As we move on through the life of the apostle John into his years as pastor, elder and senior leader in the early church, it becomes clear from his letters (1, 2 and 3 John) that all was not well in the churches. We tend to focus on the persecution that Christians suffered in Roman times, but John’s writings reveal that problems had emerged _within_ the church. Among the things that caused division were theological disagreements about the person of Jesus (1 Jn 2:20-21), as well as claims from some believers that they had “special knowledge” which contradicted past teachings, because they had unique inspiration from the Holy Spirit (1 Jn 4:1-6).
There’s too much detail to include in this post, but it’s clear that the three letters are still relevant to us today. Over the last two days I’ve been leading a staff training conference looking at exactly these issues: how do we tell a lost and broken world about Jesus, if we can’t seem to agree within the church? In his time, John was so heartbroken over this that he described it as “the last hour” of the church (1 Jn 2:18).
There’s nothing more painful in church life than when we are divided, when we should be living as brothers and sisters bought by Jesus’ sacrifice of Himself on the cross. And it could be discouraging, not to mention scary, to think that there could have been so much confusion even in the churches led by the very disciples who lived with and learnt from Jesus in the flesh. And yet God’s people, His worldwide church, continues to grow in number to this day. His power and His plan to bring people to Himself have not been defeated by division and false teaching. Hallelujah!
Here’s a warning to us then, but also encouragement. The warning is that we must ALL make every effort to make sure we know our Bibles thoroughly, so that we can discern what is true. The Holy Spirit will never contradict Scripture but always speaks to confirm and clarify it, affirming that Jesus is Lord:
“Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world. You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” (1 John 4:1-4)
And the encouragement? To know God’s love and live in obedience to Him, extending that love to one another even when we have divided opinions. There may be points that we disagree on, and while Pastor John warns us to know the truth, he is also clear that love for one another is non-negotiable:
“This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him. And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us…” (1 John 3:19-24)
PRAY: Dear Father, thank you that You have established and protected Your church through the generations. Help me to love my brothers and sisters with action and in truth, as You command. And give me a love for Your Word so that I will be anchored and secure in Your truth, not easily tossed about or deceived by false teachings. Give me a discerning heart and lead me always back to my first love for You.
Mark 8:27-29, 31-33
(Jesus) asked them, “Who do people say I am?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Peter answered, “You are the Messiah .”
(Jesus) then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
Of all Jesus’ twelve disciples, I find that Peter comes across as the most relatable. Time again we see Peter blurting out his gut reaction to Jesus’ commands and teaching, with outright refusals to believe, indignant protests, or trying to trust, and then bottling it halfway through. And in the passage quoted above, it is Peter who declares in an amazing flash of Spirit-led insight and faith: “You are the Messiah.” Yet not long after, he oversteps the mark, tries to block Jesus in His fulfilment of God’s plans, and earns Jesus’ strongest rebuke.
It’s not the most encouraging picture of a future leader of the church! We might rightly conclude that Peter did have a big mouth, a brash personality, a lack of wisdom, and the tendency to act before thinking. And these traits didn’t go away, as Heather reminded us yesterday, even after Jesus’ resurrection, and even into the life of the early church, when again, Peter’s rash decision-making caused issues among the new believers (Gal 2:11-13).
Strangely, this description gives me huge hope. It’s likely that Peter himself helped Mark write his gospel, yet chose to allow these portrayals of his faults and mistakes to be included. Rather than being the perfect saint with everything sorted and no mistakes made, we are invited to see that Jesus takes us as we are, working in and through us despite our stumbling, faltering, up-and-down faith, and keeps doing His work of refining through His Spirit. Peter had a big mouth, but he also had a big heart and a big
love for Jesus which won through despite a sometimes bumpy track record.
Pray: Dear Lord, just like Peter, I just can’t seem to get things right! I might have a big mouth, a tendency to pride, or a faith that fails at times, even though I want to love and serve You. Please keep drawing me to You, as You did with Peter. Shape me through the work of Your Spirit, so that You may be glorified even as You refine my heart.
1 Samuel 2:21-23 NIV
‘Meanwhile, the boy Samuel grew up in the presence of the LORD. Now Eli, who was very old, heard about everything his sons were doing to all Israel and how they slept with the women who served at the entrance to the tent of meeting. So he said to them, “Why do you do such things? I hear from all the people about these wicked deeds of yours…”’
We were reminded yesterday of God’s special purpose for Samuel even before he was born. But 1 Samuel chapters 2-3 tell us that his childhood in the temple was a study in contrasts: even as he served in God’s presence each day, the adult sons of his ‘foster father’ Eli treated God’s offerings with contempt, satisfying their own greed and sexual desires, ignoring the dire warnings to repent and seek forgiveness. Could there have been a worse place for a child to grow up, than with this family: the elderly Eli, too weak to discipline or control his sons; Phinehas and Hophni, abusing their priestly roles, whose arrogance, sin and rebellion earned God’s strong judgement and the punishment of death.
Yet amazingly, in the midst of all this, Samuel “continued to grow in stature and in favour with the LORD and with people” (1 Sam 2:26), words later echoed in Luke’s gospel: “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man” (Lk 2:52). If there was perhaps one good thing Eli managed to teach Samuel, it was the response we find in 1 Sam 3:8-10.
_Then Eli realized that the LORD was calling the boy. So Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’ ” So Samuel went and lay down in his place. The LORD came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel !” Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”_
“Speak, Lord…” To be honest I often pray these words, but what follows might be:
“…but first let *me* tell *You* what I want…”
“…though I’m too busy/distracted to listen right now.”
“…and I’ll consider whether or not I want to obey.”
Two things kept young Samuel on track as he grew to become God’s faithful priest, and they are vital for us today: the grace of God, shielding us from the sin and temptation which lures us; and an earnest desire, honed and nurtured, to ask God for His word and direction, listen with humility, and obey with a servant heart.
“Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” What is He saying to each of us today?
*The Church: Priests and Kings*
Exodus 19:4-6 NIV
“You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you a will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation .”
1 Peter 2:9-10 NLT
“…for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for He called you out of the darkness into His wonderful light. Once you had no identity as a people; now you are God’s people. Once you received no mercy; now you have received God’s mercy.”
Revelation 5:9-10 NIV
“…you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth .”
There’s a reason why so many people love movies about superheroes. At some point in the story, an ordinary person, living their ordinary everyday life, discovers that they have a hidden identity. Suddenly, they have a purpose and status way larger and more important than they ever expected, along with all the power they need to fulfil their new role and responsibility. More than that, they belong to a group of fellow superheroes with the same mission and purpose.
On a cloudy Tuesday morning in April, you and I may feel like anything but the priests and kings described in the scripture passages above. Faced with dirty dishes, busy schedules, or even empty diaries, we might find it hard to grasp that we and all believers, the Church, are God’s treasured possession. We are ALL called to be priests – models of holiness, prayer warriors – and kings – royalty, representatives of the King of Kings, bearers of all God’s goodness. But that is what we are. And together with all who belong to Jesus, we have a greater purpose than ever before.
Space doesn’t permit a full exploration of what this means, but take a bit of time to ask yourself:
-*Do we know what we were saved for?* Jesus died on the cross for every one of us for this precise reason: to forgive and redeem us, yes, but also because God’s plan was always that we should be a people who, together, live with a far greater purpose, focused on His glory, upholding His name.
*-As a church, how might we make more of an impact through our corporate worship and prayers?* We are called “Priests”, to seek holy lives which demonstrate God’s power to forgive, cleanse and purify. No-one is beyond His grace. As intercessors, our prayers together for individuals, for Northway and the wider world, can have an impact beyond what we ask or imagine.
*- As the “Royal Family” of Christ on Northway estate, how should we be seeking to bring the King’s goodness and mercy to our community?* The Bible calls us Royal People – we are no longer insignificant but are bearers of God‘s kingly status. We have His unique power to bring blessing in small and big ways: forgiving those who have wronged us, including and welcoming people who are on the margins, extending help to those we don’t know, in His name.
Pray: Father God, so much of this is not visible to us, and will not be entirely fulfilled until eternity. Please give us the eyes of faith to see these realities and the imagination to live each day as Your holy and royal people, that together we can bring Your light into a dark world.
Moses’ errorExodus 2:11-14
“One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to where his own people were and watched them at their hard labour. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his own people. Looking this way and that and seeing no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.
The next day he went out and saw two Hebrews fighting. He asked the one in the wrong, “Why are you hitting your fellow Hebrew?” The man said, “Who made you ruler and judge over us? Are you thinking of killing me as you killed the Egyptian?” Then Moses was afraid and thought, “What I did must have become known.”
A Hebrew slave by birth, yet adopted and raised by an Egyptian princess, it’s possible that Moses never felt he belonged in either world. The Egyptians would have looked down on his humble beginnings, while the Hebrews might have considered him too privileged to belong with them.
It’s hard not to sympathise with Moses’ impulsive actions in Exodus 2:12. Although seeking to right a wrong and defend his own people, he ended up scorned and rejected by all, and worse, having to flee for his life. His desire to defend the weak and vulnerable was, in many ways, admirable. But he acted _on his own_. Despite it being clear that God had saved Moses as a baby, He is strikingly absent in these verses. Acting on impulse and taking justice into his own hands, Moses’ desire to help led instead to murder, and having to flee from a death sentence. Only God’s grace would eventually redeem and return Moses to his people, to serve them in a way which was completely unlike these tragic early mistakes.
While we may be passionate, even angry, about different situations around us, we should not act without being guided by the Lord. Injustice can lead us to feel outrage, which spurs us into action on others’ behalf. But Paul reminds us, “In your anger do not sin… and do not give the devil a foothold” (Eph 4:26).
Pray: Lord, as I see injustice and terrible wrongs in the world, give me the wisdom to bring them to You first. Direct my passions so that I can make a difference, small or big, in someone’s life today, led by Your Holy Spirit.
New International Version
10 I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
14 Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles.
At the heart of this powerful passage lies the Secret of Contentment, never more appropriate than the day following new guidelines which might seem to open new possibilities for the coming months. Here’s a paraphrase for our times:
“I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live in continued self isolation, enforced quarantine, or with the freedom to do whatever I want and see whomever I want. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is in pandemic conditions or back to life “as we knew it before”; having the opportunities to work, socialise, hug others, and meet together with no restrictions at all, or if this state of lockdown continues. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.”
Don’t be mistaken – Paul doesn’t say these things in a careless way. He is clear that all this is only possible if we truly know Jesus and understand His love for us. Only then will we have power to choose, like Paul, to trust that God is in control. Only then can we focus on God’s priorities – love, faithfulness, obedience, patience – and care for His people, no matter what our situation is.
Lord, fix my eyes on You as I go into this day. Help me to live as one dearly loved, whose life is wholly in Your care. Only then will I, like Paul, be able to say that I know the secret of being content because it is You alone who strengthens me to face all circumstances with deep joy.
New International Version
12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, 14 I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus.
15 All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. 16 Only let us live up to what we have already attained.
New International Version
19 I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you. 20 I have no one else like him, who will show genuine concern for your welfare. 21 For everyone looks out for their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. 22 But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel. 23 I hope, therefore, to send him as soon as I see how things go with me. 24 And I am confident in the Lord that I myself will come soon.
Over the last week these WhatsApp devotionals have often focused on the gospel and how Paul encourages us to both speak and demonstrate the truth of the Good News of Jesus. We are not called to do this on our
own – but alongside others. Paul often wrote in his letters about others that he valued and trusted,
Timothy being a key person. Although there was an age gap between them, and despite Paul’s
imprisonment, this passage highlights their shared love for Christ and their mutual regard for each other and for God’s people. It speaks powerfully of the precious relationships God gives us as believers which bring Him glory as we serve Him together. “I have no one else like him, who will show genuine concern for your welfare”…looking out for the interests of Jesus Christ (v20-21).
Let’s give thanks today for our sisters and brothers in the church family who encourage us and whose partnership in the gospel we value. Why not make contact with someone in our church family today, and let them know how much you appreciate and value them in the Lord?
New International Version
27 Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel 28 without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved – and that by God. 29 For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, 30 since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.
We cannot read these words without thinking of our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world who suffer hugely for their faith. The Barnabas Fund gives countless examples of how Christians in the persecuted church seek to “live in a manner worthy of Christ, whatever happens.”
It’s not always easy here in the UK to proclaim Christ, but let’s be aware that we live with freedom and ease by comparison. Within the suffering church, this pandemic has made already difficult lives even more challenging.
The call to us is not to feel guilty or complacent, but to be one in Spirit with those who are persecuted by striving in prayer with them for the faith of the gospel, asking God to give them courage in the face of opposition. This is a vital part of our calling as a church and one we should take seriously.
PRAY for our dear friends living in Pakistan, where those who follow Christ often experience the reality of “not only believing in Jesus but suffering for Him”. Pray for protection for them, and ask the Lord to give them boldness, wisdom and patience in their everyday lives as they seek to live and serve the Lord faithfully.
Many of us already pray for the suffering church using resources from the Barnabas Fund or Open Doors. If you’d like to know more, the latest prayer guide is available here: https://barnabasfund.org/pray/prayer-diary/
New International Version
3 I thank my God every time I remember you. 4 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
7 It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. 8 God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.
9 And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ – to the glory and praise of God.
We were shocked to discover that after 138 years the cathedral was still being built, and that the work will not be completed until 2026, in order to fulfill the architect Gaudi’s grand vision and design. But the same applies to each of us! I love Paul’s confidence as he writes, “I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue His work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” So take heart – we are all still works in progress and God hasn’t finished with us yet.
Pray: Lord, thank you for Your continuing work in me. Please give me perseverance as You shape and mould me to be the person you created me to be in Christ Jesus.