30 April 2021
I have been too busy telling you about Jesus and have forgotten to introduce myself.
My name is Abiel. It's an old name that can be traced back to my forefathers to the time of Saul. In fact, I am called after the grandfather of Saul from all these years ago. Long before Jesus was born. My own father told me that my name means, “God is my father” and I am probably related to Saul himself.
Do you know there is an expression around these parts, “seeing is believing,” but I think they have it all wrong. I think the expression should be, “believe it and then see”. This appears to be what this Jesus is all about. He wants people to believe first for if you believe, then you will see.
Let me give you an example.
I followed Jesus and his crowd to Cana and no sooner had we arrived when a nobleman came up and literally begged Jesus to come and heal this son. Now this nobleman must have had a modicum of belief in Jesus’ powers to heal his son as we heard the boy was close to death. But no the nobleman insisted that Jesus would help.
Jesus said to the crowd that had gathered, “unless you see signs and wonders you will never believe”. Now I think there was a hint of disappointment in Jesus when he said that but at the same time, the confident air that he had about him did not go away.
The nobleman was impatient, “hurry up or he will die,” but Jesus confidently said “go, your son will live” and the nobleman departed.
I am told that the boy got better and a servant confirmed that it was first thing in the afternoon his fever left him. The nobleman realised that this was the exact time that Jesus said the boy would live. I wonder how the nobleman felt? Relief? Honoured? Happy?
Now when I said earlier, “believe and then see”, you have to hand it to the nobleman because he believed that Jesus could help his son. More than that when Jesus said “Go” my reaction would have been “what do you mean just go? You must come with me if my son stands a chance!”. But the nobleman believed that Jesus was sending him back to a fully alive son.
This is what is happening now with Jesus. People were believing in his actions and his ability to do wonders. People also believed in his words. He told the nobleman “go” and he did. But most importantly people were having faith in Jesus himself. He was different, he was a good and godly man. I think it is a good choice to follow Jesus and to believe in his healing powers. The lesson I have learned from this incident truly is not “see it and believe it” but “believe and then see!”
The story told from John's point of view John 4 starting at verse 46
46 Once more he visited Cana in Galilee, where he had turned the water into wine. And there was a certain royal official whose son lay sick at Capernaum. 47 When this man heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea, he went to him and begged him to come and heal his son, who was close to death.
48 “Unless you people see signs and wonders,” Jesus told him, “you will never believe.”
49 The royal official said, “Sir, come down before my child dies.”
50 “Go,” Jesus replied, “your son will live.”
The man took Jesus at his word and departed. 51 While he was still on the way, his servants met him with the news that his boy was living. 52 When he inquired as to the time when his son got better, they said to him, “Yesterday, at one in the afternoon, the fever left him.”
53 Then the father realized that this was the exact time at which Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” So he and his whole household believed.
54 This was the second sign Jesus performed after coming from Judea to Galilee.
29 April 2021
Jesus and every kind of people
The crowds had been gathering all day, it was getting busier and busier. They were waiting for Jesus to come out of the house, they had heard that he had spent the night there. If he didn’t come out soon he would not be able to make his way anywhere such was the mob that was forming.
The door opened and immediately the crowds stopped talking. They seemed to clear a path for him so I followed him and his friends. At first I thought he was going fishing as he stepped into the boat but he was only finding some space to talk to the crowd who gathered in anticipation as to what might happen next. He turned to the crowd and the silence was instant.
Jesus then told one of his stories. This one was all about planting seed. It seemed like common sense really telling us that if the seed falls on spoiled land it would not grow but if it landed on good soil it would grow tall and freely. I realised immediately he was talking about people being seeds, given the right conditions they will be fruitful, but then I began to overthink and realised that his story had lots of layers to it and you can go on thinking for a long time about what he had to say. This Jesus was a wise man, in telling these “parables” he was appealing to every kind of person and he wasn’t afraid to talk about the old prophets.
I heard him say to one of his followers “That’s why I tell stories: to create readiness, to nudge the people toward a welcome awakening. In their present state they can stare till doomsday and not see it, listen till they’re blue in the face and not get it. I don’t want Isaiah’s forecast repeated all over again:
Your ears are open but you don’t hear a thing.
Your eyes are awake but you don’t see a thing.
The people are stupid!
They stick their fingers in their ears
so they won’t have to listen;
They screw their eyes shut
so they won’t have to look,
so they won’t have to deal with me face-to-face
and let me heal them.
I like this man called Jesus, if you listen carefully to him you can learn a lot. His story about the seeds stayed with me for a while and I came to the conclusion that I am one of his seeds. I am a strong seed as I have always walked beside wise men. Their guidance has made me strong but it occurs to me that Jesus is not just a wise man. He is different and I hope to learn a lot from him. He told his followers they were blessed because they could see and that they could hear, but again I felt that what he meant went much deeper than our normal hearing and seeing. I love the parables, I learn a lot from them and they make me think.
Matthew's version of the story. Matthew 13
That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. 2 Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. 3 Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seeds fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. 9 Whoever has ears, let them hear.”
10 The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?”
11 He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. 12 Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 13 This is why I speak to them in parables:
“Though seeing, they do not see;
though hearing, they do not hear or understand.
14 In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:
“‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.
15 For this people’s heart has become calloused;
they hardly hear with their ears,
and they have closed their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts
and turn, and I would heal them.’[a]
16 But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. 17 For truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.
28 April 2021
Everybody loves a wedding. The people that are being married want everything to go well without a hitch and preferably without controversy. This wedding could have been a disaster. One of the guests, Mary, caught my eye, was running around in a panic. The rumour was they had run out of wine. Now that was odd enough but to see Mary involve her son, Jesus was a mystery, what could he do and who was he?.
This young man called Jesus only two days before had begun gathering a group of men around him. One was called Philip and then there was Nathanael, Simon Peter and Andrew. I was told by a friend that Nathanael was telling people that we would see great things from this man Jesus.
But back to the wedding.
I heard Jesus say something about “my hour has not yet come,” but what did that mean? No sooner had he said this when Mary tells the others “do whatever he tells you.”
Now when I said this was odd, things got even more strange. Six stone jars were filled with water. The jars were huge and took a long time to fill. But when I think about it every jar was filled with water and when I think about the amount of water needed, the time seemed to pass very quickly. All of this had an air of strangeness around it.
Jesus was clearly in charge and said, “now serve some to the person in charge of the banquet.”
Now, you will have heard by now what happened and Jesus turned the water into wine but let's just have a think about it. He didn’t throw in some red sand and pass it off as cheap wine. This stuff was good, in fact, it was the best wine we all had tasted. And as I sat there drinking it I began to think about all the elements that make good wine. The best grapes for a start with some added sugars and all the other elements that are available at the market that the winemakers use. I know a man who makes wine and he is always going on about fermentation. Apparently the longer the fermentation the better and adding the sugar just at the right time makes a really good wine the best.
The guy sitting beside me at the wedding even commented that the wine tasted “aged”. I think he saw my blank look and when I said what does that mean? He looked at me with a twinkle in his eye and said, “That means this wine is a miracle my boy. That’s what that is.”
He smiled and lifted the goblet to his lips to taste more of the miracle.
During the wedding I was watching people. These friends of Jesus were all sizes and all ages and they seemed to be deep in conversation over what had just taken place. The family holding the wedding were being praised for the ”best wine ever served at a wedding.” I overheard one of Jesus’s crowd say “Turning that water into wine was a transformation” another responded, “they say he has already transformed the lives of some people never mind the wine.”
“We will have to keep an eye on this Jesus.” When he said this I looked over at Jesus, there was something about him. The calmness and the reverence seemed to emanate from his body. His mother Mary looked on proudly. And just at that moment, I was reminded of Moses and Aaron. It is recorded that they turned the waters of the Nile blood red. I could sit all night and tell you tales of Moses but I know nothing of this man Jesus.
It was at that moment I thought I’m going to keep an eye on this young man. He seems to be special.
Johns version of the wedding
On the third day, a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, 2 and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”
4 “Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”
5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”
6 Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.[b]
7 Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.
8 Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”
They did so, 9 and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside 10 and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”
11 What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.
27 April 2021
As we close the door on James for now I hope that you gleaned something from the past week. For me James talks about “the man in the mirror”. Who do you see when you look in a mirror? Is it a good Christian looking back?
More than any other book in the New Testament, James places the spotlight on the necessity for believers to act in accordance with our faith. It asks us the question “how well do your actions mirror the faith that you proclaim?”
We read in James 2 v26 (The Message)
The very moment you separate body and spirit, you end up with a corpse. Separate faith and works and you get the same thing: a corpse.
We all need that more faith these days.
An interesting wee story about faith :
As a drought continued for what seemed an eternity, a small community of farmers was in a quandary as to what to do. Rain was important to keep their crops healthy and sustain the townspeople's way of life. As the problem became more acute, a local pastor called a prayer meeting to ask for rain.
Many people arrived at the church to pray for the needed rain. The pastor greeted most of them as they filed in. As he walked to the front of the church to officially begin the meeting he noticed most people were chatting across the aisles and socializing with friends.
When he reached the front his thoughts were on quieting the attendees and starting the meeting.
His eyes scanned the crowd as he asked for quiet. He noticed an eleven year-old girl sitting quietly in the front row. Her face was beaming with excitement.
Next to her, open and ready for use, was a very colorful and extremely large umbrella, much bigger than her in fact.
The little girl's beauty and innocence made the pastor smile as he realized how much faith she possessed. No one else in the congregation had brought an umbrella.
All came to pray for rain. But the little girl had come expecting God to answer.
One of the reasons I continue to carry out the words for life is that it helps me with my faith, the discipline in spending an hour or so with the scriptures encourages my faith and makes me a stronger person. It also broadens my horizon as I learn more from the scriptures and share stories to highlight or enlighten.
If I can help one person each day it has worked. If one person tells another about a story in these postings it has worked. Even if it helps me on the day it has worked.
I hope that these seven days of James he has encouraged you according to the faith you proclaim. And all the lessons therein. Thank you
26 April 2021
22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.
Someone once commented that they were not that familiar with the book of James. So for the next two days we will have a quick look at James as a book and what it has to offer.
Sometimes known as the Epistle of James or simply James, the Book of James is one of the twenty-two epistles in the New Testament. In the first line of the book, James identifies himself as “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,” who is writing to the twelve tribes scattered among the nations. Throughout the book, James encourages believers to not only live consistently in what they have learned in Christ, but also to mature in their faith in Christ. He encourages us to be courageous, and express what we believe. He also encourages believers to live humbly and to pray in all situations. There is a consistent theme of patience and perseverance during trials and temptations, a point many Christians can identify with given the trials our world is facing. There is a lot of wisdom and takeaways from this book.
Here are some of those wisdoms and takeaways :
It is thought that James is the brother of Jesus. The son of Mary but father unknown. Jesus and James do not share the same father as we know the father of Jesus was God.
It's one of the earliest written epistles probably composed AD45 and as far as we know James was martyred AD62.
Some people look at it as one of the most Jewish of epistles, James has a universal message that all Christians can pull from. If anything, the book of James teaches us that we should not just talk the talk but also walk the walk and above all else keep reading and learning from the Word.
If I have learned anything as a follower of Christ from the book of James it is this.
Just as the verse in James 1, it would do us good to have a long hard look at ourselves in the mirror. The person looking back at you is what others see but it is only God who knows us from the inside out. Staying away from mirrors does us no good when we are trying to hide from God.
25 April 2021
A leftover story about prayer from yesterday
A co-worker asked a friend why he brings in donuts if he is trying to diet.
He said, “Well, I always come round the corner where Greigs the bakers is. I say to God, if He wants me to buy some donuts to have a parking spot in the front. Would you believe it on the eighth time around, there it was!”
On a more serious note after yesterday's thoughts on prayer and what James had to say I ended up spending a lot of time reading about prayer and what different people had to say about it. I was struck by what Henri Nouwen says about prayer. I thought I would share it with you today.
A carpenter and his apprentice were walking together through a large forest. And when they came across a tall, huge, gnarled, old, beautiful oak tree, the carpenter asked his apprentice: “Do you know why this tree is so tall, so huge, so gnarled, so old and beautiful?” The apprentice looked at his master and said: “No…why?”
“Well,” the carpenter said, “because it is useless. If it had been useful it would have been cut long ago and made into tables and chairs, but because it is useless it could grow so tall and so beautiful that you can sit in its shade and relax.”
Nouwen goes on to tell us
The world says, “If you are not making good use of your time, you are useless.” Jesus says: “Come spend some useless time with me.” If we think about prayer in terms of its usefulness to us—what prayer will do for us, what spiritual benefits we will gain, what insights we will gain, what divine presence we may feel—God cannot easily speak to us.
But if we can detach ourselves from the idea of the usefulness of prayer and the results of prayer, we become free to “waste” a precious hour with God in prayer. Gradually, we may find, our “useless” time will transform us, and everything around us will be different.
Prayer is being unbusy with God instead of being busy with other things. Prayer is primarily to do nothing useful or productive in the presence of God.
Got some useless time today? Spend it with God.
24 April 2021
Today we are going to talk about what James says about Prayer. But before that let me tell you about the two wives who met regularly to knit and sew in the afternoons.
On this particular day, they were both mending their husband’s trousers.
One wife said, “My husband is so miserable. Nothing goes right at work and when he comes home, he can’t find anything good on television and ends up falling asleep. Our home is a place of despair and so is the church we go to, the organist is terrible and the pastor goes on and on and on.
The other wife said, “My husband is so excited.” He can’t wait to go to church. He loves the sermons. We laugh all the time and enjoy our church friends and family.
It got very quiet in the front room as the women continued sewing the trousers. One was patching the seat of the pants, and the other was patching the knees.
Today, we are going to talk about three verses from James 5.
13 Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and
James 5 and the 5 questions about prayer
Where should we pray? Anywhere. These verses don’t come right out and tell us where we should pray, but I figured it out. If we should pray any time we need God’s help, then I guess it just makes sense that we should pray anywhere we are because wherever we are, God is there.
Why should we pray? Because God answers prayer. These verses tell us that prayer is powerful and effective and that if we will pray, God will hear our prayers, tend to the sick, and forgive our sins.
The five W’s of prayer. Who? Anyone. What? Anything. When? Anytime. Where? Anywhere. Why? Because God answers prayer. And that’s the complete story.
Let’s say a prayer.
Dear Father, thank you for hearing and answering our prayers. As we come to the end of this week we are grateful that we have had you stand bedside us. You bring us all kinds of gifts that are priceless. The gift of love, courage and wisdom, patience when needed and the ability to witness the life of your son Jesus Christ.
Our Heavenly Father, tomorrow is the Sabbath and once again it will be a different experience for many people. Some of us will attend church in the usual way, while others will depend on technology to hear your word. We pray this day for all who in some way contribute to the sharing of your word. In the pulpit behind the camera and on our televisions. We are children of the risen King and we want people to know your son Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever more. Amen
23 April 2021
I read somewhere that the best sermon on the problems of wealth was not a sermon, but a novel. It was not written by a Christian author, but by the famous writer, John Steinbeck. It is called The Pearl. It’s the story of a poor pearl diver who dreams of finding the perfect pearl. One day he actually finds it. The rest of the story unfolds how his once tranquil life turns into a growing nightmare as everyone else desperately tries to take his treasure from him. Every Christian would benefit from reading this powerful story!
But what does James say about the dangers of money? James 5 :
Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. 2 Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. 3 Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. 4 Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. 5 You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. 6 You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you.
7 Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. 8 You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. 9 Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!
10 Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.
12 Above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. All you need to say is a simple “Yes” or “No.” Otherwise you will be condemned.
Would you like to be outrageously rich? Maybe a few would say “no thank you” but the majority of the public would say “yes please”. As Christians we know that the Bible has many warnings about the dangers of money but most of us would be glad to say “I could handle lots of money or at least I'd like to try?”
James 5 is thundering against the ungodly rich who oppress the poor. The words of our text are not about repentance, but rather a warning of the dangers that might be. James' main target was the ungodly rich outside of the church who are not in a position to hear about such dangers.
But this warning should encourage us to know that those who know God will be faithful and endure. It should also warn us not to fall into the sins that will bring judgement.
When I look at James I see the dangers of the “instant fix” world where money can solve everything but satisfy no one. It’s a dog eat dog world to live in and life is very much in the fast lane. Of course the flip side of the coin is those who patiently wait for their crops to yield. This is a different kind of richness and a world where the harvester is king and the crops are the currency putting bread on the table. The harvester being more dependent on the creator for the harvest gathered.
The patience of the one who waits for the crop, and the perseverance of the one who picks the crop reflect the patience that we should show for the coming of the Lord and the work that is needed to be done in preparation. And of course it's not all about money. Amen
22 April 2021
Maybe you have heard of Muhammad Ali's boast that in the boxing ring he could "float like a butterfly, and sting like a bee." He certainly knew the value of bragging in an attempt to psyche out his opponents.
But on one particular flight, he says in his book, The Soul of a Butterfly, that the flight attendant asked him to put his seat belt on. He said to her, "Superman don't need no seat belt." She smiled at him and said, "Superman don't need no plane, either."
Well, Muhammad Ali was not noted for his humility.
James is still giving out advice in James 4 and this time he is touching on pride and how that can be another thing that can cause ructions within the church.
James 4 What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? 2 You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. 3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.
4 You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. 5 Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us[b]? 6 But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:
‘God opposes the proud
but shows favour to the humble.’[c]
7 Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.
11 Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister[d] or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. 12 There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you – who are you to judge your neighbour?
Boasting about tomorrow
13 Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ 14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15 Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’ 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. 17 If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.
Of course when pride is prevalent we need to bring humility to the party. Humility is an essential quality for spiritual growth. So when dealing with humility there is no middle ground.
Luke 11:23 He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters.
You can't just sit on the fence, you're either with Him or against Him.
And don’t think for a minute you can be lukewarm in your approach to all of this cause that’s just like playing for the other team.
God wants our friendship, so it’s a good time to ask, what is a friend?
A friend is loyal, has my best interests at heart. So a friend of the world is loyal to the world, has the interests of the world at heart.
So what's the sign of being a friend of God?
John 15:14 You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.
Friendship with God means obedience to His will. Why does James bring this up? He brings up the issue of pride because where there is pride, anger and strife can lurk.
But the good news is that God gives grace to the humble.
Here in this passage of Scripture, James also describes the process of repentance. First, draw near to God.
That means to get close to Him, become His friend. How do you do that? Simple spiritual disciplines like prayer, worship, spending time meditating on His word and being involved in active service.
After all who knows what tomorrow will bring. James ends this passage by reminding us that today we are mist and tomorrow we could be gone. The message of living and doing today for tomorrow might not be an option, encouraging us all to live for the day, live for today and live in humility with our God. Amen
21 April 2021
In ancient Greece, Socrates (the famous philosopher) was visited by an acquaintance of his. Eager to share some juicy gossip, the man asked if Socrates would like to know the story he’d just heard about a friend of theirs. Socrates replied that before the man spoke, he needed to pass the “Triple-Filter” test.
The first filter, he explained, is Truth. “Have you made absolutely sure that what you are about to say is true?” The man shook his head. “No, I actually just heard about it, and …”
Socrates cut him off. “You don’t know for certain that it is true, then. Is what you want to say something good or kind?” Again, the man shook his head. “No! Actually, just the opposite. You see …”
Socrates lifted his hand to stop the man speaking. “So you are not certain that what you want to say is true, and it isn’t good or kind. One filter still remains, though, so you may yet still tell me. That is Usefulness or Necessity. Is this information useful or necessary to me?” A little defeated, the man replied, “No, not really.”
“Well, then,” Socrates said, turning on his heel. “If what you want to say is neither true, nor good or kind, nor useful or necessary, please don’t say anything at all.”
All of this highlights the fact that sometimes words can be damaging as well as hurtful and destructive.
Sometimes our intentions are innocent but with others there is evil lurking behind their “slip of the tongue.”
James 3 tells us
When You Open Your Mouth
3 1-2 Don’t be in any rush to become a teacher, my friends. Teaching is highly responsible work. Teachers are held to the strictest standards. And none of us is perfectly qualified. We get it wrong nearly every time we open our mouths. If you could find someone whose speech was perfectly true, you’d have a perfect person, in perfect control of life.
3-5 A bit in the mouth of a horse controls the whole horse. A small rudder on a huge ship in the hands of a skilled captain sets a course in the face of the strongest winds. A word out of your mouth may seem of no account, but it can accomplish nearly anything—or destroy it!
5-6 It only takes a spark, remember, to set off a forest fire. A careless or wrongly placed word out of your mouth can do that. By our speech we can ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke and go up in smoke with it, smoke right from the pit of hell.
7-10 This is scary: You can tame a tiger, but you can’t tame a tongue—it’s never been done. The tongue runs wild, a wanton killer. With our tongues we bless God our Father; with the same tongues we curse the very men and women he made in his image. Curses and blessings out of the same mouth!
10-12 My friends, this can’t go on. A spring doesn’t gush fresh water one day and brackish the next, does it? Apple trees don’t bear strawberries, do they? Raspberry bushes don’t bear apples, do they? You’re not going to dip into a polluted mud hole and get a cup of clear, cool water, are you?
The bottom line with James is that the tongue is unbelievably powerful and it cannot be fully controlled. For something that is so small it can do an endless amount of damage. James suggests that it can sometimes be restless, unstable and full of poison. James also suggests that the tongue is untameable, blessings and cursing should not come out of the same mouth. In fact, blessings and cursing should be looked upon as bizarre as well as sinful. But we all know that as humans
It can be looked upon as normal behaviour.
If all else fails the Psalmist in Psalm17 has the best advice
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.
20 April 2021
I’m not proud when I say this but when I was a youngster I had an issue with the kids upstairs. We went to the same Sunday School in the Baptist Church in Partick and the Smiths (let's just call them that?) were singled out every week. For some reason they went to the Sunday school earlier than everybody else, they seemed to be given wee parcels most weeks from the Sunday School Superintendent and don’t talk to me about Christmas as Mrs. Fulton always arrived in her car with gifts for the Smiths and for nobody else up the close. The Smiths were definitely the favourites amongst the Sunday School Staff
Without turning this into Angela’s Ashes there was a lot of poverty where I lived and the Smiths suffered most, while my dad worked in the docks Mr. Smith was an invalid. There was only me in the house while the Smiths had five kids. It wasn’t unknown for the Smiths to have skin issues (scurvy) and the youngest looked like he had rickets. Years later I would discover that the reason why the Smiths were getting parcels each week was because Mr. Fulton owned a fruit shop and the extra parcels at Christmas were possibly the only things that Santa would bring that year while my mum and dad provided me with lots.
On the subject of favouritism James CH2 tells us
“My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favouritism. 2 Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. 3 If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” 4 have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
5 Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? 6 You have dishonoured the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? 7 Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?
James says we shouldn’t make any distinctions, because showing partiality to one person or another divides the community. Playing favourites tears apart the Body of Christ, and damages our witness to the world. Besides, when we show favour to the rich at the expense of the poor, we go against everything Jesus taught. Throughout scripture, we find over and over again that God honours the poor and oppressed, not the oppressors.
In my story at the beginning, Mr. and Mrs. Fulton did not show favouritism they were honouring God by caring for a poor family. To a child like me aged around 8, I thought it was a blatant show of favouritism and I was wrong.
There is another lesson there that sometimes people are making judgment calls on others because of their own insecurities and fears. Faith in God and the teachings of Jesus tell us that in every case and in every decision we should be mindful of what God would want us to do and how we can make each opportunity a witness to the life and work of Christ Amen
19 April 2021
From Eugene Peterson’s The Message Translation
James 1 : 2-18
2-4 Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.
5-8 If you don’t know what you’re doing, pray to the Father. He loves to help. You’ll get his help, and won’t be condescended to when you ask for it. Ask boldly, believingly, without a second thought. People who “worry their prayers” are like wind-whipped waves. Don’t think you’re going to get anything from the Master that way, adrift at sea, keeping all your options open.
9-11 When down-and-outers get a break, cheer! And when the arrogant rich are brought down to size, cheer! Prosperity is as short-lived as a wildflower, so don’t ever count on it. You know that as soon as the sun rises, pouring down its scorching heat, the flower withers. Its petals wilt and, before you know it, that beautiful face is a barren stem. Well, that’s a picture of the “prosperous life.” At the very moment everyone is looking on in admiration, it fades away to nothing.
12 Anyone who meets a testing challenge head-on and manages to stick it out is mighty fortunate. For such persons loyally in love with God, the reward is life and more life.
13-15 Don’t let anyone under pressure to give in to evil say, “God is trying to trip me up.” God is impervious to evil, and puts evil in no one’s way. The temptation to give in to evil comes from us and only us. We have no one to blame but the leering, seducing flare-up of our own lust. Lust gets pregnant, and has a baby: sin! Sin grows up to adulthood, and becomes a real killer.
16-18 So, my very dear friends, don’t get thrown off course. Every desirable and beneficial gift comes out of heaven. The gifts are rivers of light cascading down from the Father of Light. There is nothing deceitful in God, nothing two-faced, nothing fickle. He brought us to life using the true Word, showing us off as the crown of all his creatures.
The epistle is of James is traditionally attributed to James the brother of Jesus (James the Just), and the audience is generally considered to be Jewish Christians, who were dispersed outside Israel
While some authors like Paul have an introduction to their letters but not in the case of James. He launches straight into a very challenging command that we should find Joy in bad things.
Now, I would think that’s the hardest thing for anyone these days to embrace. Why would you think that something bad happening to you is a positive experience?
James is probably talking at this point to people who are facing things like persecution and poverty. The Peterson translates that we should “consider” it as a gift. One scholar suggests that you mark these trials down in your cheque book as deposits and not withdrawals. Instead of saying “why is this happening to me?” the positive response should be “OK so it's bad but I will get through it and I will call upon God to assist me any way he can.”
A general thought for the day should be “how important is it for Christians to trust God? It's so important, James writes, that we should call our worst moments joyful things, because trials help us trust God more. People who trust God ask Him for wisdom—and then take what He gives.
People who trust God make a bigger deal about their rewards in the next life than their wealth in this one. People who trust God don't blame Him for their desire to sin; they give Him credit for all that is good in their lives. They look into His Word, and they act on what they see there.
Surely a better way of life for all?
Words for Life will be taking a wee break from Monday the 05th April 2021 till Sunday the 18th April 2021. Author
04 April 2021
In January 1968 there was a great storm in Central Scotland. In Glasgow, 9 people died. We lived 11 floors up in Broomhill and as we were getting ready for school all we could hear were sirens and bells (my memory). My father had got up really early and had gone to work so it was my mum that was taking me to Rosevale Street where my school was (Thornwood was being renovated).
My point is this, we hadn’t heard. We had slept through it. Half of Glasgow had been literally blown down. We walked to school with a neighbour telling us about people leaving the flats in the middle of the night in case it fell down (?). We were told to stay out of the flats in the afternoon as Ted Heath was landing in a helicopter on the roof of our flats and there were security issues and as we passed a friend's home in 555 Dumbarton Road, I noticed 6 long black bags being wheeled out in trolleys. My mother's neighbour's reaction that day was “ how could you possibly have missed that?”
Picture this scene from Luke. Two disciples walking back to Emmaus. What was the topic of their conversation? Were they talking about what happened at Calvary? Or were they talking about their friend who was no longer amongst them. Dejected and maybe confused they walked. A stranger behind them, walking in step, asks them “what's up?” They are surprised. How could he not know? Where had he been?
So they tell him. "This man that we speak of was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him, but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”
You can hear it from their voices, their disappointment and their fear that maybe someone had stolen the body of their friend. But this stranger starts explaining to them. We read from Luke “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.”
Still, they are not that sure and the stranger is about to leave. They ask him in for a meal
“When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them.”
I wonder if they saw the wounds on his hands at this point. A light bulb moment.
Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”
Luke goes on to tell us, they got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognised by them when he broke the bread.
Once they are all together it is confirmed that the Lord indeed has risen.
This journey saw the disciples go through a lot, they saw a lot and learned so much more. Perhaps they thought the journey had ended but it was only just beginning for them. Sinclair Ferguson ends his book by saying :
“The journey of Christ to Jerusalem led the journey of His gospel to the nations and to us. And now we are all on that journey we should pray that Jesus opens our minds to understand the scriptures more and that Jesus will move our hearts. Our hearts will burn with the thrill that we have a crucified Saviour who has risen from the dead and who is with us forever. And He surely is."
Thank you for your time this Lenten season
03 April 2021
Joseph of Arimathea - A man of mystery?
What do we know about Joseph Well, we know he was a “ good and righteous man” as well as being a member of the Sanhedrin (probably not popular or loyal as his loyalties were swayed to Jesus).
We also know that he was a rich man as he owned a tomb in Jerusalem.
So let's read Luke 23 : 50-56
50 Now there was a man named Joseph, a member of the Council, a good and upright man, 51 who had not consented to their decision and action. He came from the Judean town of Arimathea, and he himself was waiting for the kingdom of God. 52 Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body. 53 Then he took it down, wrapped it in linen cloth and placed it in a tomb cut in the rock, one in which no one had yet been laid. 54 It was Preparation Day, and the Sabbath was about to begin.
55 The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. 56 Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.
So we see a picture emerging of a man who is very well connected to a group of people that are literally planning the downfall of Jesus. As he lurks in the shadows he must be waiting for the right time to show his loyalty to Jesus. So what does he do? Pay Jesus a compliment? Share his thoughts of this new Saviour? No, he asks for his body, he asks for the body of the most vilified man of the moment. You see he didn’t want Jesus to be thrown into a common grave and he knew by taking Jesus' body he was rendering himself spiritually “unclean” in the eyes of others. But this was important and it was a gesture that would make sure that we would all know the man called Joseph and what he did for his friend.
But what does this narrative show us? Well, we have proof here that Jesus dies and there was a body and it was passed to another to deal with. We know that Joseph prepared it for burial and carried it to the tomb.
Secondly, it highlights the whereabouts of the burial place. The tomb of Joseph. Finally, “no one was expecting the resurrection”. The women were preparing spices and ointments to return after the Sabbath to deal with the dead body of Jesus.
Sinclair Ferguson makes another great point. At the birth of Jesus, he was cared for by a man called Joseph who places him in a borrowed resting place where no baby had ever been placed.
After the crucifixion, Jesus is again tended by another Joseph who lays him in a borrowed resting place where no man had been placed before. The story has come full circle.
At the cross, Jesus had given up what was his for the sake of people like Joseph. Now Joseph was giving up what was his for the sake of Jesus. That’s what it means to be a good disciple.
The gospel is sometimes called “the great exchange” and as this Lenten period ends we should think of what we have exchanged through our belief and through our love for Jesus on the cross. Amen
02 April 2021
On the road, all through Lent, through the words of Luke we have met many people. Today it seems we come to the end of Christ's journey.
Luke 23 : 44-49
44 It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, 45 for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”[e] When he had said this, he breathed his last.
47 The centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said, “Surely this was a righteous man.” 48 When all the people who had gathered to witness this sight saw what took place, they beat their breasts and went away. 49 But all those who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.
We have seen our Lord struggle, asking his Father to “take this cup” but on this Good Friday we see a confident Jesus “committing his spirit into his Father's care”
Sinclair Ferguson gives us some clues as to why this change took place.
We can see from the reading it was noon but there is a darkness that has shrouded the whole land for three hours. As well as a fact, we can see this as a sign. This is an event of “deep significance”. Ferguson tells us that there is no light and God's face no longer shone on the earth. Sinclair reminds us of Galatians “nature itself put on the dark clothes of mourning as Christ the creator was put to death by sinful men and on the cross came the curse of God.”
A second indication in verse 45 “the curtain of the temple was torn in two”. Of course this was a sign of grief, death and mourning, could it be that this was God's way of showing his grief in what he had to do? Ferguson hints that the temple curtain was now no longer the barrier between God and man and that there was a new way into his presence.
With his work now complete Jesus calls out “with a loud voice” Father, into your hands I commit my spirit, a reflection of psalm 31 v 5 “into your hand I commit my spirit." But notice now that Jesus is back to calling God “Father”. And just as he said this, he drew his last breath.
“There are many reasons to Love the Lord Jesus. Today express your love for him because for you and me he lived his entire life, moment by moment, in loving obedience to his Father - not least when it was the most difficult.”
01 April 2021
Luke 23 v 32, 39-43
Sinclair Ferguson in his book “To seek and serve” tells us something interesting. Luke spends 2 chapters on the first 12 years of Jesus' ministry and then 16 chapters on the next three years and then 6 chapters on Jesus' final week.
The thought being, that we are now looking at the end of Jesus frame by frame, slowly and purposefully. This is to enable us to meditate and take in the significance of what is going on. We are told that this part of the Gospel is “key” to the whole story.
Let's look at the reading
32 Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed
39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”
40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”
42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
I’ve said it before will say it again but the Bible is full of comparisons and opposites and here is another clear example.
Three men on crosses being crucified. Painful, tortuous and life taking.
One man is full of anger, you could say full of himself. He is almost saying, ”If you are who you say you are, get us all out of this mess,” “Aren't you the messiah?" You can almost hear the sarcasm in his voice.
But from the other side comes the opposite. Full of acceptance “we are punished justly”. Recognition "this man has done nothing wrong” and then he almost embraces Jesus “Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom”………….and then the reward “truly I tell you you will be with me in paradise.”
I wonder (and here I go again) I wonder after Jesus said this to the man, did he relax? Would people see the man suddenly change shape on the cross knowing that he would be following his friend to glory. I wonder if there was any witness there who would turn to their friend and say “I don’t know what Jesus said to that man but now look at his face…no pain…no tortured look…just peace.”
In his last dying minutes this man's heart has been transformed. Ferguson calls him the “first witness for the defence of the crucified."
And here comes that old chestnut "if you are being accused of being a Christian this easter, is there enough evidence to convict you?"
But I would rather leave you today with the words of a hymn that Aretha Franklin sings on her powerful album “Amazing Grace.”
There is power in the blood.
There is a fountain that I see
Filled with blood
Drawn from Emmanuel's vein
The sinners plunged beneath that blood
Lose all their guilty stains
Lose all their guilty stains