listen to God’s Word being read out to them all by Ezra.  We also read that there was great care taken by the Levites to help explain God’s Word and presumably apply it into the lives of the gathered congregation (vs7-8).

Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, the Levites, helped the people to understand the Law, while the people remained in their places. 8 They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading. (Nehemiah 8:7-8)

Wellness is not possible without spiritual renewal!  Jesus urges us to ‘seek first the kingdom of God’ (Matthew 6:33) we need a life-giving relationship with Jesus restored in our life if we have any hope of wellness in all other areas.

What we learn from this passage is that wellness requires spiritual renewal and spiritual renewal is founded on God’s Word.  Our attitude to and commitment to God’s word is probably the single greatest factor in our spiritual well-being.  And so our own personal commitment to the authority of God’s word in our lives, our own reading and obeying God’s word and our listening to God’s word expounded and explained through preaching is crucial to spiritual vitality!

I love how the levites take pains to ensure that the people were helped (vs7) so that the people would understand and be able to obey and apply God’s Word to their lives (vs8).  This is the main reason I blog and write these devotionals each day, this is why we have a Bible Reading Plan in our church and this is why when we preach we want to preach from the text, reading, explaining and applying God’s word, not trying to impress or entertain but trying to help people understand and then apply God’s word so that they will be spiritually renewed and inspired to obey God.

Do you desire wellness? 

May I urge you to submit to God’s Word in your life, commit to reading, understanding and applying God’s word and then I promise you, you will grow spiritually.

Bless you!

Small stories BIG impact… (Mark 4:1-34)

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Parables, simple stories with profound revelation.  Jesus had a way of engaging with people through stories that were instantly recognisable everyday scenarios and yet contained within them veiled revelations, truths about God, His kingdom and the life of the listener.  The key to unlocking the revelation was a humble heart combined with a desire to know more about God.  In Mark 4:9 Jesus said; “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

So, I urge you with the Parables to pay keen attention to the audience Jesus was addressing, consider the context of the day, repetition, take notice of surprise twists in the parable and especially the ending and then try to discern the BIG IDEA as there is normally one BIG IDEA in a parable.

Why don’t you do this yourself with;

  • The Parable of the Sower
  • The Parable of the Seed Growing
  • The Parable of the Mustard Seed

That Day: Great & Terrible (1 Thessalonians 5:1-11)

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‘The day of the Lord’ – (vs2) is the great and the terrible day spoken of all through the Old Testament when Yahweh will come to save His faithful ones and will come to punish the those who rejected His kind offer of forgiveness through His Son.

It is a day with two distinct perspectives depending on one’s faith trajectory.  For some, it’s a great day, a day to be longed for and anticipated, and yet for those who rejected God’s Son as their Lord & Saviour, its a terrible day.

This day will come suddenly, will come when people aren’t expecting it (vs3).  To some the suddenness is negative & not welcomed – ‘like a thief’.  Yet for others the suddenness is positive & welcomed like a pregnant woman suddenly going into labor. (vs3)

These contrasting ‘suddenly’s’ refer to the contrasting experience on ‘the day of the Lord’ depending on ones state of faith.

But this coming day in all our futures isn’t to be feared for those who are God’s children, ‘children of the light’ (vs4-5), for we have been transferred from the kingdom of darkness into Jesus’ kingdom (Colossians 1:13) which is the kingdom of light as Jesus is Himself, the light of the world (John 8:12).

Knowing these things, believing these things helps us to be at peace with our future, and helps us to stay alert, awake, sober ready for Jesus’ return. (Vs6)

Knowing these things, believing these things helps us to choose to keep putting on the breastplate of faith and love and the helmet of the hope of our salvation to protect us until that day (vs8).

We who have believed in Jesus Christ, we are not destined for wrath but for salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, the one who died in our place for our sin so that we might live forever with Him (vs9).

So let’s encourage one another and build one another up!

And let’s reach out to all we know with the good news that those who put their trust in Jesus, those who ask Him to forgive them of their sins, will be forgiven and then this THAT DAY will be the first of an eternity of GREAT DAYS.

The whole truth

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One of the strong oppositions to our complete trust in the Bible is the theory of evolution.  From an innocuous start as a theory, it has become the norm of thinking for many people on how the natural things around us (and ourselves as the human race), came into existence.  It heavily impacts the world view of Christians and non-Christians alike, and affects the way science, medicine, history and many other subjects are perceived, researched and taught.

As a child, I grew up with the idea that evolution has a strong standing, and I tried to consolidate it with the creation story of Genesis.  So, possibly, the days of creation were actually long periods of time.  Isn’t there a verse somewhere that says to God a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like a day?  And so, although I desperately wanted to believe the creation story of Genesis 1, there was always the confusion of the evolutionary process.  In the end, I decided it must not be that important.  I believe humans were created in God’s image, and for the rest – however that happened really has nothing to do with my faith.

Wrong!! I didn’t realise how much this point of view impacted the way I trusted the Bible to be (or not to be) the infallible Word of God.

A number of years ago a friend gave us a set of DVDs on various themes of this subject, from the view of Creation Science.  As a family we watched the whole series and I was set free!  The Word of God really was true in respect to the six days – yes, literal days! – of creation! And as my knowledge grew, I realised how many Christians were being led astray and confused by the religion of evolution.

There is in fact no evidence for evolution on such a grand scale as to allow one species to develop into a totally different one, as is taught in schools, and accepted as truth. Many people are being deceived by half truths and even open lies.  And what is promoted as a science, is in fact a philosophy of deception that many choose to believe, and work very hard (spending unbelievable amounts of money) to prove.  With every so-called discovery to prove evolution, the media goes into a frenzy, but when the half truth or lie of the “discovery” is later exposed, it is kept quiet.

Obviously, it will take more than a quick blog to explain the depth of deception of the evolution perspective.  The point I am trying to make is this:  it brings immense peace and freedom to be able to believe that the whole of the Bible is truth.

The truth of the creation account as set out in Genesis 1 confirms and underlines the truth of the rest of God’s Word. God is in fact the Creator, and He chose to tell us openly how He created.  Not over periods of millions of years (which incidently becomes millions and billions more with each new “discovery”), but in six days.  And on the seventh, He rested.

“And God saw everything that He made, and behold, it was very good.” (verse 31)

To accept the truth of God as the Creator God, impacts our faith in all aspects of God’s character as revealed in His Word and our experience.  If we can fully trust Him in one aspect, we can fully trust Him in all.  To me, it brought tremendous relief. Because, how can we as mere mortals judge and discern which passages of Scripture to believe and which not? We can’t! We can only rely on God – that He has given us His complete, infallible Word – the whole Truth!

by Lise Oosthuizen

Jesus, You said what..?

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As you read the bible, there are many passages that are going to be perplexing or difficult to understand, and Luke 16:1-16 is one of those. So, how do you approach such a difficult passage, or approach any passage so as to allow your Father to speak to you from it?

Firstly, we need to begin by valuing all of Scripture, believing that ‘all of Scripture is breathed out by God and so is useful for teaching, correcting & training us in what following Him looks like.’ (My paraphrase of 2 Timothy 3:16-17).  I have learnt to not be put off by perplexing passages but rather drawn in by them.  So value all of Scripture, ask God to speak to you from it, don’t be quick to move on to more comfortable, less challenging or more easily understood passages.

Secondly, get into the habit of asking questions of the text.  Bombarding the text with questions is a great way of extracting the original meaning and so being able to understand what it means for you today.  Who said it? Why? To who was I said? Where was it said? What did they say? What does it mean for me? What should I do now?….. Apart from the who,why,what, how, to whom & what now type of questions I have learnt to ask the following questions as well:

What questions/mystery does this text address, ask or answer?

What tension does this text create or resolve?

What issues in life does this text address?

What does this text say about God, myself or others?

I urge you to not just read what others have gleaned from Scripture but to develop a hunger to hear God speak to you from all of Scripture, even from the challenging, difficult or perplexing passages. Your Father wants to speak with you, wants to guide, encourage, correct & inspire you as you seek to follow Him and His ways and mission for you life.