Daily devotions

During this time of services at the West Church being suspended a series of short texts will be provided to help with meditation and strengthen faith.

Friday 10th July 2020

On the contrary, we speak as men of God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please men but God, who tested our hearts You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed - God is our witness. We are not looking for praise from men, nor from anyone else.

As apostles of Christ we could have been a burden to you, but we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children. We loved so much we were delighted with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us. Surely you remember, brothers our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you. 1 Thessalonians 2:4-9

Paul’s ministry to the believers in Thessalonika is personal and intimate; he doesn’t stand apart from them aloof and superior but shared in the everyday life of the community. In verse 7 Paul speaks of his ministry to them in the most intimate way using the image of a mother tenderly caring for her little children by providing basic food (milk) that assures life. Paul is reminding Thessalonian Christians that they also have received nourishment, the life-giving nourishment of the word of God is being poured into their lives and they are growing in their faith.

Paul’s relationship with the Thessalonians is not only showing the tenderness and gentleness of a mother but also the encouragement and comfort of a father.

For you know we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into His kingdom of glory. 1Thessalonians 2:11-12

Paul is emphasizing to the Thessalonians that he is encouraging them to grow and mature. He is committed to encourage them to press on until they become all that God has planned for them to be.

What a beautiful picture and balance we see in Paul’s ministry. On the one hand the gentleness and nurturing provision of a mother and the encouragement, challenge and discipline of a father. By his care and concern Paul brings a healthy and whole ministry to these believers who long to live lives worthy of God who calls them into his kingdom and glory. As God’s people we too are called. We can experience this closeness that can mark the relationships within the church today, as we grow closer to each other, as the family of God.

Heavenly Father we praise and give thanks for all who preach and teach the gospel message in all its fullness. We pray that although we all have different views on many things, that we learn to be tolerant and more understanding of others point of view.   Lord we ask that through your Holy Spirit you enable us to grow closer to each other as the family of God and remember that we are part of the one body through Jesus Christ our Lord.   Amen.       

Thursday 9th July 2020

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”

Matthew 5:38-42

This passage, of course, comes from the Sermon on the Mount in which Jesus offered a radical re-interpretation of the Hebrew scriptures. Jesus has already elaborated on the sixth commandment “You shall not kill” and broadened the scope to include anger as something equally worthy of punishment. After that he took the next commandment “You shall not commit adultery” and explained that this includes lustful thoughts, not merely actions.

Now, he picks up what would have been another well-known principle of Judaic law, that one was entitled to equal restitution (“eye for eye, and tooth for tooth”) if wronged by someone else. But this time, instead of broadening the scope, he turns it round, saying that the correct response to aggression and evil is no longer to fight back and seek revenge (or even compensation).

At first sight this seems odd. A little while earlier, Jesus had said that “he had not come to destroy the law or the prophets… but to fulfil.” So how do we reconcile this with what seems like a total rejection of an established tenet of Judaic law?

It is worth noting that Jesus is not promoting inaction. He is not saying “If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, ignore them and walk away” - that would have been to ignore the consequences of the evil-doers action. Instead, Jesus agrees with the idea that an evil act demands a response; he re-affirms the idea that aggression should not go unacknowledged. But in his response, Jesus requires us clearly and, almost provocatively, to offer our other cheek. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said “when evil meets no obstacle but only patient endurance, its sting is drawn and it at last meets an opponent which is more than its match.” The act of aggression is not ignored; it does not go unrecognised. Instead, “Violence stands condemned by its failure to evoke counter-violence”.

What this passage, as well as the preceding ones on murder/anger and adultery/lust have in common, is that they all stress the damage that follow in the wake of pride and self-righteousness. By angrily calling someone a fool, we are asserting our own importance, valuing our own feelings higher than those of others. By entertaining lustful thoughts, we are deeming our own pleasure as more important than the honour and respect we should afford our fellow man and woman.

So, in this passage, we are enjoined to forego our right to seek the vengeance that would naturally result from us asserting our own importance, our own worth. And when we look for a model to prove that evil can be brought low, not by violence, but by humility and sacrifice, we have no further to look than the cross, where Jesus (1 Cor. 15:55) drew the sting of death itself.

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves… Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

Philippians 2:3, 5-8

Wednesday 8th July 2020

Matthew 11:28-30

Jesus says; “Come to me, all you who labour and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for your selves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”

 

When we endure troubles, hard times, illness, and limitations that come into our lives at different times, it is sometimes not easy for us to understand why God, the God who made us, and have heard many times, that He cares and loves us.

Through the Gospel verses, we hear an invitation from Jesus, He is calling us to Him. Calling us not to just leave our problems, our sicknesses but actually encouraging us to carry them 'to take upon His yoke and to learn from him.’  But if we look closely, Jesus is actually teaching us means or ways to carry our load. We need to go to Jesus to be able to carry the load.

By going to Jesus, we can receive rest, comfort, healing, and peace. For Jesus is gentle and humble of heart.  We need to entrust all our human conditions, our problems, weaknesses and illnesses to Jesus.

A reflective prayer.

Lord, sometimes I feel as if I’m on a fast train. Life rushes by and I don’t have time to pause. Lord, I want to take time to see the view that your wisdom, through Jesus, gives me; to come to you in prayer, expecting far more than I could ever believe possible. Bless me with your presence, Lord.               Amen.

Prayer from www.rootsontheweb.com

Tuesday 7th July 2020

Psalm 9:10           “Those who know your name will trust in you,

                                For you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you”

Psalm 125:1, 2    “Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion,

                                which cannot be shaken but endures for ever.

                                As the mountains surround Jerusalem

                                so the Lord surrounds his people

                                both now and for evermore.”

Zion was part of one of the hills on which Jerusalem was built and has become strongly associated with the Jewish faith and theology.  Mount Zion’s rock symbolises how our trust in God should be.  Rock solid.

In modern life we ‘trust’ the weather will hold.  We ‘trust’ the bus will turn up on time.  We ‘trust’ Tesco will deliver all the items we have requested.  We ‘trust’ our doctors, lawyers and the disseminators of news.  We ‘trust’ our partners to keep to their vows.

When we use the word trust in these contexts there is always an element of doubt that our trust will be betrayed.  We can be suspicious, cynical, devious or faithless.

The psalmists make clear that none of this should apply to our trust in God.  He knows us so well and realises our weaknesses and yet still offers redemption for those who truly believe.

 

Lord, help us to carry our trust in You into our daily interactions and relationships.            Amen

Monday 6th July 2020

Forgiveness

Colossians 3: 13 Be tolerant of one another and forgive one another whenever any of you has a complaint against someone else.

Rarely does anyone go through life without taking a few knocks caused by others. Someone might say or do something minor which is hurtful to us. On the other hand, someone might cause us to suffer from a much deeper and long-lasting hurt brought on by serious actions e.g. abuse, assault or desertion. The festering pain which we suffer as a result of such actions might sit in our hearts for months or years – until we let it go.

How do we let it go? We do that through forgiveness. However, forgiving someone can be one of the hardest things we ever do for we find it hard to let go the wrongs that have been done to us. It is through forgiveness that God heals our wounds, sets us free from the imprisonment which anger and self-pity brings and makes us whole.  It is with God’s help that we can forgive others and ourselves.

How often has God forgiven us and we have received His grace through Jesus.  Also, in Colossians 3:13 we are told, ‘You must forgive one another just as the Lord has forgiven you.’ Here God commands that we forgive those who do wrong by us. Forgiveness is at the heart of Christian faith.

In Luke 24: 46-47 Jesus said to his disciples, ‘This is what is written; the Messiah must suffer and must rise from death three days later, and in His name the message about repentance and the forgiveness of sins must be preached to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem.’

Here, Luke is telling us that God’s love and forgiveness is a message which should go out to all the world. We must always be aware of the worldwide range of the Good News of salvation. It is God who saves us and His forgiveness of us and, in turn, our forgiveness of others forms part of this.

Amen

Friday 3rd July 2020

The Widow’s Oil

“The wife of a man from the company of the prophets cried out to Elisha, ‘Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that he revered the Lord. But now his creditor is coming to take my two boys as his slaves.’

“Elisha replied to her, ‘How can I help you? Tell me, what do you have in your house?’

“‘Your servant has nothing there at all,’ she said, ‘except a little oil.’

“Elisha said, ‘Go round and ask all your neighbours for empty jars. Don`t ask for just a few. Then go inside and shut the door behind you and your sons. Pour oil into all the jars, and as each is filled, put it to one side.’

“She left him and afterwards shut the door behind her and her sons. They brought the jars to her and she kept pouring .When all the jars were full, she said to her son, ‘Bring me another one.’

“But he replied ‘There is not a jar left.’ Then the oil stopped flowing.

“She went and told the man of God, and he said, ‘Go, sell the oil and pay your debts. You and your sons can live on what is left.’” 2Kings 4:1-7

Can you imagine the desperation of this widow? Her sons were about to be taken as slaves by her husband’s creditor in payment for the debt that was owed. How could she possibly cope or manage alone? Why would the widow ask help from Elisha? The answer might be because her husband had also been a Prophet and she was well aware of God working through the Prophets and believed that Elisha might help her find a solution. While many of us may have experienced financial problems at some time in our lives it is hard to imagine the prospect of our children being taken from us in this way.

Elisha did not react to the situation in the way the widow expected. She needed money quickly and Elisha had instructed her to collect jars and fill them with the small amount of oil that she owned. It didn’t make any sense to her. However, the widow was at her wits end and she decided to carry out Elisha’s instructions. The way that the Lord was about to act was stretching her faith. God knew that she needed to look at Him with trust and belief rather than at her problems. Imagine the widow’s surprise and delight when she began pouring that small amount of oil and it kept on flowing until all of the jars were filled and then it stopped. God’s provision was as abundant as the widow’s faith to obey. I am sure that she would turn to God praising and giving thanks. God is able and all sufficient to supply our every need.

By the selling of the oil which had great value the widow was able to pay off the debt that was owed and also have enough for her and her sons’ daily needs. Her sons had been saved from enslavement. God had provided and saved them.

What lesson can we learn from this? Do we fix our eyes on the problems instead of turning to our strong Deliverer? How often when we have been ready to give up does our generous, compassionate God pour out more than we hoped or expected?

Loving Father we thank You for provision which You supply each day. Jesus our Lord showed Your loving kindness when He fed the 5,000. Thank You Lord for the many people who are donating and delivering food and other essentials to those in need.  Bless and protect them as they faithfully follow in the Master’s footsteps.

We offer these prayers of thanksgiving in the name of Jesus.  Amen.

Thursday 25th June 2020

“One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

“Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbour as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

Mark 12:28-33

When Jesus is asked what the greatest commandment was, one aspect of his answer is sometimes overlooked. Note that we are instructed to love God not only with our heart and soul and strength; we are also to love him with all our mind. The teacher of the law who asked the original question reaffirms this, saying we are to love God “with all our understanding”.

Our mind is a gift from God and we should not be afraid to use it to question and challenge what we read in the Bible. In the passage above, what was Jesus doing? He was debating the meaning of the law (that is the Hebrew scriptures) first with the Pharisees and then with Sadducees. These were two of the three major schools of Jewish religious and political thought at the time (the third being the Essenes) and they differed in many areas of scriptural interpretation. It might seem unusual to us to see Jesus joining in a debate with them as they discuss such issues. It is true that Jesus’ answer makes it clear that the most important thing is to focus on God, rather than quibble over technicalities; but repeatedly we see Jesus in the temple and elsewhere, engaging with other teachers in discussions over the meaning of the scriptures.

Are we sometimes afraid to think through some of the implications of what the scriptures mean to us and for the world? Do we sometimes shy away from asking difficult questions because we are worried about what the answer might lead to? Are we too often content to rely on what we have been told or have always thought a passage means without taking the time to contemplate its real meaning for us.

This is not an argument to play “Devil’s advocate” and pick arguments for the sake of it. Jesus has very strong words for those who seek to confuse and lead others astray. Earlier on (Mark 9:42), Jesus says:

“If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea.”

We are not to engage in sophistic discussions for their own sake and display our own intellectual prowess; but we are allowed – in fact we are encouraged – to apply our minds fully in the study of the word of God. If we are genuine in our approach and if we are open to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to guide us, then such questioning does not lessen our faith, it increases our understanding and can enrich our faith. Applying our mind, contemplating and questioning the meaning of the scriptures, is key to our growth as Christians.

Wednesday 1st July 2020

1John chapter 2 verses 28 & 29 Chapter 3 Verses 3 to 6

28 And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming. 29 If you know that he is righteous, you know that everyone who does what is right has been born of him. See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears,[f] we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure. Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.

As Believers our self - worth is grounded on what we know. We are the children of God and he loves us. Not later on in the future but he loves us now and because of this we should be become stronger in our faith and be reflections of Christ. Going back to verses 28,29 they confirm what it means for us, that as Christians we have to really show correct behaviour. Many people do good works but they don’t have faith in Jesus Christ. Some people claim to have faith but seldom live the way they should if they truly believed.  But then if there are faults then God knows and he has to be faced at some point in their lives. True faith brings about good acts and behaviour and seek to do what is right. Good deeds do not bring redemption but they are an essential confirmation that there is faith within them. As we go through life we learn to grow in our faith and it is a journey towards growing to be more like God. And as such we win over sin, and we grow even more to love others as God first loved us. Then we will have the confidence and assurance to meet with God face to face. 

Sue Monk Kidd, wrote in her book God’s Joyful Surprise (1987)

“It is God who loved us first. His unceasing love sends him after us. He is the seeking Lover, the one who made us for himself. From the very beginning we were created to be found and loved by Him. He has woven this secret into the very fibres of our soul and when we seek Him with all the longing He has planted in our hearts, in the end, we simply discover Him seeking us, loving us—in all times and all places”                                                                  

Thank you God for loving us all.

Tuesday 30th June 2020

Psalm 37:25.      

“I was young now I am old,

yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken.

or their children begging bread.

They are always generous and lend freely;

their children will be blessed.”

 

John 6:35.

“Then Jesus declared, ‘I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.’”

 

The pangs of hunger are experienced by everybody.  They force us to eat for we have to eat to live.  Whilst we are able to find food at any time of day or night this is not the case in many parts of the world and even within our own community.

David, in Psalm 37 recognises that there is hunger and starvation but through his lifetime he had seen the have nots provided for by the haves.  He indicated the link between righteousness among God’s people and ensuring the provision of bread for all.  This could be interpreted as those walking in God’s ways only looking after their own.  Indeed this has been the case throughout the ages.  Amos, a poor shepherd relaying God’s word to him berates the upper classes of his day for their lifestyle at the expense of the poor.

“…they sell the righteous for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals.  They trample on the heads of the poor as the dust of the ground and they deny justice to the oppressed.”  (Amos 2:6,7 (parts))

Jesus makes the point that bread for all to eat only comes with the satisfying of our spiritual hunger through belief in him as Son of the Father. “I am the bread of life.” (John 6:35)

As we apply ourselves to alleviating the inequalities of every ‘class’, race or creed let us spiritually follow Christ and the ways of the Father.

Monday 29th June 2020

New Beginnings

New beginnings occur every day and everywhere. Perhaps, in nature some of the new beginnings seem miraculous e.g. how young are born to the different species or how many different plants grow, wither and return the following year in a new cycle.

New beginnings have a wide range of sources amongst people – e.g. Children start a new subject, a new class or a new school. Adults begin new training, a new job or move to a new home or area. New relationships start. We take on new activities. When we take on anything new are we not usually aiming to make our lives better in some way? New beginnings may be challenging; they may be risky. We may wonder why we are going ahead. We might wish we had not come out of our comfort zone and taken that path.

Isaiah 43: 18 -19

‘Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wastelands.’

God tells us in the Old Testament that He is doing a new thing. He is making a way for us in the wilderness. He is offering us living water in times when we are in the wastelands.

Are we perhaps in the wastelands right now? Have we been in them without recognising them for some time? Have we been trying to hold on to our church traditions and church buildings because we are fearful of what will happen if we do not do so? Have we been struggling while clinging to the past for we fear losing our old ways?

We shall need to listen to God’s Word with open hearts. Our world has been rocked by COVID-19. We have been overwhelmed, shocked and frightened by a deadly virus. During its journey across nations it has given us a greater sense of our own mortality on earth. 

In coming out of lockdown, our churches may have to rethink what they will do in the future to ‘do church’ for it will not be the same as it was before. Many changes will need to be made. We can either stumble half-heartedly over the challenges which face us or embrace them, work through them and even find joy in them. We shall need to be brave and strong.  We shall need to work together in our churches and in our communities. We shall need to pray that we take the path that God wishes us to take and come out of the wastelands. We shall need to listen to God’s Word with open hearts. This will be a new beginning for us all.  

Amen