Matthew 5 v 1-16

This passage is what is known as "The Sermon on the Mount" and includes the "Beatitudes".  It is called by some the Christian manifesto of the kingdom - or a public declaration by Jesus of what a Christian life should be like.  God calls us to be set apart and special for Him.  The primary target for this sermon were the disciples.  

The first "Beatitude" is "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."  Blessed does not mean just happy, but spiritually prosperous.  To be poor in spirit is to be turned to God with empty hands, asking God to lead us.  We need to cast ourselves on the Lord.  The kingdom of heaven is a present kingdom, in that it is among us now.  It is also a personal kingdom because Christ is within us, and it will be a powerful kingdom when Jesus returns in glory and Satan and evil are defeated.

The second "Beatitude" is "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted."  This includes more than just those who are mourning the loss of a loved one.  As Christians, we should mourn over our sinful self.  If we don't reflect on our sins and confess them, we are missing something in our Christian lives.  A good way to start our confession to the Lord is in the words of Psalm 51 v1 "Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love."  We regularly need to ask for God's mercy and forgiveness.  We should also mourn over the sins of our society; to identify with the sins of our country and of the world.  Nehemiah and Ezra both confessed the sins of their people before the Lord.  When we do this, we will experience restoration and forgiveness - "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." (1John 1 v 9).  The Lord may prompt us to help do something about this sin - Jesus said "You are the salt of the earth" (Matthew 5 v 13).  We need to live lives that reflect Jesus to others.  We will ultimately receive a reward, when Jesus returns in His glory.

John 6 v 57-69 & 2Peter 1 v 3-11

Some followers of Jesus had decided to leave, and Jesus asked his disciples if they too were going to leave.  Peter's response was to ask to whom they would go as "[Jesus has] the words of eternal life.  We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God."  Saying this demonstrates the strength and depth of Peter's faith.  He saw Jesus for who He was - the Son of God.  The choice for us is faith or nothing.  At times of testing, we must turn to God and not run away from Him.  Nowhere in the Bible does it say that the Christian life will be an easy one.  It is often hard.  However a Christian needs to grow and become more mature as we are fed by the Word of God.  We should then try to lead others to God.

We should take encouragement from the words in 1John 5v11 "God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son."  Our eternal life begins at our conversion.  Jesus transforms lives.  In Acts 2, we see Peter's true self as he is turned by the presence of the Holy Spirit into a fearless witness for Christ.  In his letter, (2Peter 1) Peter puts the emphasis on the gentle features in a person's life - self-control, perseverance, godliness, mutual affection and love.

Jesus will give us his peace - we are in God's care and we know that his love never fails.

Matthew 2v1-12

 

We can learn a lot from the visit of the Magi.  The Bible doesn't give much information about who they were, or exactly where they came from, but they would have been Gentiles, as opposed to Jews.  We are told that they came to the house to visit Jesus, so they did not come to the new-born baby in the stable.  We do know that they were people of faith, who were seeking "the one who has been born king of the Jews".  Like them, as Christians, we are on a journey of faith.  When we really seek God, we can find Him.  Jesus said "seek and you will find" (Matthew 7v7).  We are told that the Magi had been searching the Scriptures to find out about the Messiah.  We too should be diligent in reading the Bible and applying it to our lives.

 

When they arrived, the Magi worshipped Jesus; this was their first priority, and was the reason for their long journey.  They obviously believed that they had truly found the Messiah. Those who truly believe in Jesus as Saviour will also find in Him the final destination of their lives.  The Magi were "wise men".  True wisdom involves love and faithfulness.  Proverbs 3v5 tells us to "trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding."  We need to sit at the feet of Jesus to learn about Him and follow Him to gain wisdom.  This can be in Bible studies or prayer meetings.

 

After worshipping Jesus, the Magi gave Him gifts.  Part of our worship is in giving.  We need to worship the Lord with our material substance, and open our treasures to God.  We will never go without by giving much to God.  We must give Him our best and make Him king of our lives.  This can mean using the "gifts" that He has given us in His service.  We need to accept that He died for us and be saved by Him.  We should build our lives on the rock that is Jesus Christ, our Saviour; take hold of Christ and cling onto Him.  Do not forget His teaching and apply it to our lives.

 

So the Magi teach us to be faithful searchers for Christ, worshippers of the risen Christ and generous givers.  

 

 

Matthew 1 v 18-25 & Isaiah 9v1-7

 

We looked at one of the many names given to Jesus, in Isaiah 9v6, namely Wonderful Counsellor.  We all have problems at times, and sometimes to get through them, we need the help of a counsellor with whom we can form a relationship.  The word of God places a premium on counsel.  It is God's wisdom that helps us to make the right decisions, and gives us peace and joy in our lives.  It advises us to 'seek the counsel of the Lord' and 'wait for the Lord's wise counsel'.  Sometimes, God helps us by putting wise people into our lives who can guide us.  Moses asked his father-in-law for advice; David had Nathan and Samuel to guide him. This not only applies to us as individuals, but also to nations - Proverbs 11 v14 says "For lack of guidance a nation falls".  In 1Kings 12, King Rehoboam, Solomon's son, rejected the advice of the elders who had guided his father, and became a cruel king.

 

When Isaiah 9 was written, the people were fearful and lived with a sense of gloom and darkness all around them.  Men advised them to consult with mediums and spiritists, rather than asking God for guidance, because they thought they would tell them what they wanted to hear.  Isaiah foretold the birth of Jesus 700 years before He came.  "The people walking in darkness have seen a great light" (9v2).

 

Because Jesus was fully God and fully man, he has been through trials such as we face and therefore can help us.  But let us not forget how wonderful Jesus is.  In order to have His guidance in our lives, we need to meet with Him through reading the Bible and prayer.  2 Timothy 3v16 says "All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness".  God also counsels us through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in our lives, but He can only counsel us if we have come to Him in repentance and been forgiven by Him.  Then He becomes not only a Wonderful Counsellor, but also our Saviour.

 

James 2 v1-14

 

This passage is about Christians not showing favouritism or treating people differently according to how they dress or the colour of their skin.  Jesus' strongest criticism was for the "religious" people (the Pharisees) whose words did not match their deeds - He called them hypocrites.  They were seemingly religious because of their actions and rituals, but in actual fact their hearts were anything but religious.

 

Jesus holds up the mirror of God's word to people - how do we look into it?  What use is it to read God's word if we hear what it says but make no attempt to put it into action?  Our Christianity should not be a ritual to us, but a living relationship with God.  Our faith is useless unless our actions match what we profess to believe.  James tells us we need to keep the "royal law found in Scripture, "Love your neighbour as yourself.""(v8) Our "neighbour" is any needy person that we meet or that God gives us the opportunity to help.  This is a royal command from God to us.

 

Jesus' loudest call is a commandment to demonstrate God's love consistently to everyone.  Jesus showed no partiality in whom He met with or healed, be they leper or tax collector, and He never turned away anyone who wanted to know Him.  Jesus said that people should know that we are Christians by the fact that we love one another, and He showed us how to do it.  As He said "greater love has no man than that he lay down his life for his friends."  James tells us to speak and act as those who are going to be judged for their actions (v12). 

 

Jesus' other loud call is for people to come to the cross on which He died.  It is the example of mercy triumphing over judgement.  Those who come to the cross do so on level ground; there is no difference between us because we are all sinners.  We all deserve punishment, but Jesus took it in our place.  God's mercy gives us forgiveness.  Love is mentioned as the first fruit of the Spirit.  God says to us "I took the judgement through Jesus, you take the mercy and give it away."  Let us grow in love and grace and match our actions to our words.

 

 

James 1v13-27

 

Temptation has been in the world since the time of the creation, and always people have looked for someone else to blame.  Adam blamed Eve for  giving him the apple; Eve blamed the serpent for deceiving her.  We wonder where evil comes from and look to shift the blame from ourselves.  The OED definition of "tempt" is "to try to attract or lure someone to do evil", and of "tempter" is "the devil".  It is not a question of 'if' we are tempted but 'when'.  We may not have committed any grave sins recently, but we all have besetting sins, such as vanity, overambition, tendency to gossip and suchlike.  We must realise that temptation is not a sin, but yielding to temptation is.

 

When tempted we should not say that God is tempting us, and blame Him.  God is good and cannot have anything to do with evil.  God is light; in Him is no darkness (1John1v5). He tests us, but never tempts us.  Only good can come from God, as verse 17 says "Every good and perfect gift is from above."  Each person is tempted by their own evil desires.  The problem lies with us and no-one else.  Temptation is a process - "after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin" (verse 15).  The sin comes when we give in to the temptation and take the bait.  We need to come each day to the Lord and confess our sins and ask for forgiveness. 

 

We know that we have been saved, but also that the old self lurks very near, ready to trap us into giving in to temptation.  We need rescuing from ourselves.  In Romans 7, Paul says that he finds the sinful nature waging a war within him, wanting him to yield to temptation and he needs to be rescued from it - "Thanks be to God - through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (v25).

 

If we seek God with all our heart, through prayer and reading our Bible regularly, we will stay close to God who will help us when we are tempted to resist it.  As James says in verse 12, "Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those that love him."  We will then receive our reward of eternal life with Him in heaven.

 

 

Isaiah 42 v 1-9

 

This passage in Isaiah looks forward to Jesus' ministry on earth and Christians sharing in His mission.  It says that we are loved, called, held, used and kept.  In verse 1 Jesus is the "chosen one" and loved by God - as is everyone.  This should encourage us to give our discouragements over to God, for Him to deal with.  Jesus loved all His disciples - even Peter, who denied knowing Him and Thomas who doubted that He had risen until he saw Jesus for himself.  If, like Thomas we work through our doubts, it can bring us to a stronger faith.

 

Verse 6 says that we are called to righteousness - a right relationship with God.  We are called to serve Him according to His purpose for our lives.  As Jesus said (John 15v16) "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you".  When we are called by God to do something, we are set aside for a specific task for Him, maybe through our own prayers, or those of others, or through reading the Scriptures.  We need to discover what our particular gift is that we can use for God.  Verse 6 also says that God will "take hold of your hand."  God holds each one of our hands as if we were the only person in the world, and He cares for each one of us, especially when we go through times of trial.  It is a comfort to know that we are held by God in this way.

 

It is God's plan for us that we are used by Him to bless others.  We have a responsibility to share God's love with others.  We can tell people how God has helped us during difficult times in our lives.  If we find it hard to approach people to talk about our faith, we can wear a cross or a fish sign to show that we are Christians and maybe that can be the start of a conversation with someone.

 

We can be sure that God will keep us safe in His love when we accept Jesus Christ as our personal Saviour.  This has to be a personal action - not one that anyone else can do for us.  Scripture assures us that we will be kept by God because we are precious to Him (Jude v 24) and then we can truly sing the words of the hymn - "Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine: O what a foretaste of glory divine!"

 

 

1Samuel 16v1-13 & Luke 18v9-14

 

The story in Luke 18 is of the Pharisee and the tax collector praying.  There is a wide gulf between them, both in their status and their attitude to prayer.  The Pharisee tells God how great he is - that he fasts and gives a tenth of all he gets, and thanks God that he is not like other men. He thinks that observing all the rituals will keep him right and acceptable to God. The tax collector however has his head bowed in shame, won't even look up to heaven and calls himself a sinner and cries for mercy and forgiveness.  Like the Pharisee, we are good at pointing out other people's faults, and judging them. God does not look at the outward appearance, but at the heart.

 

We tend not to be comfortable with people who are different from us.  We are not however born prejudiced, but we learn prejudice.  Prejudice binds us emotionally and spiritually and we pre-judge people.  Even Samuel got it wrong when he was looking for the person that God wanted him to anoint as king (1Samuel 16).  When he saw Eliab, because of his appearance, he thought that he was surely the man God wanted him to anoint.  He thought this of all of Jesse's sons that he saw, until the youngest son David was brought in.  David was tending the sheep.  He was handsome, and "with a fine appearance" but he also had the heart that God was looking for.  Samuel was told to anoint him as king.  As the youngest son, he would not have been considered by other people, but God knew his heart and that this was the man that he wanted.  This was the reason why God had rejected Saul as king, because he became self serving and did not have the heart that God required.

 

Our world is obsessed by how people look.  Jesus was very scathing about the hypocrisy of the Pharisees.  In Matthew 23, he called the Pharisees hypocrites, blind guides, blind fools, and said that they were "like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean." (v27).  They appeared righteous, but were actually anything but.  As Christians, we need to live out our calling to love our neighbour, whoever they are or whatever they look like.  When we pray heartfelt and honest prayers, we appreciate the gift of God's love, grace, kindness and mercy.  As Paul says, there is no difference between us "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Romans 3v23).  Only by repentance and faith in God are we declared righteous, not by anything we do or how we look.

 

 

Psalm 133

 

This Psalm is one of the "Songs of Ascent" that were sung by pilgrims going up to Jerusalem.  It speaks of the joy to be found in the unity of God's people and in our relationship to our heavenly father.  There is a common strength and harmony on which God is pleased to pour his blessing.  Unfortunately these days there are fragmented societies all around the world, and families and churches are divided.  This started from the beginning of man, when brother was against brother - Cain and Abel and continued from there.

 

There is a brotherhood to be found by those who know God.  We are all pilgrims heading in the same direction as we form the body of Christ on earth, all thankful for the sacrifice of Christ on the cross for our salvation.  When people in the church are divided, especially when they fall out over trifles, Satan is pleased.  We are a living community where there is room for a difference of opinion in love, because we are a unity of diverse people.  We are a heart union where we use the word "we" a lot more than the word "I".

 

We are to be an attractive people where our unity attracts people to God.  The "precious oil" mentioned in verse 2 is a symbol of God's spirit being poured out on people, giving us his blessing liberally.  It seeks out and finds people who are not even looking for God and draws them to him.  Our unity in the church blesses not just us, but shows those outside the church our love for one another and for God.  Jesus' last prayer in John 17 was that his disciples would "be one as we are one" - that they would be united, and as the prayer goes on to pray "not for them alone.... [but for] those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one", Jesus is also praying for us by extension.  Jesus placed the highest possible value on unity.

 

Unity is not something that is easy to achieve - it takes a determined act of will.  Paul urges in Ephesians 4v2&3 "be patient, bearing with one another in love.  Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace."  God is the author of peace and life and he will bless our efforts to be united.  On Trinity Sunday, we are reminded of the unity of the Godhead - Father, Son and Holy Spirit in the Trinity.

 

 

 

Acts 2 v 1-21 & Ezekiel 37 v 1-14

 

In the Old Testament, the Spirit was given to only a few people for specific purposes, and then it departed.  The Spirit is mentioned 22 times in Ezekiel.  Ezekiel was charged to tell God's people, the Iraelites, that there is a way back to God and a way forward with God.  In Ezekiel's vision, the dry bones in the valley are the people of Israel.  At that time, they were scattered in exile and cut off from God because of their behaviour.  God said to Ezekiel, "Son of man, can these bones live?" and he responded that only God knew that.  God told Ezekiel to prophesy and make breath enter the bones so that they came to life.  This replicates the creation story in Genesis when God formed man from the dust of the earth and breathed life into him.   When Ezekiel did as he was told, the Spirit entered the bones and brought them to life.

 

God told the Israelites through Ezekiel that "I will put my Spirit in you and you will live".  The words "I will" feature 177 times in Ezekiel.  At this time of Pentecost, the message is "God will", through the power of His Spirit.  In Acts 1v4 Jesus told his disciples to "wait for the gift my Father promised" - the Holy Spirit.  At Pentecost, when the disciples were all together, the Holy Spirit was given to all of them and they started talking to people about Jesus in their own languages.  After Peter had spoken to the crowd, they asked "what should we do?" and they were told "Repent and be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."  The Holy Spirit was and is for everyone, men and women alike.

 

The Church is the community of the Holy Spirit and as it gathers people together, it is a unifying spirit.  The Church needs more than zeal and intellect and works; it needs the filling of God's Holy Spirit.  Without it we cannot hope to succeed in doing God's work.  We need to be more like the early church, gathering together for prayer and worship, and caring for one another.  The Holy Spirit gives different people different gifts which are to be used together for the work of God.  As it says in Psalm 133, "How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity..... For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life for evermore."

 

The Spirit is present in the Bible from the very beginning right through to the end - in Genesis 1, it says that the Spirit of God hovered over the waters, and the Spirit speaks to John at the end of Revelation. 

 

Ecclesiastes 5v1-7 & James 3v1-12

 

James 1v19 says that "Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry."  This passage in James 3 is about the tongue and how we use it.  James, the writer of this letter was Jesus' brother, and he knew that Jesus was used to people saying things against him. James would rather defend Jesus and the Gospel and face persecution than speak against him.  Do we sometimes have cause to regret the things that we have said to those that we love?  The old saying goes "sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never harm me."  But we all know that harsh words said to or about us do hurt us.

 

 The tongue may be a small part of the body, but it controls the whole direction of a person's life, because our words come from our heart.  They speak of the real disposition of a person - what we are really thinking.  Like a fire, our words can build up and warm or can burn down others.  Our lips can divide families and even close churches.  

 

James says (3v9) "With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men."  This should not be in the church of God.  Lots of conflicts are caused by unkind words spoken in haste.  Therefore we should be careful how we speak to and about one another.  Proverbs 25v11 says "A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver."

 

We cannot ourselves tame our tongue; that can only be done by the indwelling Holy Spirit guiding us in what we say.  We are accountable for every word that we speak.  A word of encouragement spoken at the right time can mean so much.  We should all listen more and talk less.  God gave us a tongue to glorify and praise him.  We need to pray that the words we speak are acceptable to him.  We know that often our words are far from kind or acceptable.  If we remain near to God, the Holy Spirit will give us the words to say in all circumstances, as long as we stop and think before we speak.  Our watchword should be "Watch your tongue!"

 

 

 

Romans 16v1-16

 

These verses are Paul's greetings to his friends and fellow-workers in the church in Rome and are examples of the different kinds of people of which the church is made up.  Paul remembered all of these people with gratitude and rejoicing, as they had been a blessing to him.  They were a mixture of people, all very different from each other, as are those in churches today, but they can be a blessing to each other.  There were quite a few women on the list (unusual in those days), and we need to be thankful for the many women who carry out the work of the church so faithfully in many different ways.  Paul noted that some of them were fruitful people, for example Epenetus, who he names as the first convert to Christ in Asia.  Some, like Apelles, had been tested and tried, and there are many in the church today who have been through many trials and whose faith has remained strong.

 

Paul greets Tryphena and Tryphosa who he describes as hard workers.  It is hard for the church today and it needs hard workers who have patience and persistence, when sometimes they face opposition.  Priscilla and Aquilla were Paul's fellow- workers and they were risk takers who had risked their lives for the church. Sometimes we have to take risks for the benefit of the church and the furtherance of the Gospel, and step out in faith.  Paul describes Rufus' mother as being like a mother to him in her caring for him, and we need to be caring people who want to look after one another and to bring others to the Lord.

 

What seems at first glance like just a list of Paul's personal greetings does in fact tell us quite a lot about the church then and also the sort of people that the church needs now in order to spread the Gospel.

 

 

Psalm 96v1-9 & Colossians 3v1-4&12-17

 

The message was on the subject of worshipping God with our lives, through thanksgiving and praise.  What comes most naturally to us - being grateful or grumbling?  Are we always ready to say thank you as an instant instinctive reaction? How often do we stop and thank God for all that He has done for us?  If we do as Paul urges in Colossians 3vv1&2 and "set [our] hearts...[and] minds on things above, and not on earthly things", this will help us to concentrate on the importance of thanking and praising God.  Johann Sebastian Bach wrote INDNJC (In Nomine Domini Nostri Jesu Christi) or "in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" at the end of many of his musical manuscripts.  In doing this he recognised that his talent came from God, or "every good and perfect gift is from above" as it says in James 1v17.

 

We might not ever write wonderful musical compositions like Bach, but we can live our lives as music to God.  Each day we have a blank canvas on which to make music to God.  In verse 17 of Colossians 3 it says "and whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him."  This reminds us that we don't have to be in church or singing hymns to worship and give thanks to God; we can worship Him with our whole lives, wherever we are or whatever we are doing.  It is through the way we live our lives, in our attitudes and actions that others hear the music we are making to God.  Our music can be sweet, or sometimes a little sharp if we are frustrated or angry, or a little flat, if we are tired or depressed.  We need to come back to God for renewal by daily Bible reading and prayers in order to stay in tune with Him.

 

Timing is also important in music.  In these days of instant communication and satisfaction, do we rush from one thing to the next in a frantic effort to keep up, and not have time for God?  Or are we so laid back that our music will never be expressed because we can't be bothered to make the effort?  To make music interesting and complete, harmony is also important.  Another word for harmony is unity, or working together as a team.  We need to let those outside the church see us working together for the common good, and we need to remember that there is no "I" in the word team!

 

Thanksgiving should be a natural attitude of mind for a Christian.  We are told to "give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." (1Thessalonians 5v18).  This may seem a hard thing to do when circumstances are difficult, but when we look back over our lives and see the way that the Lord has led us, we can give thanks for His many blessings to us.  Maybe as a challenge, we should try to find something for which to be thankful every day for 100 days, write it down and use it in our prayers.  If we "count our blessings" perhaps it will "surprise us what the Lord has done".

 

 

Exodus3v1-14 & 4v1-17

 

We looked at three different ways in which God leads us.  The first example was Jonah, who was led by a definite command.  He was told directly to go to Ninevah.  Jonah chose to disobey and brought problems on both himself and others (the sailors with him in the boat) by his disobedience.  Sometimes if we don't do what God tells us to do, our actions (or inaction) have consequences for ourselves and others.  Are we where God wants us to be and doing what He wants us to do?  God gave Jonah a second opportunity to serve Him after the storm and being in the fish.  We can have a second opportunity to serve God and be obedient to Him when we listen to what He is saying to us, and do what He asks of us.

 

Joseph was led by God one step at a time.  He was sold into slavery, falsely accused, put in prison, forgotten and then freed and raised up to a position where he saved many people from starvation.  There were about 13 years between the time when his brothers sold him and the next time he saw them, and they were mainly difficult years.  Maybe we are going through a tough time, but just because we can't see God leading us at the moment doesn't mean that He isn't still there leading us and guiding our lives.  We have to remember that we don't know the outcome of events but God does and we need to trust Him at each step on the way.

 

In our readings, Moses made excuses for not doing what God wanted him to do and God got angry with him.  It may be that we can't see any results from what we are doing and are discouraged.  But are our "reasons" for not doing things really just "excuses"?  We need to be earnest with God in our prayers and in the way we live our Christian lives and do exactly what God tells us to do.  Later on in Moses' life (Numbers 20v6-12) he didn't trust God enough and struck the rock at Kadesh instead of talking to it as God commanded.  Because of this, God did not let him enter the Promised Land.  We can often start a work for God, but not necessarily see any results ourselves because God plans to use others to complete it.  Nevertheless, we must be faithful in doing exactly what God asks of us.

 

 

Ecclesiastes 5v1-7 & James 3v1-12

 

James 1v19 says that "Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry."  This passage in James 3 is about the tongue and how we use it.  James, the writer of this letter was Jesus' brother, and he knew that Jesus was used to people saying things against him. James would rather defend Jesus and the Gospel and face persecution than speak against him.  Do we sometimes have cause to regret the things that we have said to those that we love?  The old saying goes "sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never harm me."  But we all know that harsh words said to or about us do hurt us.

 

 The tongue may be a small part of the body, but it controls the whole direction of a person's life, because our words come from our heart.  They speak of the real disposition of a person - what we are really thinking.  Like a fire, our words can build up and warm or can burn down others.  Our lips can divide families and even close churches.  

 

James says (3v9) "With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men."  This should not be in the church of God.  Lots of conflicts are caused by unkind words spoken in haste.  Therefore we should be careful how we speak to and about one another.  Proverbs 25v11 says "A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver."

 

We cannot ourselves tame our tongue; that can only be done by the indwelling Holy Spirit guiding us in what we say.  We are accountable for every word that we speak.  A word of encouragement spoken at the right time can mean so much.  We should all listen more and talk less.  God gave us a tongue to glorify and praise him.  We need to pray that the words we speak are acceptable to him.  We know that often our words are far from kind or acceptable.  If we remain near to God, the Holy Spirit will give us the words to say in all circumstances, as long as we stop and think before we speak.  Our watchword should be "Watch your tongue!"

 

 

 

Romans 16v1-16

 

These verses are Paul's greetings to his friends and fellow-workers in the church in Rome and are examples of the different kinds of people of which the church is made up.  Paul remembered all of these people with gratitude and rejoicing, as they had been a blessing to him.  They were a mixture of people, all very different from each other, as are those in churches today, but they can be a blessing to each other.  There were quite a few women on the list (unusual in those days), and we need to be thankful for the many women who carry out the work of the church so faithfully in many different ways.  Paul noted that some of them were fruitful people, for example Epenetus, who he names as the first convert to Christ in Asia.  Some, like Apelles, had been tested and tried, and there are many in the church today who have been through many trials and whose faith has remained strong.

 

Paul greets Tryphena and Tryphosa who he describes as hard workers.  It is hard for the church today and it needs hard workers who have patience and persistence, when sometimes they face opposition.  Priscilla and Aquilla were Paul's fellow- workers and they were risk takers who had risked their lives for the church. Sometimes we have to take risks for the benefit of the church and the furtherance of the Gospel, and step out in faith.  Paul describes Rufus' mother as being like a mother to him in her caring for him, and we need to be caring people who want to look after one another and to bring others to the Lord.

 

What seems at first glance like just a list of Paul's personal greetings does in fact tell us quite a lot about the church then and also the sort of people that the church needs now in order to spread the Gospel.

 

 

Psalm 96v1-9 & Colossians 3v1-4&12-17

 

The message was on the subject of worshipping God with our lives, through thanksgiving and praise.  What comes most naturally to us - being grateful or grumbling?  Are we always ready to say thank you as an instant instinctive reaction? How often do we stop and thank God for all that He has done for us?  If we do as Paul urges in Colossians 3vv1&2 and "set [our] hearts...[and] minds on things above, and not on earthly things", this will help us to concentrate on the importance of thanking and praising God.  Johann Sebastian Bach wrote INDNJC (In Nomine Domini Nostri Jesu Christi) or "in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" at the end of many of his musical manuscripts.  In doing this he recognised that his talent came from God, or "every good and perfect gift is from above" as it says in James 1v17.

 

We might not ever write wonderful musical compositions like Bach, but we can live our lives as music to God.  Each day we have a blank canvas on which to make music to God.  In verse 17 of Colossians 3 it says "and whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him."  This reminds us that we don't have to be in church or singing hymns to worship and give thanks to God; we can worship Him with our whole lives, wherever we are or whatever we are doing.  It is through the way we live our lives, in our attitudes and actions that others hear the music we are making to God.  Our music can be sweet, or sometimes a little sharp if we are frustrated or angry, or a little flat, if we are tired or depressed.  We need to come back to God for renewal by daily Bible reading and prayers in order to stay in tune with Him.

 

Timing is also important in music.  In these days of instant communication and satisfaction, do we rush from one thing to the next in a frantic effort to keep up, and not have time for God?  Or are we so laid back that our music will never be expressed because we can't be bothered to make the effort?  To make music interesting and complete, harmony is also important.  Another word for harmony is unity, or working together as a team.  We need to let those outside the church see us working together for the common good, and we need to remember that there is no "I" in the word team!

 

Thanksgiving should be a natural attitude of mind for a Christian.  We are told to "give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." (1Thessalonians 5v18).  This may seem a hard thing to do when circumstances are difficult, but when we look back over our lives and see the way that the Lord has led us, we can give thanks for His many blessings to us.  Maybe as a challenge, we should try to find something for which to be thankful every day for 100 days, write it down and use it in our prayers.  If we "count our blessings" perhaps it will "surprise us what the Lord has done".

 

 

Exodus3v1-14 & 4v1-17

 

We looked at three different ways in which God leads us.  The first example was Jonah, who was led by a definite command.  He was told directly to go to Ninevah.  Jonah chose to disobey and brought problems on both himself and others (the sailors with him in the boat) by his disobedience.  Sometimes if we don't do what God tells us to do, our actions (or inaction) have consequences for ourselves and others.  Are we where God wants us to be and doing what He wants us to do?  God gave Jonah a second opportunity to serve Him after the storm and being in the fish.  We can have a second opportunity to serve God and be obedient to Him when we listen to what He is saying to us, and do what He asks of us.

 

Joseph was led by God one step at a time.  He was sold into slavery, falsely accused, put in prison, forgotten and then freed and raised up to a position where he saved many people from starvation.  There were about 13 years between the time when his brothers sold him and the next time he saw them, and they were mainly difficult years.  Maybe we are going through a tough time, but just because we can't see God leading us at the moment doesn't mean that He isn't still there leading us and guiding our lives.  We have to remember that we don't know the outcome of events but God does and we need to trust Him at each step on the way.

 

In our readings, Moses made excuses for not doing what God wanted him to do and God got angry with him.  It may be that we can't see any results from what we are doing and are discouraged.  But are our "reasons" for not doing things really just "excuses"?  We need to be earnest with God in our prayers and in the way we live our Christian lives and do exactly what God tells us to do.  Later on in Moses' life (Numbers 20v6-12) he didn't trust God enough and struck the rock at Kadesh instead of talking to it as God commanded.  Because of this, God did not let him enter the Promised Land.  We can often start a work for God, but not necessarily see any results ourselves because God plans to use others to complete it.  Nevertheless, we must be faithful in doing exactly what God asks of us.

 

 

Colossians 1v3-14

 

Paul had never met the Colossian Christians, as the church there had been founded by Epaphras, but he prayed faithfully for them.  He thanked God for their faith.  Prayer was central to Paul's life, as it should be for us.  We need to be in touch with God and with His will for us.  We need to seek Him daily individually in our own devotions and also frequently together as a fellowship.  The object of our prayer should be that our walk with God is worthy of Him, and that our thinking, our hearts and our words match our actions.  Above all we should pray as Jesus taught us - "Thy will be done."

 

Our lives need to bear fruit - as Jesus says in John 15 v5, "If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing."  We also need to grow as Christians, and to do this we must read, learn and follow God's word by getting to know the Bible, which leads and guides us.  We need to read the Bible daily and to pray for understanding of what we read; to let the Holy Spirit work in and through us.  We need to remember that "to know about God" and "to know God" are not the same thing.  We need a living relationship with God that gives us endurance, patience and joy in our lives.  Through this we will live in the kingdom of the light.  Jews regarded all Gentiles as living in darkness, but the knowledge of the Gospel brought them into the light, and that made the difference in their lives, as it can in ours.  We need to surround everything in our life in prayer.