Coming and going

This is how it feels my head has been this last couple of months. It’s been busy in a good way, but has meant that I have been a bit abcent from Word press for which I am sorry. But…..

I am so excited to tell you all that I have spent time writing my first devotional 21 day book! I am releasing it as a Kindle ebook and should be available soon. I am keeping the price low to make it as affordable as possible. 

I will let you know as soon as it is available and will try to link it through my page. 

It has given me some new perspectives on things while writing. Giving a lot more thought to what I am putting down in my notes and my pages, has had made me think so much more about my own head and what others see in me. Do I care or should I care? Should I only care about what God sees? 

Thank you to all who have supported me on this journey, and all the lovely messages I gave received. They mean so much to me. 

Blessings to you all.

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Butterfly

How beautiful are butterflies? Their gorgeous wings all the different colours of nature. So delicate and light as they float from one flower to the other. All the many colours and sizes. Amazing.

I think they are such a beautiful sight. But, the little butterfly doesn’t see itself as beautiful, if it even cares about what it looks like. Does it see the colours? Does it see the beauty that everyone else sees?

Are you like the butterfly? Beautiful but can’t see it? All around you can see your beauty, you seem to look in a different mirror or look through clouded glasses. Walk your life journey without realising how stunning and colourful you are. All who have their lives touched by your quiet spirit will remember it. 

You are beautiful. More than butterflies. No one is like you. You are bought by the King of Kings. He has clothed you in His glory. 

PRAYING THE PSALMS

Praying the word – The Psalms

What a fabulous subject to talk about! We are going to have a look at praying The Psalms – God’s hymn book, and how to use their endlessly rich treasures to enliven, invigorate, stimulate and – dare I say – transform our prayer life.

In order to understand how fundamental this source material is to our whole Spiritual walk, our church life and our praise and worship we need to have a look at what the Psalms are. We will also touch on the type and structure of the book (books), the different type of Psalms and how we can use them to pray.

If we understand the role of the Psalms in our prayer life – truly understand it – we will stand tall as the beautiful bride of Christ, fully confident in the hope we profess. Just as a taster for what is to follow, here are what I think are some helpful quotes from past Godly saints, saints who came to an understanding by the Holy Spirit why the Psalms are so important and useful:

The more deeply we grow into the psalms and the more often we pray them as our own, the more simple and rich will our prayer become.”
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer

It has been said by church historians that in those periods of Christian history where renewal, revival, and awakening took place and the church was at its strongest, that coincidental with those periods in church history, there was a strong focus on the psalms in the life of God’s people–particularly in the worship of God’s people.”
― R.C. Sproul

The psalms, like no other literature, lift us to a position where we can commune with God, capturing a sense of the greatness of his kingdom and a sense of what living with him for eternity will be like.”
― Gordon Fee

In the psalms, we have a collection of 150 prayers that were inspired originally by the Holy Ghost. If you want to know how God is pleased and honoured in prayer, why not immerse yourself in the prayers that he himself has inspired?”
―R.C. Sproul

What are the Psalms?

Historical context

We clearly see from the structure of the book of Psalms that it is a collection of poetry and/or songs which have been compiled from various writers and sources (the actual compilation was likely to have been post exile (1st temple period), but the writings would have certainly existed both orally and in written form prior to this). It is important to note that the Psalms cover at least 900 years of the history of the Jewish people as evidenced by the historical references and recollections of actual events. Pretty much all of these can be cross-referenced elsewhere in scripture; and that is without mentioning the fulfilled Prophetic events which have been documented in the New Testament.

It is thought that this collection of ‘writings’ was put into the form we know now in the third Century BC. As such it served as the prayer book for the Second Temple and for use in the synagogues, and they have been used in Jewish worship ever since. The Psalms are the cornerstone of Judeo-Christian worship.

Structure

Let’s have a look at the meaning of the word ‘Psalms’ as it gives us a clue as to their purpose and their importance:

HEBREW: Tehillim, “praises”

GREEK WORD: psalmoi, meaning “instrumental music” and, by extension, “the words accompanying the music.”

Nearly half of the 150 Psalms are attributed to King David. We know from scripture David was a musician, (1 Samuel 16 has him soothing the troubled King Saul with the melody of his harp) and a prolific songwriter. In addition to the many Psalms, one of the Dead Sea Scrolls attributes 3600 tehilim (songs of praise) plus other compositions to him.

Other Psalms are attributed to Asaph (12), Sons of Korah (11), Solomon (2), Moses (1). Many more have no author attributed to them.

The book is subdivided into five ‘books’ and each book finished with a doxology

(a hymn or form of words containing an ascription of praise to God).

  • Book 1 (Psalms 1–41)
  • Book 2 (Psalms 42–72)
  • Book 3 (Psalms 73–89)
  • Book 4 (Psalms 90–106)
  • Book 5 (Psalms 107–150

Many psalms are clearly written as songs with music as over a third have superscriptions (secondary titles) that provide musical direction. For example:

Psalm 80: To the chief Musician upon Shoshann-im-Eduth, A Psalm of Asaph

Psalm 49: To the chief Musician. A Psalm for the Sons of Korah

Psalm 19: To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David

Types of Psalms

We can categorise the Psalms to some extent, and some clearly have a distinct purpose for their existence. So we are going to have a look at some of the major categories with some examples. This will give us some insight on how to use the Psalms in our praying. However, what has stuck me as I have prepared this talk tonight that is there are elements of multiple categories in most of the Psalms.

Now these categories are not exhaustive, and I would need a series of talks to cover this subject properly, but I have somewhat crudely divided the Psalms into these categories:

Praise & declaration

Worship

Petition

Prophetic / Messianic

Special occasions

And then two very interesting categories as far as prayer is concerned:

Repentance

Lament

Now, as I said – many Psalms could fall into more than one category, but we’ll go ahead and have a look at some examples…….

Praise & declaration

This is the fundamental purpose of the Psalms of course and with the exception of a very few examples (which we will come on to look at), praise and the declaration of who God is impregnates the entirety of the wirtings – even those that have a note of despair and petition. Here are SO many praise & declaration Psalms, but some of the purest are Psalms 47, 98 and 150.

Lets look at Psalm 47:

Psalm 47

To the Chief Musician. A Psalm of the sons of Korah.

1 Oh, clap your hands, all you peoples!
Shout to God with the voice of triumph!
2 For the Lord Most High is awesome;
He is a great King over all the earth.
3 He will subdue the peoples under us,
And the nations under our feet.
4 He will choose our inheritance for us,
The excellence of Jacob whom He loves. Selah

5 God has gone up with a shout,
The Lord with the sound of a trumpet.
6 Sing praises to God, sing praises!
Sing praises to our King, sing praises!
7 For God is the King of all the earth;
Sing praises with understanding.

8 God reigns over the nations;
God sits on His holy throne.
9 The princes of the people have gathered together,
The people of the God of Abraham.
For the shields of the earth belong to God;
He is greatly exalted.

Psalm 47: (NKJV)

Worship

The Psalms have set the pattern for worship in the Christian church over the centuries, and as we have already learned are a central part of Synagogue life for the Jewish people. Some traditional Puritan / Protestant congregations (to this day) ONLY sing the metrical Psalms. I saw a service on BBC ALBA a few months ago in a Gaelic speaking Scottish Islands church. The worship to our ears would be a dirge like drone through the Psalms! – BUT – this was a Spirit filled Church as evidenced by their heartfelt worship and an amazing sermon. I mention this because…..

Many of our modern worship songs (the best ones in my opinion) are grounded in the Psalms. For the older among us – remember ‘Scripture in song’? Just the words of Psalms and scripture set to music just like the ultra-traditional Scottish church I mentioned. The Psalms unify very different worship streams into one unified body!!

Lets looks at Psalm 95 as a pattern for worship:

1 O come, let us sing unto the Lord: let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation.

2 Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving, and make a joyful noise unto him with psalms.

3 For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods.

4 In his hand are the deep places of the earth: the strength of the hills is his also.

5 The sea is his, and he made it: and his hands formed the dry land.

6 O come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the Lord our maker.

7 For he is our God; and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. To day if ye will hear his voice,

8 Harden not your heart, as in the provocation, and as in the day of temptation in the wilderness:

9 When your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my work.

10 Forty years long was I grieved with this generation, and said, It is a people that do err in their heart, and they have not known my ways:

11 Unto whom I sware in my wrath that they should not enter into my rest.

Psalm 95: (KJV)

v1 Praise

v2 Come into His presence with thanksgiving

v3 Declaration of who God is

v4-5 Declaration of what God has done

v6 Worship

v7 We are His people

v8-9 Be reconciled

v8-10 Be obedient

The NKJV version of the Bible entitles this Psalm ‘a call to worship and obedience’. Sums it up pretty well. Isn’t that what we are called to as the body of Christ? I would be going off topic if I unpacked this any more but there is a lot in there we can learn!

Singing and praying the Psalms therefore ensures our patterns for praise, worship and prayer are grounded in the principles of scripture. Without this resource to keep us in line we could go off in all crazy directions….. unfortunately some churches and ministries have, but not here!!

Lets briefly look at another couple of important categories before we start looking at how to use the Psalm as a rich prayer resource:

History and Prophecy

The Psalms are constantly looking back to historical events, both good AND bad and use them as a teaching lesson and a reminder of the moving of God’s hand in the course of history. Let read Psalm 114:

1 When Israel went out of Egypt, the house of Jacob from a people of strange language;

2 Judah was his sanctuary, and Israel his dominion.

3 The sea saw it, and fled: Jordan was driven back.

4 The mountains skipped like rams, and the little hills like lambs.

5 What ailed thee, O thou sea, that thou fleddest? thou Jordan, that thou wast driven back?

6 Ye mountains, that ye skipped like rams; and ye little hills, like lambs?

7 Tremble, thou earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob;

8 Which turned the rock into a standing water, the flint into a fountain of waters.

Psalm 114: (KJV)

This is of course looking back at the monumental events of the Exodus from Egypt. It’s purpose? To remind us of the Awesome intervention of God. What a powerful device in prayer! To be reminded that the same God of yesterday is the God of today and of tomorrow!!

Talking of tomorrow, the Psalms contain Prophetic signs and signals. They clearly signal the coming of the messiah, the so- called Messianic Psalms; not just foretelling His existence, but also His death and His Kingdom reign:

Psalm 22 – I won’t read it now, but that is the clearest prophetic / Messianic Psalm and describes his crucifixion.

Psalm 110 – Describes the Kingdom reign of the Risen and Exalted Lord Jesus

and so it goes on…..

The final categories are very relevant as we think about how to pray the Psalms as these are Psalms that include at their core PRAYER.

Petition, repentance and Lament

The Psalm are full of prayers, personal heartfelt prayers, sometimes downright uncomfortable prayers and pleadings before Almighty God. There are agonising cries for help, for deliverance, for the Hand of our Lord to be moved. There are yearnings and longings for His presence His intervention….. and it goes on.

This is not an exhaustive list by any means but Psalms 4,10,13,17,25,42,70, 130, 143 are all prayers of petition for example. Look at the language used here in Psalm 4:

For the choir director; with stringed instruments; a psalm by David.

1 Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness. You have freed me from my troubles.
Have pity on me, and hear my prayer!

2You important people, how long are you going to insult my honour?
How long are you going to love what is empty and seek what is a lie? Selah
3 Know that the Lord singles out godly people for himself. The Lord hears me when I call to him.
4 Tremble and do not sin. Think about this on your bed and remain quiet. Selah
5 Offer the sacrifices of righteousness by trusting the Lord.

6 Many are saying, “Who can show us anything good?” Let the light of your presence shine on us, O Lord.
7 You put more joy in my heart than when their grain and new wine increase.
8 I fall asleep in peace the moment I lie down because you alone, O Lord, enable me to live securely.

Psalm 4: (God’s Word Translation)

Pretty passionate and heartfelt! The Psalmists are not timid before God – and this should give us confidence to pray in a similar way.

 

 

 

Repentance too is common thread in the Psalms. What is interesting is that personal repentance is expressed, but IT IS ALSO CORPORATE. There are pleas before Almighty God for sins of the nation of Israel. We too must be prepared (as Sue Sinclair so powerfully testified the weekend) to offer prayers of corporate repentance. By far the most obvious example of a penitential Psalm (in this instance personal repentance) is Psalm 51. Just a snippit:

Have mercy upon me, O God,
According to Your lovingkindness;
According to the multitude of Your tender mercies,
Blot out my transgressions.
2Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
And cleanse me from my sin.

Psalm 51:1-2 (NKJV)

Finally, and we’ll get into applying this knowledge in just a moment I need to cover the category of Lament, because it is misunderstood and rarely is given a place in the Christian church. To lament is to “to express sorrow, regret, or unhappiness about something”

Is that ‘having a whine’ at God? No, not a whine, but it is BEING REAL BEFORE GOD ABOUT HOW YOU FEEL ABOUT SOMETHING. We don’t have time to read in detail but in your own time read Psalm 79 – entitled in the NKJV of the Bible as ‘A dirge and prayer for Israel, destroyed by enemies’.

 

Here the Psalmist laments Nebuchadnezzar’s destruction of the temple in 586 B.C. He prays for the nations spiritual needs, curses their enemies (that sits uncomfortably with us today doesn’t it?) and prises God’s anticipated actions. This psalm helps the believer express his anguish in a situation where God does not seem present.” (MacArthur Student Bible – notes)

How to we use the Psalms to pray?

Use the exact words

Just reading our the words of the Psalms has power – after all it is God’s word!!

This is especially applicable when it comes to praise and worship. These Holy Spirit inspired writings have been brought before our dear Lord countless times over the generations and I can guarantee you he does not tire hearing them!

As we discovered when I spoke about the power of praise a few weeks ago, praise, worship and prayer are all about the heart attitude and using pre-written words are a good way to express ourselves; especially when we do it with God’s unadorned and unadulterated powerful word.

Use the exact words but contextualise and personalise them

Here’s another idea; use the framework of a Psalm for your own personal prayer by adapting it to your own circumstances: Here’s a great example using a famous Psalm, 23:

Lord you are my shepherd, I do not want for anything.

You make me lie down in green pastures, you lead me besides still waters.

You restore my soul, you lead me in the paths of righteousness for Your name’s sake……. Etc.

Use the themes

As we have seen Psalms fall into categories, and many Psalms cover multiple themes in one Psalm. So for example Ps:116,

I love the Lord, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy.
2 Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live.

3 The cords of death entangled me, the anguish of the grave came over me; I was overcome by distress and sorrow.
4 Then I called on the name of the Lord: “Lord, save me!”

5 The Lord is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion.
6 The Lord protects the unwary; when I was brought low, he saved me.

7 Return to your rest, my soul, for the Lord has been good to you.

Psalm 116:1-7 (NIV)

Sooo.. we go from thanksgiving, to faithfulness, to deliverance, to petition, to praise and then to petition all in seven verses!!! This is quite an extreme example, but what I mean about praying thematically is using the way a Psalm is constructed as a prayer guide (Praise to petition to praise for example).

Pick out key phrases and themes and expand them

What I mean here is we can use the LANGUAGE of the Psalms to energise our prayers. Actually this is what a lots of modern Christian songwriters do. So for example Psalm 95:1 says Oh come let us sing for joy to the Lord, let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our Salvation (NKJV). So your prayer might start:

Lord, I shout joyfully to you for you are the rock of my salvation, you are worthy to hear the joyful cries of my heart and you, my rock I stand…… etc.

This I think is where the terminology and language of the Psalms can be most helpful in our prayer life. If we immerse ourselves in the language of the Psalmists then we are unlocking the power of scripture in our praying

Charles Spurgeon, in his preface to The Treasury of David writes “The delightful study of the Psalms has yielded me boundless profit and ever-growing pleasure; common gratitude constrains me to communicate to others a portion of the benefit, with the prayer that it may induce them to search further for themselves.

Sing them as praise, petition and lament

Finally we are not so much talking about sung worship as prayer tonight, but given the Psalms are a book of songs, it would be remiss to mention the power that is found in singing the Psalms. We have already touched on in my earlier talk this and I do not feel the need to further expand on this here – but there is real power is singing the Psalms in all it’s forms.

And finally…….. I want to give you a guarantee; if you employ some of the teaching we have heard tonight and apply it to our prayer life it WILL be enriched, it WILL be empowered, it WILL be invigorated and it WILL transform our lives, the life of our church and the life of others.

The SHEMA

So as we saw in the last message, Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, and He replied in Matthew 22:36-40:

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?And He said to him, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.”

To see these verses in context, we looked at Deuteronomy 6:4-9…..

We looked at the Pharisees and how they looked from the outside that they followed the law, but on the inside they were still sinning and hadn’t taken the law into their hearts. Outward religious observance without a changed heart is not what the Lord looks for.

I want to look a bit more at the Shema and what it means and look a bit more at the meaning of each word@

“SHEMA YISRAEL ADONAI ELOHEINU, ADONAI ECHAD.”

So, the Shema is a section of the Torah, the first 5 books of the Bible, written by Moses in the wilderness at the creation of the 1st temple Israel had to worship their Lord in. It is a prayer that serves as the centrepiece of the morning and evening Jewish prayer services. For many Jews this is stated as “receiving the kingdom of heaven”. These words are seen throughout the new testament, and the word heaven is used by Jewish people as a metaphor for God.

The 10 commandments were said at these times as well as the Shema but were removed from the daily prayer books during the years 70-200ce. The Shema prayer is seen as an opportunity to commemorate the 10 commandments.

It is thought that the recitation of the Shema shows that they are a living witness testifying the truth of the message of the Shema itself. Some of the more Kabbilistic schools, (which is a form of Judaism – seen as a cult) teaches that when their members recite the word Echad meaning “one”, he is to intend that he is ready to die into God.

Judaism does not speak or write the actual name of God. Out of respect and honour to Him, they replace it with Adonai or Lord. This is why in the Shema, the name God was changed to Adonai.

So if we look at the words of the Shema

Shema – This word means to listen, to hear, to do. It is an active word not passive

Yisrael – Israel, the people or congregation of people, not the land on its own

Adonai – trandlated Lord from YHWH. Interestingly, Samaritans, who the Jewish people despised in bible times, they say Shema, which is Aramaic for the “divine name”. We know Jesus spoke Aramaic and therefore would have know this and was able to speak to the Samaritan woman at the well with her own tongue and words that she worshipped with.

Eloheinu – A plural word. Meaning our God.

Echad – Unified and cardinal number 1

The Shema relates to the kingship of God. It is the confession of belief in the One true God. There are other translations which say the same thing but with words mixed around. They are

Hear O Israel! Adonai is our God! Adonai is One!

Hear O Israel! Adonai is our God! Adonai alone!

There is an addition, which is expanded. It was added rabbinically, and is used for silent congregation worship, except during the time of Yom Kippur where it is recited aloud together as worship. Yom Kippur means to atone. It is the day of atonement and is the holiest day of the year for the Jewish people, and for Jesus Himself. It is a day of atonement and repentance and the Jewish people even now spend the day in the synagogues worshipping and spending time with God. This is such an important day, even for us. It foreshadowed Jesus and His death and resurrection.

Baruch shem kvod l’olam was added which means blessed be His glorious name.

Over time, the words Malchuto, meaning His kingdom, and va’ed meaning forever and ever were added. Malchuto was added during the time of the Romans, as a counter claim over the land of Israel against the Roman emperors. Va’ed was introduced at the time of the 2nd Temple as a contrast to those who believed there is no life after death, which we can see around the times of Ezra and Nehemiah.

I was brought up in a messianic fellowship, which is a merge of Jewish and non Jewish believers, who come together as a congregation to worship the same Lord and risen Christ. There are many of the old traditions practised together with new and ground breaking songs and styles of worship. We were all taught the Shema in its full added to form which is:

Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheinh, Adonai echad.

Baruch shem kevod, malchuto

L’elom va’ed

So, today. These words from the Shema are straight from the Bible, and are correct. We have open eyes to see their true meaning, and have had the veils taken away by the blood of Christ. Sadly, most of the people who love God and say these words in worship every single day, have still got the veils over their eyes, and can’t see the risen Lord. They are still in darkness. They can’t see the joy and wonder of all that Jesus has done for us, or the Holy Spirit given as a gift for us, and who is at work within us all the time making us more and more like Jesus. I think it is time that more of the church prayed for these friends. Pray for the Lord to show Himself to them, so they may join us as brothers and sisters on the same vine, worshipping together with freedom.

I looked up the word Messianic and found these definitions

  • Relating to the Messiah “the messianic role of Jesus”
  • Inspired by the hope or belief in a messiah “the messianic expectations of that time”
  • fervent or passionate “ an admirable messianic zeal”

or these definitions

  • the promised and expected deliverer of the Jewish people.
  • Jesus Christ, regarded by Christians as fulfilling this promise and expectation. John 4:25,26
  • Any expected deliverer
  • a zealous leader of some cause or project

If only every eye could see who Jesus really is and how He really is the deliverer and saviour of the whole world and all peoples. We could give the whole earth back to God and live as we should have done in the first place, as it was meant to be before sin.

Love your neighbour, Love yourself

I have a simple message for you tonight, prepared at short notice. I would contend though it is a very important message and a clarion call to authentic Christian living in a society that is increasingly hostile to the true Christian Gospel.

We are going to have a look at some of the most significant words our Lord Jesus Christ uttered whilst He walked the earth among us – words in which our very relationship with Almighty God depends. Before we apply these words to ourselves it is vital that we understand the proper historical context of the word and the source of Jesus words from the Old Testament. So we’ll start with that, and we’ll move on to how it impacts us today……

Toward the end of His earthly ministry, Jesus was asked the following question by the Pharisees – the religious leaders of the day:

36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”

He replied

37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.

38 This is the great and first commandment.

39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself.

40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

Matthew 22:36-40 (ESV)

To fully understand how radical and important His reply was we need to look at the significance of these words and where they come from. Turn with me to Deuteronomy 6:4….

4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.

5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.

6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.

7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.

8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.

9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

Deuteronomy 6:4-9 (ESV)

This is THE most important of all Jewish prayers, the ‘Semah Israel’ (the Jewish word for ‘hear O Israel’) It is a declaration of faith and a pledge of allegiance to God. Twice daily, recitation of the Shema Israel is a commandant for the Jewish people — it is said upon rising in the morning and going to sleep at night. It is said when praising God and when beseeching Him. The Shema Israel is the first prayer taught to Jewish children (as soon as they can talk) and it is the last words Jew says before death. It is a prayer of praise to God and it is a prayer of pleading, as well. The Shema is recited in preparation for the reading of the Torah on the Sabbath and Jewish holidays and at the end of the holiest day, Yom Kippur.

His audience, the Pharisees of Jesus’ day prided themselves on meticulous observance of the Law, so they would practice all of the above observances. Along with the Ten Commandments, they would have paid rigorous attention to all the laws in the books of Moses some 613 according to tradition. They would spend their days reasoning out the implications of the laws, and to make sure that they avoided even the possibility of violating any of them – an outward perfect observance.

However, Jesus makes it clear here that religious observance is not enough – and indeed mere observance of the law without LOVE is a perversion of what the Shema teaches.

You see Jesus understood that the Pharisees had lost sight of the very heart of the matter; they were observing the law externally, but not observing the law out of a motive of a love for God.

A paraphrase of that verse reads “Love the Lord Your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence Matt 22:37 (MSG). So, it’s bluntly clear that outward observance of the law was not enough. Without the pure motive of obedience out of a love for God, the external observance of the commandments becomes just a ceremony. In another place in the scriptures we can see that Jesus specifically warned the Pharisees of the danger:

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean”

Matthew 23: 25-26 (NIV)

So, Jesus answers the Pharisees question with an extract from the Law. These are the highly religious men of the day – the very same men who constantly question Jesus’ authority, His teaching, His credibility; the men who out of ignorance and veiled eyes contrive his crucifixion. I don’t know what answer they expected to their question, but I am certain they did not expect Him to refer to the THE most important prayer that ever fell across their lips! But in doing so, He does not affirm them, He actually convicts them for their pious religious observance, which is rooted in self-indulgence, hypocrisy and outward appearance.

He takes it still further and contests that they should not only love God with every ounce of their being, but they are to love their neighbour and they are to love themselves. I shan’t be looking at the historical context of that second command today, but we shall certainly refer to it when we consider how this command of Jesus impacts on us as Christians.

Outward religious observance without a changed heart is not what the Lord looks for – it wasn’t then and it certainly isn’t now!

“……for the Lord sees not as man sees. For man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

1 Samuel 16:7 (MEV)

So in summary, Jesus uses the most important prayer in the Jewish tradition to condemn the religious leaders who consider themselves to be the role model and the pinnacle of that religious practice! The point that Jesus makes so clearly is you can look religious but if you are hardened and dirty inside it is just a show and a sham.

So much for the historical context, but what does this mean for us today?

I am going to make it simple (because I’m simple!) God is not interested in how many times a year you go to church; He is not interested in your service for Him week after week, year after year; he is not interested if you know your Bible inside out; He is not interested that you have watched Songs of Praise diligently for 30 years: he is not interested if you give money to good causes

UNLESS

you are doing these things out of a right heart attitude!!!!!!!!

Friends, I want to reassure you that our Dear Lord is not looking for perfect Christians. I’m glad about that because I would fail miserably on that count; He is looking for passionate Christians. He is looking for disciples who will follow Him through thick and thin and love Him because He first loved them.

“…….[his/her] sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much”

Luke 7:47b (KJV)

I know that many if not all of you here know the Love of God. Therefore I challenge you (and first and foremost myself) do you Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul and mind? Or has that love grown a little – dare I say – lukewarm, cold even over the years??

You see it is my contention that when we look at that command of Jesus in it’s entirety, I believe that if we are following / experiencing the first part of the commandment (to love God first), then the second will follow WITHOUT US HAVING TO THINK ABOUT IT TOO MUCH!

What Jesus commands to is an ACTIVE love, not a passive love. You see, to love the Lord your God with all of your mind, soul, strength requires commitment and effort; although it does overflow from a heart full of thankfulness , there are of course times when it doesn’t come so easily such as times of sadness and testing.

I confidently believe that if a believer has a wholehearted, full-on relationship, Spirit filled with God – i.e. loves God with all of him or herself, then loving others will come naturally – or more correctly, supernaturally. This is because His love will be apparent in all that we do or say; it comes across in our appearance; our body language; our compassion for the lost and the disadvantaged; sinner or saint alike we cannot but love our neighbour.

Now…. I am the first to admit that I fall far short of that standard, so what am I do do? Try and love my neighbour more? Be a better person? Well, that’s no bad thing I guess, but the single most important thing I can do is ASK GOD TO HELP ME FULFIL THE FIRST OF HIS COMMANDS – TO LOVE GOD COMPLETELY. This is because if I do so, then the second command will be a natural extension of who I am.

Which brings me on to the last part of my talk and there are some sensitivities here, so I will try to tread carefully. Out of our love for God, we ought to love ourselves too. For some, this is actually the hardest part of that command of Jesus to fulfil. Some are damaged by life events, or the way they have been treated during their lives and they have a negative view of themselves. This can present itself in many ways and none of them positive. We can suffer from clinical depression (which is NOT a sin or failure in God’s sight!), or low self-esteem. Very often if we show a lack of love and respect for others because we do not love and respect ourselves, and that is not an easy one to offer an answer to. It’s certainly beyond the scope of my talk tonight.

I would merely point you to who our Almighty God says you are, and if you struggle with this area in your life I am just pray over you now that the reality of this scripture would hit home to you.

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

1 Pet 2:9-10 (NIV)

In conclusion:

Friends, be lovers of God – not lovers of religion!

Religion is not a dirty word (in some charismatic churches they pray for religion to be removed from the church). I don’t agree; religion is good BUT only when practised by the born-again believer. God does not require and indeed is grieved by empty religious activity, as evidenced by our passage tonight.

Keith Green once said “going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more that going to McDonald’s make you a Hamburger” (great quote!)

So I would urge you to look at your walk with the Lord this evening. Is all well? DO you do things you do in God’s name out of your love for him, or is it just something you do because you have always done it?

Has your love grown a little cold?

DO you find yourself not loving yourself or your neighbour as you should?

Then I would urge you to pray with me as we close this message. That all of us would be so transfixed on the loveliness of our Lord Jesus; so captivated by His sacrifice; so astonished that He would love a sinner like me; that we offer all of our hearts, minds and souls afresh to Him.

 

A REALISTIC call to live a life of victory

Easter Sunday. This is considered a special day in the church calender – a victorious day, a happy day. I think it is great that we have a designated day that focuses on the reality of Christ’s resurrection (especially for non-Christians) but I am also so thankful that we don’t NEED this day, because we as Christians are encouraged and called to walk in the victory and power of Christ’s resurrection every day!

This is the reality: In Christ we have the victory; we have the power to overcome; we have the faith to believe mountains can and will move; we have overwhelming joy; we know we are loved; we are redeemed; we are victorious………

Except……… lets have a reality check here!

The reality is it doesn’t always seemingly work out like that or feel like that. If we are being honest with ourselves and others we sometimes get weighed down, discouraged; we lose the joy that we told in ours in Christ Jesus. We perhaps allow doubts to creep in and steal our assurance that Christ is in control. We continue to move forward, but we shuffle with our heads down rather than stride forward in the power of Christ with our heads held high.

Is THAT living as a Christian?

Well, as we are going to discover tonight…..we are on a JOURNEY of faith that one ends up in one place – a eternal place of praise, adoration and victory. For us who truly believe, each of us are in a different place on that journey and VICTORY IS ASSURED, despite any wobbles we have along the way.

Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith and it is in Him we have the assurance of eternal life and ultimate victory. As we remember over this Eastertide, it is a complete victory that came at such a great cost, as the only begotten Son of the Father was forsaken for us on the cross of shame.

However, as we know (and as we specifically remember today) that Christ’s death was not the end of the story! I would like to read two passages of scripture that detail the events immediately following Christ’s resurrection and then encourage us all that our own wobbles, doubts and fears are echoed even in the disciples response to Jesus’ resurrection. Then we’ll discover that Jesus has an answer for them and for us today!

In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre [tomb] And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it.

His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow: And for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men. And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified.

He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead; and, behold, he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him: lo, I have told you. And they departed quickly from the sepulchre with fear and great joy; and did run to bring his disciples word.

Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them. And when they saw him, they worshipped him: but some doubted.

Matthew 28:1-8, 16-17 KJV

And then the same events from another writers angle, this time, Luke:

Jesus Himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be unto you.”

They were terrified and frightened, and supposed that they saw a spirit. He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Feel Me and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”

When He said this, He showed them His hands and His feet. And while they yet disbelieved for joy and wondered, He said to them, “Do you have any food here?” They gave Him a piece of broiled fish and some honeycomb. And He took it and ate it before them.

He said to them, “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and in the Prophets and in the Psalms concerning Me.”

 

 

Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. He said to them, “Thus it is written, and accordingly it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.

Luke 24:36b-48 MEV

The disciples had walked and talked with Jesus right the way through His ministry years; they had seen thousands of people fed with a bit of fish and bread – twice; they had seen the blind see, the paralysed walk and even seen Lazarus raised from the dead. They had heard His parables and witnessed Jesus Himself proclaim that He was I AM (an absolute categorical proclamation that we was God Incarnate). His coming was the fulfilment of Biblical prophecy as Jesus Himself taught them.

This is Just one of those conversations from the book of Mark:

Now Jesus and His disciples went out to the towns of Caesarea Philippi; and on the road He asked His disciples, saying to them, “Who do men say that I am?”

So they answered, “John the Baptist; but some say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.”

He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”

Peter answered and said to Him, “You are the Christ.”

Then He strictly warned them that they should tell no one about Him.

And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.

Mark 8:27-31 NKJV

So here, Jesus predicted his own death and resurrection (not for the first time). The disciples heard from His own mouth what was going to happen – yet they were dismayed, confused and bewildered when it did.

Therefore it is really interesting to examine for a moment the disciples reaction to the first appearance of the risen Lord Jesus:

…when they saw him, they worshipped him: but some doubted.

They were terrified and frightened, and supposed that they saw a spirit….

And while they yet disbelieved for joy and wondered….

It is clear from these accounts that even though they had ‘walked with Him and that they talked with Him’ for three years they still didn’t understand or fully grasp what Jesus was teaching prior to His crucifixion……or they did but they still didn’t truly believe it.

The disciples just didn’t fully understand. They certainly believed He was sent from God – a Saviour, a messiah – but they were perhaps guilty of constructing a picture in their own mind of what their Savour looked like. We can perhaps speculate that they were expecting another King David, a warrior/King who would gloriously overthrow the oppression of the Romans.

What was Jesus response to their doubts, fears and unbelief?

Did he rebuke them or disown them for their wavering belief?

NO!! HE REASSURED THEM, HE SHOWED THEM HE WAS A PHYSICAL BEING, HE OPENED THEIR MINDS TO THE SCRIPTURES, HE ENCOURAGED THEM, AND COMMISSIONED THEM!

He said to them, “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and in the Prophets and in the Psalms concerning Me.”

Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. He said to them, “Thus it is written, and accordingly it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things

It is at only at this point they fully understood who Jesus was, their doubts and fears answered, their purpose in Him revealed. The power to fulfil the commission was yet to come (at Pentecost), so we can refute the common fallacy that the disciples were cowering in a room in Jerusalem when the Holy Spirit fell upon them. They were praying and waiting, but as they were waiting the last two verses of the Gospel of Luke tells us:

.they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy:

And were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God. Amen.

Luke 24: 52-53 KJV

These 1st Century, world changing events speak to us today.

It surely encourages us to know that Jesus’ own disciples, both before and even on occasions after the resurrection event we have looked at here, didn’t always grasp what the Master was doing. Although they had a perfect Teacher, they often failed to understand him correctly. Nevertheless, Jesus used them mightily to take the message of Christ to the nations.

The thing is, we haven’t physically walked with Jesus as they did. Our faith is built on ……the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

Hebrews 11:1 KJV

So the reality is this….. If we are really honest with ourselves, there are times and seasons in our lives where we wonder where God is. Sometimes life events weigh us down or challenge our faith; sometimes we just drift away from the presence of God; sometimes we are disappointed that we have not seen answers to prayer; sometimes it is our own stubbornness and disobedience that puts distance between us and God.

As it was with the disciples in that day, He is in the revelation and restoration business today! So despite our doubts and fears, our disobedience and faithlessness He LOVES us, He CARES for us and He constantly reassures us of these things by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.

We are far from perfect, we are However, children of the King. He is patient with us while we work through our struggles and fears; He is willing to teach us, open up our hearts to truth and revelation; he loves us with an everlasting love; He cares for us so much He was willing to sacrifice Himself for us.

What is also abundantly clear is this:

He longs to open our minds to understand the Scriptures

He longs to encourage us by means of His abiding presence

He longs to draw near to us

He has commissioned us

He has empowered us

He has SAVED US FOR SUCH A TIME AS THIS

He has given us purpose

He has empowered us

He has given us all things to walk victoriously in HIS power.

A modern worship song puts so much better than I could:

Mighty Saviour, lifted high

King forever, Jesus Christ,

Crowned in glory, raised to life

The same power lives in us.

Let us therefore, tonight resolve to walk victoriously in the power of the resurrected Christ, despite our tendency to wobble and wavier.

 

No sleep

So, I find it very difficult to get any sleep. I suppose I have gotten used to it more now, but still find the darkest hours of the night disturbing and lonely, even with my beautiful family only yards away from me. My husband made a picture for me and framed it near my pillow with a verse from proverbs in it, which in those times of bad thoughts, loneliness, times of attack or times when God seems so far away, I can look at this verse and be reassured that He never leaves or forsakes me.

Proverbs 3 vs 24-25

When you lie down, you will not be afraid;
When you lie down your sleep will be sweet.
Do not be afraid of the sudden fear
Nor of the onslaught of the wicked when it comes.

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