Tuesday 22nd September 2020
Prayer Half Hour. Silent prayer
Just recently there have been lots of colourful interludes (indents!) on BBC One (that link the programmes) and one in particular, the one with the many and various coloured mugs “Tea breaks across the UK”, reminded me of a poem I read in a small book “Are You Sitting Comfortably?” by Hazel Parsons.
A Mug by Hazel Parsons
Coffee or tea? Milk or juice?, Hot chocolate?
For a moment I consider the choices we have.
Such a lot of choice.
Then I begin to wonder.
Some choices are difficult to make.
How do I buy groceries? Do I consider packaging? Fair Trade? Rain Forest Alliance? Am I aware of the air miles?
I think about the world and creation.
How much responsibility do I have, as an individual to take care of the world?
I think Eco Church and wonder about Eco Home
In the quiet I begin to talk to God about these troublesome issues.
I want to say sorry for the way we have damaged the earth.
I then keep silence.
In the silence I listen for God’s voice.
Take some time to reflect on the words of this poem.
If gentle music helps you to pray then perhaps play some now.
You might like to read again some verses from the creation story in Genesis chapter 1 and be reminded of the wonderful world that God created
You might like to read some verses from Psalm 104
Fred Pratt Green’s hymn (Hymns and Psalms 343) speaks so poignantly and pertinently about how mankind has treated the wonderful world that God blessed us with. Perhaps use this hymn as a basis for your silent prayers.
To conclude: a prayer from the Yoruba peoples
Enjoy the earth gently, enjoy the earth gently. For if the earth is spoiled, it cannot be repaired. Enjoy the earth gently.
Acts Chapter 24, Tuesday Afternoon Bible Fellowship
The next three chapters of the book of Acts may seem quite repetitive. They contain trials or hearings of Paul’s case. The first hearing is before Felix. Paul has been kept under guard in Herod’s palace for five days before his case begins.
The Lord bless you as you explore further.
Read Acts 24:1-4. Q.1. Who was Tertullus?
Q.2. In what manner did Tertullus present the case against Paul before Felix?
Read Acts 24:5-9. Q.3. Was this accusation true or false?
Read Acts 24:10-16. Q.4. What did Paul admit to?
Q.5. What should we strive for?
Read Acts 24:17-21. Q.6.What was Paul’s main purpose for going to Jerusalem?
Q.7.What did Paul think might have been the reason for bringing him before Felix?
Read Acts 24:22-23. Q.8.Why do you think Felix was so generous towards Paul?
Read Acts 24:24-26. Q.9. What caused Felix to stop the interview and why?
Read Acts 24:27. Q.10.What was the long-term result? Give your reason.
Acts Chapter 23, Tuesday Afternoon Bible Fellowship
We now see Paul, like his Master the Lord Jesus Christ, appearing before the Sanhedrin, the ruling body of the Jews. This is not one of their regular meetings, but a special meeting that has been called to deal with Paul’s case.
May the Lord bless you as you explore further.
Acts 23:1-5. Q. 1. Why do you think Paul called Ananias a ‘whitewashed wall’?
Q. 2. At first Paul didn’t recognize Ananias as the high priest. Give reasons why you think that might be?
Acts 23:6-10. Q. 3. What stirred up the members of the Sanhedrin, and why do you think that was?
Acts 23:11. Q. 4. The Lord stood with Paul in his time of crises. Can you describe times when He stood by you with words of comfort and assurance?
Acts 23:12-15. Q.5. What do we discover here, regarding humanity?
Acts 23:16-22. Q.6. How important was Paul’s nephew and why?
Acts 23:23-24. Q.7. How did the commander react and what action did he take?
Acts 23:25-30. Q.8. How would you describe the contents of the commander’s letter to Felix?
Acts 23:31-35. Q.9. How did Felix react when he received the letter, and why?
Q.10. What impressed you most in this session, and why do you think that is?
EPHESIANS SESSION 5
‘THE MYSTERY MADE KNOWN’
One needs to remember that Paul wrote this letter whilst a prisoner in Rome; however, he had certain privileges, although he was under arrest in his own rented accommodation and guarded by Roman soldiers, he was allowed visits from his friends. During this time Paul was chained night and day to a soldier, who was his guard, and whose business it was to see that he never escaped. All this time Paul was waiting for the Jewish prosecutors to arrive with their trumped up charges against him. The apostle, however, takes advantage of their delay by writing letters to the Christians in the various churches that he has managed to establish throughout his preaching ministry.
Paul holds his mission to the Gentiles in high regard; in fact, he sees it as a privilege and a necessary responsibility given him by Christ, Himself. Paul knows the reason Christ Jesus revealed Himself to him on the Damascus road was that he might carry the name of Jesus Christ to “the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel.” Even though he would preach Christ crucified and risen from the dead, ascended and glorified, and would be an important tool in his Master’s hand by bringing many lost souls back to God, he would suffer much in doing so.
READ ACTS 9:15-18.
The Gentile members, as well as Jewish, have therefore become members of the ‘Body of Christ’, equal in every respect, in whom ‘God lives by His Spirit.’ Born by the Spirit, they must learn to live as one by the Spirit, so Paul is content with his current situation.
READ EPHESIANS 3:1.
George Matheson wrote a hymn to this effect (714 H&P):
Make me a captive, Lord, and then I shall be free;
Force me to render up my sword, and I shall conquer be.
I sink in life’s alarms when by myself I stand;
Imprison me within thine arms, and strong shall be my hand.
My power is faint and low till I have learned to serve;
It wants the needed fire to glow, it wants the breeze to nerve;
It cannot freely move, till thou hast wrought its chain;
Enslave it with thy matchless love, and deathless it shall reign.
My will is not my own till thou hast made it thine;
If it would reach a monarch’s throne it must its crown resign;
It only stands unbent, amid the clashing strife,
When on thy bosom it has lent and found in thee its life.
EXERCISE: What are Paul and the hymn writer implying here?
Paul chooses to obey Christ Jesus in spite of all opposition. He was indeed held captive by the Romans but he chose to be imprisoned in Christ’s arms of love, he wanted to be enslaved by the matchless love of his Saviour. Captivated by Jesus Christ, he could only display that love to all with whom he came in contact. However, Paul breaks his train of thought after verse 1 in an attempt to explain ‘the mystery’.
READ EPHESIANS 3:2-6.
We know that before Christ came God’s promise had been confined to the Jews and that His purpose for the rest of the world had remained a secret, except that the prophets prophesied that “the earth would be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” (Isaiah 11:9b). Also, King David in Psalm 72 says “All nations will be blessed through him, and they will call him blessed.” (v. 17b) – This promise goes back to Abraham, see Genesis 22:18.
EPHESIANS SESSION 5 cont.
READ PSALM 72.
The apostle had also written to the church at Corinth, briefly, on the mystery made known to him by the Holy Spirit. READ 1 CORINTHIANS 2:8-16.
As Christians, we too need to understand spiritual truths if we are to make right judgements about things. If the Spirit of Christ lives in us, as Christ promised He would, then “we have the mind of Christ.” The mystery is only made known by divine revelation!
Thankfully now, as Roy Turner wrote (18 CMP):
All over the world the Spirit is moving, all over the world as the prophet said it would be;
All over the world there’s a mighty revelation of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.
All over His Church (v. 2) & Right here in this place (v. 3).
EXERCISE: What are your views on the mystery that Paul is making known?
Paul has just told the Ephesians something of God’s secret plan that has been revealed to him, a plan that was not known to previous generations, that in and through Christ Jesus God was reconciling the world unto Himself. The scope of His purpose is breathtaking, there is no class or distinction regarding those who are in Christ, all are heirs of the promises. “This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 3:6).
READ EPHESIANS 3:7-13.
In these verses Paul expands the greatness of his special mission, explaining that it was all by grace. How by God’s amazing grace he, who was so unworthy of the calling, was called to the task of bringing the gospel of salvation to the Gentile world. He sees himself as “the least of all God’s people.” once the enemy of Christ. Yet God chose him and Paul sees it as the greatest of privileges. (Like Paul, we all need the gift of divine grace, if we are to succeed in the Lord’s business. This grace of God only comes by faith in Christ who baptizes us in His Holy Spirit, equipping us for the work in hand. One cannot ‘make’ disciples until one is willing to be discipled.)
So Paul, far from being proud, humbly confesses his inadequacies, then, rejoices in God’s power which enables him to complete the task to which he has been called, taking the gospel message, the good news of salvation, to the Gentiles so that they too may experience God’s abundant grace and be included in the ‘Body of Christ’, the Church universal. To this end Paul preaches “the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make plain the mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things.” God’s plan, once concealed, is now brought to light. Through this plan, the devil no longer has control over the destiny of the human race.
William Barclay in his commentary p.147 writes:
“for he who serves Christ can never think of making others look at himself and praise himself; he must make them look at Christ. The tragic fact in Churches is that there are so many who are more concern with their own honour and prestige than with the honour and prestige of Jesus Christ; and who are more concerned that they should be noticed than that Christ should be seen.”
The apostle emphasises that God’s “intent was that through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms”. This was His intent from the beginning of time and was accomplished in Christ Jesus, the Son that He loved but for your sake and mine He did not spare! God has achieved what seemed impossible, reconciling and uniting not only Jew and Gentile but all the nations of the earth as one body, His Church, through which and in whom He displays His eternal wisdom.
EPHESIANS SESSION 5 cont.
Dummelow writes, in his Commentary, (p. 963): “It is an amazing thought that, by means of the Church, God’s varied wisdom in the scheme of redemption is made known to heavenly beings. ‘Angels desire to look into’ ‘the manifold grace of God’.” (End of Quote). Paul, in addressing the needs of the Ephesians, is saying: God has accomplished your salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ and that “through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.” Don’t let my situation discourage you because my present sufferings are for your Glory.
EXERCISE: What do you think Paul meant by this? (v. 13)
It appears that Paul continues, in the fourteenth verse, where he left off in verse one in prayer for the people he loved and cared for. READ EPHESIANS 3:14-19.
Paul has painted an amazing picture of the Church; with the world in chaos! Although the whole world owes its Fatherhood to God, its creator and sustainer; in contrast the nations rebel against the Father who loves them and desires to be loved by them. All the riches of His grace are at their disposal if only the people in this fallen world would turn from their wicked ways and come back to Him. Paul sees the need of the Church, the ‘Body of Christ’, to witness to the amazing grace of God, the Father, as experienced in Jesus Christ, the Son, in and through whom He has made atonement for their sin.
The Church as the Body of Christ must faithfully go about her business, which is to illuminate the way to the Father. This can only be achieved if the Christians to whom Paul is writing will take their discipleship to Christ Jesus seriously. Paul is desperate for the furtherance of the gospel of Christ, the good news of the Father’s offer of forgiveness through the shed blood of His Son. To this end Paul kneels before Father God, pleading for the followers of Jesus Christ, pleading “that out of his glorious riches” God would strengthen them with power through his Spirit in their inner being. He continues: “so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.” That they will be rooted and established in love; their roots must go down deep into the soil of God’s love if they are to have “power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and high and long and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”
For the Christian the secret of strength is the presence of Christ within our lives, reflected by the way we live. The empowering of the Spirit of God is essential if Christ is to be seen working His purpose out in one’s life. There’s a 15th century hymn, 62 in The Methodist Hymn Book:
O Love, how deep, how broad, how high! It fills the heart with ecstasy,
That God , the Son of God, should take our mortal form, for mortals’ sake.
He sent no angel to our race, of higher or of lower place,
But wore the robe of human frame Himself, and to this lost world came.
For us to wicked men betrayed, scourged, mocked, in purple robe arrayed,
He bore the shameful cross and death, for us at length gave up His breath.
For us He rose from death again; for us He went on high to reign;
For us He sent His Spirit here to guide, to strengthen, and to cheer.
To Him whose boundless love has won salvation for us through His Son,
To God the Father, glory be, both now and through eternity. Amen.
PRAYER OF COMMITMENT
Use Ephesians 3:20-21 by way of blessing each other.
EPHESIANS Session 2
‘SPIRITUAL BLESSINGS IN CHRIST’
In our introductory study, we saw how the Apostle Paul’s life was completely turned around. No longer was he in direct opposition to the gospel of Christ Jesus. Chosen by God, he was transformed into a vehement supporter and preacher of the good news that he previously fought to destroy. He had discovered that Christ Jesus was the true and perfect way to God, that in Him his sins were forgiven because of God’s abundant grace and that he had peace with God through Jesus Christ his Saviour and Lord. Jesus Christ had become the ‘centre’ of Paul’s purpose for living. His sole desire was to spread what we know as the Christian Gospel and he pledged himself to its cause. Realizing that he, on his own, was far from perfect, Paul sought to strive towards the goal of perfection, knowing that he was chosen by Christ Jesus for this purpose and that if he was successful a reward awaited him in heaven.
READ PHILIPPIANS 3:12-14.
EXERCISE: What does this passage say to you?
It begs these questions: For what purpose did Christ take hold of me? Why should He bother with me, I’m not worthy of Him? It also speaks of a new start, a new beginning. Why is there a need for me to begin again? What is the prize set before me? No doubt there are others.
Paul knows why Jesus Christ broke into his life that day on the Damascus road, to be His chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel.” (Acts 9:15b).
One of the great truths that Paul has discovered is that the Church, which includes everyone who has come to know Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord, is the Body of Christ. Another is that the Church, trusted with the message of salvation to the world, is God’s chosen instrument of reconciliation. Barclay states (The Letter to the Galatians and Ephesians p.80): “No man has ever had a greater vision of Christ than this vision which sees in Christ the one centre in whom the disunities of life are gathered into one. No man ever had a greater vision of the Church than the vision which sees in the Church God’s instrument in that world-wide and universal reconciliation. And we believe that no man other than Paul could rise to a vision like that.”
EXERCISE: What do you think regarding the suggestion that a Christian is a person who always
lives a double life?
It has been suggested that each Christian has two addresses, a human address and a divine address. Every Christian has a battle to be fought. On the one hand the Christian seeks to please Christ; however, every Christian lives in a fallen world, where temptation is rife. To say the least, mistakes are made. READ EPHESIANS 1:3-4.
In this passage Paul is giving praise to God for His wondrous grace revealed in Christ Jesus and the way the people at Ephesus have received Him. They, he says, have been blessed abundantly. They are such privileged people to have been chosen by God to serve Him in their day and to do His work. He includes Himself with them. Together they have received the blessings of heaven. God has called them through His Son and opened the heavens and poured out His Holy Spirit upon them.
No human being will ever come near to fully understanding the grace of God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Yet of this I am certain, in recognizing one’s own short comings one feels the need to cry out ‘more grace, Lord, more grace!’
Daniel Webster Whittle (1840 – 1901) wrote that beautiful hymn (279 CMP), loved and appreciated by many down through the years:
EPHESIANS, Session 2, cont.
I know not why God’s wondrous grace to me has been made known;
nor why – unworthy as I am – He claimed me for His own.
But, ‘I know whom I have believed; and am persuaded that He is able
to keep that which I’ve committed unto Him against that day.’
I know not how this saving faith to me He did impart;
Or how believing in His word wrought peace upon my heart.
But, ‘I know ...’
I know not how the Spirit moves, convincing men of sin;
Revealing Jesus through the word, creating faith in Him.
But, ‘I know ...’
I know not what of good or ill may be reserved for me –
Of weary ways or golden days before His face I see.
But, ‘I know ...’
Paul would have approved of that Hymn; and, whether we realised it or not, all blessings come from God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Spiritual blessings from heaven are the best Christians can possibly receive. These are not temporal blessings but spiritual blessings from “the heavenly realms”, blessings from the Father above. These blessings are in and through the Lord Jesus Christ, the joy of sins forgiven, a new beginning, the transformation from sinner into saint, the assurance of a heavenly kingdom prepared through Christ, the knowledge that one day we will live in His presence for evermore, the promise of a new heaven and a new earth. In the meantime there is the promise that His abundant grace will be sufficient for all our needs through the gifts and graces of the Holy Spirit in our daily living. As Fanny J Crosby put it (59 CMP):
‘Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine: O what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God; born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.”
READ REVELATION 21:1-8.
So our Father God actually chose us in Christ Jesus “before the creation of the world to be blameless in his sight.” Before time began, before creation! The mind boggles! In fact, even more incredible, “he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ”.
READ EPHESIANS 1:4-10.
God’s purpose for you and me is that we should be holy and blameless in His sight. We might be able to learn from others certain trades and skills, yet because we live in a fallen world and because of our fallen nature, we cannot teach ourselves to be holy and blameless in God’s sight. We were born sinful! Therefore we remain sinful; it is the law of nature! Children mimic and thereby learn from their parents and it is amazing how quickly they fall into the same habits. (Illustrate: a young lad who kicked a ball through a neighbour’s window. – His mother had brought him up to always tell the truth, which as far as we know, he did. When kicking a ball around with some friends, he accidently kicked it through a window, and immediately owned up. I was asked to replace the broken glass, which I did. Whilst I was doing this, his mother came to me and said, words to this affect, “For once I wish he wasn’t so truthful.”) The only way we can be transformed into holy and blameless people is for God to transform us and, of course, that is His desire; however, He will not force us against our will, we must want to be transformed. The trouble is our sin has separated us from our heavenly Father and there is no way back that we can devise because the barrier of sinfulness separates us from Him.
Our holy God, in His wisdom, has, Himself, provided a way by which we may be reconciled to Him: “In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will – to the praise of his glorious grace,” How has He achieved this? Paul tells us
EPHESIANS: Session 2 cont.
that He has done so out of the abundance of His glorious grace. Such is God’s love for His fallen
children that, even before the creation of the world, God had decreed that He would come into the world as a human being in the person of Jesus Christ and take, on Himself, the punishment for their sin and that all who turn to Him, in true repentance, would be forgiven completely and pronounced holy and blameless.
I am reminded that under Jewish law any animal offered for sacrifice, first had to be inspected. If any blemish was found, it was rejected as unfit as an offering to God. God had to provide the perfect sacrifice. Paul tells us that this was planned even before mankind was created.
Paul says in Ephesians 1:9-10: “And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times have reached their fulfilment – to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.”
Perhaps for us to understand how this was to happen, we need to read and understand, to the best of our ability, JOHN 1:1-5, 10-14. (READ)
So, the ‘Word’ who was in the beginning with God, was God and “became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” came to us in the flesh as a vulnerable and helpless babe, yet, as the Saviour promised long. The disciple goes on to say (v.18) “No-one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.” A little further on we read the following in John 3: READ JOHN 3:16-21.
Exercise: What does this extract from John, the disciple’s writings, mean for you?
Jesus Christ becomes what none other could ever become, the ‘Lamb of God’. Faultless, holy and blameless, the ‘Perfect Sacrifice’. On the rugged altar of the cross, on Calvary’s hill, just outside Jerusalem, the perfect sacrifice was offered up by God the Father of us all and as that sacrifice, Jesus Christ cried out, “It is finished!” (John 19:30b) the veil of separation was torn apart and access to our heavenly Father opened up to all people of all nations for all time!
READ EPHESIANS 1:11-14.
Not all are predestined, only those who acknowledge that Jesus Christ has died in their place, who in true repentance turn to Him with the desire to serve Him, who willingly become His disciples. Although of a fallen nature, but now because of the abundant grace of a loving heavenly Father, have been given the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ, their Redeemer and Lord. God decreed that all who turn to Him, through Christ, would be predestined to all the Spiritual blessings in the heavenly realms.
Paul’s message to the Ephesian Christians is the assurance that they “were included in Christ” when they “heard the word of truth, the gospel of” their “salvation.” He goes on to say, “Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit,” The Holy Spirit living in you and me is God’s seal on your life and mine, guaranteeing our inheritance, not just of God’s presence in this life but of our inheritance set in heaven, to be received when Christ Jesus comes to receive unto Himself all, who through adoption, chosen by God, are predestined to eternal life through their faith in Christ Jesus. A new heaven and a new earth awaits the faithful in Christ Jesus, where holiness, purity and grace are the order of the day, where “only those whose names are written in the Lambs book of life” (Rev, 21:27b) will see him face to face and enjoy His presence for evermore. What greater blessing could one have than that!
Exercise: How do you feel about your adoption?
(See 128 CMP, composed by Ian Smale: ‘Father God, I wonder how I managed to exist’)