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Think Spot 30 June 2014

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Think Spot 30 June 2014


This week I ask how you are heeding the words of Jesus and issue a challenge to you about loving others! Come hear how you can make a difference in the world - not in your own strength but in the power of the Holy Spirit!

The apostle John writes in 1 John 3:16-18 "This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth."

He continues in 1 John 4:15-16

"If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them."


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Life Under the Apple Tree

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Life Under the Apple Tree

(Song of Solomon 2:3-14)

Introduction

I of course don't know when you last read it, heard a talk about it or if you have ever read it or heard a talk about it! So, if you are in that category, it's a new thing for you! In my preparation, as I talked to other Christians about this book, I have found that some people are aghast at some of the very frank and provocative language used! But this should not stop us from reading it, studying it and learning from it. It is, after all, part of the Bible and therefore part of God's Written Word. Jesus Himself and the Disciples would have read this book at Passover time. It is a book that tells of the love of a woman (the Beloved) for a man, the man probably being Solomon. Different translations have different places where the beloved, the lover and others are actually speaking. But for ease of use tonight, we will use the guidelines of the church bibles, the New International Version. The Jews called it the Greatest Song of All Songs. Martin Luther called it the noblest of all songs! It is poetry that is full of love, romance and some say eroticism. Greater than Shakespeare's sonnets if you can believe that! Tonight, we are delving only into Chapter 2.

Historically this book has been interpreted in 3 ways Firstly as a treatise on the joys of biblical sexual love; Secondly as an allegory for God's love for His people Israel; These two interpretations have great merit! However, some of you may be sad to know and others very happy to know, that I am going to concentrate principally on a third way that encompasses those two and that is seeing it as a picture of the immense love that exists between Jesus Christ for His church and its people, where the bridegroom is Jesus and His bride is the church. Paul highlights this relationship in his letter to the Ephesians. Before I forget, I should say that I am also aware of another difficulty, and that is that British men and Australian men have one thing in common - we are not very good at saying or doing things to do with love! We find it embarrassing and cumbersome. I don't know about South Africans or other nationalities though! So, hopefully with the help of the Holy Spirit, this may also make us become better men as well as feeding our minds and hearts about the love that exists between Jesus and the church!

The Beloved's Portrait of the Lover

(Song of Solomon 2:3-6)

This is the beloved's portrait of her lover, the bridegroom. He is an apple tree! Wives, have you ever called your husband an apple tree! And of course He is an apple tree, because this lover, this bridegroom provides her with shelter, protection and food. And she enjoys it. Delighting in being strengthened, refreshed and being in love. As he embraces her, she feels his compassion, his warmth, his love for her and his strength. How does that talk of Jesus and his love for the church, His people, His bride?

Jesus is the Bread of life

Three times in John 6, Jesus refers to Himself as the living bread. By this He meant that He was the only one who could satiate the appetite and yearning of every person's spirit. For those He was speaking to, bread was a basic staple food for living, just as it is for millions of people today. Jesus indicates when saying He is the bread of life, that He will supply all needs! Just as He said to the woman at the well in John 4v4, that whoever drinks His living water shall never again go spiritually thirsty. When Jesus referred to the manna in the desert (John 6v49) he talked of it being merely temporary, despite being a gift from God. He, however, as the true bread of life gives permanent satisfaction and life everlasting to all those who believe and follow Him (John 6v51)! But this bread He offers, has to be eaten; it has to be taken up by the person wanting spiritual life! If you are seeking spiritual nourishment, then ask! Have you eaten of this bread?

Jesus is the Good Shepherd.

Jesus is the great protector, the great Shepherd. It is through Jesus and Jesus Christ alone, that salvation and spiritual protection and is found and through Him alone as the door or the gate, that people are led safely and soundly into spiritual freedom, spiritual light and spiritual sustenance. Unlike others who come only to steal, kill and destroy, Jesus offers spiritual safety & nourishment. Jesus protects those whom He loves and who loves Him! Jesus does not just offer a way out, but also a way in! The security offered by Jesus is because He is always in close proximity to those who follow Him. Jesus calls all those who follow Him by name (John 10v3) and they know each other. Jesus is the great shepherd only through the sacrifice he must make for His sheep. Here Jesus is looking ahead to the sacrifice He makes on the Cross. The cross is referred to in the New Testament as the tree on which Jesus hung. His protective and nourishing love for all of humanity compels Him to make the ultimate sacrifice of His death on the tree. Just as all shepherds will endanger themselves for the protection and safety of their sheep, so too did Jesus endure the pain and suffering of the Cross, so that people can be led into the eternal safety of God's kingdom. It is in this role of shepherd, that Jesus exhibits true leadership, which is self-less and sacrificial.

I saw this week an example of a shepherd protecting his flock. It was up near Crowe and I was driving back from Burley, and there were a flock of sheep on one side of the road and the shepherd on the other. He was on a bicycle and the sheep were looking at him for directions! His sheep knew him and were looking to him and he was protecting them from being run over by a maniac in a green Fiesta! Are you looking to the great shepherd, Jesus Christ for safety, protection and guidance?

These are just two examples of Jesus himself saying He protects, nourishes, gives shelter and loves. Many more examples can be found in the Gospels. Just as there is only one lover for this woman, there is only one Saviour for the world. Jesus does not say I am a true vine; a way, a truth and a life. He does not say I am a door to life, just as He does not say I am a shepherd, a door, a light or a bread of life. No - Jesus is the only way, the only truth and the only life. Jesus is the one great shepherd and the only door to life. Jesus is the only light of the world and the only true bread of life. Jesus is the apple tree, and calls everyone to partake of the nourishment and shelter only He can provide.

The Beloved Encourages Others about the Lover

(Song of Solomon 2:7-9)

Read verses 7-9 Here now, the beloved addresses her friends and other people, not be impatient! These women were being persuaded by the beloved not to engage in sexual love until their marriage! Who were they? We don't know! But we do know from the rest of Scripture that sexual love is only for those in a committed monogamous marriage between a man and a woman. Sexual union, between a man and a woman in a committed married relationship, is a picture of the union of God and His people - that's why adultery and sexual immorality is also idolatry. Then the Beloved calls out "Listen! Look" Here he comes! She is expecting him to arrive at any time! The Beloved is waiting for her lover! She has a glimpse of Him but is waiting for His bodily presence with her. Is this not a picture of us, as the church awaiting Jesus Christ to come again? Before Jesus ascended into the clouds, He said He would be coming again! Not as a little baby next time, but coming from the clouds in great glory, honour, jubilation and exaltation! Nobody knows when that will be! There are hints in the Bible, but they are only hints! We are to wait expectantly and to live lives that are worthy of Him now, as we partake of righteousness and wait for Jesus to come again.

When ever Youngmi and I go together to London, we meet up with old friends. Last time, it was a blast! We had a banquet, and there were 9 adults and 6 kids in our favourite Chinese Restaurant in Chinatown. We have all known each other for over 14 years now. One person wasn't there though. When we were walking and talker later on, two of my friends, individually of each other, told me about John. John has recently remarried and he and his new wife have been trying for the last few years for a baby. They showed me the messages they have received from him. It transpires he is giving up God, as he calls it, over this issue of not having the baby. My friends asked my advice. I said, to keep on encouraging, letting John know that while he may have let go of Jesus, Jesus has not let go of him or his wife. I also suggested that there are probably deeper issues as well, that John is not talking about. So my friends are going to continue encouraging John and uplifting him in prayer to the One who won't let go.

So be encouraged! Don't give up! Encourage others who may be struggling. See and remember what the Lover is like! Be encouraged! Keep going! As Christians, if you are one here tonight, you are to bear fruit by remaining close to Jesus, as He is the vine and we are the branches. And why are we as Christians to bear fruit? As a means of bringing glory to God the Father (John 15v8). Be encouraged and be encouragers of others.

Lover is like no other and wants to hear your voice.

(Song of Solomon 2:10-15)

The beloved speaks of the lover's voice. (Read v10-13) Then finally we hear the voice of the lover! (Read v14-15) Ever felt like God is far away? Well you aren't alone! It is an experience that is common to all Christians, at some point or another. I know I have experienced that in the past. But I also know from personal experience, that Jesus always comes through in difficult times. Although He may not come in the time I think He should come, because He knows when I need Him most. This woman, the beloved, is so expectant of the Lover's arrival she can hear his voice, his tender words! He is calling her to Himself!

Jesus Christ is also calling you, to Himself! He wants you to be a partaker of the good news about Him. He wants you to be part of His family, the church. He is ever calling, ever beckoning people to enter into relationship with Him. His love for the church is indicative of verse 13, where he calls the beloved His beautiful bride. That is the church - warts and all - is His bride! By faith, He will see you through - Remember in the Gospels, when the disciples were in the storm and Jesus came to them walking on the water. Remember Jesus saying "Come" and Peter went to Him. This must have encouraged the other disciples, for upon seeing Jesus' power they worshipped him. Whatever troubles you are undergoing are temporary, and Jesus will see you through.

Jesus is praying for you, will come to you, grow you and help you through troubles. By being obedient to God, you are encouraging others by showing your salvation and showing that faith is not blind, but active! Jesus wants to hear your voice talking to him... Not just for half hour in the morning but all day long. We are to yearn to talk to Him and for Him to talk to us. Prayer is a 24 hour communication exercise. Prayer, according to the Church Father Augustine, is a constant yearning for assistance and strengthening of desire towards the ultimate goal - eternal happiness and worship and knowledge of God. God Himself assists as we pray: by correcting and strengthening the yearnings. Prayers express desires and thoughts in a contributory way to the journey we are on. That means tell Jesus how you are feeling, both in the good and the hard times. Tell Him of your wants, your needs and all your cares.. Let His arms surround you! To him your voice is sweet and dulcet. Your face to Him is a delight. Seek him! Ask him! Talk to him! This is how you are spiritually energized! When you talk to God, you strengthen your relationship with Him! When you and I ask others to pray for us, Church unity is strengthened!

Recap!

So, how do we recapitulate. In this chapter, we firstly saw together the Beloved's portrait of the lover and how He feeds, nourishes protects and shelters her. We see this as an encompassing picture of Jesus and His love for His people, the Church. Then we saw how the Beloved lady encouraged others to wait and see this tremendous Lover. That is why we encourage one another and spur one another on as we see the day approaching when our bridegroom, Jesus Christ comes again in glory! Then lastly we saw how the bridegroom loves to hear the voice of the Beloved and gaze into her face. Jesus Christ, the great lover and bridegroom, loves to hear our voices as we express our love, gratitude, cares, worries and feelings to Him.

Conclusion

And what, in conclusion, do we do with all this? Jesus is the only nourisher, protector and feeder. Jesus Christ, the apple tree, provides for all your needs, your nourishment, gives you strength, protects and comforts. I don't know what situation you are in at the moment. This credit crunch, this economic crisis is affecting everybody. I guess there are probably three kinds of people here tonight.

Firstly, there will be those who do not know this Jesus Christ personally. Please, do not leave here tonight without asking one of the leaders or your friends here, about how you can get to know more about this Jesus. The time is short, the waiting for Jesus to come again grows ever shorter, and when He does come again, the time will be too late to change your mind.

Secondly, if you are in need of some love, some protection, some nourishment, then don't leave without having prayed with somebody or letting one of the leaders know of your needs. As Jesus Himself said, "Ask, Seek and Knock!" Jesus Christ is making intercessions for you, as He knows. He feels your cares and your worries, and knows what you are going through.

Finally, if you are not in either of those situations yourself, you will know somebody who is. Therefore go and encourage those you know who are struggling and are in need of protection and comfort. This week, go and tell the good news of Jesus Christ to somebody who doesn't know Jesus personally.

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The Spirit Explodes

Part 19 of 22

~Goodbye and Encouragement to the Ephesians

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~Acts 20:1-38

by Roger Kirby



There is a very end of term feel to this chapter. Things do not go according to plan. One student falls asleep in the middle of a lesson. Then Paul exhorts everyone to a vigorous future just like a headmaster at an end of term assembly.



Read Acts 20:1–6.


Question 1: What more does Paul do than the work of an evangelist?



Paul was also a teacher. He taught long and carefully both before people were converted and, as here, after. He was great on encouragement. Some present-day evangelists need to follow his example more carefully!



Question 2: What was Paul’s attitude to danger, as when the Jews, perhaps Jews planning to sail on the same boat as him, plotted against him?



He avoided danger when he could without weakening the gospel. He was quite prepared to put his body and his life into danger when it was necessary, but he took wise precautions when he could.

This is the second ‘we’ passage in Acts. The writer of the book was with Paul for this part of his journey. This is why it is thought right to say that Luke was the writer of this book and therefore of, what we call, Luke’s Gospel too.



Read Acts 20:7–12.


What an odd way of becoming historically famous! Eutychus, whose name means ‘lucky’, may have been a slave, very tired after a long, hard day’s work. This event establishes that Paul is a prophet-like-Jesus. He is a prophet because, as well as prophesying, this is very similar to what Elijah and Elisha were able to do in bringing back to life those who had just died (1 Kings 17 and 2 Kings 4). He is like Jesus because this is similar to what Jesus did on more than one occasion. Note that the episode is bracketed by 2 references to the breaking of bread.



Read Acts 20:13–17.


This is a curious journey. We are not told why Paul went by land while everybody else we are told about took a ship to Assos. Perhaps he needed the peace and quiet of the road to do some thinking, meditating and praying. Or perhaps he had a lot of money on him to take to Jerusalem and reckoned the land route was safer. We are not told. Then although he did not want to stop at Ephesus he asked the leaders of the church in Ephesus to meet him in Miletus and that was a journey of about 45 Kilometres each way. Again we are not told why he did that. But then we come to the account of what he said to them. This is the only account we have of what he said to a group of Christians rather than to those who had not come to faith. It covers much the same ideas as the epistles to Timothy and Titus do in greater detail. We will take it in several small bits to make it clearer what he was saying.



Read Acts 20:18–24.


We might call some of this boasting but Paul lived in a different age and a different culture and this was acceptable behaviour then. He holds himself up as an example of how they should behave and he is, of course, seeking to imitate the example of Jesus.



Question 3: In what particular things is he telling them, and therefore us, to follow his example?

He was happy to live in Ephesus as an ordinary person quite humbly without claiming any special privileges for himself. He worked steadily and devotedly at the task that had been given to him of teaching and preaching. He did not let any apparent obstacles stop him doing what he knew he had been called to do.

It is unlikely that we have been given so great a task or so demanding a one as Paul had, yet we should work away at what ever we have been set to do in the work of the Kingdom with similar humility, steadiness and persistence as he did. That is not always a very easy thing to do. We find it easy to lose impetus and mental strength. Sitting looking at a computer screen, as I am doing right now, week in, week out, is not the easiest thing in the world! So I know very well what the problems are. The race you are called to run is different from my race; the completion of your task will be different from the completion of my task. Let us press on together in the work of the Kingdom, remembering always whose Kingdom it is.



Read Acts 20:25–31.


The word ‘overseer’ is misleading. It comes from the Greek word ‘episkopos’ which is made up of ‘epi’ which means over, and ‘skopos’ which means looking as in telescope and microscope. We get ‘bishop’ from ‘episkopos’ when it loses the initial ‘e’ and is mispronounced. But our main use of the word ‘overseer’ in English is in the management of slavery–not a good connection to make–so it is a rather unfortunate word.



Question 4: An image from slavery is a poor one to relate to Paul’s description of how the elders in Ephesus were to operate. What better image of where overlooking occurs can you think of than that?



My favourite image is of how a mother acts as the baby sleeps and she works around the house. She keeps checking quietly that the baby is all right. She watches over the baby in a loving and caring way. That is the sort of watching over that the Holy Spirit is concerned with in what Paul says. Think ‘watching over’ when you come across ‘overseeing’.



The next verse is tricky. The NIV translates it as ‘the church of God, which he bought with his own blood’ but it is equally likely to be ‘with the blood of his own’ that is with the blood of Christ, which fits better with what the rest of the New Testament says. Either way it shows the closeness of Jesus Christ and God the Father and the power of their work in our salvation. Note that the idea that our salvation was purchased is a metaphor and there is no indication who or what it was purchased from. It certainly does not mean that we were bought from Satan–that would give him far too high a profile.

Paul goes on with stark realism to say that there will very soon be people trying to cash in on the infant Christian movement and draw people away from the truth. The latest revision of the NIV correctly says that this will be done by ‘some’ from your number not confining the problem creators to men only! Sadly the number of men and women doing this has increased over the years.



Question 5: How do we know what is the truth to which we are to firmly adhere?


Only by sticking close to the Bible as the written word of God can we stay on course. It does not change from century to century. People’s thoughts and ideas do. Problems of interpretation exist but they are trivial compared with the erratic nature of people’s minds.



Read Acts 20:32–38.


Paul is sometimes presented as a hard character, but this and many other incidents show that that is not correct. He was a very sensitive people person, greatly loving and greatly loved by those he came in contact with. He returns to his main exhortation, which can be summed up in what he says to the Corinthians: ‘be imitators of me, as I am of Christ’. If we do that we will not go far wrong!

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Malachi

Welcome to the last installment in our series about the minor prophets. Our final book is Malachi, the last book in the Old Testament. There is something very exciting about this book! Perhaps it’s the sense of anticipation contained within it. The first book of the New Testament lies just over the page! But before we get there, Malachi has serious words from God to convey to his people. The name Malachi means “my messenger” and this theme is picked up during the prophecy. It is likely that Malachi was a contemporary of Ezra and Nehemiah, writing in the mid 5th century BC.

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To recap the history briefly, Judah had been permitted to returned from exile in Babylon in 538 BC by king Cyrus of Persia. Haggai and Zechariah had encouraged the people to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. God had promised his people great restoration and he had promised that he would dwell among them, but the political and social environment of the day remained very difficult. Judah was small in land area and in population; the second temple was an inferior shadow of the former magnificent temple; Judah was allowed some freedom to self-rule but they were still under the ultimate control of Persia and they endured a lot of hostility and opposition from their neighbours.

The people had become cynical and disillusioned and their worship had suffered as a result. Malachi’s prophecy is a loud wake-up call to the nation, urging them to turn back to God and renew their covenant commitment to him.

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The prophecy consists of a series of charges that God brings against his people. God then anticipates the way the people will question the validity of the charges, defensively asking how they can be true. In each case, God explains why his accusations are valid.

The book opens with God’s declaration that he has loved his people. The people ask, “How have you loved us?”, showing their cynicism about God’s steadfast covenant love for them.

 

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God’s first accusation against the people is that they are the ones who have not shown love, failing to honour God and despising his name. God outlines in more detail some examples of this in their behaviour.

The priests have been offering sacrifices that are offensive to God. The only animals acceptable for sacrifice in the temple were healthy, whole animals without sickness or defect. The priests were responsible for checking the condition of the animals that the people brought for sacrifice. They had neglected this duty and compromised their standards to allow the offering of blind, lame and diseased animals at the temple. God would rather that the temple doors were shut and no offerings brought at all rather than these half-hearted, second-rate offerings be made.

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The people were trying to cheat God by keeping back the better animals for themselves and bringing the ones that were not fit for anything else to the temple. To use a lesser analogy, one way that we show our love for another person is the care we take over choosing a gift for them. How offended would your husband, wife, or friend be if you promised them a perfect gift, and they knew you’d bought it for them, and then on their birthday you gave them a second-hand, slightly damaged and rather dirty gift instead and kept the perfect one for yourself? How much worse it is to bring a defective offering to God, when the issue at stake isn’t someone’s birthday gift but the very serious issue of offering a sacrifice for sin!

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In chapter 2 God makes a second accusation, this time regarding the way the people have abused the marriage covenant. Firstly, they have intermarried with people from pagan nations, who worship idols. Secondly, they have adopted a casual attitude to divorce, with men sending their wives away simply because they stopped feeling affection towards them. The people were perplexed and distressed that God appeared to have withheld blessing from them, not accepting their worship. God explains that their disobedience in regard to his standards for marriage is a part of the reason for this.

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Another accusation follows quickly: the people have continually questioned God’s justice and doubted his ability to make just decisions. They have accused God of letting evil people get away with everything.

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In chapter 3 God announces the coming of a messenger to prepare the way before him. The arrival of the messenger will be followed by the sudden coming of the Lord to his temple. In Old Testament history, the completions of the tabernacle and the first temple had both been followed immediately by the dramatic, visible presence and glory of the Lord filling the worship place. This hadn’t happened after the completion of the second temple but God promises that he will arrive suddenly, fulfilling the people’s desire for his presence in their midst. But God warns that this will not be a day of delight for all. As in the book of Amos, God tells his people that the coming of the Day of the Lord will bring judgement. The people of Judah had assumed that they were immune from judgement by nature of their identity as God’s people but God makes it clear that they will still be judged according to their faithfulness to him. Judah will be refined and purified through judgement.

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God then accuses the people of stealing from him by not bringing him the proper tithe of their offerings. Similar to the situation with the animal sacrifices, the people were keeping back more than they should have done, causing offence to God. This charge is leveled against the whole nation, not just the priests. God challenges the people to test him, declaring that if they would only bring the whole tithe to him, he would bless them abundantly in return. The behaviour of the people in regard to their offerings demonstrates their lack of trust in God’s gracious provision. In chapter 3 verse 14 the people sum up their spiritual destitution by declaring that it is futile to serve God.

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However, God takes note of a small remnant of faithful people who continue to worship him properly with a right heart. He carefully records their names to ensure that they are preserved.

The book ends in chapter 4 with the promise of the coming Day of the Lord, when evil will be judged and destroyed and those who have been faithful to God will be restored and healed. Malachi says:

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“But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.” (Malachi 4:2 ESV)

The final words of the book declare that Elijah the prophet will come before the Day of the Lord. And there the Old Testament ends. So what happens next?

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After Malachi put down his pen, there followed 400 years of prophetic silence. Seismic events occurred in the political and social landscape of the Middle East and Europe, and empires came and went. Then one day, an obedient priest called Zechariah had an extraordinary encounter with an angel of God whilst serving in the temple in Jerusalem. The angel announced the coming birth of Zechariah’s son, who was to be called John. After John’s miraculous birth to his previously infertile older mother, Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied over his newborn son. His song is recorded in Luke chapter 1. Strikingly, in verses 76-79 he says:

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“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke 1:76-79 ESV)

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At last the promised sunrise of salvation was coming! When John the Baptist started his prophetic ministry, many Jews wondered whether he might be Elijah, returned to earth again, as Malachi had prophesied. John declared that he was not Elijah.

However, John was the fulfilment of Malachi’s prophecy about the coming messenger who would prepare the way for the Lord. Jesus himself identifies John as the promised Elijah. In Matt 11:11-15 he says:

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Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force. For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. He who has ears to hear, let him hear. (Matthew 11:11-15 ESV)

In fact, this is just what the angel had promised Zechariah about his future son:

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And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” (Luke 1:16-17)

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Shortly after John’s birth, Jesus was born to Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem. The new parents took their little baby to the temple in Jerusalem to present him to God, as the law required for a first-born son. Mary and Joseph were quite surprised to be greeted by Simeon, a devout man who was waiting for the promised Messiah. Simeon was filled with the Holy Spirit and declared:

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“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” (Luke 2:29-32)

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The Lord had suddenly come to his temple, in the rather unexpected guise of a human baby. Simeon knew that this was the fulfilment of God’s promise.

No-one anticipated how Jesus would bring about that salvation. Even his own disciples didn’t understand it despite Jesus explicitly telling them that he would be killed and then raised from the dead and that he had to die for the sins of the world.

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The forgiveness of our sins no longer depends on us offering sacrifices of animals to God. Praise God that we can have forgiveness of our sins through our identification with Jesus’ sacrifice of himself on the cross!

But now we are called to be living sacrifices (Romans 12:1)! Our whole lives are now meant to be lived as an act of sacrifice and worship to God. Perhaps Malachi’s words about half-hearted, inadequate offerings need to stir us today! If our attitude to our service to God and our giving of resources is focused on what we can get away with keeping, rather than what we delight to give, Malachi challenges us to consider how we are honouring God.

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I really hope you’ve enjoyed this series. I’ve learned so much by reading and studying these fascinating books of prophecy and I’ve come to appreciate them in a whole new way. I pray that you’ve been encouraged to read them with me.

 

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God Loves You 04

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For God so loved the world, that He gave is one and only Son, so that who ever believed in Him would have everlasting life. John 3:16.

Today we have Milly and Coco! Be amazed!


God loves you. God is beckoning you to love Him in return. He wants you to be in relationship with Him. Nothing you can do will make Him love you more than He already does. If you are not in relationship with God already, now is the time!


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Think Spot 23 June 2014

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Think Spot 23 June 2014

G’day and welcome to Partakers Think Spot on Monday 23rd June 2014.

This week I ask how you are heeding the words of Jesus and issue another challenge to you! Come hear how you can make a difference in the world - not in your own strength but in the power of the Holy Spirit!

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The Spirit Explodes

Part 18 of 22
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~Success and trouble in Ephesus.

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~Acts19: 1 – 41


by Roger Kirby


Some time has passed since the main events we read about in the last study. Since Paul left Corinth he has been to Jerusalem and Antioch, travelled through the area he has already been to in the south of what is now Turkey and then travelled over land to Ephesus in west Turkey. As already noted Ephesus was a large city, third largest in the Empire, and correspondingly important both to Rome and the developing churches. Though it is interesting to note that in the book of Revelation the church in Ephesus is warned that ‘if you do not repent I will remove your lamp stand from its place’ and they did not repent and the city no longer exists today except as ruins.

 

Read Acts 19:1–7.

 

This episode has clearly been put next to that about Apollos not knowing the baptism of Jesus. This time the situation is much clearer: although they are called disciples they did not have the gift of the Holy Spirit. When asked whether they had received the Holy Spirit their reply was literally ‘we have not heard that the spirit is’ probably meaning something like ‘we have not heard that the Spirit is available to the likes of us’. John had spoken about the Spirit so they must have known of his existence.

 

Question 1: - They answered ‘no’. What can we conclude from that?

 

They recognized his non-action in their lives. Although we do not need to experience any particular event or activity to know we have the Spirit when we set out to follow Jesus his presence will become obvious in our lives. Because there had been doubt in this particular case about their status in Christ Paul placed his hands on them and they spoke in tongues and prophesied, none of which always happened. Again we see there was no essential pattern in what happened. Following Jesus and experiencing the gift of the Holy Spirit are the two essentials.

 

Read Acts 19:8–16.

 

That ‘all’ the Jews and Greeks heard the word of the Lord sounds like an exaggeration when they had no television or radio but there were no newspapers to read so they had a lot of time to talk and gossip and there will have been many travellers between cities.

 

Question 2: - Why do we find it so much more difficult to get everyone to hear the word of the Lord than they did?

 

We cannot control the media and in many countries there is a careful exclusion of Christians from the main media outlets, usually because of competing ideologies or religions.

This in vs 3,14 is magic, not in the sense of tricks and sleight of hand, but in the sense of using occult practices, or evil spirits as they are called here.

 

Question 3: - What is the essential difference between magic and miracle?

 

There are probably many answers to that question. The one I like is this: magic is the deliberate manipulation of evil spirits by the use of spells, incantations, rituals and other devices to achieve a desired end. Miracles are events carried out in response to a developed relationship between an individual and the Creator and Redeemer God.

 

Question 4: - Where in this passage do we hear of the direct challenge of miracles to magic?

 

God did extraordinary things using handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched Paul; this was a use of spiritual power. That this was so successful was a tribute to the power in Paul because of his relationship to God, not the manipulation by other people. But the attempt to use the name of ‘Jesus, whom Paul preaches’ was an attempt to use an incantation without any relationship behind it which was magic.

 

Question 5: - Where, in your culture, can you see similar things happening?

 

Of course, I cannot answer that one for you in detail. Note that the idea that icons, or texts from the Bible or any other religious book can protect one from accidents on the road etc. is a playing with the occult that is highly dangerous. All sorts of superstitions are similarly very doubtful indeed and to be avoided. The idea that there is any value in astrology is similarly dangerous. If you are following Christ truly you will avoid these and all sorts of other dangerous practices that attempt to manipulate spirits or even the Lord God himself.

 

Read Acts 19:17 – 22.

Ephesus was a major centre of occult practices. The value of what was burnt equates to something like 50,000 days pay for a labourer, not that they would have been the ones owning the scrolls! This was clearly a major turning point in the life of the city. Would that the name of the Lord Jesus were held in high honour in many more cities today.

 

 

Question 6: - Is there anything you should be burning or dumping? Up to you. I hope not though.

 

 

Read Acts 19:23 – 31.

 

Question 8: - For the second time in this chapter Christian faith is called ‘the Way’. What does this title emphasise?

 

If you start on a Way and don’t go forward you will soon be stuck in the middle of the path. We must go forward, grow in our faith, move from baby food to adult food, walk in step with the Spirit. We must not say I am saved I don’t need to do anything else. We look and are plain stupid if we act like that. Also if we are on a Way we are going somewhere. Our somewhere is glory, the Kingdom of God, the near presence of Christ, heaven, the new earth and the new heaven.

 

Demetrius was a sort of shop-steward type. You can’t blame him. The silversmiths would need to develop some new trades if Christianity prevailed. Paul wanted to go into the theatre (a huge amphitheatre still existing) , presumably thinking he was the cause of the trouble and should take the wrath of the mob rather than Gaius and Aristarchus, but his friends realise he would be in greater danger than they were.

 

 

Read Acts 19: 32 – 41.

 

We don’t know who Alexander was or why he was pushed forward. Possibly he was to represent the non-Christian Jews planning to say that they had nothing to do with what was happening. Fortunately the local Roman official turned up and had sufficient strength of mind and enough authority to quieten things down. I expect it took him quite a while to calm his nerves down afterwards!

Luke presents this as the culminating event in Paul’s missionary travels. The story of Jesus, the Way, had challenged one of the greatest cults of the ancient world, the cult of Artemis, the Greek equivalent of the Roman god Diana, in the place of its greatest influence and come out triumphant.

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~Partakers Friday Prayers!

20th June 2014


We pray together and when Christians pray together, from different nations, different churches and different denominations - that reveals Church unity! Come! Let us pray together!


O Almighty and all-knowing God,
without beginning or end,
who is the giver, preserver,
and rewarder of all virtue…
 ~~~~~
Grant me to stand firm
on the solid foundation of faith,
be protected by the invincible shield of hope,
and be adorned by the nuptial garment of charity.
 ~~~~~
Grant me by justice to obey you,
by prudence to resist the crafts of the Devil,
by temperance to hold to moderation,
by fortitude to bear adversity with patience.
~~~~~
Grant that the goods I have
I may share liberally with those who have not,
and the goods which I do not have
I may seek with humility from those who have.
 ~~~~~
Grant that I may truly recognise the guilt of the evil I have done,
and bear with equanimity the punishments I have deserved;
that I may never lust after the goods of my neighbour,
but always give thanks to you for all thy good gifts.
~~~~~
Plant in me, O Lord, all thy virtues,
that in divine matters I might be devout,
in human affairs wise,
and in the proper needs of the flesh
onerous to no one.
~~~~~
And grant that I may never rush to do things hastily,
 
nor balk to do things demanding,
so that I neither yearn for things too soon,
nor desert things before they are finished.

Amen


A prayer of Thomas Aquinas

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Joel

This is our penultimate podcast in the minor prophets series! This week we are looking at the book of Joel. I had some degree of dilemma about where to place Joel in the roughly chronological order of the series and that’s because the estimates of when the book was written vary widely from the 9th to 4th century BC. After looking at the content of Joel’s prophecies, I decided to go with the scholars who argue that Joel was written after the exile to Babylon, dating it somewhere around the year 500 BC. Joel evidently has knowledge of Judah and Jerusalem and it seems likely that he was from Judah himself. His name means “Yahweh is God” and we are told that his father was called Pethuel. Other than that, we know little about Joel himself.

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Joel is similar in style to several of the other minor prophetic books, being written in the form of oracles of judgement and salvation, mostly in poetic style. Joel appears to have written during a time of national calamity for Judah. Key themes of his book are the Day of the Lord, the need to repent, the promise of God that he will dwell in the midst of his people, and the future promise of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

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Chapter one contains a vivid description of the invasion of the land of Judah by a locust swarm. Locusts are grasshoppers that breed very rapidly and fly in swarms when their population density is high enough. They can migrate large distances when in a swarm and they consume vast amounts of vegetation when they land. A swarm of locusts is a potential disaster for any farmer as it can decimate crops and vineyards, leaving virtually nothing behind.

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Joel describes exactly this sort of devastation in chapter 1 verses 1-12. Everything is laid bare, even the bark of the trees is stripped. The priests of Judah are instructed to lament and fast because they can no longer offer the proper sacrifices at the temple because all the grain, wine and oil are gone. The animals are suffering from lack of food and verses 19-20 indicate that there is also a drought occurring at the same time. Joel’s prophecy warns the people that the Day of the Lord is near. This could refer to the immediate day of the locust invasion, or to a future day of God’s judgement on the nations, or perhaps to both.

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Just when it seems that things couldn’t get worse, chapter 2 reveals that it can get much worse! The second chapter contains a terrifying description of an invading army, marching unstoppably across Judah. There are a number of opinions about the nature of this army: some believe that Joel is still describing the locusts, using more graphic imagery; others say that Joel is describing a human army invading Judah; or a third interpretation is that the army described is the Lord’s army, coming to judge the world on the Day of the Lord in an epic final conflict. Whichever is the case, this army is fearsome, purposeful and not hindered by any obstacle. Joel also describes other apocalyptic signs, which are found in other parts of the Bible when describing the Day of the Lord: the sun, moon and stars are dimmed and the earth is shaken.

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Yet, even in spite of this predicted calamity, it is not too late. In chapter 2:12-17 God calls his people to repentance and entreats them to return to him. Joel describes God as a God of mercy and grace, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. God desires to see real change in the hearts and souls of his people, not just outward signs of repentance (like the tearing of clothes), but a genuine change of heart.

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“Yet even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster. (Joel 2:12-13)

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The priests are urged to consecrate the whole congregation, even including little babies and newly weds. No one is exempt.

In response to the people’s repentance, God promises to restore Judah again, refilling the wine and oil vats and replenishing the threshing floors. God has judged his people but he has also brought deliverance and restoration to them. In chapter 2 verses 28-29 we find a prophecy about the future outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

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“And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit. (Joel 2:28-29)

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We see this prophecy fulfilled after Jesus’ death and resurrection when God pours out the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Peter quotes from this section in his speech to the crowd on the day of Pentecost – you can find this in Acts 2.

Just after this prophecy in Joel, we find the declaration that in those days,

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“…everyone who calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.” (Joel 2:32)

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Paul quotes this in Romans 10:13 in his explanation of the universal availability of God’s salvation to anyone who calls on the name of Jesus, regardless of their ethnic background or previous religious credentials, or lack of them.

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In chapter 3 God promises that he will judge the nations and restore the fortunes of his people. He will dwell in the midst of his people and be a source of security and refuge in the midst of the judgement to come.

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Multitudes, multitudes, in the valley of decision! For the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision. The sun and the moon are darkened, and the stars withdraw their shining. The LORD roars from Zion, and utters his voice from Jerusalem, and the heavens and the earth quake. But the LORD is a refuge to his people, a stronghold to the people of Israel. (Joel 3:14-16)

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The picture is one of great contrasts. As in other prophetic books, like Zephaniah, the Day of the Lord brings judgement and fear to some and relief and restoration for others.

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What messages can we take from the book of Joel today?

Firstly, we can celebrate the fulfilment of the prophecy in Joel 2:28-29. The Holy Spirit has been poured out on all believers, both young and old, men and women. The Holy Spirit is God’s gift to us - to help us, equip us, guide us and comfort us. In the early church, one of the things that helped to convince the Jewish believers that the Gentiles were also welcomed into God’s kingdom was the clear evidence of the dramatic work of the Holy Spirit in their lives. Salvation is indeed available to all people, to anyone who calls on the name of Jesus.

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I was particularly struck by God’s plea for the people to rend their hearts, not their garments. This reminds me of David’s prayer in Psalm 51:

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The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (Psalm 51:17)

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We can be so easily taken in by outward appearances, and we can spend a lot of time cultivating our outward appearance to portray the right image to the world around us, or to our fellow believers. But God is interested in the states of our hearts. He sees the real you and the real me, all of the time.

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When David was being chosen from the sons of Jesse to be anointed by Samuel, the prophet declared that:

 

…the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart. (1 Samuel 16:7)

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David came to know this truth very deeply for himself. He tried to hide lies and adultery and murder from other people but he could not hide from God.

We may also try to hide the parts of our lives, or the aspects of our character that we are embarrassed or ashamed about, but God knows us better than we know ourselves. Nothing is hidden from his sight. As our loving Father, he longs for us to acknowledge these things before him and rend our hearts in response. Nothing will come as a surprise to him - he already knows!

We can try all sorts of things to fix our own hearts and we can sometimes convince ourselves we’ve done quite a good patching up job. But in truth, only God can perform the heart transplant we need. He is the one who can renew our hearts and clean us from the inside out. And his invitation stands open to anyone who would call on his name. So we can pray along with David:

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Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. (Psalm 51:10)

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Join me next week as we look at the final book in our series – Malachi - the last recorded prophetic voice before John the Baptist!

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God Loves You 03

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For God so loved the world, that He gave is one and only Son, so that who ever believed in Him would have everlasting life. John 3:16.

Today Katie and some puppets tell of God's love!!


God loves you. God is beckoning you to love Him in return. He wants you to be in relationship with Him. Nothing you can do will make Him love you more than He already does. If you are not in relationship with God already, now is the time!


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POD - Psalm 86

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Psalm 86

A Prayer by David.

1 Hear, Yahweh, and answer me,

for I am poor and needy.


2 Preserve my soul, for I am godly.


You, my God, save your servant who trusts in you.


3 Be merciful to me, Lord,

for I call to you all day long.


4 Bring joy to the soul of your servant,


for to you, Lord, do I lift up my soul.



5 For you, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive;


abundant in loving kindness to all those who call on you.


6 Hear, Yahweh, my prayer.

Listen to the voice of my petitions.


7 In the day of my trouble I will call on you,

for you will answer me.



8 There is no one like you among the gods, Lord,


nor any deeds like your deeds.


9 All nations you have made will come and worship before you, Lord.


They shall glorify your name.


10 For you are great, and do wondrous things.


You are God alone.



11 Teach me your way, Yahweh.

I will walk in your truth.


Make my heart undivided to fear your name.


12 I will praise you, Lord my God, with my whole heart.


I will glorify your name forevermore.


13 For your loving kindness is great toward me.


You have delivered my soul from the lowest Sheol.

14 God, the proud have risen up against me.


A company of violent men have sought after my soul,


and they don’t hold regard for you before them.


15 But you, Lord, are a merciful and gracious God,


slow to anger, and abundant in loving kindness and truth.


16 Turn to me, and have mercy on me!


Give your strength to your servant.


Save the son of your handmaid.



17 Show me a sign of your goodness,


that those who hate me may see it,
and be shamed,

because you,
Yahweh, have helped me, and comforted me.

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Think Spot 16 June 2014

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Think Spot 16 June 2014

G’day and welcome to Partakers Think Spot on Monday 16th June 2014.

This week I ask 3 questions to help you to continue serving God in every aspect of your life – this week and beyond - online and offline!


Listen to and/or download the mp3 file below to hear this short podcast to help you into this new week!

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