John the Beloved

John 21
“20 Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is going to betray you?”) 21 When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?”
22 Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” 23 Because of this, the rumor spread among the believers that this disciple would not die. But Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?”
24 This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true.”

John describes himself in his gospel as “The discple whom Jesus loved”(v20), so unsurprisingly church history has him named ” John the Beloved”.

Was John more loved than the other disciples? Does Jesus play favourites? It is important that when we read the Bible we take off our western cultural spectacles:

Firstly, physical affection between men is VERY common outside the west and has none of the sexual overtones it does here. The Filipino pastor I did an internship with used to hold his friend’s hand and even tousel his hair. A good thing I was warned this was normal! Secondly, it is normal and understandable that we can have a special affection for someone without denying others the love they are also due. As the littlest of all my siblings and cousins, I can attest to the fact that your elders can consider you the “indulged baby of the family”, when you know that there is no real favouritism and are just as likely to be told off for being naughty! After all, John was the youngest and was a direct relation of Jesus, so he was probably everyone’s “kid brother” among the disciples.

Jesus seemed to provoke Peter to single minded devotion by playing a little on Peter’s tendency to compare himself to John (v21-21).

Perhaps, though, John intended no special relationship, and it was simply his way of saying “I was there”.

All that said, John was very clear that Jesus loved him. This formed the strongest possible foundation for a long life of sacrificial service. It also led John to speak of the requirement to love EACH OTHER as evidence of our love for Jesus, arguably more than any other New Testament writer.

Yet, here’s the thing: John’s writings (John, 1,2,3 John, Revelation) are among the toughest to read, having the highest, most exacting standards of Christian discipleship shown through love in action.

John may be the “apostle of love”, but that love is no soft option. Real love, born of God, is the fuel for endurance, obedience and sacrifice.

How can I show that kind of love today? Following John’s writings, that must find a concrete, practical expression, or it isn’t real:

“Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” (1 John 3:18).

Peter’s Courage

Acts 4

8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people! 9 If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed, 10 then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. 11 Jesus is

“‘the stone you builders rejected,
which has become the cornerstone.’

12 Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

13 When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.”

This was no longer the Peter who sulked in the shadows while Jesus was taken to be crucified, who denied knowing Him.

Courage is very similar to faith, or at least true faith inspires courage. Peter was unafraid because whatever threats the Sanhedrin made, Peter’s life belonged to Jesus. Faith operates the nerves that flex the muscle of courage. But they both need exercise.

The priests and rulers saw that these uneducated, ordinary men “has been with Jesus”. Almost right: Peter and John not only HAD BEEN with Jesus, they were at that moment WITH Jesus. They were filled with the Holy Spirit (v8), just as Jesus had promised, “And surely I am with you always” (Matt 28:20).

We are not at war, nor are we undergoing persecution, so courage sometimes seems a redundant quality. Not true!! Every day we are called to demonstrate courage to (a) live out our faith before others, (b) risk rejection to tell people about Jesus, (c) make moral choices that go against the majority, (d) hold on to convictions in the face of criticism (in love, of course), and (e) press on to invest our lives in the Kingdom of God and not just go with the flow.

PRAY: Lord, You promise to be with us always. So today I trust You and ask You to fill me with Your Spirit and with the boldness (aka courage) to do all You call me to do. I refuse to live hiding in the shadows any more. Help me to walk in the light where You are. Amen.

Samuel the Judge

1 Samuel 7

Then all the people of Israel turned back to the Lord. 3 So Samuel said to all the Israelites, “If you are returning to the Lord with all your hearts, then rid yourselves of the foreign gods and the Ashtoreths and commit yourselves to the Lord and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.” 4 So the Israelites put away their Baals and Ashtoreths, and served the Lord only.

5 Then Samuel said, “Assemble all Israel at Mizpah, and I will intercede with the Lord for you.” 6 When they had assembled at Mizpah, they drew water and poured it out before the Lord. On that day they fasted and there they confessed, “We have sinned against the Lord.” Now Samuel was serving as leader of Israel at Mizpah.

7 When the Philistines heard that Israel had assembled at Mizpah, the rulers of the Philistines came up to attack them. When the Israelites heard of it, they were afraid because of the Philistines. 8 They said to Samuel, “Do not stop crying out to the Lord our God for us, that he may rescue us from the hand of the Philistines.” 9 Then Samuel took a suckling lamb and sacrificed it as a whole burnt offering to the Lord. He cried out to the Lord on Israel’s behalf, and the Lord answered him.

10 While Samuel was sacrificing the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to engage Israel in battle. But that day the Lord thundered with loud thunder against the Philistines and threw them into such a panic that they were routed before the Israelites. 11 The men of Israel rushed out of Mizpah and pursued the Philistines, slaughtering them along the way to a point below Beth Kar.

For Israel, Kings were not in God’s Plan A; He intended them to be a theocracy, with God as King and His priests His representatives. But instead people (even the priests) went their own way and it took God sending Judges periodically to get the people out of the sticky messes they got themselves in. Samuel was not so much an early prophet as the last judge.

In the pattern of the judges, he led Israel to victory over their enemies, not this time by brawn (Sampson), or brains (Ehud), but by godly example, repentance and faith. They were terrified of a big Philistine incursion, but once the people had done their part in repenting and getting rid of false gods (v2-7), Samuel did his part in prayer and intercession (v8-9), and God did His part: He basically said “boo!” and the Philistines ran away (v10).

It really does not take much for God to do His part in dealing with whatever situations and problems we have made for ourselves. He is God, after all. All we have to do is return to Him in truth, speaking the truth (confession v6) and acting in truth (doing away with what we know to be wrong v3), then in His grace He will act.

As easy as that? Well, let’s remember that the real price in 1 Sam 7 was paid by the suckling lamb in v9; for us the Lamb of God, Jesus, on the cross. Neither easy nor cheap.

How many times God has heard my cries for help in one situation or another, yet all that was really needed was for me to truly “return to the Lord with all my heart”, because the Lamb has already been sacrificed.

David is Honoured:

2 Samuel 23

13 During harvest time, three of the thirty chief warriors came down to David at the cave of Adullam, while a band of Philistines was encamped in the Valley of Rephaim. 14 At that time David was in the stronghold, and the Philistine garrison was at Bethlehem. 15 David longed for water and said, “Oh, that someone would get me a drink of water from the well near the gate of Bethlehem!” 16 So the three mighty warriors broke through the Philistine lines, drew water from the well near the gate of Bethlehem and carried it back to David. But he refused to drink it; instead, he poured it out before the Lord. 17 “Far be it from me, Lord, to do this!” he said. “Is it not the blood of men who went at the risk of their lives?” And David would not drink it.

Okay, if it was me, I’d drink the water if nothing else than out of politeness for the trouble they went to! But David sees what’s really happening here…

Perhaps one of the main reasons why David is so honoured in Scripture to the point of lending his name to the Saviour, the Son of David, is that David was always very clear who is God and who isn’t – and David was not God. For all David’s glaring faults, there is no hint of him ever dipping into idolatry. God is God, there is no other.

Yet David inspired such devotion in his men that they gladly risked their lives simply to get him a drink of water. He was such a man whose mere throw-away comments were taken so seriously that men would live and die by them (v15-16).

But here we see David’s clear sense that he was just a man and, military leader he may be, only God deserves devotion to death. God, not country or leader. He takes the sacrifice the men had made for him and offers that honour to God instead.

The reckless devotion of these men was not condemned, but honoured. But it was too much to do this for a mere human being. Instead, that reckless devotion to God is right and good. One New Testament verse springs to mind here:

Philippians 2:17-18: “But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.”

Paul’s devotion to Jesus is to pour himself out, recklessly giving his all, like the woman’s alabaster jar or perfume (Luke 7), a fragrant offering to Him who first loved us.

What can I do today that reflects that love and devotion to the only One who poured Himself out for me?

Moses vs the People

Exodus 16:1-8

1The whole Israelite community set out from Elim and came to the Desert of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had come out of Egypt. 2 In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. 3 The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.”

4 Then the Lord said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions. 5 On the sixth day they are to prepare what they bring in, and that is to be twice as much as they gather on the other days.”

6 So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you will know that it was the Lord who brought you out of Egypt, 7 and in the morning you will see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we, that you should grumble against us?” 8 Moses also said, “You will know that it was the Lord when he gives you meat to eat in the evening and all the bread you want in the morning, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we? You are not grumbling against us, but against the Lord.”

One of the key elements of Christian leadership of any kind is to put ourselves in the place where we lead in the act of trusting God. Our faith is tested openly – if God is not with us, we are publicly stuffed! But if He is, then the people learn from it and grow in faith.

Each time there was a crisis, Moses had to be the one to assure the people that God would come through, that He could be trusted. Very nearly, they mutinied many times, but God DID come through for them, often in such dramatic ways they should never have been in any more doubt that God was with them and that Moses spoke the truth. When the camp was full of millions of little quails all running around to be scooped up, that would have been dramatic enough!

Last week I gave four talks to students from many countries on Colossians. A big part of what I was saying was that Jesus is more powerful than anything else and can and will deliver us from the power of sin and our past. The questions that came up regarding sinful habits people were trapped in, the pain of family trauma and unforgiveness was heartbreaking. Each question was like a challenge thrown at my feet, “You say Jesus can deliver me? How can I trust what you say is true?” The answer is that I have found Him to be faithful, not only on my life but many others’.

In short: do I know the power of Jesus to save me from myself, to provide, lead and love me – enough to assure others that He is faithful? If I don’t know His power personally to change me, how can I hold out hope to others? Yet we take courage from Moses’ example. God IS faithful, so let’s throw ourselves wholeheartedly on Him and never fear that He won’t ever let us fall.

Philippians reading 24

Philippians 4
New International Version

18 I have received full payment and have more than enough. I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. 19 And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.

20 To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

“And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus” was my baptism verse given to me way back in 1989, and it has proved to be a great promise to hold on to. 


Yet we often fail to see the context of the promise and so don’t see how this it works in practice. Paul is commending the Philippians for doing as Jesus commanded, to “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness…”, so that the second part will prove to be true”…and all these things shall be given to you as well.”


In the Book of Haggai, the prophet explains that the poverty, high inflation and struggle for survival that the people were experiencing was due to the fact that they had put God’s priorities too far down their list of priorities. “Is this a time for living in panelled houses while the house of God lies in ruins? …You expected much but see it turned out to be little …Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with his own house. Therefore, because of you the heavens have withheld their dew…” (from Haggai 1:3-11). What a contrast to the Philippians’ generosity in extreme circumstances!


Yet Haggai also promises that if they would put God’s glory and honour first, He would essentially, “supply all their needs according to His riches”.


It is not just about money, though, or only for those called to “full time” ministry. Everyone is called to live by faith. Those needs may not be financial; I depend on God for physical capacity to do my job, for energy and time and opportunity just as others of us have the choice to worry and fret or trust God to deal with our job security, family challenges, illness, time pressures, life-controlling issues…


It seems counterintuitive. When we are in survival mode, we think, “I’ll get through this rough patch then, when I have more time, I will get back to focusing on my faith [be that church, learning the Bible, serving, personal devotions etc].” But the opposite is true: put God first, pursue our relationship with Jesus above all else, and He will give us ALL we need in other parts of our lives. Including that most precious of resources: TIME.


Prayer: Lord, forgive me for giving you the leftovers of my time, for struggling to survive and just doing what each day demands instead of pursuing You above all else. Help me to walk by faith, not by sight, and to place all my worries and concerns in Your hands. Help me to truly know what it means to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. I know then that you will fulfil Your part of that bargain, that You will supply what I and my family need. Amen.

Philippians reading 19

Philippians 4
New International Version

I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.


Euodia and Syntyche were two women who loved the Lord but couldn’t get on with each other, perhaps for ministry reasons or a personality clash. All too common!


I have just this morning also read Acts 15:36-41, where Paul and Barnabas disagreed whether to bring Mark along on their next mission trip as he had got scared and bottled out half way last time. They couldn’t agree so these men, who had risked their lives together as brothers, decided to go their separate ways. 


But here Paul pleads with two women who were passionate and dedicated to the Lord but couldn’t see eye to eye, not to make the same mistake. He didn’t want them to fall out and divide as he and Barnabas did (though I don’t believe there was unforgiveness between them).


It is all too easy to do this! Even in our little church we have enough differences in temperament, church tradition and taste to cause any number of divisions. To have a division you only need two people!


What is the solution? Paul appeals to his friend “my true companion ” (possibly a name, Syzygus, meaning yokefellow) to help them to see the bigger picture – our names are written in the book of life!!


Let me say that again – our names are written in the book of life!! We will spend every day for an eternity that will never end, with the Lord Jesus in a state of deep bliss and love. What then is the point of falling out over small matters now? 


If we care for God’s Kingdom, as Euodia and Syntyche did, then we will sometimes clash. But let’s look at the bigger picture. We are saved for heaven! Don’t sweat the small stuff! Look up and laugh!

Philippians reading 14

Philippians 2
New International Version

28 Therefore I am all the more eager to send him, so that when you see him again you may be glad and I may have less anxiety. 29 So then, welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honour people like him, 30 because he almost died for the work of Christ. He risked his life to make up for the help you yourselves could not give me.

3 :1 Further, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you.


In Philippians, the theme of joy even in the face of death come through so strongly, that it is not just Paul who says of himself, “For me to live is Christ, to die is gain,” but it would also seem that Epaphroditus would say the same thing, too.


“Eager” “glad” “joy” “rejoice” are wonderful words here and make us feel, “yes please” to what Paul is saying. But the context is gladness and joy in the face of real risk and sacrifice. “No thank you” is probably our knee jerk reaction to that!


Yet the two are connected. Epaphroditus risked his life because he loved Paul and the church, but mostly because he loved Jesus. The love and joy the believers had for Jesus and for one another was worth more than life itself. The anxiety Paul felt in v28 is the concern of love for a brother in Christ, not a general anxious disposition. 


We should honour people like him (v29) by following their example. 


A life lived with no risk, without putting ourselves on the line for love of Jesus and His Church is a life half-lived. For years I tussled with the fear that living fully and completely for Jesus was going to make me miserable. But nothing could be further from the truth. Paul and Epaphroditus would laugh at the very idea that sacrifice involves misery. See how much joy soaks this letter!


So, I guess I have a choice. Live small and miss the joy, or live like Epaphroditus, living the adventure of obedience, risking all for love and its sure reward of joy in the Lord Jesus.



Philippians reading 9

Philippians 2
New International Version

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death –
        even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians reading 4

Philippians 1
New International Version

15 It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. 16 The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defence of the gospel. 17 The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. 18 But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.


Mixed motives?


Paul (almost) doesn’t care why people proclaim Christ, only that they do so. Perhaps he is not quite as nonchalant as he appears, but in his situation it seems that there are some who, embarrassed by Paul’s imprisonment or envious of his success (likely both), were preaching the Gospel hoping to draw away support for Paul and establish a rival ministry. The result was, at least the Gospel was being preached.


This week I have been reminded how divisive and tribal Christians can be, wanting to be seen as “correct” and labeling others as “dodgy”, or even “heretical” for reasons that escape me: An article was published in a Christian magazine recently which put our work in a poor light and some are asking us whether we are going to challenge it in print. It is tempting to want to justify ourselves when this happens and hit back. Similarly Paul had rivals who wanted to discredit him. But he just won’t rise to the bait. All he cares about is the Gospel because the Gospel is all about Jesus, and Jesus is all that matters.


May Paul’s attitude be in us too, that the only thing that matters is Jesus.