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Nov 062015
 

Let your light shineIn the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:16)

In the last few weeks we have looked at how Christians can be an influence in society. We looked at 2 metaphors; being salt and light. This next verse today shows how we, as the “light of the world,” should be radiating that light. We shine before others as we demonstrate those characteristics of true Christianity, ‘the beatitudes’ which immediately precede these verses.

This verse today tells us that our faith should be open and transparent. We’ve already considered the futility of putting our light under a bowl or a basket. Our Christianity is to shine out beyond the four walls of our church buildings and beyond our cosy communities. That is when we will make a difference.

Light shines best when it is in darkness, it contrasts more in dark places. Shine a torch on a bright sunny day and you won’t be able to see it, but shine it in pitch black and it lights up the surroundings. It’s all very well being a good light when we are in church but the important time to shine is in the times when we are going about our everyday lives and mixing in some dark places. Our light shines brightest when we act or react in ways that are different to the world. This involves; being forgiving, turning the other cheek, preferring others, showing kindness etc.

This is true evangelism. It does worry me sometimes that we can get so confused about ‘doing’ evangelism. We can get the idea into our heads that evangelism is something we do on certain occasions when we might knock on doors or hand out tracks in the street or go treasure hunting. We step out of our church safety net for a short time, being a bit brave for a while and then retreat back into our comfort zone again. Those things I’ve mentioned aren’t bad, they’ve produced amazing fruit, but that is not how they did it in the New Testament, nor how we should do it now. We should shine every day through a radical lifestyle that shines bright in dark places.

I’ve noticed that many Christians get quite twitchy when it comes to talking about good works. We are desperate to get away from any idea of salvation by works and so we down play the importance of good works. We hammer the point home that we are saved only by grace, through faith and this is absolutely true, but if that thought was held in isolation we miss an awful lot. The truth is that after receiving such an amazing gift, our inclination is to do good works through immense gratitude. Also, if we’ve truly encountered the gospel and the immensity of what God’s rescued us from, we must surely realise that we couldn’t even begin to pay God back. The third reason, is that this gift of salvation is far too important to keep to ourselves. We do good works to demonstrate to others just how amazing God’s love is in the hope that they will discover it for themselves.

In the bible there are commonly 2 Greek words meaning ‘good’. Firstly there is ‘agathos’ which basically means good in quality. Secondly, there is ‘kalos’ which goes beyond something that is just good, but also has the feeling of something being; winsome, beautiful and attractive. The word for good here in this passage is the second one, ‘kalos.’ The good deeds of a Christian are to be done in such a kind, selfless, merciful and loving manner that they support the message of the gospel. They are to adorn the gospel of Christ.

What an amazing thought that our humble good deeds can bring glory to God. Have you ever considered that? Every decision we make for good, every time temptation is resisted, every tongue held in control, when we calm ourselves when just about to explode, all of these occasions and many more besides bring glory to God because our light is shining that little bit brighter.

If you don’t think that one person can make that much of a difference, I’ll finish on a story that the American president Woodrow Wilson tells of a chance encounter with the famous evangelist DL Moody. He was a man who was committed to God and determined that his light would be strong;

This is Woodrow Wilson’s testimony; “I was sitting in a barber chair when I became aware that a powerful personality had entered the room. A man had come quietly in upon the same errand as myself to have his hair cut and sat in the chair next to me. Every word the man uttered, though it was not in the least didactic, showed a personal interest in the man who was serving him. And before I got through with what was being done to me I was aware I had attended an evangelistic service, because Mr. D. L. Moody was in that chair. I purposely lingered in the room after he had left and noted the singular affect that his visit had brought upon the barber shop. They talked in undertones. They did not know his name, but they knew something had elevated their thoughts, and I felt that I left that place as I should have left a place of worship.

Have this in your thoughts as you live your life, that a Christian’s life is a window through which others can see Jesus. You can shine as bright as you want to be.

 November 6, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm The sermon on the mount No Responses »
Oct 302015
 

light of the worldYou are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.… (Matthew 5:14-15)
Last week we talked about being the salt of the earth. This week we look at a similar metaphor with the same idea. Not only are we the salt of the earth, but we are also the light of the world. Both give the idea that being a Christian is not just about inward belief but also external influence. Like it or not, as God’s children and members of His family, we represent him in what we do, how we behave and what we say.
To understand the metaphor better, let’s consider what light does.

1. As a signal.

Light can indicate where you are going such as an indicator or a turn signal. When to stop and start, such as in traffic lights and it can also be used in pulses of light from one ship to another to send a message (e.g. Morse code).

2. As a guide.

A very famous verse in the bible is Psalm 119:105 Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. Light is of course vital if you are travelling at night, or you really will do yourself an injury.

3. To dispel darkness

Darkness cannot occupy the place where light is. Where there is light, there cannot be darkness. Light is used to penetrate the darkness and expose evil and error.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it. (John 1:5 NLT)
And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God. (John 3:19-21)

4. As security

A security light on the outside of a house for instance, comes on whenever anyone is sneaking past, to expose their movements.
Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible (Ephesians 5:11-13)

5. To produce growth

Plants grow because of the light (called photosynthesis). You will even see plants turning towards the light to get the most light they can.

6. To bring life

Very few things grow in the dark. In a forest only moss and fungus grows on the forest floor, but in a summer meadow, things grow very quickly. Just ask a gardener who has to constantly mow the lawn.
Jesus is the exclusive and only light. He is the true light.
Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life. (John 8:12)
So if Jesus is the light of the world and He is the only light, why did He call us the light of the world as well?
The answer is that as followers of Jesus we reflect His light. For example the moon has no light of its own, but as it reflects the sun’s light it can light up the night sky. The more time we spend in His presence the brighter we will become.
As Christians we will never cease to have that light within us, but what we can do is hide the light so that others cannot see it. That is what the rest of the verse is about. Jesus is saying it is pointless having a light and then covering it over and yet that is what some of us do.
The basket we cover the light with can be all sorts of things: It could be fear of what others might think, or of losing our respectability. We might not want to offend others and make waves or we just want people to accept us. What is your potential basket? Whatever that basket is we need to deal with it.
Another story about light in the bible was the parable of the 10 virgins in Matthew 25. The five foolish virgins were actually not Christians at all because they did not get into the wedding feast. The oil they should have had represented their lack of a relationship with Jesus. The message is the same though; we need to have our lamps ready, we need to be ready to shine whenever and wherever we are called to.
As I was writing this blog I found myself singing a song I sang a very long time ago in Sunday school “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine” If it’s good enough for the children, it’s good enough for us! What do you think?

 October 30, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm The sermon on the mount No Responses »
Oct 232015
 

Salt of the earthYou are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. (Matthew 5:13)

We have now finished the beatitudes and we will continue with the rest of the ‘sermon on the mount’ but it is important to see that the thought process of this sermon follows through. The ‘blessed’ people who have fully embraced what it is to be; poor in spirit, merciful, pure in heart, peacemaking etc become people who affect society in a good way. We are not to be people who hide away in our little communities, unable to make any difference to the world around us. No, we are to be like salt which affects everything it comes into contact with.

But what did Jesus mean though when he said “we are the salt of the earth?”

Let’s look at some of the properties of salt and see how it is similar to how we can mirror its effectiveness.

(1) To season

I know it is not considered fashionable at the moment to put too much salt on our food, but just the right amount of salt can really bring out the flavour of a dish. Salt brings an interest, a quality. It stops things being bland and insipid. Our lives can bring an interest and excitement of something more than the mundane.

(2) Thirst making

There’s a reason why bartenders put free salty peanuts on a bar. They sell a lot more drinks. As we live out the joy of life that only Jesus gives, we create a thirst in others that craves a life that they cannot attain by anything else. They cannot put their finger on it, but Christians who are living out the beatitudes in an authentic way, have something they want.

(3) Disinfectant

Ever heard the phrase ‘rubbing salt into the wounds’? Well salt is an antibacterial agent so it helps to fight infection. Throughout history salt was used as an anaesthetic on new born babies. This practice was referred to in the bible in Ezekiel 16:4. Also in the bible is the account of Elisha who put salt into water to sanitise it (2 Kings 2:20-21). As Christians we can halt the infection of sin in our society. As we bring love and peace and reconciliation we help to stop the bacteria of sin spreading.

(4) Preservative

Before fridges and freezers were invented, salt was used universally to prevent food from going off. Meat was salted so that it could keep for a long time. Our presence in society should have a preservative effect on society and help to fight off sin’s decay.

(5) Fertilizer

Salt as a fertilizer is pretty unheard of now, but it was much more common in Jesus’ time and it could well have been this use that Jesus was mainly referring to.

There are 3 main points to make when considering salt as a fertilizer;

  • Salt would need to be scattered evenly. If it was just dumped in lumps it could destroy the chemical composition of the soil. Jesus knew that His disciples would be scattered far and wide when persecution came and actually that would make them far more effective. If they remained huddled in one place, they could not fertilize the soil properly.
  • Secondly, a fertilizer does not exist for itself; it exists for the sake of the soil it is feeding. As Christians we exist to bless and nourish our communities. If we didn’t, God might as well remove us, but instead He has a purpose for us to be a source of goodness to all around us.
  • The third aspect is that we are to be different to the soil we are feeding. As Christians we are distinctive. This leads on to the warning in the second part of today’s verse. If we lose our distinctiveness we are no good to anybody.

It is actually difficult for the table salt we know today as Sodium Chloride to lose its saltiness as it is a very stable mineral. But Jesus was not speaking from a scientific viewpoint. He was using a metaphor which was a common way that Jesus communicated. The most common explanation for Jesus’ warning against salt losing its saltiness was that the salt in His time would often be mixed with other impure minerals, rendering the salt properties ineffective. Salt would of course also be ineffective if it was watered down. The message is clear to those Christians who compromise and mix their faith with all sorts of other beliefs.

I’ll leave you with a thought provoking exert from Francis Chan’s book ‘crazy love’ who spoke about this very issue;

God is saying that lukewarm, half-hearted following is useless, it sickens our souls. How would you like to hear the Son of God say, ‘You would ruin manure? … Lukewarm and uncommitted faith is completely useless. It can’t even benefit manure.

 October 23, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm The sermon on the mount No Responses »
Oct 162015
 

The world was not worthy of themThis week I’m going to finish looking at the last beatitude about being blessed when you are persecuted. We have now spent 4 weeks on this subject, previously looking at the Old Testament prophets, the early church and now this week, I’m going to look at Christian persecution right up to the modern day.

The title of this blog is taken from Hebrews 11:38 where the writer to the Hebrews is recounting the many people who suffered for following God. In this blog I want to honour our brothers and sisters who are absolute heroes of the faith. Some will be more well known, whilst others, no-one has heard of and they suffered in secret, but I am convinced that right now they are not regretting one moment.

As I was researching this subject I was actually quite amazed at the extent of major persecutions directed at whole people groups, across the world and throughout history. Far too many that I could do justice to in one short blog. So I’m going to pick out just a few that have inspired me.

Gelasinus

One of the shortest journeys from conversion to martyrdom was a chap called Gelasinus from the second century AD. He was in a play which was lampooning baptism. As He was thrown into the water as part of the sketch he emerged and said “I am a Christian for I saw an awesome glory in the tub and I will die a Christian.” This so enraged the audience who were there to mock Christianity that they took him outside and stoned him.

William Tyndale

One of the reasons we can all own a bible was due to the sacrifice of people like William Tyndale. He was passionate to see the bible translated into English so that it was accessible to everyone, but at the time this was illegal. Tyndale had to flee England and spent most of his life in hiding because the English authorities were searching for him. He was eventually caught by an act of betrayal from someone who pretended to be his friend. He was executed by strangulation and burning at the stake in 1536 because he believed that; sins could be forgiven, the gospel was enough for salvation and that everyone should have free access to the bible.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

He was a German Lutheran pastor and theologian who stood against the evil Nazi regime during the second world war. His writings have since become very influential. He was vocally opposed to Hitler and his evil regime and as you might expect this put him in great danger. He was arrested in April 1943 by the Gestapo and imprisoned at Tegel prison for one and a half years. He was then transferred to a Nazi concentration camp. After being allegedly associated with the plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler, he was briefly tried, along with other accused plotters, including former members of the Abwehr (the German Military Intelligence Office), and then executed by hanging on 9 April 1945, just two weeks before Allied forces liberated the camp and three weeks before Hitler’s suicide.

Jim Elliot

Was one of five missionaries trying to reach the Auca indians in the Amazon rainforest and share the love of Jesus with them. They had made initial contact by plane but on their second visit on January 8, 1956 they were slaughtered by the Waodoni warriors (an Auca tribe) who had been lied to about the group’s intentions. The other heroes who were slaughtered that day were; Nate saint, Ed McCully, Pete Fleming and Roger Youderian. Amazingly, Elizabeth Elliot (Jim’s widow) reached out to the tribe that had killed her husband and saw many converted. A supreme example of forgiveness and love.

Wang Zhiming

Between 1966 and 1976 the Cultural Revolution in China brought an onslaught against all that was ancient or venerated in Chinese life. The young Red Guards who led the campaign sought to break free of the past and to create a revolutionary society that was utterly new. Religion must be destroyed. Churches were closed and Christians were forced to meet secretly.

Wang Zhiming was one of many Christians who were persecuted during this time. Many were sent to camps, were denounced or beaten. In May 1969 he and other members of his family were arrested. Four years later he was condemned to death. He was by then an old man of sixty-six.

Wang Zhiming was executed on 29 December 1973 at a mass rally of more than 10,000 people. Immediately afterwards many Christians, rather than cowering in fear for their own safety, instead remonstrated with the prosecuting official of the red guard.

Janani Jakaliya Luwum

Was the archbishop of the Church of Uganda from 1974 to 1977 and one of the most influential leaders of the modern church in Africa. He was arrested in February 1977 and died shortly after. Although the official account describes a car crash, it is generally accepted that he was murdered on the orders of then-President Idi Amin.

Mathew Ayairga and the 20 other Coptic Christians

I doubt there are many of us who have not seen the picture (Which is the header of this blog) of the shocking images of the 21 Coptic Christians on a beach in their orange jumpsuits about to be beheaded for their faith. This was from February this year and shows that the persecution of Christians is not only still happening but intensifying. The reason I have mentioned Matthew was because he was the only one from Chad (the others were from Egypt). He was originally a non-Christian, but he saw the immense faith of the others, and when the terrorists asked him if he rejected Jesus, he reportedly said, “Their God is my God”, knowing that he would be killed.

This blog has been in honour of the men and women who have laid down their lives just like their Lord did and who are now at rest in the presence of their saviour. Their blood has been a seed that God is using to sweep many into His kingdom. His church will prevail, Hallelujah.

Oct 092015
 

Persecution in the early churchThis is now the third week on persecution and I’m sorry if you find it all a bit heavy, but this is an important subject. This is the last section on ‘the beatitudes’ which is a part of the ‘sermon on the mount’. Jesus must have thought this subject important because the last two beatitudes both cover the subject of being persecuted.

Jesus wants us to know that we shouldn’t be surprised when we are persecuted, but also that He will be with us when it does happen. Last week we saw that the majority of the Old Testament prophets were either murdered or persecuted in some way. This doesn’t stop with the Old Testament though. Right at the start of the New Testament we see John the Baptist who was considered as the second Elijah, the last of the Old Testament prophets and as you are probably aware, he was beheaded and his head served up on a platter.

We shouldn’t be surprised that this is such a big subject within Christianity, because the one we all follow was persecuted and suffered more than anybody else. If we are to call ourselves Jesus’ followers, we should expect to follow Him in suffering too. Jesus himself described the path we walk on as narrow (Matthew 7:13) and not many will choose it. It may be a tough path in the short term but beyond this short walk of suffering are eternal rewards for those who endure it. The pearl of great price is greater than any lesser pearls which offer more comfort.

The 2nd-century Church Father Tertullian wrote that “the blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church,” implying that the martyrs’ willing sacrifice of their lives leads to the conversion of others. This certainly seemed true of the early church which exploded in growth through persecution. In the years immediately after Jesus’ death and resurrection the church grew and then spread rapidly through persecution. This was not without cost though as it was believed that pretty much every apostle was murdered in some way or another. Just as we looked last week at historical evidence outside the bible for what happened to the prophets, there is varied documentary evidence about what happened to the Apostles and it does make rather grim reading.

The first person to be martyred after Jesus, was Stephen and he wasn’t even an Apostle, but he was an amazing character. Stephen was killed by stoning and he was an amazing example of calmness and peace in the face of severe hostility (see Acts 7). The following list contains the dates of death and what was believed to have happened to the Apostles?

AD 44-45 James – was put to the sword under Herod Agrippa (Acts 12:2)

AD 54 Philip – was tortured and crucified by hostile Jews

AD 60-70 Matthew – was beheaded at Nad-Davar

AD 63 James (Jesus brother) – was thrown off the top of the temple and just to make sure was then clubbed

AD 64 Peter – was crucified upside down

AD 67 Paul – was beheaded in Rome under emperor Nero

AD 70 Andrew – was crucified on an olive tree at Patrae in Achaia

AD 70 Thomas – was thrust through with pine spears, tormented with red-hot plates and burned alive

AD 70 Nathanael – was flayed and then crucified

AD 70 Matthias (Judas’ replacement) – was stoned while hanging upon a cross

AD 72 Judas (the other one!) – Beaten to death with sticks

AD 74 Simon the zealot – Widely travelled and was martyred but unclear how

AD 95 John – The only one to have died a natural death although it was reckoned that he survived being boiled alive and then lived the rest of his life in exile.

The majority of these persecutions and especially up to the destroying of the temple in AD 70 were by the Jews. After this and as the gospel spread throughout the Roman empire, the Romans took over as the major persecutor of the sect they called ‘the way’. The first documented case of organised and supervised persecution of the Christians in a specific area in the Roman Empire was by Emperor Nero. In 64 AD, a great fire broke out in Rome, This fire was huge and it is estimated that it destroyed 70% of the city. There were strong rumours that Nero had ordered this fire so that he could have some nice new buildings in his own style and the population wasn’t happy. To divert attention from himself, Nero put the blame squarely on the shoulders of the Christians, who were viewed with suspicion anyway and they were systematically persecuted. The stories are horrific of Christians being used as human torches to light up the royal palace and other despicable acts.

This was just the beginning though as persecution amazingly caused the church to grow ever stronger. The main problem was that the various emperors considered themselves to be gods and they didn’t take kindly to people refusing to worship them.

The persecutions continued in waves over centuries but they culminated in what was called ‘The great persecution’ under the emperor Diocletian at the end of the third and beginning of the 4th century. It all started with a series of four edicts banning Christian practices and ordering the imprisonment of Christian clergy. The persecution intensified until all Christians in the empire were commanded to sacrifice to the Roman gods or face immediate execution. Over 20,000 Christians are thought to have died during Diocletian’s reign. One of the most prominent martyrs during the Dioclecian persecution was Saint George (England’s patron saint), a Roman soldier who loudly renounced the Emperor’s edict, and in front of his fellow soldiers and tribunes claimed himself to be a Christian by declaring his worship of Jesus Christ. Diocletian attempted to convert George, even offering gifts of land, money and slaves if he made a sacrifice to the Roman gods; he made many offers, but George never accepted and was subsequently tortured and decapitated.

One of the most famous martyrs of the early church was Polycarp who was Bishop of Smyrna in 155AD. Polycarp was believed to have been a disciple of the Apostle John. In that year, Roman soldiers were sent to arrest him. He was such an amazing man that before they arrested him they were invited in to supper and several of them were even converted as they heard his fervent praying. As he was being prepared for execution, Polycarp is recorded as saying, “Eighty and six years I have served Him, and He has done me no wrong how then can I blaspheme my King and Saviour? You threaten me with a fire that burns for a season, and after a little while is quenched; but you are ignorant of the fire of everlasting punishment that is prepared for the wicked.” Polycarp was then burned at the stake and was pierced with a spear for refusing to burn incense to the Roman Emperor. On his farewell, he said “I bless you Father for judging me worthy of this hour, so that in the company of the martyrs I may share the cup of Christ.”

I’m going to take one more week on this subject as I particularly enjoy church history and I think it is important to honour those heroes of the faith who can inspire us to face everything that the world throws at us. They are dying proof that God will be with us through all the trials of life.

Oct 022015
 

Persecuted prophetsBlessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:11-12)

The prophets of the Old Testament had a pretty tough lot. I am full of admiration for them but I certainly wouldn’t have like to have lived in their day, or swapped places. For starters, God made them do some pretty unpleasant things as they acted out the people’s rebellion towards God. Hosea was told to marry a prostitute (Hosea 1:2), Ezekiel had to lay on his side for 390 days and cook food over poo (Ezekiel 4:4) and Jonah spent 3 days in a fish’s stomach (although he could have avoided that one if he’d done what he was told)

Chapter 11 of Hebrews tells us just a few things that happened to the prophets in the Old Testament…

Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated of whom the world was not worthy wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. (Hebrews 11:35-38)

The bible doesn’t record everything about the lives (and deaths) of the Old Testament prophets, but what it does reveal, added with some extra biblical manuscripts, is that they indeed lived pretty tough lives.

One ancient book containing quite a lot of information, was called ‘The lives of the prophets’. Being an ancient book, it cannot be proved as entirely reliable but was apparently compiled from various oral and written sources and its stories are repeated in Christian and Jewish manuscripts.

The book begins by explaining its basic purpose, which was to provide The names of the prophets, where they were from, and other basic information about them. The prophets with the largest books are first: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel. Followed by the 12 minor prophets and then others (who didn’t have books named after them) Nathan, Elijah, Elisha and others.

I’m just going to list these prophets very briefly and what was believed to have happened to them.

Isaiah. It was reported that he was the prophet who was sawn in two under the evil King Manasseh of Judah. A tradition is preserved that the miraculous powers of the waters of the Pool of Siloam (see John 9) were initiated as a result of Isaiah’s prayer.

Jeremiah. Having escaped death several times previously, Jeremiah was later stoned to death by “his people” at Taphnai in Egypt and buried in honour near Pharaoh’s palace, because his prayers had delivered the Egyptians from poisonous snakes and other plagues. His relics were reportedly moved to Alexandria and placed in a circle around the city, which was consequently likewise protected from asps and crocodiles.

Ezekiel. This great prophet is said to have died in Babylonia where “the leader of the Israelite exiles” killed him after being reproved for worshiping of idols. That was one explanation, the other was that he was killed by an unidentified member of either the tribe of Dan or Gad, who had blamed him for cursing their children and flocks.

Daniel.This prophet was apparently unmarried, a “chaste man,” whom the Jews of his day believed to be a eunuch. He is reported to have died of natural causes and was buried with great honour in the royal tombs of Babylon.

Hosea. Not too much was known about his life but it was believed he died of natural causes.

Micah. Was reported to have been killed by Joram of Israel, the son of King Ahab, but this is unlikely as Micah lived more than a century after Joram’s reign. They were probably confusing him with Micaiah, who was indeed a thorn in Ahab’s side (1 Kings 22:1)

Amos.This northern prophet was tortured severely by Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, against whom Amos had prophesied. He was then mortally wounded with a club by Amaziah’s son. Amos was able to make his way back to his own district of Tekoa, where he soon died and was buried there.

Joel. Died in peace and was buried in the territory of Reuben.

Obadiah. Not too much known.

Jonah. He reportedly lived during the time of Elijah. The fact that the text here mentions Elijah’s resurrection of a widow’s son may be the source of a rabbinical tradition that this child was Jonah. In any case, after his time at Nineveh, Jonah traveled with his mother and lived among the Gentiles, feeling embarrassed because, “I spoke falsely in prophesying against the great city of Nineveh.” Returning to the land of Judah after the famine of Elijah’s day, Jonah buried his mother near Deborah’s Oak and was himself buried in the cave of Kenaz, the relative of Caleb.

Nahum. Probably based on the Book of Nahum’s prophecies concerning Nineveh, Nahum is described as Jonah’s successor as God’s prophet of doom to that city. Nahum predicted that the city would be destroyed by fresh water and an underground fire. Unlike the embarrassed Jonah, Nahum spoke truly, as the author reports that the lake which surrounded Nineveh inundated it during an earthquake, and a forest fire spread to the upper city. Nahum, too, died in peace and was buried in his own district.

Habakkuk. This prophet fled from Jerusalem in the face of Nebuchadnezzar II’s advance and lived in exile “in the land of Ishmael.” He later went to Babylon, where he was acquainted with the prophet Daniel.

Zephaniah. The book which bears his name is very briefly summarized and it is reported that “he died and was buried in his field.”

Haggai. This prophet came from Babylon to Jerusalem, as a youth and witnessed the rebuilding of the Temple. He was buried in honour in the tomb of the Jewish priests.

Zechariah. He returned to Jerusalem from Babylonia as an old man and became a very active prophet in the holy city. It was he who named Shealtiel’s son Zerubbabel and blessed him. The text claims that Zechariah had earlier prophesied the victories of Cyrus the Great of Persia and his role in allowing the Jews to return and rebuild Jerusalem. He died at a great age and was buried near Haggai.

Malachi. A man of great piety and physical appeal, Malachi was given his name, which means angel, not by his parents but by his people. His prophecies were always confirmed on the same day by an angel of God. He died, apparently of natural causes, while still young.

Nathan. It was Nathan who taught King David the Law of Moses. He foresaw that David would sin with Bathsheba but was hindered from warning him by the Devil. Nathan died of natural causes when he was very old.

Ahijah. Hailing from Shiloh, Ahijah predicted that Solomon would sin against God and warned the king concerning his foreign wives. He also warned Jeroboam I not to “walk deceitfully with the Lord.” He was buried near the Oak of Shiloh mentioned in the story of Hosea.

Joad. This is the name given to the prophet of 1 Kings 13, who was attacked and killed by a lion after he rebuked Jeroboam I concerning the unauthorized altar at Bethel.

Elijah. Described as a descendant of Aaron, Elijah’s father, Shobach, had a vision of angelic figures wrapping his child in fire and feeding him with flames. Interesting considering how he was ‘taken’.

Elisha. As in the case of Elijah, some manuscripts summarize his activities as described in the Bible. At his death, Elisha was buried in the northern capital of Samaria.

Zechariah son of Jehoiada. This Zechariah was the high priest’s son who denounced his cousin, King Jehoash of Judah, and was immediately stoned to death in the Temple courtyard. He was buried with his father Jehoiada.

I’m going to spend one more week on persecution and next week look at some of the men and women throughout history who have suffered for their faith. There are some extraordinary characters.

 October 2, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm Persecution, The sermon on the mount No Responses »
Sep 252015
 

PersecutionBlessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:10)

Notice this is not just talking about being persecuted, but being persecuted for the right reasons. That is you do what is right, no matter what.

Did you know that it is reported that 80% of religious freedom violations in the world today are directed against Christians. We are easily the most persecuted of any religious group. Also, the majority of these go unreported. It is estimated that throughout the world, 2 Christians are being killed every single hour.

Many people consider that Christianity is a crutch for the weak, but it actually takes great courage to follow Christ.

In the relatively comfortable west, we are far less likely to suffer real persecution, although some subtle forms can make us feel very uncomfortable and marginalised. But in other parts of the world it can get a lot tougher. As Christians we need to show solidarity and support to our persecuted brothers and sisters by praying for them regularly. We are after all, the body of Christ.

Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. (Hebrews 13:3)

Even though we may not experience physical intimidation, if we are serious about our faith, it is inevitable that at some point we will experience some form of persecution, which could be in the form of pressure or repression. In fact it is promised in the bible;

Anyone who belongs to Christ Jesus and wants to live right will have trouble from others (2 Timothy 3:12) (contemporary English version)

When you are being persecuted or feeling under pressure, it is important to remember the following 3 things;

1. Opposition can make you more like Jesus

Jesus was hated by many people

If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. (John 15:18-20)

And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. (John 3:19)

Opposition means that you are doing something right

If you’re abused because of Christ, count yourself fortunate. It’s the Spirit of God and his glory in you that brought you to the notice of others. If they’re on you because you broke the law or disturbed the peace, that’s a different matter. But if it’s because you’re a Christian, don’t give it a second thought. Be proud of the distinguished status reflected in that name! (1 Peter 4:14) (message)

2. Opposition will deepen your faith

It’s much like the muscles in our body which strengthen when we stretch and strain them.

so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honour at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:7)

3. You will be given eternal rewards

God blesses those who are persecuted because they live for God: the Kingdom of Heaven will be theirs! You will be blessed WHEN people insult you, and persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:10-12) (NLT)

Finally I’m going to refer to Rick Warren again, who has suggested 6 things to consider in the whole realm of persecution

1. Don’t be surprised

Dear friends, don’t be surprised or shocked when you go through painful trials that are like walking through fire, as though something unusual is happening to you. (1 Peter 4:12) (TEV)

2. Don’t be afraid

The antidote to fear is to be filled with God’s love;

“If you suffer for doing what is right, God will reward you for it, so don’t be afraid and don’t worry! Instead, worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if you are asked about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it.” (1 Peter 3:14-15) (NLT)

The key is to focus on God, worship instead of worry!

3. Don’t be ashamed

Never be embarrassed for standing for the truth

“It is no shame to suffer for being a Christian. Instead, thank God for the privilege of being called by his name!” (1 Peter 4:16) (NLT)

You don’t need other people’s approval to be happy

“Take a firm stand against Satan and be strong in your faith. Remember that your Christian brothers and sisters all over the world are going through the same kind of suffering you are.” (1 Peter 5:9) (NLT)

For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. (1 Peter 3:17)

Whatever you do in life, there will be someone who doesn’t like it. If you are rebelling, God won’t like it, if you are doing good other people won’t like it. It’s best to do the things that please God rather than other people.

4. Recognise the source of the opposition

It’s very important to realise that Satan is the one behind all opposition we experience. He is the one influencing people against us.

And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. (Revelation 12:10)

Satan hates God and so it follows that he will naturally hate God’s children. He can’t hurt God and so his focus is on hurting us instead.

“We’re not fighting against human beings, but against wicked spiritual forces in the heavenly realm . . .” (Ephesians 6:12) (TEV)

“Stay away from stupid and senseless arguments. These only lead to trouble. God’s servants must never quarrel. (Instead) be kind to everyone . . . and be patient. Be humble when you correct people who oppose you . . . they’ve been trapped by the devil, and he makes them obey him, but God may help them escape.” (2 Timothy 2:23-26) (Contemporary English Version)

When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. (1 Peter 2:23) (NIV) They called him every name in the book and he said nothing back. He suffered in silence, content to let God set things right. (message)

5. Refuse to retaliate

You are behaving most like Jesus when you don’t attack or fight back

“Never pay back evil with more evil . . . If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. And never avenge yourself. Leave that to God, who has said, ‘I’ll be the judge and I’ll take care of it.’”(Romans 12:17-19)

“Those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.” (1 Peter 4:19) (NIV)

We need to understand that sometimes, suffering is God’s will. It is a mystery, but we have to entrust ourselves to His grand plan.

6. Respond with a blessing

It’s not just refusing to retaliate, turn it on its head.

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21)

Jesus: “Love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn the other cheek.” (Luke 6:27b-29a)

That sort of reaction is the most powerful form of witnessing, because it proves that God is real. Nobody has that kind of self-control

Next week I’m going to look at what happened to the Old Testament prophets and how they suffered for doing God’s will, but for now I want to leave you with a thought provoking quote from the one man who died for his faith, Jim Elliot:

He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

 September 25, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm Beatitudes, Persecution, The beatitudes, The sermon on the mount 1 Response »
Sep 182015
 

Peacemakers part 2 Last week we looked at the importance of peace and especially those who promote it, the peacemakers. We saw that as the ‘prince of peace’ Jesus is the one who leads us and inspires us to imitate our heavenly father and promote peace.

We saw that having peace is not something that just happens to us, but something we really have to work at.

This week we are going to look at an aspect of peacemaking and that is conflict resolution. Conflict happens around us every day, it is part of life. If we are serious about following Jesus though we need to do our best to resolve the conflicts we are involved in. It is not always possible to mend other people’s conflicts, but we should at least make an effort to resolve the ones we are in.

In the process of preparing this subject, I discovered some excellent principles about resolving conflicts from American pastor, Rick Warren. Here are 7 steps to resolving conflict:

1. Make the first move

Swallow your pride and take the initiative. We are called to be peacemakers, not peacekeepers. Peacekeepers don’t really resolve issues, they just maintain a ‘stand-off’. Don’t put it off, or it will never happen. As a famous phrase goes ‘do it now’.

So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God. (Matthew 5:23-24) (NLT)

Conflict never resolves itself. The only way to resolve a conflict is to face it. The first man, Adam, didn’t get off to a great start.

And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” (Genesis 3:10)

If you want to be a peacemaker, hiding is not an option .

The following 3 D’s are definitely detrimental to resolving conflicts; being defensive, distant and demanding.

for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. (2 Timothy 1:7)

2. Ask God for wisdom

If you want to know what God wants you to do, ask him, and he will gladly tell you, for he is always ready to give a bountiful supply of wisdom to all who ask him; he will not resent it. (James 1:5) (living bible)

3. Begin with what’s my fault

It’s very rare that we are completely blameless. If you took an honest assessment of yourself, you would discover, however small, where you have contributed to the conflict.

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? (James 4:1)

As we saw last week, it’s important we are at peace with God and ourselves before we can be at peace with others. When I’m at peace inside, what’s outside doesn’t upset me.

Pride only leads to arguments, but those who take advice are wise. (Proverbs 13:10) (New Century Version)

Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:3,5)

We all have blindspots.

4. Be aware of their hurt and perspective

This is a very true phrase (Think about it) “Hurt people, hurt people”

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; (James1:19)

We have two ears and one mouth and we should use them in proportion. It’s so important to listen

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:4-5)

You are most like Jesus when you are focussing on others’ perspectives.

Even if we believe that it makes no difference to the Lord whether we do these things, still we cannot just go ahead and do them to please ourselves; for we must bear the “burden” of being considerate of the doubts and fears of others—of those who feel these things are wrong. Let’s please the other fellow, not ourselves, and do what is for his good and thus build him up in the Lord. (Romans 15:2) (Living bible)

5. Speak the truth tactfully

It’s important to tell the truth, but it takes skill to do it tactfully so that you don’t hurt the other person. Say it with kindness.

Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ (Ephesians 4:15)

The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. (Proverbs 12:18) (NIV)

Do not use harmful words, but only helpful words, the kind that build up and provide what is needed, so that what you say will do good to those who hear you. (Ephesians 4:29) (TEV)

6. Fix the problem, not the blame

Arguments can get very personal, very quickly. Attack the issue, not each other.

But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. (Colossians 3:8)

7. Focus on reconciliation not resolution

This means re-establishing the relationship, which is the most important thing.

God has done all this. He has restored our relationship with him through Christ, and has given us this ministry of restoring relationships. In other words, God was using Christ to restore his relationship with humanity. He didn’t hold people’s faults against them, and he has given us this message of restored relationships to tell others. Therefore, we are Christ’s representatives, and through us God is calling you. We beg you on behalf of Christ to become reunited with God. (2 Corinthians 5:18-20) (God’s word)

You may have some other ideas. Why not share your thoughts in the comments section below, I would love to hear from you.

 September 18, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm Beatitudes, Peace, The beatitudes, The sermon on the mount No Responses »
Sep 112015
 

PeacemakersBlessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.(Matthew 5:9)

Just about everybody would like a peaceful life, but very few would actually do what was required to get it. A peaceful life is pretty easy for a hermit living on his own in a cave, but as soon as you add another person, the odds for conflict rise exponentially. Peace doesn’t come naturally to any of us because we are all basically selfish, but it is an absolute necessity if we want to become children of God.

Children of God are different to regular children. If you’ve ever grown up with a brother or a sister you’ll know that a peaceful life is not the default. It’s sin that causes conflict to occur and a deep desire to get our own way. But when we become children of God, our lives are submitted to Him, our commitment is to please Him. When we give our life to God we start on the lifetime pathway of peace.

Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)

There are loads more references to peace in the bible, but I want to pick out a few today for us to consider how important this subject is to God.

Firstly it is one of the names given to Jesus himself. Last year I wrote a series of blogs on the names of Jesus and one of His names was ‘prince of peace’ taken from Isaiah 9:6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

As the prince of peace, Jesus has brought us peace in a number of areas;

1. We have peace with God

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:1)

This is the most important peace as it restores our relationship with our loving heavenly father. Until this relationship is restored our lives are in turmoil because we were created to have a relationship with God, but our sin was separating us. When Jesus dealt with our sin the relationship was restored and we can now experience true peace.

2. We have peace in ourselves

Knowing you are right with God gives you an inner calm and tranquillity. When our relationship with God is right, all is as it should be.

And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts (Colossians 3:15)

3. We have peace with others

Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. (2 Corinthians 13:11)

We can never really have peace with others until we first have peace with God and that inner peace within ourselves that helps us then to reach out to others.

Not having that peace with others can cause all sorts of problems in our lives. 3 blockages that can result are;

(1) It blocks my fellowship with God

You can’t be right with God and off with other people

Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.(1 John 4:20)

(2) It blocks my prayers from being answered

This passage relates to marriage, but the principle is the same

Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.(1 Peter 3:7)

(3) It blocks my happiness

Remember, the other name for blessed is happy. The peace we sow into others will be returned to us and cause us to be happy too.

And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness. (James 3:18) (NLT)

There is so much more to say about this subject, that I will continue it next week when we will look at some principles for resolving conflict, but for now I will leave you with a great biblical blessing from Numbers 6:25-26

The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.

 September 11, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm Beatitudes, Peace, The beatitudes, The sermon on the mount 2 Responses »
Sep 042015
 

Pure in heartBlessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. (Matthew 5:8)

Our culture is obsessed with image. We love to judge people on outside appearances. As long as people act and look good and keep their private life covered up, we’re not bothered too much. We’re pretty shallow when you think about it, and this attitude pervades every aspect of society. Image is everything.

Not so with God. He is not fussed at all about the outward appearance, it’s the inside He cares about – the heart. The heart is the secret place, unseen, where our thoughts and attitudes are. It’s relatively easy to con people with outward appearances, but the inside is a different matter.

You could say that the heart is the most important place to be pure, because that is what God sees

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)

So what does it mean to be pure in heart?

It’s not about being perfect or being sinless, but a progression from the other beatitudes. It comes from a desire to know God, to be sorry for our sin and to be hungering and thirsting for His righteousness. Being pure in heart doesn’t come from ourselves, but is a gracious gift from God. When we commit ourselves to following Him, the process of becoming pure involves Him turning our heart of stone into a soft heart of flesh.

Another word for purity and one we are probably more familiar with is ‘integrity’. Being a person of integrity means we are exactly the same with everybody, we aren’t one way with one type of person and another way with somebody else. We are sincere, not hypocritical, transparent, constant. We are exactly the same way if people are watching us or not.

There are a number of blessings given in the bible for people who walk in integrity;

They stay on track, they are the sort of people that others follow, they are good to be around

People with integrity walk safely, but those who follow crooked paths will be exposed. (Proverbs 10:9) (NLT)

The integrity of the honest keeps them on track; the deviousness of crooks brings them to ruin. (Proverbs 11:3) (message)

They are people who leave a lasting legacy

A righteous person lives on the basis of his integrity. Blessed are his children after he is gone. (Proverbs 20:7) (God’s word)

Their faithfulness and consistency mean they will receive a rich reward;

The master answered, ‘You did well. You are a good and loyal servant. Because you were loyal with small things, I will let you care for much greater things. Come and share my joy with me.’ (Matthew 25:21) (New century version)

Notice it says “share my joy with me” that is the fantastic promise of this beatitude of purity and integrity, we get to see God. That is on two levels; firstly it is for now. God loves it when we act purely before Him and He can’t help but bless us and reveal more of Himself to us as we do so. Secondly this sort of life means we get to spend eternity with Him. What an amazing thought that one day we will actually be able to see God, to stand before Him having had our sins forgiven and knowing we are accepted as His children. What a day that will be!

I’m going to finish this blog with some suggestions (including bible verses) on how we can live a life of purity and integrity;

(1) By keeping our promises

People who promise things they never give are like clouds and wind that bring no rain. (Proverbs 25:14) (TEV)

(2) By having financial integrity

The wicked man borrows and never pays back (Psalm 37:21) (TEV)

the authorities are working for God . . . Pay what you owe them; pay your personal and property taxes (Romans 13:6-7) (TEV)

An aspect of this is giving to God. Tithing is an Old Testament form of giving, but of course under the New Covenant we want to be even more generous than just 10%. The bottom line is ‘Do I trust God with my finances’?

“Is it right for a person to cheat God? Of course not! Yet you are robbing me, says the Lord. How?’ you ask. By withholding your full tithe and offerings . . . Bring to me the full amount of your tithe to my House . . . Put me to the test and you’ll see that I will open the windows of heaven and pour out so much blessing on you that you won’t have enough room to receive it all! (Malachi 3:8-10) (TEV)

(3) By refusing to gossip

“A gossip can’t be trusted with a secret, but someone of integrity won’t violate a confidence.” (Proverbs 11:13) (message)

The one who conceals hatred has lying lips, and whoever utters slander is a fool. (Proverbs 10:18) (TEV)

(4) By doing your best at work

Slack habits and sloppy work are as bad as vandalism. (Proverbs 18:9) (message)

Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything you do. Try to please them all the time, not just when they are watching you. Serve them sincerely because of your reverent fear of the Lord. Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. (Colossians 3:22-23) (NLT)

(5) By being real with others

We reject all shameful deeds and underhanded methods. We don’t try to trick anyone or distort the word of God. We tell the truth before God, and all who are honest know this. (2 Corinthians 4:2) (NLT)

(6) By reading and meditating on God’s word

How can a young person stay on the path of purity? By living according to your word. (Psalm 119:9) (NIV)

As with all these beatitudes, don’t forget that we can only do them with the strength that God gives us. They would be impossible to achieve through will power alone. That is the reason God sent us His Holy Spirit to help us. Why not ask Him to help you start right now?

 September 4, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm Beatitudes, The beatitudes, The sermon on the mount No Responses »