Our Church is called to live out our faith every day, whatever our circumstances.
Christians need to be learning constantly from the Bible. It is our spiritual ‘food’. We post introductions to key passages here to help members improve their grasp of the main characters and themes!
Philippians 1: Radical Philosophy
Paul again. Under the transforming inspiration of the Holy Spirit this persecutor-turned-apostle wrote 13 of the 26 books in the New Testament!
After years of missionary journeys, church-planting, pastoring and teaching he is now imprisoned and knows he is facing possible execution. That doesn’t stop him writing a thankyou letter to the fellowship in Philippi, whose members had sent him a gift!
Sometimes called ‘the Epistle of Joy’, it’s remarkably cheerful and upbeat. Paul is confident that God’s plan of grace will prevail, despite failings within the Church and harsh opposition from outside.
Knowing the crucified and risen Christ has given him a radical philosophy on life. He doesn’t mind dying for that will mean ‘departing ‘to be with the Lord which he reckons will be ‘better by far’. (v 23)
He doesn’t actually seem too bothered by suffering in the short term, counting it an honour to do so for the Master! He chooses to focus on the positive encouragement others have gained from his ‘chains’.
With thanks and affection he assures them of his prayers, ‘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.’ (v 6)
Radical philosophy for a cruel and disillusioned 21st century! Maybe we could call it ‘Spirit-inspired optimism’.
Or maybe something simpler.
‘Christianity’ for example.
Judges and Ruth Love in Wild Times
Like a chorus line that’s repeated throughout a musical, one phrase sums up the period recorded in the book of Judges:
‘In those days Israel had no king, everyone did as they saw fit.’ (Judges 21v25)
Often the ‘judges’ were charismatic heroes who rallied makeshift armies to defend their territory against invasion. We’re encouraged that people like Gideon, lacking in self-confidence, could lead a modest force of just 300 and with God’s help defeat vastly outnumbering Midianite forces (chs6-7). However human weakness is never absent, as in the tragic account of hero Samson, the strong man made weak through his infatuation with the treacherous Delilah (chs13-16).
Flawed leadership contributes to a moral vacuum in which society drifts down into dangerous chaos.
The closing chapters 19-21 are not for the faint-hearted, they make sad and gruesome reading. Keeping their godly heritage at arm’s length, the nation gives way to unrestrained sexual license and abuse, leading to vengeful blood feud and civil war.
And yet God’s inspired Word gives us a beautiful contrast from this same period in the story of Ruth, a foreign widow who shows outstanding loyalty to her Israelite mother-in-law (Ruth 1v16-17), becomes the wife of ‘kinsman-redeemer’ Boaz and great grandmother to King David.
In the wildest of times qualities such as honour, kindness, faithfulness and love may yet be found, for while people often abandon God and His ways, He does not quickly abandon us. He causes flowers to bloom in the wilderness.
His grace is working, often in seemingly small, obscure lives to great and blessed ends!
Joshua 1 v 1-9: Facing Challenge
Moses, awesome man of God, is dead. Across the Jordan river lies the Promised land of Canaan, but it’s full of strong, warlike people who won’t easily give it up to the Israelites. The first city they’ll come to is the mighty fortified town of Jericho. Its walls look impregnable.
The book of Joshua includes miraculous victory at Jericho, humiliating defeat at Ai, the gradual conquest and portioning out of the land between the twelve tribes of Israel. A brilliant detail comes in ch14v6-14 where eighty-five year old Caleb requests the formidable, giant-infested hill country of Hebron, claiming, ‘the Lord helping me, I will drive them out…’
Ever face challenging times? Don’t we all!
Joshua ch 1 is where God commissions Joshua to take on the leadership role vacated by Moses, to take God’s people on to conquest and victory. It certainly won’t be easy. Rewarding things seldom are.
As is frequently the case with scripture, this passage is a combination of challenge and encouragement. Joshua and the people are instructed to ‘be strong and courageous’ and to keep strictly to the Commandments of God’s Word. But if they do, not only will they succeed and prosper in their new inheritance, but they will know the presence and blessing of the Lord their God:
‘I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.
Do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.’
And more precious in life than a stake in the territory, is the strengthening presence of God in the struggle!
Deuteronomy 30v11-20: Choose Life
After Exodus comes the book of Leviticus, a long, some may say tedious book of law. Why? Because freed slaves need structure and good order or they will soon become chaotic and enslaved all over again to their own unrestrained desires!
Next comes Numbers which provides some statistics and details of a journey that should have taken a few weeks but in the end lasted forty years! The people were not quick to accept God’s laws, trust His loving promises or obey His instructions. Tragically a whole generation passed away in the wilderness before their children were ready to trust for a new life.
So Deuteronomy comes as the next-generation Israelites are poised on the bank of the River Jordan, border of the ‘Promised Land’. This book is basically Moses’ last will and testament, his final message to those he has led all these years. He repeats the Ten Commandments and summarises key laws, instructing the people to learn the lessons of the past if they want to enjoy success in the future.
Faith requires obedience. If we profess to trust in God we must be careful to do what He says!
In graphic terms chapter 28 spells out ‘blessings and curses’, the benefits of trusting and obeying the gracious, saving, providing Lord their God, and the grim harvest that will result from wilful disobedience. People do reap what they sow!
Then, from the heart, this aged shepherd/pastor concludes by urging them, ‘Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to His voice, and hold fast to Him. For the Lord is your life, and He will give you many years in the land He swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.’
Exodus 3: Deliverance (25.2.21)
Exodus is the book of epic liberation!
It begins with Abraham’s descendants now enslaved in Egypt when God ‘comes down’ to their rescue, thus keeping the ‘covenant’ promises He made to their ancestors back in Genesis.
The Lord appoints as His spokesman and leader an exiled Egyptian prince called Moses, who was actually born a Hebrew. Moses thinks he has put his troubled past behind him and found peace with marriage and shepherd duties far from his birthplace but the adventure is only beginning!
This chapter 3 is his first encounter with his ancestors’ God Who will humble the ‘gods’ of Egypt with plagues, open the Red Sea like a curtain, rain bread for His people from heaven and justify the modern catchphrase ‘biblical proportions’!
Memorable details instantly grip the unsuspecting future leader:
A bush ‘burning but not consumed’. Fire in the Bible often represents the intimidating presence of God in His holiness. Moses is instructed to stay back and show reverence and he instinctively ‘hides his face’. He is ‘on holy ground’, not because the location is special, but because God is tangibly present.
A name, ‘I am who I am’. Theologians tell us the language suggests One Who is eternal, without beginning or end. Some also see implied One Who is all-powerful, Whose purpose cannot be thwarted. Jewish scribes copying a passage like this had to observe elaborate rituals to show reverence for this name. Interestingly when Christ used it of Himself some people tried to stone Him for blasphemy!
A Deity Who is compassionate and active on behalf of His people and all-powerful to overthrow and punish those who worship false ‘gods’ or act like little tyrannical ‘gods’ themselves. People shouldn’t mess with the real thing!
We also see here a reluctant prophet. If you read on into the next chapter Moses tries to get out of his commission, prompting wonderful if daunting reassurances from the Lord. Apparently God uses real human beings like Moses to further His purposes on earth. Real people like us.
We should perhaps brace ourselves for some epic adventures of our own!
Genesis 15 The Seeds of Faith (10.2.21)
Genesis is the book of beginnings. It’s where we read of creation, of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah and the flood which could have almost been the end but for the grace of the Creator providing for salvation and new beginning.
It is also where we read of God’s initiative of choosing and saving a people for Himself, particularly blessing Jacob and his somewhat dysfunctional family as an exercise in grace, not to mention longsuffering patience!
But actually the story begins with Jacob’s grandfather…
It seemed impossible, a ludicrous suggestion, that this elderly couple could now suddenly have a child. They had been unable to have children up to now. Abram was wealthy but he and his wife Sarah had no family to carry on his name or inherit his possessions.
God chose to show grace to Abram and promised him not just a son, but descendants as numerous as the stars, and the land of Canaan for them to inhabit.
Improbable to say the least!
But Abram chose to believe God’s word, unlikely as it seemed. Not only was the promise fulfilled some years later in the birth of son Isaac, grandsons Jacob and Esau and the development of the nation of Israel from the tribes fathered by Jacob’s twelve sons, but significantly God was pleased.
V 6 is the key: ‘Abram believed the Lord and He credited it to him as righteousness.’ Centuries later the Apostle Paul would discuss this in detail in the New Testament, Romans 4.
Abraham, as he became known, was the prototype believer, a flawed human being who responded to God’s grace with faith and subsequently received blessing for himself and his household.
Those who follow his example and trust in Jesus, God’s living ‘Word’, can expect no less!
1.2.21 – ‘The Bible Project’ has produced an excellent series of introductions to the various books of the Bible. They can all be found on Youtube. Have a listen to this one setting out the main themes from Genesis 1 – 11.
Genesis ch 1-3 How do we make sense of the world in which we live?
It’s so wonderful in some ways and dreadful in others. How do we reconcile the beauty with the danger, the brilliance with the disaster, selfless courage one minute and selfish cruelty the next?
Understanding our origins is a good start and the first few chapters of the Bible’s first book, Genesis, help us in this.
Scientists, impressed with the mathematical precision of the universe, wonder how such order could have come about by random processes.(1) It didn’t. The farthest galaxy and the most microscopic detail were designed and brought into being by a Creator. Note how in ch 1 God celebrates the order, quality, variety and colour of all He makes. He says it’s good.
In both chs 1 and 2 particular attention is given to the human race. We are described as being distinct from other species, ‘made in His image’. Things like gender, equality, marriage and responsible supervision of environment and resources are established as part of the blueprint for our benefit as God blesses our first ancestors.
So what went wrong? Read ch 3. We did, and still do!
Choosing to put us all outside God’s blessing, Adam and Eve joined the tempter in declaring proud self-sufficiency, breaking the only rule they’d been given and inviting judgement. Banished from Eden and estranged from our Maker, human beings and the natural order itself are languishing under a curse that brings difficulty, pain, sickness and death.
So things are still astounding and beautiful but compromised, broken and spoiled for now.
The hope is in the hint of grace near the end of ch 3. Even as The Creator solemnly and sadly pronounces righteous judgement, He shows pity and compassion, clothing these first sinners and promising that one day one of their descendants would ‘bruise the serpent’s head’, remove the curse and reopen the way to life.
The stage is set for the epic story of salvation. The world needs a Saviour.
(1) World renowned scientist Francis Collins (who headed the Human Genome Project, mapping human DNA) is just one of many scientists who are also practising Christians. In his 2007 book ‘The Language of God’, Collins argues science and faith are completely compatible.
Home Bible Study Group (currently not meeting)
If you are free on a Thursday morning, why not go along to our Home Group? There is a chance to learn from God’s Word and to share the experiences of others in a warm and relaxed atmosphere. Follow the church announcements to find out more.