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.

Tuesday 11th August 2020

Amos 5:11(part), 12(part).  “You trample on the poor and force him to give you grain…” “…you oppress the righteous and take bribes and you deprive the poor of justice in the courts”

Proverbs 13:23. “A poor man’s field may produce abundant food, but injustice sweeps it away”

Leviticus 25:35. “If one of your countrymen becomes poor and is unable to support himself among you, help him as you would an alien or a temporary resident, so that he can continue to live among you”

 

In every society there are the rich, the wealthy, the comfortable, the struggling and the poor.  Why is this?  Causes are varied ranging from thirst and hunger through ill-health, overcrowding, pestilence and poor education to, worst of all, oppression at the hands of the better off.

This is why Amos, a poor shepherd turned man of God berates the Israelites for their treatment of the poor. “You trample on the poor…” and “…you oppress the righteous and take bribes…”  Proverbs 13:23 highlights the injustices dealt to people who struggle to provide for themselves and their families.  Any attempt at redistribution of wealth is bedevilled by covetousness, judgemental attitudes and the exercise of power and control.

Scripture is quite clear that the poor should be supported not ignored.  Uplifted not down trodden.  Provided for not fleeced.  As Christians we give to Christian Aid, we supply provisions to the food bank and our cast offs to charity shops but are these actions just sops to our conscience?

 

Lord, how we need you to jog us from our complacency.  Puncture our smugness.  Soften our hearts and make us treat the poor righteously.

 

Monday 10th August 2020

John 13: 35

By this all people will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another.

If we have love for one another, we know that when we do wrong by someone, that we should apologise. However, some of us find it hard to say, ‘I’m sorry.’ For others an apology slips off their tongues like butter, but it is not meant.  If we genuinely mean these words they will sound right and be the perfect way to bring a problem to an end and bring  balance back to a relationship.

The words ‘I’m sorry’ are among the most important in our lives. Saying them does not make us weak; on the contrary, having the humility to say these words makes our character stronger. Others will respect us for them. They bring a sense of freedom and relief to the person saying them and to the one receiving them. 

If we find it difficult to apologise, we need to ask God to change us and teach us to do this in a meaningful way. It is important to admit when we have wronged another person and failed them. Saying ‘I’m sorry’ is our way of asking for forgiveness. When we do wrong by another person, we also do wrong by God, the God who loves us and who always forgives us when we seek His forgiveness. When we say, ‘I’m sorry,’ we are showing our love for God.

Genuine forgiveness and reconciliation are two-person transactions. When we apologise, we are accepting responsibility for our actions or words. We are seeking to make amends with the person we have offended. If we are genuine in our apology, it opens the door for forgiveness and reconciliation. We are then in a position when we may enhance our relationship. Without an apology the offence creates a barrier with the party involved and the relationship is likely to be the worse for it. We should not give an empty apology. In doing that, we are likely to cause even more harm. Seek forgiveness with a heartfelt apology. When we are truly repentant, we will grow as a result of our mistakes.

 

Prayer: Gracious God, let us always remember how important an apology is to someone whom we have wronged, to God and to ourselves. When we say, ‘I’m sorry,’ let the words come from the heart, not just the mouth. Let us never forget that You will forgive us and love us when we come to you with our wrong-doing.

Amen.

Friday 7th August 2020

‘No-one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. Neither do men pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skin will burst, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.’
Matthew 9:16-17

In biblical times wine was not kept in bottles but in watertight containers made from animal skins. New wine expanded as it fermented, stretching the wineskins. After the wine had aged, the stretched skin would burst if more new wine was poured into it. New wine, therefore, was always put into new wineskins.

Jesus used this analogy to explain that he had not come to patch up the old religious system of Judaism with its rules and traditions. His purpose was to bring something new, though it had been prophesied for centuries. This new message, the gospel, said that Jesus Christ, God’s Son, came to earth to offer all people forgiveness of sin and reconciliation with God. The gospel did not fit into the old rigid system of religion, it needed a fresh start.

The message will always remain ‘new’ because it must be accepted in every generation. When we follow Christ we must be prepared for new ways to live, new ways to look at people and new ways to serve.

The New Covenant is fulfilled in Christ. Why try to patch up our old life when we can have a new one?

The question we must ask ourselves is are we prepared and ready to accept the changes which will have to take place when churches reopen, or will we grumble among ourselves because the changes don’t suit us? As we gather again it is worth considering if this is part of God’s bigger plan. Our love and trust in Him should make us confident that he will continue to guide and guard us. Let us look forward to the new things that the Holy Spirit will accomplish in our midst.

Father in heaven help us, give us courage and hearts that are open to the changes within the church when they occur. May your Holy Spirit have his way among us, for your divine purpose and will to be done. May the spirit of renewal begin and flow out into the streets of our town, and country, bringing hope, healing, justice and truth in its path. In thy  mercy hear our prayer for Jesus sake.
Amen.

 

Thursday 6th August 2020

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Luke 18:9-14

The parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector looks at first glance to be a warning about pride and self-importance. But what is important is not the pride of the Pharisee in itself but rather what he is boasting about. The real essence of this story is that we cannot save ourselves but that we are wholly dependent on God for our salvation.

When the Pharisee prays this way, we must at least commend him for his realisation that he needs to do something to make himself right with God. He is searching for validation from God because he recognises that he is imperfect, that he has fallen short. But he wrongly believes that righteousness (in other words, becoming “right with God”) is something he can achieve if he just tries a little bit harder than others to do the right thing. Pharisees were notable for the excesses they followed in the observance of ritual. This Pharisee fasts twice a week, whereas the Law only mandated fasting once a year (Leviticus 16:29-30) and he gives a tenth of everything he receives (not just the more limited tithe that is stipulated in Deuteronomy 14:22-23).

But to think that he has it within himself to obtain righteousness, that he is able to set the record straight, is to underestimate woefully the chasm between the perfect righteousness of God and the sinful nature of man. No man has the power to broach that gap on his own (and, even if he had, one has to imagine it would need significantly more than simply fasting and tithing). Instead, the only one who can is God himself, through Christ, to whom our sins were imputed and whose righteousness is then imputed to us.

“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor. 5:21)

The tax collector, however, is in no doubt of how far he has fallen short. Unlike the Pharisee, he recognises that he is utterly dependent on God. The Pharisee asks for nothing from God and he receives nothing in return. The tax collector, instead, pleads for mercy; God, in return reaches out and bestows it upon him.

We must always keep in mind the fact that our salvation is wholly dependent on God’s grace and our faith, not on our works.

“But when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.” (Titus 3:5).

That does not mean we are not expected to do good works - we are all called to do them. But these good works are simply a natural expression of our changed minds when we experience saving faith.

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith (and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God) not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph. 2:8-10)

As Christians we are all required to do good works in God’s name, but we do this not to earn our salvation but in response to our salvation.

Wednesday 5th August 2020

Matthew 18:3

“And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Have you ever watched your children playing and they do not know you are watching them? We can learn many things from the children. They are always innocent in their actions and when playing with their friends. The bible states that we should be childlike and be humble in our actions towards each other. Children give unconditional love even when they have fallen out with their friends they are usually very quick to forgive and forget, and become friends once more. As adults we often forget this and bear grudges far too long. That is where we must learn from the children as God wills us to be Godlike in our interactions with one another. If we forgive then we ourselves will be forgiven by God.

Matthew 6:14 “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.”

Being a parent is not easy you must be prepared to love them totally and ensure that they know right from wrong. They must be protected and be taught to be caring and loving and from an early age the children learn from their parents all these things. They accept what they are told and know they will be provided for. Just as our Heavenly Father does for us the adults. It is sometimes difficult as an adult to accept all the “rules” but if the grounding is sound then we can be assured that Our Father in Heaven will find a way to turn us back to be like the children and accept what he wills us in our lives. When we turn back to Christ we again will have the nurture and love of Christ in its fullest measure.

Prayer.   Loving Lord we open our hearts too you today nurture us to live as you want us too. Help us to come to you as children of God keep proud thoughts out of our thoughts and let us be humble in our walk with you.  Amen

 

Tuesday 4th August 2020

Luke 1:30

“And the angel said unto her, ‘Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God.”’

Luke 2:29

Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word.”

Luke 2:49

“And he said unto them, ‘How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business?’”

 

For older folk some of the wording of the Gospel in the King James Bible sticks in the memory for life.  These quotations highlight the joy of Simeon but also the bewilderment of Mary.

When the angel had visited her before Jesus’s birth she at first questioned the announcement before obeying the call but probably remained a little puzzled.  Soon after she visits Elizabeth wife of Zechariah who having just become pregnant unexpectedly blesses Mary and her unborn child saying “But why am I so favoured, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Luke 1:43)  Mary must have had an inkling by then that she was carrying a special child.

When Jesus was 8 days old he was presented for circumcision as was the custom at that time.  There he is seen and held by Simeon, a devout man who recognises who Jesus is to become and prophesises that he is destined for great things but also much agony.  Jesus’s parents are amazed and probably incredulous at what he tells them.

Jesus, aged 12 on the verge of manhood begins the natural process of separating from parental control.  He went dutifully with his parents to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover but went missing on the return home.  Mary, his mother found him in the temple courts listening to and questioning the learned rabbis who always gathered for religious discussion on these occasions.  Mary chides him for worrying his parents but he replies ‘wist ye not…’ (Don’t you understand…).  Mary was puzzled about what he meant by saying ‘…about my father’s business.’ Was that Joseph or God?  Did she link these words with the events at Jesus’s birth? Or those spoken by Elizabeth and Simeon?

There must have been many occasions between these events and the beginning of Jesus’s ministry when Mary and Joseph wondered and worried about the future but they accepted the situation even though his death on the cross must have been very distressing and confusing.

We too might be confused by the meaning of it all but, like Mary we should remain steadfast in our faith in the words of the Gospel.  Then redemption and everlasting life will be ours if we obey and believe.

 

Monday 3rd August 2020

Patience

The first known recording of the proverb, ‘Patience is a virtue’ is thought to have been written in a poem by William Langland in the latter half of the 14th century. It is similar to the Latin expression ‘paptentia virtus’  (Patience is the greater value.)

Some of us seem to be born with patience while for others, it is a trial which has to be worked at over and over again. Perhaps, when we are faced with difficult circumstances, we should see it as an opportunity to grow in patience and to submit to God’s will.

There are many references to patience in the Bible. ‘Jesus endured with much patience the forty days in the wilderness when he hungered and was with the wild beasts.’ (Mark 1:13)

‘Love is patient’ (1 Corinthians 13:4) Are we being trained towards Godliness and is this directing us to perfect our love for God?

‘Rejoice in hope. Be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.’ Romans 12:12 We all have issues which challenge us, but as Christians, when we put our faith and trust in God, we need not feel impatient or worried about the outcome for He is in control. God will give us the strength to be patient if we go to Him in prayer. We should not attempt to make what we want to happen, happen.  If we give Him the power in our lives, He will do what is right for us. We do not need to struggle. If we have to wait for answers it is because God’s plan for us is of a greater quality than we could ever have imagined. If we give ourselves to Him through prayer, He will work through us in ways we could never imagine.

God wants us to be patient to slow us down and to show us how to trust in Him. God does not test us for the sake of it. He tests us to teach us to walk in His ways and to trust in Him.

God’s nature does not change. He will always be patient with us.

 

Prayer: Gracious God, many of us are often impatient. We are unable to allow things to happen in the right way and at the best time. When we have issues, we do not always come to You in prayer to ask for Your guidance. Lord, help us to be patient, help us to wait for things to happen in the way You wish them to happen, to rejoice in the experience and to always trust in You. Amen

Friday 31st July 2020

For the word of the Lord is right and true;
  he is faithful in all he does.
The Lord loves righteousness and justice;
  the earth is full of his unfailing love.
Psalm 33:4-5

But the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him,
  on those whose hope is in his unfailing love,
to deliver them from death
  and keep them alive in famine.
Psalm 33:18-19

Having a steadfast faith in God does not guarantee a happy, carefree life. We will all experience different hardships and loss in our lives. God can, and miraculously does, deliver those who fear him from pain and death but not always. Sometimes for purposes only known to God, he chooses not to. When we are faced with those harsh realities we must try to focus on the wise judgements of God remembering what we are told in verse 4 that all God’s words are right and true. We can trust in the word of God because unlike people, God does not lie, forget, or leave his promises unfulfilled. We can trust the Bible because it contains the words of a holy, trustworthy and unchangeable God.

In times of crises we can place our hope in God (verse 18-19). While on earth we may never see the purpose of our suffering, we know that God will keep his promises to us. Do you know that God will keep his promises to you, watch over you and strengthen you with his love?

I recall the words of one of the older hymns by Horatio Richmond Palmer:

To him that o’ercometh, God giveth a crown;
Through faith we shall conquer, though often cast down;
He who is our Saviour, our strength will renew;
Look ever to Jesus, He will carry you through.

Ask the Saviour to help you,
Comfort, strengthen and keep you;
He is willing to aid you,
He will carry you through.

May each and every struggle send us straight to the One who carries us through.
Amen

Thursday 30th July 2020

“Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
    How unsearchable his judgments,
    and his paths beyond tracing out!
‘Who has known the mind of the Lord?
    Or who has been his counsellor?’”

Romans 11:33-34

If someone learned their history exclusively from the Bible, they would come away with a notion that history could be divided neatly into two sections: one Old Testament world before Jesus and another New Testament world after Jesus’ birth and death. That is how the Bible is divided and, in the Western world, our calendar reinforces that with BC/AD (or BCE/CE). The danger of such a view, however, is that we interpret the four Gospels from a “New Testament” perspective and forget that all of the people described in the Gospel were still very much living with an “Old Testament” mind-set. They didn’t know what was going to happen.

Instead of thinking of the disciples as the first Christians, we should realise that they were Jews and viewed Jesus in the light of Jewish (Old Testament) scripture. Jesus places himself in that context when he says during the Sermon on the Mount “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them.” (Matt. 5:17).

Furthermore, these were people whose attitudes had been shaped by repeated invasion and repression over the previous 800 years and whose land was now again under military rule, this time at the hands of the Romans. During those 800 years, the idea of a Messiah had formed – a descendant of the line of David who would gather the Jews together into a new kingdom. This idea grew in strength over time and was firmly established when Jesus began his ministry. There had been many who falsely claimed to be the Messiah. Some thought that John the Baptist was the Messiah and the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem asked him if he was (John 1:19-28). He denies this but rather, when he sees Jesus coming towards him shortly afterwards, points out Jesus as “God’s chosen one” (v.34).

In the Gospel of Mark (8:29), Peter recognises Jesus as the Messiah. The Romans also recognised Jesus was being acclaimed as the anticipated Jewish Messiah. He had ridden into Jerusalem as king and the crowds had chanted “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!” (Mark 11:10). Shortly afterwards, the charge under which Jesus was tried (and which was affixed to the cross on which the Romans crucified him as a common criminal) was that he had claimed to be “King of the Jews”.

So, what was the message this Messiah brought? Everyone was looking for a leader to rise up, overthrow the oppressors and establish a new Jewish kingdom. So what was his rallying cry?

Well, like John the Baptist (Matt. 3:2), Jesus also proclaimed that “the kingdom of God is near”. But how that was to be achieved was utterly revolutionary; and what he said not only flew in the face of those like the Zealots who were looking for armed uprising but also, with his radical re-interpretation of Jewish scripture, placed him in direct opposition to the Pharisees, the experts in the Jewish faith and tradition at that time.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” (Matt. 5:5)
If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” (Matt. 5:39)
Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matt 5:44)

But if that message was unexpected, then the death of this Jewish Messiah at Roman hands, just two or three years into his ministry was even more unpredictable, particularly to those who knew him best. Today, we can look back and trace an inexorable thread of continuity running through Jesus’ birth, life, ministry, death and resurrection. As a consequence, we sometimes begin to take that sequence of events for granted. But, in doing so, we lose sight of the fact that none of Jesus’ disciples would have anticipated his death, especially so soon after his triumphant arrival into Jerusalem. These were the people closest to him, his constant traveling companions and yet, despite his teachings, none of them had truly grasped what was happening, what would have to happen.

We now understand better what was happening then and why; hindsight allows us to detect how God works through history more clearly than is possible for those living through such events; and we have both God’s Word and the gift of the Holy Spirit to advise and guide us in our search. Nonetheless, thinking that we can know the mind of God or confidently predict what he will do is simply an act of vanity and foolishness on our part.

Should we then despair of our lack of understanding?  Certainly not. Instead, we should rejoice that we are in the hands of a God who is infinitely wiser than we are. There is no passage in the Bible that encapsulates this better than Isaiah 40, for me one of the most comforting and inspiring passages in all of scripture. Read this now and marvel not only at what Paul later called the “depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God” but also how God is ultimately faithful to those who place their hope in him.  

Wednesday 29th July 2020

‘Be still, and know that I am God. ‘Be still’. 

If you and me are too busy worrying about everyday things, then this stops God from working on our behalf.  By his power we are assured of God always being there for us. but neither does it mean that you and I can be idle; it means doing what we are led to do by God and not doing everything on your own and not listening for his voice to lead you. To wait and not run on regardless we have to stop and take the time to hear God speaking to us. If you wait then the result will be a peace knowing that it has been from God the faith to do the will of the Lord and what has entered your mind through God. 'Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.Colossians 3:15).

Ask Him to reveal His will; then ‘be still’, know that God is leading the way and he is aware of what is going on in our lives. ‘Know that I am God’. Psalm 46:10(part)  And of course there is only one God. We cannot be God. If we cannot do what is God’s will for us and disobey the commands, forget to pray and not know when the time is right for doing right. We do need to set goals and set our sights on being a better person in the world about us we can always have our visions ‘where there is no vision, the people perish’. (Proverbs 29) But the Bible also says, ‘The vision is yet for an appointed time though it tarries, wait for it.’ (Habakkuk 2)

Without God’s assistance, we will not be able to fulfil any visions. If we let our lives be strong and patient and learn to wait on the Lord’s will for us our goals will be met. Therefore, we must ‘Be still and Know that I am God.’ and just be still and take time to listen for God.

 

Heavenly Father, how I praise You for Your Word and the truths that are within its pages. Thank You that You are my ever-present rock of refuge and my never-failing strength and stronghold. Equip me I pray to stand fast against the ways of the world and to trust in Your Word, though the earth be moved and though the mountains be thrown into the midst of the sea, in Jesus name I pray, AMEN.