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Reflections

These reflections help us look into the Bible to discover what God is saying to us today. We find Bible passages to read and questions to ponder. The themes are in the process of being listed in an index with each theme ultimately divided into seven sections. We hope to be completed soon.

Trinity – Full Life

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The Reading: Colossians 1:9-14

 “… knowledge … a life worthy … power …” (vv. 9,10,11) RSV

If we had to pray for three things for someone’s welfare, what would we choose? Would it be health, happiness and prosperity? When Paul prayed for the Colossians he prayed for their mind, their life and their power.

It must have been a great blessing to have Paul praying for them, but it was not up to them to tell him what to pray for. He chose to pray for the most vital aspects of their life.

First, he prayed “that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding” (v.9). Paul wanted them to understand who God was and what he had done for them. And he wanted them to know how God wanted them to live. Listening and learning is the beginning of wisdom. We too need to grow up in our faith. As Paul wrote elsewhere, we need to be renewed in the spirit of our mind” (Ephesians 4:23).

Secondly, Paul prayed for them “to lead a life worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him …” (v.10). They were not to seek happiness or prosperity, though those things are by no means wrong. They were to seek to please their God. Their lives were to be fruitful expressions of his Spirit in them. Their lives were to be an eloquent testimony that would so shine before people that they would glorify God.

Thirdly, Paul prayed for “power” (v.11). In the case of the Colossians this was not the power to heal or speak for Christ, but to endure. They needed power to be patient and joyous (v.11) in spite of adverse conditions. One way that they could do this was to “give thanks” (v.12).

Paul would probably pray the same things for us: to know our God and his way, to live to please him, and to rejoice in all circumstances.

Lord, what a great salvation you have given. Help me to live it by faith with fear and trembling. Amen. 

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1 How can our life be transformed?

Romans 12:2

2 What is to be our attitude to hardship?

James 1:2-4

Trinity – Faith, Hope, Love

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 The Reading: Colossians 1:3-8 

“… faith … love … hope …” (v. 3-5) RSV

Last week we spoke of the three persons of the Godhead. Today we look at the second great trio in the Bible. ‘Faith, Hope and Love’ are all inextricably linked together. Although we are looking at them in Colossians, they are more usually referred to as being in 1 Corinthians 13:13.

Faith, we are told, is how we are to live in this life. We are required to believe many things that we cannot see. This is not however a blind leap of faith but is based on outward evidence, and confirmed by an inward conviction. We are told to walk through this life by faith and not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7). Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (Rom. 10:17). It is all a matter of trusting what God has said, and then obeying it.

Unlike Faith, Hope does not change the present. Hope is not to do with the present but with the future. One day things will be better and that hope sustains us in the present. Sometimes faith and prayer do not bring the change in this life that we long for. In those cases (especially when under persecution), hope holds onto the promises of God that one day he will sort it all out.

Faith and Hope sustain us in this life, but they will not be needed in the next one. Faith will be swallowed up in sight and Hope will become a reality. However, Love will go on forever. Love is the essential ingredient of life now and hereafter. Love makes the world go round. But love comes from God, for “God is love” (1 John 4:8).

We need all three, and all three are gifts of God. If we are lacking in any, then there is only one answer: pray for it. In fact, all three dwell within you by the Holy Spirit so through prayer you will lay hold of them.

Thank you Lord for your incredible threefold gift. Forgive me when I neglect to exercise these gifts within me. Amen. 

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1 See what Paul says about love.

1 Corinthians 13

2 See the people of faith who still hoped for something more.

Hebrews 11 (note especially v.39)

Trinity – Three in One

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 The Reading: Colossians 1:3-8

“… of God … of Christ … in the Spirit.” (vv. 6-7) RSV

Things come in threes very often in this world. We speak of “third time lucky” or “trouble always comes in threes” or a three-leafed clover. The Greeks felt that ‘three’ was a profound number and was represented by a triangle. Perhaps three is deeply imbedded in creation since it is an extension of the threefold nature of God.

The doctrine of the Trinity is not found plainly stated in the Bible, and indeed it is fairly tortuous to explain it and defend it. Such talk of ‘essence’ or ‘substance’ seems to bring a foreign element into God whom we believe to be ‘spirit’.

But there is no doubt that the three (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) are one in relationship and one in activity. As Jesus said: “He who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9), and elsewhere, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). There are many similar texts that could be quoted.

Today’s reading gives us a natural linkage of the three persons of the Godhead. Paul speaks of the “grace of God” (v.6) and of “Christ” (v.7), and of “love in the Spirit” all in the same breath. The triune God is perfectly blended in harmonious activity.

In turn, we respond by being drawn to the Father, through the Son, by the Holy Spirit. There is only one God and he draws us by “grace” (v.6) and by “love; (v.7). God so loved the world that he sent his only Son (John 3:16), so that we might be convicted by the Holy Spirit (John 16:8).

Great is the mystery of this Faith. But unless the pure and perfect God comes down in person to save us, then there is no hope. If he simply tells us to be good then we are lost!

Thank you Lord that your plan and purpose are perfect. Who could have dreamt it? You are indeed three in one. Amen. 

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1 Can you spot the Three in the passage below?

1 Thessalonians 1:2-5

2 See how often the Three are closely linked.

2 Corinthians 13:14

Pentecost – Church Growth

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 The Reading:  Acts 1:15, 2:47, 4:4, 16:5

Many of those who heard the word believed; and the number of men came to about five thousand.”  (Acts 4:4) RSV

There is great emphasis these days on ‘Church Growth’.  This is a false emphasis.  It reflects the panic of shrinking churches.  Jesus never told us to build the Church.  He said it was his Church and he would build it.  Our task was to go into all the world, to love, to serve and to preach.  Church growth can become a selfish indulgence, whereas we are told to forget about ourselves.

Certainly we want and need church growth.  But that will follow if we spend our energies on loving God and loving his world.  The early disciples devoted themselves to learning, communion (hospitality), fellowship and prayer.  They then lived out in the world bearing witness by their manner of life and being prepared to give a reason for the hope within them (1 Peter 3:15).

The result of this selfless activity was church growth!  Exponential growth: 150 to 5000 (men – quite apart from women and children), and thereafter ‘daily’ growth.

In nature everything that is healthy will, as a rule, grow and propagate.  The church which is made up of living people is no exception.  People who are alive in the Lord and in the Spirit will, if they follow the above instruction, grow and develop.

David Watson once said, when as a raw young vicar he took on St Cuthbert’s in York: “I believe that if anyone really preaches the simple gospel of Christ, trusts in the power of prayer, and opens his life to the renewal of the Spirit, this church will be full in no time!”  By the grace of God those words became true. 

Heavenly Father, make us a people who love you with all our heart, soul and strength, and who love our neighbour, especially those outside the church, as ourselves.  Thank you that you have promised to build your Church.  May we trust you to do so.  Amen. 

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1  If we trust and obey, does church growth always follow?

     John 12:38-40, Mark 6:4-6

2   What can cause church growth?

     Acts 8:1-8, 26-30, 35-38

Pentecost – Church Life

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 The Reading:  Acts 2:41-47

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”  (v. 42) RSV

What is a church for and what should the members be doing?  Their first effort is to glorify God and enjoy him forever, their second is to strengthen themselves and their third is to go out to love and serve the world.

Today’s reading describes the second of these great callings.  Every Christian whether newly formed or of long standing requires regular input, nurture, challenge and strengthening.  If we neglect to gather together for these purposes we will atrophy away and become weak and ineffective.

So, when we gather together it is not just for worldly tittle-tattle or a social rubbing of shoulders with those whom we naturally get along with.  It is not for entertainment or because the church people are the only friends we have.

The reason for gathering is summed up in our verse for today.  They ‘devoted’ themselves to these things.  There was commitment and desire.  This can take place to some extent at the Sunday service, but also in a midweek gathering.  They did four things:

  1. Learning – the apostles’ teaching (now recorded for us in the Bible)
  2. Fellowship – talking, sharing and supporting one another
  3. Communion – not only in Bread & Wine, but in hospitality (‘generously’) (v. 46)
  4. Praying – set prayers, extemporary prayers, or silent prayers, yet together 

A church that devotes itself primarily to these four things will be a church that glorifies God and loves the world for which he died.

Dear Lord, forgive us when we are too lazy or too distracted to meet with other believers.  And when we do meet, forgive us when we have failed to use the time to strengthen ourselves in the faith.  Thank you for the examples of those early disciples.  Amen 

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1  What can happen if we meet with wrong motives?

    1 Corinthians 11:29-30

2  What is the purpose of meeting together?

     Hebrews 10:24-25

Pentecost – Conviction of Sin

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 The Reading: Acts 2:37-42

“Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart” (v.37) RSV

Some weeks ago you may have read in these readings that the Holy Spirit would “Convince/convict the world of sin” (John 16:8). Well, here on the day of Pentecost we have a supreme example of that happening. Peter has preached a message that declares the meaning of God’s mighty works, and has then specifically homed in on his hearers’ failure to believe in Jesus. Indeed they had positively failed to recognise, and had been party to, his rejection and crucifixion.

The Holy Spirit never gives a general sense of failure, for that is the work of the Devil (the Accuser of the brethren). Rather, he deals with the key to all sin, which is disbelief in Jesus, as he himself explained: “of sin because they do not believe in me.” (John 16:9). All sins are merely a manifestation of Sin. And Sin is the rejection of God and rebellion against him. Once we are separated from him and so are not living by faith and love, then all our lives are tainted by Sin and fall short of his purposes. We do not glorify him.

The kindly Holy Spirit does not bring condemnation but conviction. His purpose is not to produce guilt, but to lead us to repentance and a change of life. The word ‘repentance’ means ‘to change’; it does not mean to grovel! God wants to lead us out of a futile life, however pleasant or unpleasant it is, and to enable us to have “life, abundant life.” (John 10:10).

The Holy Spirit spoke through the life and testimony of that collection of disciples and through the preaching of Peter. He continues to speak in many and various ways – sometimes simply in our own conscience. Let us not be afraid but welcome his cleansing and healing conviction.

Lord, we thank you for sending your Holy Spirit to convict us of sin. May he first do his work in us, and then by your grace use our lives and words to bring the world into a saving knowledge of your Son, even Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

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1 What was Isaiah’s reaction when God drew near to him?

Isaiah 6:1-5

2 How should we respond to the Holy Spirit’s conviction?

Hebrews 4:7, 11-13

 

Pentecost – The Preacher

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 The Reading: Acts 2:14-17, 22-23

“Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them,” (v.14) RSV

Not all are evangelists, not all are public speakers, not all can express their faith and theology in clear and persuasive words. Only one of the Eleven actually did the public speaking. The rest were there, supporting and praying, and giving testimony to their experience.

But only Peter had the gift to lift up his voice and speak. We need to support and pray for those in our times who have the gift of preaching. Somebody has got to speak – for without a preacher the people will perish.

Sunday by Sunday preachers get up in pulpits and teach the faithful, they may even spend time trying to convert the converted! Their ministry to the faithful and to those who go to church is indispensible.

However the preaching of Peter on the day of Pentecost was not done in church to the converted; it was done to the unconverted, in the market place. Now, of course, our culture and circumstances are entirely different.

And sadly there are around, those brave but misguided preachers, who stand in our market places and preach sterile clichés which fall upon deaf ears.

But who is preaching through all available channels? Television, internet, public occasions or civic services, weddings and funerals, open air services in our parks, are all examples of readily available opportunities. But are the preachers who use these media being effective?

Let us pray for and support those who communicate the Gospel. And let us back them up by our lives and by our witness.

Dear Lord, may you provide the preachers that we need, who will have the courage to use their gifts in the public domain. Thank you for those who first preached the gospel to us. Amen 

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1 How are the ‘lost’ going to find the way?

Romans 10:14

2 What can often stop preachers preaching?

Jeremiah 1:5-6, 20:8

3 Why must they speak?

Jeremiah 20:9

Pentecost – Out of the Ordinary

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 The Reading: Acts 2:5-14

“All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’” (v.12) RSV

There was a poet called Swinburn who was singularly unimpressed with Christianity. He felt it had sucked the lifeblood out of life – rather like the Dementors in Harry Potter. He penned the lines: “Thou hast conquered, O pale Galilean. The world has grown grey with thy breath.” Chilling words. But is it true? Does Christianity make us dull, goody goodies, who lack spontaneity and boldness?

Robert Louis Stephenson wrote that he had been to church and had come out “not depressed”. Dullness and depression was what he normally derived from Christianity.

There is a real danger that our Christian faith is not full of vigour and the unexpected but rather it is safe, predictable and somewhat bland. This was never true of the life of Jesus. He was full of the unexpected. This was never done to cause effect nor was it contrived. But he lived the creative life of God in our midst. He said the unexpected and did the unimagined.

The Holy Spirit came on the day of Pentecost to perpetuate that same life in, and through us. Let us be led by him into creative daring and difference. This is not to impress or be ‘with it’, but simply that God’s life is never dull and predictable.

Think today what you as an individual or your church could do or say. Maybe people would also be amazed and say “What does this mean?” If they do, then perhaps you could tell them!

Lord, forgive me if I am dull and safe. Make me brave enough to challenge and to change things around me. May my life be a bold and vibrant witness to your presence. Amen 

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1 What sort of things did Jesus say and do that amazed people?

Matthew 12:22-23, Mark 12:17, Luke 2:47

2 Can we be changed to become ‘amazing’ and unpredictable?

Ezekiel 36:25-27, Acts 2:17

Pentecost – Togetherness

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 The Reading: Acts 2:1-4

“They were all together in one place” (v.1) RSV

Jesus told the disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the promised Holy Spirit. They were much encouraged through his post resurrection appearances over a 40 day period. But now they are huddled together, fearful (“behind locked doors for fear of the Jews”), yet expectant and prayerful.

Our most effective praying is done when we are together, together especially in heart and mind. It is no use meeting if we are at loggerheads and cannot agree. Love covers a multitude of differences (age, brain-power, theology, priorities, etc). We need to be united in mutual respect and agreed upon what we are praying for.

When we meet together to pray we do not need to be few or many, but simply in harmony. We do not need to pray aloud or use set prayers or be lengthy or brief. These things depend on time and aptitude. But we need to be united in common prayer, letting our request be made known to God.

Do you pray with others? Sunday worship is one opportunity. A home group is another.

Maybe even prayer expressed on a shared website is acceptable to God. Do you pray with anyone in your family?

The disciples were “all” together. There may have been about 120 persons (see Acts 1:15). I can’t imagine the quieter ones leading in prayer, nor the women (at that time). The prayer did not make God send the Holy Spirit, but it brought them into line with God’s purposes, and allowed him to move in great power among them.

Lord Jesus, we thank you for your fellowship with the Father and the Son. Thank you for that example of heavenly harmony. May we know that harmony on earth.

Amen. 

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1 What are some of the benefits of meeting together?

Hebrews 10:23-25

2 What word is the key for fellowship?

John 13:34-35

3 Even husband and wife need that love.

1 Peter 3:7

Pentecost – The Promise

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The Reading: Acts 1:4-9

“You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you shall be my witness …” (v.8) RSV

Power to do what? Or even, power to be what? Power to be a good witness for Jesus and his Gospel. This will require both ‘doing’ and ‘being’; it may even require ‘speaking’. We are witnesses whether we like it or not. Our lives witness to who we are and what we are. Despite what we claim to believe, our lives will speak of what we truly believe.

Jesus promises that the Holy Spirit will make our lives match up to our profession of belief. He will give us a new heart, new desires, new perspectives and new motivations. If we allow the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts day by day (through worship, praise and prayer) he will make us into good witnesses.

Witnessing is not primarily about speaking, but about being and doing. Jesus was not impressed by those who only called him “Lord, Lord”, but those who did the will of the Father. Someone once wrote: “It is better to be and not to speak, than to speak and not to be.”

So, the ‘power’ that Jesus promises is the power to be a witness for him. The main ingredient for those first witnesses was ‘boldness’. Something needed to drive them out from their church building, that is the Upper Room, and out into the world. The Holy Spirit comes to embolden us and free us from the fear of consequences and failure. Just go and live it out, and be prepared to give a reason for the hope within you.

Lord Jesus, help me first to know what you have promised, and secondly to be able to believe your promises. Thank you that you have promised all things necessary to living a life that pleases you and blesses others. Amen

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1 What else does Jesus promise the Holy Spirit will provide for you and his church?

John 14:26, John 16:13

2 What does Jesus promise the Holy Spirit will do for the world?

John 16:8-11

Easter Joy – Angels

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The Reading: Matthew 28:1-15

“His appearance was like lightening …” (v.3) RSV

Angels don’t feature in our lives much these days. Yet the whole Bible is shot through with angelic appearances. There is no doubt that for thousands of years people saw angels. They were (and are) spiritual creatures who are servants of the Most High. They were ministering spirits (Hebrews 1:14) who were sent to look after God’s people. Each child has a guardian angel (Matthew 18:10). Jesus was ministered to by angels both after his Wilderness temptations and in his final test in the Garden of Gethsemane.

In our story of the resurrection of Jesus the angel(s) fulfilled their main task which was to be a messenger. The angel told the women that they should go to the disciples and tell them to go and meet the risen Jesus in Galilee. The word ‘angel’ literally means ‘messenger’.

Our faith is sorely reduced if we rob ourselves of a belief in angels.

We may not see them nor hear them but they are around us. Myriads of angels are sent by God to minister to us. Sometimes angels are entertained by us ‘unawares’ (Hebrews 13:2); they may come in the form of a stranger or visitor.

To the women at the tomb “his appearance was like lightening, and his raiment white as snow” (v.3). Even the hardened and unbelieving soldiers were scared stiff. Maybe they didn’t even know what they saw or felt. But the women saw and heard. The angel proved to be a source of encouragement and guidance.

Lord, I may never see an angel but I believe that these wonderful spiritual creatures are around me, to guide and protect. Thank you for them. Amen. 

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1. Who rescued Lot from Sodom?

Genesis 19:15-23

2. What affect did the angel have on Moses?

Exodus 3:1-6

Easter Joy – Mammon

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The Reading: Matthew 28:1-15 

“So they took the money and did as they were directed;” (v.15) RSV

Nothing will rob us of Easter Joy more than the love of money. So many people have ruined their souls by letting money dominate their ethics. Judas Iscariot sold his soul for 30 pieces of silver. Esau sold his birthright for a bowl of food (Genesis 25:32-33). Poor people do it out of desperation, and rich people do it out of greed.

We know well the quote, “The love of money is the root of all (kinds of) evils” (1 Timothy 6:10). It is the ‘love’ of money rather than money itself that is the problem. Many a godly soul has had a lot of money, but it can so easily distract us from ‘love’ of God, and ‘love’ of our neighbour. Jesus said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:23).

The soldiers who fell asleep outside the tomb that they were meant to be guarding were only too happy not only to be excused for their failure (rather than be executed!), but also to be paid for their troubles. They could always say: ‘Our rulers told us to do so.” How often do we blame others when in fact we are only too happy to earn a back-hander? How many dictators, bankers, drug dealers, and so forth can justify the huge amount of money they get by passing the buck onto others?

Mammon is more than money; it is better expressed by ‘materialism’: power, possessions and pleasure. Money is a terrible master but an excellent servant.

Lord, may I be kept free from the love of money. Thank you that I can learn to be content with what I have. Make me want to love you and my neighbours more than Mammon. Amen. 

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1. Which prophet was led astray by money?

Numbers 22:18-20 and 2 Peter 2:15

2. What did Jesus say to the rich young ruler?

Luke 18:23