5. Caught Red-Handed!

CAUGHT

  • Have you ever been caught red-handed? In other words, doing something you shouldn’t have done?

 Liza Summer with Pixels.com

It may not have been something wrong and sinful, something quite innocent. Perhaps you were trying to do something good for someone without them being aware. Like wrapping a gift, writing a greeting card, or arranging a surprise party.

  • Do you recall walking in on a conversation only to have the conversation come to an abrupt halt? You’ve known that they’ve been caught in the act of talking about you.

Reading: – John 8:1-11

CAUGHT AND CHARGED

One day, the religious leaders tried to catch Jesus out in the presence of His supporters. 

“Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery.” (John 8:4 GNB )

The case was open and shut. Under Jewish law adultery was a very serious crime—one of the worst offenses that one could commit, with the penalty being death.

BETROTHED

The religious leader said, “In the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such a woman,” This seems to indicate that the woman was engaged.  

“This woman brought evil into your community by sleeping with someone before she got married, and you must get rid of that evil by killing her. (Deuteronomy 22:21b CEV)

  • 1) The woman was guilty as charged—caught in the act;
  • 2) The sentence laid down was clear—death by stoning.

The modern-day tendency is to sanction extra-marital affairs. Yet adultery has always been, and will continue to be, a serious offense in God’s eyes. “You shall not commit adultery”. (Exodus 20:14)

IN THE HOT SEAT

Why, when the case was so clear, did these religious leaders, who had obviously already passed judgement, single out this woman for Jesus’ judgment?

We see the answer in verse 6. “They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing Him.”

If Jesus advised them to apply the sentence laid down in the Law of Moses, He would find Himself in two kinds of trouble:

  1. He would very likely lose the support of those who regarded Him as the friend of sinners
  2. The Roman rulers would be incensed because no Jew had the authority to sentence someone to death.

On the other hand, He would have given the impression that He didn’t the God-given Law seriously. The religious leaders would have been quick to point out that God condemns adultery.

YOUR DECISION

Now what do you say? Jesus seemed to turn a deaf ear to their question.

Matthew Henry, the Bible commentator says, Think twice before you speak once.

Jesus’ appeared to hesitate, so the religious leaders pressed for a response. “They kept on questioning Him.”

Jesus’ response was challenging: “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”

Jesus underlined a principle He taught in the Sermon on the Mount—“Do not judge, or you too will be judged.  For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:1,2)

Often in Christian circles we expect standards of others which we fail to keep ourselves.

Someone has wisely said, 'The more one judges, the less one loves.' Click To Tweet

According to Jesus’, not one of us should cast judgement on others—to do so is in itself a sin and puts us on the same level as the one we are judging—in need of Jesus’ forgiveness. Concentrate on improving yourself, and you will have little time to criticize or judge others.

SUSPENDED SENTENCE

We can give the religious leaders credit for their honesty—they took Jesus’ words to heart—realizing that none of them was free from sin, they withdrew,“…the older ones first”

“…Jesus was left, with the woman standing there.”

The religious leaders had gone, the crowds were still there, and the woman was still guilty of her sin. And God’s just law still required a penalty for her sin.

  • “What judgment did Jesus pass on her sin?

Jesus pronounced a sentence, often passed in our courts today—a suspended sentence. He gave her a second chance.

The Saviour is speaking to you and me today, “I know all about your sins. If you want to make a fresh new start, today can become the first day of a completely new way of living.”

AN UNFINISHED STORY

Jesus said, “Go now and leave your life of sin. —a challenge to this woman to turn her back on her sinful past and to start living her life based on God’s standards.

No matter how low you may have stooped in your life—no matter how deeply ashamed you are of the things that you have done—no matter how difficult you may find it to forgive yourself—your life can be transformed by a forgiving Saviour.

This story is unfinished—the Bible does not tell us what her choice was.

In the same way, your life is an unfinished story. This passage confronts us again, today, with the fact that we are all sinners. Our lives are under the same suspended sentence.

Join some of my favourite singing group as they sing, “A Sinner Saved By Grace.”

If you haven’t yet read the Introduction to Encounters with Jesus, please do. It will benefit you throughout this series of studies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4. Gone fishing

In the movie ‘High Society’ Bing Crosby and Louis Armstrong do a duet titled ‘Gone Fishing.’

Peter would have loved to join in and sing along with them.

What does fishing mean to you? Do you enjoy fishing? Or do you feel it is a waste of time?

                  Photo by Matt Hardy:

Our Scripture reading records an occasion when Jesus came to the rescue of his frustrated disciples who had spent fruitless hours fishing but had failed to catch even one single minnow.

Readings: Luke 5:1-11

FISHING FOR JESUS?

A lady was invited by her pastor to give her testimony of how she came to invite Jesus into her life. After describing the events leading up to her conversion to Christ, she ended her testimony along these lines, “Jesus said ‘I will make you fishers of men’ and I have been fishing for men ever since.” (Saints at Work – Author Unknown)

Those who love fishing will patiently wait for hours for that tug on the end of their line. I had two uncles who were very keen fishermen. There was an occasion as a youngster when they decided to go fishing for the day and invited me along. Given a rod, with great enthusiasm, I embarked on my first fishing adventure. But the fish were not biting and I wasn’t patient. Before long, I gave up and went exploring the coastline.

AN AMAZING FIND 

Shirl and I were joint leaders of a Holy Land tour in October 1992. We spent three nights at Kibbutz Nof Ginosar on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. There we visited a museum that contained an ancient fishing boat that dated back to the time of Jesus. In 1986, when the surface level of the lake had dropped because of a drought, this boat was found embedded in the mud at the water’s edge.

AN AMAZING CATCH.

Early in his ministry, Jesus stood on the shore of Lake Galilee where a large crowd had gathered to hear Him. He asked Peter, whose boat was at the water’s edge, to “Put out a little from shore”. He then sat down and taught the crowd.

When Jesus had finished teaching, He told Peter to “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”

The Sea of Galilee is teeming with fish. It seems unbelievable that those fishermen should have “…worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything.”  Yet when they followed Jesus’ instructions, “their nets began to break.” because of the weight of their catch.

SUCCESS REQUIREMENTS

They would never have experienced such a wonderful catch if they had not met two important conditions:

  1. They were willing to try again.

It had been a ‘hard day’s night’. They were weary from their efforts and lack of sleep, but Peter responded, “because you say so, I will let down the nets.”

  • When things don’t work out the way you hoped, how do you react? Do you try again?

Patience and perseverance are the hallmarks of a good fisherman. Perseverance has been the hallmark of some of the great men and women of history. Perseverance ought to be a characteristic of every Christian yet how quickly we ‘throw in the towel’ when things don’t come up to expectations.

PATIENCE AND PERSERVERANCE

Jesus has instructed us to become fishers of men – to bring men and women into contact with their Saviour. This task requires patience and perseverance.

OBEDIENCE.

  1. They were willing to obey orders
  • When the Lord is directing you in a particular direction how quick are you to obey?

Some of Jesus’ disciples were professional fishermen. Before Jesus invited them to follow Him they had earned their bread and butter from fishing. Along comes this carpenter and tells them how to do their job! They had every reason to respond – “What do you know about fishing? You stick to preaching and we’ll do the fishing.”

But they were prepared to do what he told them to do. They obeyed and reaped a rich reward.

There are times when fishing is frustrating and unfruitful, but fishermen keep at it because it is their calling. As Christians it is our calling to be fishers of men. Even if at times this may seem frustrating. The task of reaching family, friends and acquaintances for Jesus is not easy. Jesus never said it would be.

CALLED

The purpose behind this miraculous catch of fish was not to merely give those tired fishermen a bit of encouragement. When Simon Peter saw what had happened, he fell to his knees before Jesus and said, “Go away from me, Lord! I am a sinful man!” Peter had never seen so many fish caught up in a single net before.

Through this amazing miracle, Jesus gained the disciples’ attention. Then He delivered a punch line—“Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.”

Jesus calls each of us from our daily routine to be His co-workers—fishing for His Kingdom.

A FISHERMAN’S CLUB?

An article which appeared in The Westminster Record years ago titled ‘The Fisherman’s Club” is an allegory about a club for fishermen in which every effort is made to promote fishing as a worthwhile occupation. However, none of the promoters or members actually engage in fishing. The article ends with the following challenging words:

Is a person a fisherman if, year after year, he never catches a fish? Is one really following the Master, if he isn't fishing? The Westminster Record, The Fisherman's Club Click To Tweet

This brings to mind the words of a Sunday School chorus,

“Fishing for Jesus

Fishing for Jesus everywhere

With a Bible and a prayer

Nothing can compare

With fishing for Jesus everywhere.”

Fellow Christians we have been called to be fishers of men. Our efforts to reach others for Jesus may at times seem frustrating, but I can assure you there will also be those times of rejoicing when someone you know – a relative, a friend, a colleague, says, “Yes to Jesus.”

Ask the Lord to show you how you can reach an unbeliever for Christ. And then why not listen to that fun children’s song? Click on the link and enjoy these enthusiastic young fishermen!

If you haven’t yet read the Introduction to Encounters with Jesus, please do. It will benefit you throughout this series of studies.

3. Dinner Invitation

Do you recall getting an unexpected invitation to some special celebration dinner?

TOGETHER FOR THE FIRST TIME AFTER TWELVE YEARS

This photo was taken here in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, during an unexpected bonus when our daughter and son-in-law came to visit all the way from Montenegro, and our niece, nephew, and lovely great-nieces were on holiday from Northern Ireland. What a special moment!

Our passage of scripture is all about an unexpected dinner invitation.

Reading: Matthew 9:1-13

SCENE SETTER

When Jesus’ hometown, Nazareth, rejected his ministry, He moved to Capernaum where he made his home base. (Matthew 4:13-16)

One day, some men brought a paralysed man on a mat to Jesus.  Jesus assured the paralysed man, “Take heart your sins are forgiven.

Some teachers of the law immediately accused Jesus of blasphemy. Jesus asked them if it was easier to say, “Your sins are forgiven” than to say, “Get up and walk.” Then He went on to make an amazing claim, “the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.

Jesus has God-given authority to forgive your sins and mine.

SOUL RESPONSIBILITY

The Rev Peter Marshall a Presbyterian minister, during the early part of the last century had the honour of being chaplain to the President of the United States.

“One night a friend questioned Peter Marshall about whether he really thought we shall ever have to stand before God on Judgement Day and hear the roll call of our sins.

“Yes!” the Bible makes it quite clear.” Peter answered promptly. “Someday, somewhere, somehow, there will be an accounting for each of us.”

He paused and seemed lost in thought as he stirred his third cup of tea. “I think I may have to go through the agony of hearing all my sins recited in the presence of God.”

But I believe it will be like this – Jesus will come over and lay His hand across my shoulder and say to God, “Yes! All these things are true, but I am here to cover up for Peter. He is sorry for all his sins, and by a transaction made between us, I am now solely responsible for them.” (‘A Man called Peter.’ – Catherine Marshall)

Doesn’t that sound amazing?

A PUBLICAN

As Jesus and his disciples were leaving Capernaum they encountered a tax collector at his booth. Several of the older bible translations such as the American Standard Version and King James Version, label him as a publican.

A publican is generally a ‘keeper of a public house’ (Collins English Dictionary). We may regard a public house as a pub or tavern. But in biblical terms, it referred to someone fulfilling a public office such as that of a tax collector.

Though a Jew, he had a Greek name: Matthew. The gospel writer Mark calls him Levi son of Alphaeus (Mark 2:13). So it is possible that he was a brother to James son of Alphaeus who became one of the 12 apostles. (Matthew 10:3)

COMMITMENT

Jesus simply said, Follow me and Matthew got up and followed him.

  • What do you think were the implications of his decision to follow Christ?

Matthew had a lucrative job. Employed by the Roman authorities to collect taxes from the people—his own people—you can count on it that he submitted a certain amount regularly to his bosses. But you can also be sure that he took his own cut.

Yet when Jesus invited him to become a follower, he didn’t hesitate. He left his tax booth immediately. Perhaps more than any of the other disciples, Matthew had a better grasp of the cost of following Jesus. Yet he did not hesitate. 

The disciples’ Peter, Thomas, Nathaniel, James, and John could go back to fishing, (John 21:2) as they did after Jesus’ resurrection, but Matthew burnt his bridges. There was no way he would get his job back.

DISCIPLESHIP’S COST

  • Are you a follower of Jesus?
  • What has it cost you to become a follower of Jesus?

Some who have taken that step have been cut off from family and regarded as dead. Others have lost their lives.

I recently read a novel that deals with this very thing. A Muslim converted to Christianity who dared not return to his hometown for fear of being murdered by his own family. And this is not unique.

In my ministry, I witnessed the opposite. The son of a couple in one of my congregations fell for a Jehovah’s Witness lass. Leaders of that sect ordered him to become a member before their marriage and to have nothing more to do with his family. He refused to even chat with me. His family was devastated.

Initially, the other disciples would probably have been wary of Matthew. Jews who served the Roman authorities were generally despised by their fellow Jews.

INVITATION TO DINNER

Matthew was so excited about becoming a follower that he did an amazing thing. He set up a dinner at his home, to which he invited Jesus. He also invited his fellow tax collectors, and many others who had a bad reputation, to dinner to meet Jesus.

Not the kind of thing that I would have done. I think I would want to allow my associates and friends to gradually get the message that I had become a Jesus follower.

  • How about you? When you opened your life to Jesus did you make sure your friends, your family, your schoolmates or workmates know what you had done?

RELIGIOUS REACTION

There are always troublemakers around, no matter what group you may be part of. Unfortunately even in Christian circles.

Somehow, the Pharisees soon got wind of this gathering and confronted Jesus’ disciples, Why, does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?

I like the way Eugene Peterson puts it in The Message,

“What kind of example is this from your Teacher, acting cozy, with crooks and riff-raff?” (Matthew 9:11b The Message)

Jesus overheard and responded, “Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick?” (Matthew 9:11b The Message) He added “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9;13b NIV)

So Matthew responded unhesitatingly to Jesus’ invitation and held a dinner to give his colleagues and cronies an opportunity to hear Jesus.

  • Ever considered inviting unsaved friends to dinner?

TWO CHANGES

  • What major changes do you think happened in his life as a result of his decision?

I can think of two significant changes.

  1. He received a new life. Not only did he join a particular group of people. He belonged to a person – the Son of God. The despised tax collector had become an accepted person. Initially a follower of Jesus, later one of the 12 apostles.

When you opened your life to Jesus and decided to follow Him, you became a new person – one of His disciples.

  1. Matthew had a new purpose in life. The only tool from his old way of life that he was able to use for Jesus, was his pen. God appointed him as one of the record keepers of the group. Matthew was a keen observer throughout Jesus’ ministry and kept a record of the wonderful events of that ministry, which subsequently became the Gospel of Matthew.

WORK IN PROGRESS

Each of us is a work in progress. At the time of our birth, God gave us certain characteristics and abilities. When we put our trust in Jesus we received the Holy Spirit into our lives.  As we allow the Spirit to have greater control He uses those very God-given characteristics and capabilities for the work of Christ’s kingdom.

  • How are you using your God-given characteristic and capabilities to the glory of God? Are you using them?

In the eyes of many, Matthew was a nobody, a traitor to his own, but then he met Jesus, and his life was entirely transformed. You may feel like a nobody. You may feel that your life is going nowhere. But Jesus wants to make a difference in your life.

Jesus wants to use whatever you are prepared to offer him to make a difference in your life and in the lives of those you come into contact with.

You may not be able to invite unsaved friends to dinner, but what can you do to bridge the gap between them and Jesus?

As you listen to this beautiful song, identify with the words sung by Bill Gaither and the congregation, “I have decided to follow Jesus.”

If you haven’t yet read the Introduction to Encounters with Jesus, please do. It will benefit you throughout this series of studies.

 

2. Under the Fig Tree

Can you think of any references to a fig tree in the Bible?

Those who followed the studies in Habakkuk will remember that the prophet wrote, ” Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines,…” (Habakkuk 3:17a)

Image by Antonio Jose Cespedes from Pixabay

SCRIPTURE READING: John 1:43-51

  • Have you given your life to the Lord?
  • If so, what were the factors which brought you to that point?

Our study this week is about a young man who was challenged to become a follower of Jesus.

GIFT OF GOD

One of the first followers of Jesus was a man named Nathanael, the brother of Philip. Yet we only read of him in John’s gospel.

Philip is listed amongst the twelve disciples, whom Jesus appointed to be apostles. However, Nathanael’s name does not appear on any of the lists found in the first three gospels or the book of Acts. (Matthew 10:1-4; Mark 3:13-18; Luke 6:12-16; Acts 1:12,13)

  • Don’t you think that is very strange when, on Jesus’ first encounter with him, Jesus described him as, “…an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”?

Nathanael was a model Jew, a man of integrity. His name means “gift of God” or “giver of God” which points to his being a godly person. Nevertheless, he is not listed as an apostle!!

APOSTLE OR NOT?

In the first three (synoptic) Gospels, the name Bartholomew always follows Philip in the lists of the twelve apostles. Though, Bartholomew is not mentioned at all in the Gospel of John. And, we know practically nothing about him.

John’s Gospel does not provide us with a list of the twelve apostles. However, Nathanael is listed as one of the seven disciples who went fishing on the Sea of Galilee after Jesus’ resurrection, which suggests that he was one of the twelve.

Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. ‘I’m going out to fish, ‘ Simon Peter told them, and they said, ‘We’ll go with you.'”(John21:2,3a)

Most Bible scholars believe Nathanael and Bartholomew to be the same person.

ENCOUNTERS WITH JESUS

John the Baptist was preaching and baptizing alongside the Jordan River and stated, “…among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.” (John 1:27)

The next day John and two of his disciples were together when Jesus passed by and John declared, “Look, the Lamb of God.” (John 1:29) His two disciples immediately attached themselves to Jesus and spent the rest of the day with him. One of the two was Andrew who promptly found Simon Peter his brother and introduced him to Jesus.

The next day, as our reading indicates, Jesus decided to go to Galilee where he met up with Philip. After meeting Jesus, Philip found his brother Nathanael and excitedly announced, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote–Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” (John 1:45)

THE SCEPTIC

Instead of bubbling over with enthusiasm, Nathanael is somewhat sceptical. “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” (John 1:46)

  • Do you ever react in that way to people?
  • Have you encountered that sort of person? How did he/she demonstrate scepticism?

It is suggested that the Jews despised Nazareth because a Roman garrison was located there. Alternatively, perhaps it was because Nazareth had a bad reputation for poor morals and religious standards. (John 1:46 Life Application Bible footnote)

Whatever, when Nathanael heard that the Messiah was from Nazareth he was surprised.

Philip was not prepared to debate the issue, he simply responded, “Come and see.” Nathanael was faced with a choice – follow your logic or accept Philip’s invitation. Fortunately, he went to meet Jesus and became a disciple.

DIVINE ASSESSMENT

When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he commented to John, Andrew and Peter, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.” (John 1:47) Again Nathanael is taken aback, “How do you know me?” (John 1:48)

Jesus’ divine nature comes to the fore, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.” (John 1:50)

Nathanael’s response gives him the distinction of being the first recorded person to confess belief in Jesus as the ‘Son of God, the king of Israel.’

GREATER THINGS

Jesus assured him, “You will see greater things than that. Very truly I tell you, you will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” (John 1:50–51)

In response to Nathanael’s demonstration of faith, Jesus promised him that he will see even greater things. That he would have a similar experience to that of Jacob in the Old Testament. (Genesis 28)

You may remember that Jacob had a dream of angels ascending and descending a stairway between heaven and earth with the LORD standing above them. Jesus indicated that Jacob’s dream was pointing to that day when God would connect heaven and earth — God would reach down to humanity, providing us with an opportunity to be in relationship with Him.

Jesus in effect said, ‘You will see greater things because you will witness my bringing about that connection between God and mankind through my sacrifice.’ (Hebrews 9:12; 10:10)

A WITNESS

When Nathanael accepted Philip’s invitation, he became Jesus’ disciple, then an apostle. He witnessed the resurrection and the Ascension of Jesus Christ and became a missionary, spreading the gospel.

Church tradition claims that Nathanael was engaged in missionary work in numerous places, possibly even involved in getting a translation of Matthew’s Gospel to India. And legend has it that he was crucified upside down in Albania.

A FIG TREE?

  • What do you think is the significance of the fact that Jesus saw Nathanael sitting under a fig tree?

In preparing for this study I came across this enlightening suggestion.

“It was not any old fig tree but the Fig Tree. Maybe this was a favourite place for Nathanael to contemplate the Law and express devotion to God.” (Knowing Jesus. com)

It would appear from a number of commentaries on this incident that it was common practice for rabbis to spend time contemplating the Torah under a shady fig tree. The Torah is the compilation of the first five books of the Hebrew Bible.

It has also been suggested that in view of Jesus’ reference to Jacob, this could indicate that Nathanael was actually studying Genesis 28 under that fig tree.

So Nathanael apparently was not simply resting beneath the fig tree, he was meditating on God’s Law given through Moses.  This is also hinted at by Philip’s words, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law,..” 

LIFE LESSONS

Nathanael was a sceptic. But Jesus saw beneath the scepticism. Jesus saw a man of integrity and openness and labelled him as a ‘true Israelite.”  No matter what outward show we may project to others, Jesus knows the real you and real me. He also knows our potential for the Kingdom.

Nathanael’s story reveals that our prejudices can affect our judgement. However, if we open ourselves to principles found in God’s Word we can come to know the truth. Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  (John 8:31b,32)

Nathanael challenges each one of us in the area of our commitment to Christ.

NATHANAEL’S EXAMPLE

Even though Nathanael became an apostle, he was not perfect. Like most of the other disciples, Nathanael abandoned Jesus during his trial and crucifixion. But he also witnessed Jesus’ resurrection and his commitment to Jesus was so strong that he died a martyr’s death for Christ.

Jesus needs men and women who, like Nathanael, are prepared to go out and share the good news of salvation. That we not only claim to be Christians but that we live our lives based on His teachings. And we are open to the opportunities that arise for us to share what Jesus is doing in our lives.

Our claim to be a Christian must be backed up by the evidence of a changed life seen in our attitude, language, caring concern, honesty, faithfulness, and trustworthiness.

Jesus saw in Nathanael a man with great potential. He sees in each one of us potential beyond our wildest dreams and He wants to unlock that potential if we will let Him.

Why not spend time now asking the Lord how you may reach your potential in Him. Sing this beautiful prayer along with this beautiful recording.

If you haven’t yet read the Introduction to Encounters with Jesus, please do. It will benefit you throughout this series of studies.

 

 

 

 

 

1. A Family Heirloom

If you haven’t yet read the Introduction to Encounters with Jesus, please do. It will benefit you throughout this series of studies.

FAMILY HEIRLOOM

Many families have an heirloom that has been passed on down the generations.

Family heirlooms come in different shapes and sizes. It may be a piece of jewellery that is passed down to the eldest daughter of the family. It could be a family bible. A silver tea set or even a special commemorative mug like the one in the photo.

What makes an heirloom unique is that it has been handed down from one generation to the next. Because it has crossed numerous generations, family heirlooms may be valuable antiques. However, to an heir, it is of more sentimental value than its financial value.

commemorative mug

Image by Gabriele Alonso Rodriguez from Pixabay

GOD’S PRICELESS HEIRLOOM

As Christians, and members of the family of God we have received an heirloom – a priceless gift from God. This gift is only passed down to God’s family members.

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.”(John 14:16,17)

Our Lord Jesus himself received this priceless gift at his baptism in the Jordan River by John the Baptist. The Holy Spirit came down upon Him in the form of a dove. From the moment of His baptism by John and His receiving of the Holy Spirit, everything that Jesus did was empowered by the Spirit. (Matthew. 4:1; Luke.4: 1,14)

A PROMISED GIFT

Then on the night of the Last Supper Jesus promised his faithful apostles they would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

“I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper…the Spirit... The world cannot receive Him, because it cannot see him or know him.” (John 14:16,17 GNB)

Jesus needed the help of the Holy Spirit in order to fulfil the Father’s will. So, too His disciples would need the Holy Spirit’s help to accomplish the tasks that He had in store for them.

OUR CALLING

Jesus chose those first disciples so, “that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach...” (Mark 3:14)

Jesus has these same two goals for His present-day disciples, you and me. We are to spend time with Him. And go out and share the Good News about Him.

i)  Called to be disciples    

The word ‘disciple’ means ‘pupil’ or ‘learner’. Jesus has called all Christians without exception to be His disciples, daily learning from Him through the Word.

We will never cease to be God’s children, but when we cease learning and being teachable, we are no longer disciples. (When godly people do ungodly things – Beth Moore) Click To Tweet

To be true disciples of Jesus, we need to be in constant contact with Him, receiving His instructions daily. At times those instructions may not be easy to accept. For they are aimed at correcting us, moulding us, perfecting us to become more like the Master.

ii)  Called to be witnesses

Not only does Jesus require His disciples to spend time with Him, learning from Him. But in effect to become his apostles. An apostle is one who is ‘sent’. In His parting words to His disciples, Jesus said, “You are witnesses of these things...(Luke. 24:48 GNB)“Go, then, to all peoples everywhere and make them my disciples…teach them to obey everything I have commanded you...” (Matt. 28:19,20 GNB)

  • What things were they witnesses to?

They were witnesses of all that they had seen and heard during the time Jesus was with them.

Today those who believe in Jesus are called “Christians”.  Yet our Lord never gave His disciples that title. He called them “witnesses” – You are called to share your personal experience of how you opened your life to Christ. And what the Lord is doing daily in your life is a powerful witness for Jesus.

iii)  Called to be Spirit-empowered

Before Jesus’ disciples could carry out their mission to be His witnesses and make disciples they had to fulfil another important instruction:

Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift I told you about, the gift my Father promised…in a few days you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit. (Acts 1:4,5 GNB)

“When the Holy Spirit comes upon you, you will be filled with power; and you will be witnesses for me in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:7,8 GNB)

Jesus’ disciples of all ages need the empowering of the Holy Spirit to help them accomplish the tasks that He has set for them.

THE GIFT IS GIVEN

Ten days after Jesus’ ascension, on the Jewish feast day of Pentecost, in obedience to Jesus’ command, His followers were prayerfully awaiting the gift of the Holy Spirit. Acts 2: 2-4 describes how God poured out His Spirit upon Jesus’ followers in the form of wind and fire – signs of power and purification.

That frightened group of followers was empowered to become Christ’s witnesses. Through God’s precious gift of the Holy Spirit working through them, they were able to fulfil their calling to be Christ’s witnesses and to make disciples.

Witnessing to others about Jesus Christ and teaching them to be His disciples remains our task as Christians.

  • Did you realise that when you opened your life to Christ you received this wonderful inheritance?
  • What difference is the Holy Spirit making in your life?

YATES POOL

In west Texas, there is a famous oil field known as Yates pool. During the depression, this field was a sheep ranch owned by a man named Yates. Mr Yates was not able to earn enough money on his ranch to pay the principal and interest on his mortgage, so he was in danger of losing his ranch. With little money for clothes and food, his family, like many others, had to live off a government subsidy.

One day a seismographic crew from an oil company came into the area and told Mr Yates that there might be oil on his land. They asked permission to drill a well and he signed a lease. They struck a huge oil reserve giving 80,000 barrels a day.

Thirty years after this discovery, a government test of one of those wells revealed that it still could provide 125,000 barrels of oil a day. And Mr Yates owned it all!

The day that he had purchased the land he had received the oil and mineral rights. Yet, he was having to receive a subsidy from the government because he did not know that it was there. He owned the oil but he did not possess it until that well was drilled. (Dr. Bill Bright of Campus Crusade for Christ – ‘How to be filled with the Spirit’)

A WELL-USED HEIRLOOM

When we opened our lives to Jesus Christ all the resources of the oil of the Holy Spirit were made available to us, but often through ignorance, like Mr Yates, we are not aware that it is there.

Everything that you need to be a fruitful Christian, who is leading others to Jesus and helping them to become Jesus’ disciples, is available to you.

In Ephesians 5:18 we are encouraged to: “Be filled with the Spirit.”  The word “filled” in the original Greek is in the present continuous tense.

Rev Andrew Murray wrote, ”I have learned to place myself before God every day as a vessel to be filled with His Holy Spirit. He has filled me with the blessed assurance that He, as the everlasting God, has guaranteed His own work in me.”

When you entrusted yourself to Jesus as your Saviour and Lord, you received the precious heirloom of the Holy Spirit. How about following this link, and spending a few minutes in worship, praying for the Holy Spirit’s power in your life? He will help make your encounters with Jesus all the more real.

Come, Holy Spirit—I need You.

 

 

 

Causes For Rejoicing

The actor is rejoicing at having won an oscar. What causes you to rejoice?

THE FOCAL POINT

The prophet Habakkuk is rejoicing in the goodness of the Lord, despite the ominous signs of the disaster facing his people at the hands of the Babylonians. Even though there is going to be crop failure and depletion of livestock.  His repeated refocusing on the Lord can be seen in the following passages from his prophecy.

Habakkuk 1:12a. CEV

‘Holy LORD God, mighty rock, you are eternal, and we are safe from death.”

Habakkuk 2:13,14,20. CEV

“But the LORD All-Powerful sends up in flames what nations and people work so hard to gain. Just as water fills the sea, the land will be filled with people who know and honor the LORD. Let all the world be silent– the LORD is present in his holy temple.”

Habakkuk 3:17-19a. CEV

“Fig trees may no longer bloom, or vineyards produce grapes; olive trees may be fruitless, and harvest time a failure; sheep pens may be empty, and cattle stalls vacant–but I will still celebrate because the LORD God saves me.The LORD gives me strength. ”

  • Where is your focus when things get completely out of hand?
  • Do you tend to focus on the problem or on the one who has the solution?

LIFE’S GOAL

The one thing that I recall from the Confirmation classes I attended in preparation for church membership, was the very first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism – ‘What is man’s chief end?’

    • Did you learn this?
    • Do you remember the answer?

The answer provided is, ‘Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.’

The American theologian John Piper comments, “The old tradition says: ‘The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever’…. Sometimes you glorify God and sometimes enjoy Him? Sometimes He gets glory, sometimes you get joy? ‘And’ is a very ambiguous word! Just how do these two things relate to each other?“

John Piper goes on to consider, “What does God have to say about the chief end of man? Does He command us to enjoy Him?” He answers by quoting from 1 Corinthians, “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31 NIV)

John Piper comes to a conclusion that “in all life God be glorified the way He Himself has appointed.” Therefore he suggests a change in the wording to read, ‘The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying him forever’.   (Desiring God”, by John Piper – Revised Edition: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist)

  • So how do we glorify God by enjoying Him forever?

REJOICING IN THE LORD

Where the Contemporary English Version has the phrase, “I will still celebrate” (Habakkuk 3:18) most other versions have “I will rejoice.”

We glorify God by celebrating or rejoicing in His goodness.

The phrase ‘rejoice in the Lord’ appears at least 12 times in Scripture.

In one of his Psalms, David opens with the words, “Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.” (Psalm 32:1 NIV) Indeed what a blessing it is to have the assurance that our transgressions (sins) are forgiven.

In the light of this assurance, David ends this psalm with the encouragement to, “Rejoice in the LORD and be glad, you righteous; sing, all you who are upright in heart!” (Psalm 32:11) The knowledge that one’s sins are forgiven is a great motivation to rejoice in the Lord.

In another psalm, David appeals to God, “Oppose those who oppose me, LORD, and fight those who fight against me!….may ruin overtake them by surprise—may the net they hid entangle them, may they fall into the pit, to their ruin. Then my soul will rejoice in the LORD and delight in his salvation.” (Psalm 35:1,8,9 GNB)

The Lord is the one who promises to save us from dangerous situations. There are times when we are threatened with a danger that perhaps we are not even aware of, yet the Lord works in the background to save us.

An unnamed psalmist wrote, “I will sing to the LORD all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live. May my meditation be pleasing to him, as I rejoice in the LORD.” (Psalm 104;33,34 NIV)

REJOICING IN GOD’S PROVISION

The prophet Joel brought a message of encouragement to the people of Judah assuring them that if they turned back to God He would renew His blessing.

Do not be afraid, land of Judah; be glad and rejoice. Surely the LORD has done great things! Do not be afraid, you wild animals, for the pastures in the wilderness are becoming green. The trees are bearing their fruit; the fig tree and the vine yield their riches. Be glad, people of Zion, rejoice in the LORD your God, for he has given you the autumn rains because he is faithful. He sends you abundant showers, both autumn and spring rains, as before.” (Joel 2:21-23)

Oh, how the folk living in the Eastern Cape of South Africa need this assurance. We are suffering under a terrible drought. We do need abundant showers to fall particularly in the dam catchment areas. Here in Gqeberha, zero-day is rapidly approaching when we will run out of water. This is, unfortunately, caused partly by the drought, but aggravated by our badly-maintained infrastructure where pipes are constantly breaking (or being vandalised.) Please pray for this situation. People all over the city are rushing to get rainwater tanks installed so that when ANY rain falls, it will be saved for further use. 

Paul’s words to the Philippians come to mind, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4) Notice the word ‘always’. Our rejoicing should not be confined to when things are going well, but we are exhorted to rejoice always, even when facing trying circumstances.

This brings us to the end of this series of studies on the prophecy of Habakkuk. I trust that you have been blessed through the study. For my part, I have enjoyed putting it together and in the process, I have learned a great deal about trusting God despite trying circumstances and the need to rejoice in the Lord regardless.

ENCOUNTERS WITH JESUS

I have a busy couple of months of preaching as well as a week with my daughter and son-in-law visiting from overseas. (Yay!) So I am planning on posting a short weekly series called Encounters With Jesus. (Starting 2nd June)

Please indicate in a comment whether you would like a further in-depth Bible Study series in similar style to Habakkuk to follow. 

If you haven’t yet read the background to the prophecy, please do. Even though we’re at the end of the study, you will find It will benefit you throughout this series of studies.

And watch this space for Encounters With Jesus

– starting 2nd June –

As we bring this session to a close, join in singing Paul’s words put to song – Rejoice in the Lord always.

True Worship

Mankind was born with an inbred desire to praise and worship someone or something. We either praise and worship the one true God or we will create our own man-made idols.

Habakkuk 3:19b NIV

‘For the director of music. On my stringed instruments.’

In an earlier study, we noted that Habakkuk appeared to be involved in leading worship. Here in this verse, he refers to ‘my stringed instruments.’

INSTRUMENTS 

  • How does your church worship the Lord each Sunday?
    • Do you sing a selection of hymns played on an organ?
    • Are there hymns and songs played on an organ and or a piano?
    • Perhaps you attend a more lively church with a band comprising piano, keyboard, guitars and drums etc? What instruments are used?

Some people believe the only true worship instrument is the pipe organ. But did you know that there was a huge outcry when the organ was first introduced into a church service? The Scots labelled the instrument as a “kist o’ whistles” – a derogatory name with kist meaning coffin. Many believed it was an instrument of the devil.

Today there are those who believe the guitar should not be played in church, and as for drums? Well, really!

OLD TESTAMENT MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS

Doesn’t this seem strange in the light of the fact that the Bible reveals Old Testament worshipers used a variety of musical instruments?

“Praise God with trumpets and all kinds of harps.
Praise him with tambourines and dancing, with stringed instruments and woodwinds.
Praise God with cymbals, with clashing cymbals.” (Psalms 150: 3-5 CEV)

They also used the shofar (from a ram’s horn, especially the kudu!), bells, lyres, small drums, flutes etc.

A modern-day Habakkuk would almost certainly use an electric guitar and a keyboard!

ORCHESTRA 

Here in our own city of Gqeberha (formerly Port Elizabeth), from time to time the well-known South African conductor, Richard Cox, leads a service of worship called ‘Songs of Praise’. Pre-Covid, believers packed the large auditorium to join in a great time of praise and worship. A large orchestra and choir comprising choir members from local churches accompanied the singing.

I don’t believe the Lord is choosy about which instruments we use in worship. After all, he gave mankind the ability to design these numerous musical instruments. God’s main concern is the state of our hearts, whether we are truly worshipping Him or merely singing songs.

Shirley and I once attended an amazing service of worship in a rural African church where their only instrument was the Bible! The congregants danced as they sang lustily, clapping the palms of their hands on their Bibles in time to the rhythm. What a wonderful time of truly God-inspired worship that was! 

JESUS AND WORSHIP

On the outskirts of the village of Sychar in Samaria, Jesus got into conversation with an adulterous woman. Jesus pinpointed that she had five previous husbands and was not married to the man she was living with. The lady tried to change the subject.

“Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet.  Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”  

“Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.  You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews.

Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” (John 4:19-24 NIV)

She attempted to enter into a debate as to the correct venue for worship. Jesus in effect said the venue is not  important, it’s who you worship and how you worship that is really important – “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

True worship is God centred, Spirit orchestrated, and focused on the truth about Jesus.

On YouTube recently there have been several clips claiming that some of the lively songs of praise and worship sung in many of our churches are theologically inaccurate. That the songwriters are in effect teaching false doctrine which is more man centred than God-glorifying. Jesus said,”.. . .the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth...”

FALSE WORSHIP

This is not really surprising in the light of the temptations Jesus received in the wilderness after his baptism by John the Baptist.

“Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.  After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.” (Matthew 4:1,2)

The English word ‘temptation’ comes from the Greek PETRASMOS and can also mean ‘testing.’

It was truly a time of testing for Jesus. After fasting for forty days Jesus was hungry and Satan tempted him to meet His physical need miraculously and thus prove himself to be the Son of God. Jesus replied, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.‘” (Matthew 4:4)

In His weakened condition, Satan continued to attempt Jesus to question his own identity by taking him to the highest point of the temple – “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down,” for surely God will send his angels to save you.” Jesus again resisted the temptation by quoting God’s Word, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.‘” (Matthew 4:7).

A CRUCIAL TEMPTATION

But now we come to the real crux of the three temptations.

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.

Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.‘” (Matthew 4:8-10)

Satan hates seeing Christians worshipping the one true God through Jesus Christ the Son. He will do all he can to undermine such worship. Even if it involves getting us to sing words which don’t truly praise and glorify God. We need to be very careful that we are worshipping the Lord our God and not allowing Satan to distract us.

HEARTFELT WORSHIP

David, himself a musician, had a lot to say about our praise and worship of God. “I will praise the LORD God with a song and a thankful heart.” (Psalm 69:30 CEV)

  • Is your worship truly heartfelt?
  • Does your worship flow from your heart or do you simply sing songs?

Paul’s advice to believers is, “When you meet together, sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, as you praise the Lord with all your heart.” ( Ephesians 5:19 CEV)

Ask the Holy Spirit to show you whether you are offering true worship and to teach you how to present God with true worship through Christ His Son.
Then join in with this congregation as they sing a true song of worship. See what instruments you can identify. 

P.S.

If you haven’t yet read the background to the prophecy, please do. It will benefit you throughout this series of studies.

Source of Strength

Habakkuk began his prophecy on a note of despair but he ends up by focusing on his source of strength.

STRENGTH SOURCE

Image by Deep Khicher from Pixabay

What would you say is your source of strength? What do you rely on most to get on in life?

  • Is it your physical fitness?
  • Perhaps it is your level of intelligence?
  • Are you a highly talented individual?
  • Who do you rely on most – your marriage partner, peers, parents, children, or colleagues?
  • Who really exerts the greatest influence on your life?

Habakkuk 3:19 CEV

‘The LORD gives me strength. He makes my feet as sure as those of a deer, and he helps me stand on the mountains. To the music director: Use stringed instruments.’

As we noted in the previous verse, if everything that was normal and predictable collapsed, the prophet declared that he would still rejoice in the Lord.

Is this not, in effect, exactly what the world has come to experience through the Coronavirus pandemic? Everything that we regarded as normal and predictable in life, was thrown into disarray. As a result, people coined the term ‘the new normal’. And what is the new normal? No one seems to know.

  • What effect has the virus had on your normal pattern of life? Do you now have a new normal?

What exactly is the new normal? It seems to be different in every country.

Here in South Africa, the new normal includes the constant emphasis on being vaccinated against the virus. We are continually urged to wear masks when we enter malls, shops, restaurants, churches etc. We are reminded to keep a safe distance from one another and to keep sanitizing and washing our hands. 

  • How has the virus affected your relationships?

SURE-FOOTED

The prophet affirmed that the Lord continued to be the source of his strength in the face of the forthcoming devastation by the Babylonians (a.k.a. Chaldeans). Despite the fact that the circumstances confronting him had not shown any signs of improvement, Habakkuk had discovered the secret to being able to walk sure-footed like a deer climbing a steep mountain. “The Lord has given me strength.”

The devotional writer Beth Moore makes this comment:

“Faith is never the denial of reality; it is belief in a greater reality. Yes we are indeed surrounded by discouraging circumstances. But the reason we don’t have to yield to fear and discouragement is the presence of God in the middle of our circumstances.” (‘Believing God day by day’ by Beth Moore)

DAVID’S SOURCE OF STRENGTH

We saw in our last session how although David was chosen to replace King Saul as king of Israel this only happened after Saul was killed in battle.

Following David’s slaying of the giant Goliath and being appointed commander in chief of Saul’s army, the Lord gave him success after success in battle. So much so that the people began chanting

“Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands.” (1 Samuel 18:7 NIV)

Scripture goes on to record,  “Saul was very angry; this refrain displeased him greatly. ‘They have credited David with tens of thousands,’ he thought, “but me with only thousands. What more can he get but the kingdom?'” (1 Samuel 18:8 NIV)

From that point onwards, out of jealousy, Saul attempted to assassinate David.

Psalm 59 is a psalm that David wrote when Saul sent men to spy on David with a view to killing him. The psalm is headed, “When Saul had sent men to watch David’s house in order to kill him.” (Psalm 59:1)

David opens with an appeal, “Deliver me from my enemies, O God; be my fortress against those who are attacking me.”  Then in several verses, he highlights God as his source of strength.

“You are my strength, I watch for you; you, God, are my fortress,’ (Verse 9)

“But I will sing of your strength, in the morning I will sing of your love; for you are my fortress, my refuge in times of trouble. You are my strength, I sing praise to you; you, God, are my fortress, my God on whom I can rely.” (Verses 16 & 17)

Despite having to frequently flee for his life, David acknowledged that the Lord constantly came to his rescue as the source of his strength.

DANIEL’S VISION

At the end of a three-week period of mourning, fasting and prayer Daniel received a vision of a man. From the description of the man, this appears to have been an archangel. (Daniel 10:1-6)

He said to Daniel:

“Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them.” (Daniel 10:10)

“Now I have come to explain to you what will happen to your people in the future, for the vision concerns a time yet to come.” (Daniel 10:14)

Daniel said to the one standing before him,

“I am overcome with anguish because of the vision, my lord, and I feel very weak. How can I, your servant, talk with you, my lord? My strength is gone and I can hardly breathe.” (Daniel 10:16b,17)

The passage continues:

“Again the one who looked like a man touched me and gave me strength. ‘Do not be afraid, you who are highly esteemed,’ he said. ‘Peace! Be strong now; be strong.’ When he spoke to me, I was strengthened and said, “Speak, my lord, since you have given me strength.” (Daniel 10:18,19)

Daniel was overawed at this vision of a spirit being and the message concerning a great war (Daniel 10:1). He was weak both physically from his time of fasting, and spiritually. In his weakened condition, he was given a word of assurance which was the source of strength. 

PAUL’S THORN

Life is full of experiences that sap our strength and may even cause us to doubt the goodness of God.

The apostle Paul wrote of a particular weakness that he experienced:

“. . .in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:7-10 – bold mine.)

Whatever our area of weakness, we have a God who desires to turn every weakness into a source of strength.

We all have our weaknesses, but some seem worse than others. Whatever your weakness, wherever you need to be strengthened, bring that before the Lord in prayer and His power will help you overcome your weakness.

Join in with this magnificent choir as they sing God is Our Strength and Worship to the wonderful Dam Buster’s March. 

P.S.

If you haven’t yet read the background to the prophecy, please do. It will benefit you throughout this series of studies.