Daily Update #242

Today’s readings are: Isaiah 50:5-10, Psalm 70 and John 13:21-32.

The Lord’s Obedient Servant
The Sovereign Lord has given me his words of wisdom,
    so that I know how to comfort the weary.
Morning by morning he wakens me
    and opens my understanding to his will.
The Sovereign Lord has spoken to me, and I have listened.
    I have not rebelled or turned away.
I offered my back to those who beat me
    and my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard.
I did not hide my face from mockery and spitting.
Because the Sovereign Lord helps me, I will not be disgraced.
Therefore, I have set my face like a stone, determined to do his will.
    And I know that I will not be put to shame.
He who gives me justice is near.
    Who will dare to bring charges against me now?
Where are my accusers?
    Let them appear!
See, the Sovereign Lord is on my side!
    Who will declare me guilty?
All my enemies will be destroyed like old clothes that have been eaten by moths!
10 Who among you fears the Lord and obeys his servant?
If you are walking in darkness, without a ray of light,
trust in the Lord and rely on your God.
 

As we come to the close of Lent and turn our thoughts towards the last few days in the life of Jesus, we are reminded of this prophecy in Isaiah, entitled the Lord’s obedient servant.

We start this passage with the uplifting words that the Sovereign Lord gives his servant words of wisdom and understanding. We know from reading the Gospel stories that Jesus often disappeared off on his own to spend time with God in prayer and it was through this close relationship that God entrusted Jesus with wisdom and understanding. But there is one small caveat, which we find in verse 5 – the prophet says “I have listened!”

So often, we seek God for wisdom in an advisory capacity. You know what I mean – asking God for his input, only to add it to the mix of our own thoughts or even other people’s opinions as to what is best. Then we decide what to do. The outcome is never as good as if we had just obeyed in the first place. Perhaps it is that we are a product of our culture, or just our own pride, that many of us are not overly keen on being told what to do. However, here we gain an important insight into why Jesus was so successful in his ministry. He listened to God and obeyed what God told him to do. As a man, Jesus would have faced all the same temptations we do. But every time, he brought his own will under the authority of God and chose obedience. Indeed, this is underlined again in verse 7, where the servant declares: “I have set my face like a stone, determined to do his will”.

This determination prevails in verse 6 as the servant describes exactly what would happen to Jesus, the ultimate servant when he was handed over to his captors.

Interestingly, the servant offers his own back. It is not that he passively accepts the assaults – but rather he chooses to go out to meet his attackers. We see this in our New Testament reading today, Jesus decides when the time is right to send Judas off to betray him (John 13:28) and in that moment he sets the chain of events that leads up to his trial and crucifixion.

It was the servant’s obedience to speaking out the words God gave him, that led to him being attacked and so it was with Jesus – speaking truth to power was what led the Jewish leaders to finally decide to kill him.

Despite this, we see the servant’s amazing confidence. He knows that he will be not be ashamed and that God, the ultimate Judge is near. In verse 8, the servant almost taunts his accusers – “where are you?” This reminds me of when David said to Goliath and the Philistines:  “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.” (1 Samuel 17:45) And we know how that ended. So too, with the enemies of the Lord. Verse 9 tells us that they will be destroyed.

This small passage has given us a great snapshot of Jesus – God spoke to Jesus. He listened and obeyed. He trusted in the Sovereign Lord and despite everything that happened to him, God ultimately vindicated him. We can take heart from this message, especially the final verse, where the prophet encourages us: “if we fear the lord and obey his servant”, even if we are “walking in darkness, without a ray of light, we can trust in the Lord and rely on God”.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, as our thoughts turn toward Easter, once again, we are becoming more aware of the amazing sacrifice you made on our behalf. Thank you for showing us how to live. Help us to listen as you did and to choose to be obedient in both the seemingly small things and the large challenges we face. Show us where we don’t trust you, so that we can hand over our mistrust and learn to trust you more. Amen

Tomorrow’s readings are: Exodus12:1-14, Psalm 116:1, 10-end and John 13:1-17, 31b -35

Service for Sunday 28th March

This week we are streaming our service live from the church via Zoom, starting at 10am. If you are on the St. John’s mailing list you will have been sent the connection details, if not please email admin@stjohnssouthbourne.com and we will them to you. This is our first time going live, please pray all goes well!

A recording of the service will be uploaded on the ‘online church‘ page later in the day.

Daily Update #241

Pause:  As we prepare to look at God’s Word let us quieten our minds, so that
   His Holy Spirit may speak to us today.

Readings:  Jeremiah 20 : 10-13;  Psalm 18 : 1-6;  John 10 : 31- 42

“I love you, Lord, my strength.  The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.”  Psalm 18 : 1-2

King David was a very complex character, as you will know if you have read any of his history in the Old Testament.  He was chosen by God to be the king, anointed when he was a young lad, became a great fighter and a great king, but had many failings as well.  His story, in the books of Samuel, Kings and Chronicles, is brutally honest at times, but the Bible never glosses over people’s failings.
For me, however, the best part of David’s life story is the legacy he has left in the book of Psalms.  At times David faced great problems, both within himself and from others, at times he seemed to feel that God was far from him, at times he almost seems to shout out to God for help, but the over-riding thought through these wonderful poems and songs is that David comes across as a man of great faith.  That strength of faith comes across in Psalm 18, which he sang to the Lord when the Lord delivered him from his enemies and from Saul, who sought to kill him.  As I read this Psalm, and particularly the first two verses, three words seemed to be worthy of further consideration this morning.
Firstly, David says that God is his rock, the rock in whom he takes refuge.  At times the Bible speaks of the rock on which we can firmly stand, but here the thought is of a cleft in the rock, offering a secure hiding place in times of danger.  Of course, we need both of these thoughts.  We need to know that our faith is on a firm foundation, and we also need to know that in times of danger or need we can be sure of a safe refuge in God.
Secondly, David speaks of God as his fortress, his stronghold, and the picture here is of a high place of security, out of the reach of the enemy.  Somewhere between 1527 and 1529 Martin Luther took up this theme, when he wrote that wonderful hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”.  In this hymn Luther recognises that although there is a spiritual battle that we are all engaged in, Christ is the victor and we can know security in him.
Thirdly, David speaks of God as his deliverer or rescuer.  As I mentioned earlier this Psalm was written when the Lord saved David from his enemies, and although we may not face the same sort of battles that David did, we do still have battles to face in our lives today.  Those battles may come in various guises; our health, our wealth, Covid-19, family problems, and of course our failure to keep to God’s laws.  However, we too have a deliverer, a rescuer, in the person of Jesus Christ.  If we have put our faith in Jesus as our Lord and Saviour then we have a rescuer who will never leave us, for that is his promise to each one of us.
My prayer for each one of us today is that we, like David, will know beyond all doubt that our God is with us whatever life throws at us, that he can be trusted, and that we are safe and secure in his never-failing love.

A prayer:  Lord, in the storms of life, bid us come to you, that we, who are aware of our weakness, may be made strong; through the power of Christ our Lord, Amen.

The Big Quiz – 26th March

The Big Love Southbourne Quiz! will be live, right here at 7.15pm on the last Friday of each month. Anyone can play; individuals, couples, families or groups connected by their own video conference. 20 questions in 4 rounds, plus a special double points bonus question! All you will need is a pen & paper to write down your answers. Click here to play!

Daily Update #240

10 Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, 11 “Ask the Lord your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.”

12 But Ahaz said, “I will not ask; I will not put the Lord to the test.”

13 Then Isaiah said, “Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of humans? Will you try the patience of my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.

Isaiah 7:10-14

If someone was to ask you whether God existed or not, what would you say?  As you’re reading this, I’m hoping you will be looking for a convincing argument to show that God does indeed exist (if not, see me afterwards!).  

Would you reach for nature?  The clear evidence of intelligent design in all that has been created?  The irreducible complexity of plants and animals which show the handiwork of our creator God?  

Another way of approaching this issue is to look at God’s self-revelation in the pages of scripture.  Isaiah would clearly lean towards this approach.  Later on in Isaiah (e.g. chapter 48) he notes that only the Lord God can create and shape all the he has made, only the Lord God can announce in advance what is to happen and then bring it about in power.  What Isaiah prophesied was announced well in advance and sure enough, in due course, it has come about.  

The prophecy in our passage today is arguably one of the most glorious examples.  While King Ahaz would have understood this as a prediction of the destruction of his enemies within a few years (he was facing a serious threat from Syria and the Northern kingdom of Israel), we know that Isaiah’s prophecy has a much richer and deeper meaning.  The Lord invites Ahaz to ask him for a sign, one which transcends creation (deeper that the deepest depths, i.e. beyond hell itself; or higher than heaven) and Ahaz piously refuses to ask for a sign.  While this sounds good to him, God sees right through Ahaz, as he has already sought human help by inviting Tiglath-Pileser, the king of Assyria, to attack his Syrian and Israelite enemies, rejecting God’s deliverance and his sign (see 2 Kings 16).  Isaiah then gives Ahaz his sign regardless.  

Today, we know that this prophecy of Isaiah given in around 734 BC looks forward to the virgin birth of Jesus of Nazareth, who would come to be Immanuel, God with us.  The true Lord God of heaven and earth, who stands outside of time, for whom a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like a day, spoke this prophecy through Isaiah.  Hundreds of years later something which is humanly-speaking impossible takes place.  A virgin does indeed conceive and give birth to the Son of God, Immanuel.  

So what are we to learn from this passage?  How can we apply it to ourselves?  I hope that this passage will give you great confidence as you share the hope that you have with others around you.  The Lord God of heaven and earth has called you to faith in him and provided scripture which reveals him and his purposes to all who will read it with an open and enquiring mind, ready to hear him speak.  His strong desire is to call sinners to repentance and faith (Mark 1:15), to reconcile people everywhere to himself.  The message God gives is clear and persuasive.  If anyone fails to respond that is down to their hardness of heart and to the blinding of their eyes by the god of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4).  So we can speak boldly and with confidence about what we read in the scriptures.  We can also pray that God himself will do the miraculous work of softening hard hearts, unstopping deaf ears and opening blind eyes.  It’s only through a supernatural work of God that we came to hear and understand.  Let’s pray that God will do similar work with our relatives, family, friends and colleagues.  We pray and watch God in action!  

Tomorrow’s passages:  Jeremiah 20:10-13    Psalm 18:1-6    John 10:31-end

Prayer Meeting – Sunday 28th March

Our usual meeting to pray as a whole church on the first Sunday of each month is being brought forward by one week, as the first Sunday in April is Easter Day. Do please join us at this meeting on 28th March!

We will be praying for outreach work among children and families (Richard, Kim and the team), our Alpha courses and all the other activities at St. John’s, both in the parish and more widely.

We have decided to have a regular mission slot at each of our prayer meetings. This time we will be joined by Ian Maclennan from our Mission Partners Japan Christian Link. Ian will be sharing something about the mission and also points for praise and prayer.

Date for your diaries: Sue Fallon of Emmanuel International will be sharing praise and prayer points for her mission at our meeting on Sunday, 2nd May, don’t miss it!
“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”James 5:16

Please email admin@stjohnssouthbourne.com for Zoom details.

Daily Update #239

Daniel Chapter 3

This is an encouraging story about faith vs power.

King Nebuchadnezzar’s beliefs about who he was, and about how powerfully he was led him to erect a golden image. Everyone was to bow to this image during a time of worship. Faithful Jews, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are put on the spot for refusing,v14. Worship this image or die is his threat. Nebuchadnezzar has a reputation for burning people(Jer29:22),the stakes are as high as they could be. Note the threat,  ‘If……, but if not……’, verse15.

Nebuchadnezzar makes the failure to worship this idol treason. He blends religious and political power together to build on his standing. People familiar with persecuted churches will no doubt be familiar with this toxic mix and it shows there is nothing new when politicians try to consolidate their power with religious fervour. For example:

In 1936 Herr Baldur von Schirach, head of the youth program in Nazi Germany, said: “If we act as true Germans we act according to the laws of God. Whoever serves Adolf Hitler, the fuehrer, serves Germany, and whoever serves Germany serves God.” In 1960 the President of Ghana had a slightly larger than life-size statue of himself erected in front of the national house of Parliament, with the inscription, “Seek ye first the political kingdom and all other things shall be added unto you.”

None of us could really say how we might respond without being in those situations. We may hope to stand firm, but there are many things that could draw us away. We would be wise to recognise and ‘weigh’ such attachments, how reliant are we upon them? Thankfully we do not live in that kind of regime, laws do not yet compel us to compromise our faith, though they possibly could under new laws. We should also remember those who have and still live under tremendous threat of persecution, many of them in the same region where this story takes place.(1)

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego’s response was to stand firm. But not in their own strength. In fact not even on a verse of scripture. They stood on what they knew about God, that as the one true God, he was worthy of worship above and beyond that of Nebuchadnezzar’s gods, decrees and ambitions. We should note their answer, ‘If this be so…., but if not……’ We so often want to know the outcome in advance, we may even say I will trust God if…’ But there is none of that here, they even clarify, ‘but if not, we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image you have set up.’

Thankfully we know how this story concludes. God sends an angel to be with them in the fire, who protected them and demonstrated to Nebuchadnezzar that God was indeed willing to save them. Their hair and clothes aren’t even singed, v27.
Perhaps you sometimes feel overwhelmed because there is nothing you can do. We have few choices and feel boxed in. We might genuinely grieve the situation. We might wish things were different. We may even  grumble or be angry because this is not what we expected or calculate what we might lose. But what Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego show is that whatever the outcome, they would not give up on God. They fully believed their lives were in his hands. Whatever happened.

(1) https://www.opendoorsuk.org/persecution/world-watch-list/

Prayer
Why not pray through Psalm 23 today to remind yourself of God’s faithful care. Maybe let go of one or two things or ideas that aren’t helpful and praise god that he is good, all the time, all the time, he is good.
We could also pray for the persecuted church and those we know who remains faithful instead of fearful.

Merciful Father, we cry to you from the depths of our concern for those wrongly imprisoned or held captive: for those trying to secure their release, that the ways of peace and diplomacy may prevail over acts of violence and aggression, that their captors may know a change of heart; through him who was sent to proclaim liberty for captives and to set free those who are oppressed, your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen

Service on Sunday 28th March

This week the service will be streamed live from the Church at 10am. If you would like to watch, please email admin@stjohnssouthbourne.com for the Zoom link. If you are unable to join live, a recording of the service will be available on the church website on Sunday afternoon. This is our first time doing this – please bear with us as we get used to the technology. 

Daily Update #238

Josh 2:1-14                             Psalm 23                                 John 8:1-11

Which side are you on?
 For once I’m going to turn down the opportunity of writing about our Shepherd King (Psalm 23) and reflect on Rahab the harlot!
Then Joshua son of Nun secretly sent two spies from Shittim. ‘Go, look over the land,’ he said, ‘especially Jericho.’ So they went and entered the house of a prostitute named Rahab and stayed there.
The king of Jericho was told, ‘Look, some of the Israelites have come here tonight to spy out the land.’ So the king of Jericho sent this message to Rahab: ‘Bring out the men who came to you and entered your house, because they have come to spy out the whole land.’
But the woman had taken the two men and hidden them. She said, ‘Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where they had come from. At dusk, when it was time to close the city gate, they left. I don’t know which way they went. Go after them quickly. You may catch up with them.’ (But she had taken them up to the roof and hidden them under the stalks of flax she had laid out on the roof.) So the men set out in pursuit of the spies on the road that leads to the fords of the Jordan, and as soon as the pursuers had gone out, the gate was shut.
Before the spies lay down for the night, she went up on the roof and said to them, ‘I know that the Lord has given this land to you and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. 10 We have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed. 11 When we heard of it, our hearts sank and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.
12 ‘Now then, please swear to me by the Lord that you will show kindness to my family, because I have shown kindness to you. Give me a sure sign 13 that you will spare the lives of my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them – and that you will save us from death.’
14 ‘Our lives for your lives!’ the men assured her. ‘If you don’t tell what we are doing, we will treat you kindly and faithfully when the Lord gives us the land.’ If you have been reading the book ‘Gentle and Lowly’ by Dane Ortlund, or following Matt’s Lenten reflections on a Wednesday, you might have been overwhelmed by the truth that Jesus’ mercy extends infinitely beyond our sins. The book brings to light many mind-blowing insights into how generous our God is toward us. Today’s reading from the start of the book of Joshua, outlines how the Jews took possession of the promised land. It points to an example of how Jesus’ gentle and lowly characteristics are also seen in God the Father too.
The spies were sent undercover into Jericho, although God did not need any intelligence gathering for his plans. The action was to provide encouragement to the Jewish people on the eve of their invasion campaign. I wonder if one of the two spies was called Salmon?[1] It was probably a clever move hiding in a house of ‘ill repute’, as different men coming and going would have been quite common, so therefore less noticeable.
The encouragement today is how Rahab recognised God which resulted in turning her life around, and quite literally saving it too! She declared the truth of who the God of Israel really is (verse 11). Rahab clearly recognised which side she should be on in the forthcoming conflict. There is little detail of her life subsequent to the sacking of Jericho, although she is recorded as being the mother of Boaz (with the father being Salmon). Doesn’t that name ring a bell? Boaz married Ruth, who was also a Gentile who recognised the true God and became the great grandmother to King David. Follow the blood line down to Jesus in Luke 4 or Matthew 1.
Rahab’s acknowledgement of the true God and her actions was credited to her (see James 2:25).
So, if today you are feeling that your past is unworthy and have let God down, remember God’s infinite capacity for forgiveness when we repent and acknowledge our sins and shortcomings. The powerful forgiveness from our gentle and lowly saviour releases us to move forward with the joy and hope to do the work he has set before us.
Amen

Prayer
Dear Lord,
We choose you! We praise you for the sheer abundance of your provision to us. Despite our past and our failings, you have provided access to the heavenlies through the blood of your dear son Jesus. Help us to declare, .like Rahab, that you are the God of heaven above and the earth below, Hallelujah!

Amen


[1] “The name’s Ben-Nashon, Salmon Ben-Nashon”, spy Number 001

Daily Update #237

St. John’s SouthbourneDaily Reflection by David Poulter

Pause:  “I will sing of the Lord’s great love for ever; with my mouth I will make your faithfulness known through all generations.  I will declare that your love stands firm for ever, that you have established your faithfulness in heaven itself.”
                                                                                                Psalm 89 : 1 – 2
 
Readings:  2 Samuel 4 : 7 – 16; Psalm 89 : 27 – 36; Matthew 1 : 18 – 21
 
“This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: his mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit.   Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
 
This may seem to be an unusual reading for the middle of Lent.  Normally we read the first chapter of Matthew’s Gospel during Advent, together with the Old Testament prophecies, as part of our preparation for Christmas, when we celebrate the birth of the baby Jesus.  In Lent we are looking towards the events leading up to Holy Week and the crucifixion, and then on to Easter Sunday, when we celebrate with great joy the resurrection of our Lord and Saviour Jesus.  So how are these verses from this Gospel relevant to the middle of Lent?  As I prayed about this, two thoughts came to mind.
 
Firstly, In Joseph’s dream the angel of the Lord tells him that this pregnancy is no ordinary one.  As I mentioned earlier, it is usually in the weeks before Christmas when we hear again the Old Testament promises that God would send a Saviour, and that he would be born of a virgin.  Here, in his dream, the angel reveals to Joseph these promises are now coming true, that Mary has indeed conceived through the Holy Spirit, and that he should take her into his home as his wife.  Of course, this sets Jesus apart from every one of us.  We know that God is our Creator, but human conception comes about through a male and a female.  This assurance would no doubt have encouraged both Mary and Joseph through their years with their first-born son, and certainly was something that Mary could perhaps draw strength from when those dreadful events of Holy Week and Good Friday took place.
 
Secondly, the angel gave Joseph that amazing promise that this son of theirs would be the long-awaited Saviour, the one who would save his people from their sins. As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, before the resurrection of Jesus the priests had to offer an annual sacrifice for the sins of the people, and this had to be repeated every year.  Jesus, through his sinless life, his death on the cross, and his resurrection, offers everyone, not just the Jews, complete forgiveness.  When we fail God, when we fall short of his standards, we can ask for his forgiveness knowing that in Jesus we have a perfect Saviour.
 
These truths hold true not just for Advent or Lent, but for every part of every year.  We have a loving heavenly Father, who willingly gave his beloved Son to live an earthly life, and ultimately to pay the price for the sins of every one of us.  We have a loving Saviour, Jesus Christ, who, as it says in Hebrews 12 v 2, “for the joy that was set before him…endured the cross…”, in order to bring us into the heavenly family.  And we have a loving Holy Spirit, the one who is with us and who is in us, to teach us and strengthen us in our walk of faith.
 
Lord, open our eyes to your presence, open our ears to your call, open our hearts to your love, that we may give ourselves to you and walk before you as children of light, through him who is the Light of the World, Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.