Categories
Reflections

Find Strength in God

And Saul’s son Jonathan went to David at Horesh and helped him find strength in God. (1 Sam 23:16)

Many people are finding life difficult at the moment. Last Monday was the day known as “Blue Monday”. According to psychologist Cliff Arnall the third Monday in January is the most depressing day of the year! Thus the name “Blue Monday”. Additionally, this year in the UK we are also in our third lockdown. Not really a great combination. Whether or not last Monday is the most depressing day is obviously not a fact but life is not easy for many at the moment.

What do we do in the current situation to cope in these difficult times?

Do we spend more time on social media?

Do we binge watch loads of stuff on Netflix?

Do we try and drown our sorrows by excessive drinking?

Do we go out for long walks everyday?

Do we spend all day in bed and just hope the situation improves?

David, before he came king, was facing a very difficult situation with King Saul. He was in the wilderness with his group of 600 men and Saul was searching for him with his army. We are told that day after day Saul was searching for David. This must have been a very difficult stressful time for David. Although David had known the presence of God with him, he was also, like you and I, a human being too. When you hear that someone is searching for you with the intention of killing you then it would be understandable if you got very worried and concerned.

And then we are told that Jonathan, Saul’s son, went to meet David at a place called Horesh and helped him find strength in God. We are not told what Jonathan did. Perhaps he reminded David of how God had given him victory over Goliath. Maybe he reminded David of the deliverance of the Israelites from the Egyptians. We are not told. It simply says that he “helped him find strength in God”

Three brief but important thoughts strike me from that verse:

Look to God

When we are facing problems we need to look to God for His help. We cannot do things in our strength. Many of us think we can. But we cannot. Our pride might not like that but it is true nevertheless.

Life might be a lot easier if we just recognised that. God’s strength is mighty, ours is not. Look to Him. Do not look to the solutions I mentioned earlier, instead we should be “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” (Hebrews 12:3)

We need others

We do not exist on our own as Christians. We are part of Christ’s family and share our faith with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Although we can meet God anywhere, He will often use others to help us and to be a blessing to us. You will never reach the point when you outgrow the need for the help and support of other believers.

Others need us

Jonathan was able to bless and help his friend. We should look to encourage and support our fellow believers, especially during these difficult days. Let us aim to encourage them to keep on going and not give up. Being a Christian is not just about us. There are others in our family we need to support.

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” (1 Thess 5:11)

Whatever situation you may be in today look to the Lord and find your strength in Him.

Categories
Social Media

How Should We Use Social Media?

In the light of Donald Trump recently being banned from Twitter I thought it would be good to consider how we should use social media. It goes without saying that social media can be used for both good and bad purposes. In that light how should we use it? In no particular order here are some ideas of how we can use it well.

SPEAK THE TRUTH

When we post anything on social media we should try at all times to tell the truth. This may well mean that we have to research something, checking out the facts before posting, rather than share any old information. If it is impossible for something to be true and there is no evidence to support it, then best practice is not to post it. We should not deliberately share things that we know are lies. Instead we should aim to build our online timeline with truthful statements.

I know that some are very interested in conspiracy theories, but we need to check the credibility of the theory before posting. In recent times some have claimed that 5G is linked to coronavirus. However, there is absolutely no proof of this. Therefore posting statements linking the two is irresponsible and should be avoided.

Speaking the truth can be very powerful and the footballer Marcus Radford has done a wonderful job in the last few months raising awareness of child hunger in the United Kingdom. He has shown that injustices can be raised and tackled via social media.

THINK BEFORE YOU POST

It really should be obvious that it is important to think you post. Ask yourself: do I really need to post that? Once you post something then someone will see your post. Even if you delete it and hope no-one notices, someone will see it, and it might still come back to haunt you.

If you are angry then the best advise is do not post! Unfortunately, if you post when you are angry you will invariable post something that you will regret and could cause a whole lot of trouble, even if you delete it. Go for a walk, count to hundred, wait until you calm down before posting.

We also should be careful which posts we like and share too. When doing this we are endorsing their views and saying that we agree with it. Ask yourself if you really agree with their opinion before doing this. I know I have liked things and then realised that was not appropriate and had to go back and unlike them!

AIM FOR EDIFYING POSTS

I wonder how much different social media would be if we always aimed for our posts to be edifying to others? Why not make it your goal to post things that encourage and help others. How about having a policy of not criticising others on social media? It can be done!

We need to remember that there are real people on social media. You will never know the effect for good or bad your posting might have on others.

YOU CAN DISAGREE WITHOUT ARGUING

I am not sure why but social media does seem to encourage some to argue. Somebody may be nice and polite in real life but once behind a keyboard they become a completely different person.

Social media is not really the best place to have a proper sensible discussion, especially with the character limits in Twitter. If we do have discussions online then we need to learn to accept different views. If someone has a different view to you on a subject there is the possibility that they might be right and you might be wrong! Please remember that there are subjects on which you can disagree and still remain friends. And be ready to apologise if you are wrong about something.

Sadly it is very easy to get involved in pointless arguments. You only have to read comments to Facebook posts or YouTube videos to see this.

SOCIAL MEDIA IS NOT REAL LIFE

Whilst social media can be enjoyable we must remember that it is not real life. There is a life outside of social media and you certainly do not need to spend your whole life on social media. Neither do you need to share everything single thing you do or think either. Take breaks from social media and enjoy the real world.

MOTTO FOR SOCIAL MEDIA

In conclusion, although social media did not exist when the New Testament was written, there is a verse in the book of James which we could aim to use as our motto for social media:

Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19)

Categories
Reflections

The Magi, Chief Priests and Teachers of the Law

Today is Epiphany, when the Western Church remembers the Magi visiting Jesus as described in Matthew 2. This is a very familiar piece of scripture which many of us have probably read or heard read to us dozens of times.

Last Sunday our sermon was preached from Matthew 2:1-12 and the preacher had some interesting thoughts about the chief priests and teachers of the law, mentioned below, who I had not previously thought much about before:

When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

It is obvious from the response of the chief priests and teachers of the law that they were fully aware of where the Messiah was to be born. They knew the scriptures. However, strangely they did not seem to be interested in the journey of the Magi and meeting the child, to see if he was the fulfilment of the prophecies.

Why did they not ask to go along with the Magi? Bethlehem is only about 5 or 6 miles from Jerusalem. Surely that was not too long a journey to undertake to see if the Messiah had at last been born?

Why were they not excited and expectant on hearing about the star? They seem to have no spiritual hunger.

Were they like Herod and the rest of Jerusalem disturbed by this news?

Were they scared of losing their positions in the status quo?

Were they scared of the unknown?

Did they think that God could not possibly reveal the Messiah to gentiles?

Perhaps they were scared of how Herod would react? After all, he was not known as someone who was favourably disposed towards potential rivals!

Our preacher described the chief priests and teachers of the law as having “heads of knowledge and hearts of stone.” How very sad that they could quote the Bible but it did not seem to mean anything to them.

Is there a danger that perhaps we can know spiritual truths intellectually but not in our hearts? Do we quote Bible passages parrot fashion and not know their reality in our lives?

Compare that with the Magi who were overjoyed (v10) when they saw the star stopping over the place where Jesus was, and then bowed down and worshipped Christ offering their treasures to Him (v11).

As we go through 2021 let us not be like the chief priests and teachers of the law, but instead emulate the example of the Magi and seek Him eagerly.

Categories
Reflections

The End of Another Year

As we come to the end of another year we will probably read articles and watch television programmes that review the previous 12 months. I often enjoy watching television reviews of the year, especially the sporting ones. It is amazing how quickly you can forget sporting events that occurred several months ago and enjoy watching them again.

This year has obviously been a very difficult and different one for most people. The word unprecedented has been used many times to describe it. I expect most of us will be glad to see the back of it. Perhaps we hope to wake up on 1 January 2021 and discover that 2020 has just been one bad nightmare!

When reviewing and reflecting over this past year there will be both good and bad memories for all of us. There will be things that bring a smile to our face but mixed with these there will also be events that make us feel sad too. Looking back honestly normally involves laughter and tears.

When looking back we will remember our sins and mistakes of the last 12 months. These sins can spiritually cripple us if we constantly dwell on them. Instead of lingering on them we need to confess our sins to God, forsake them and receive the wonderful forgiveness that Christ Jesus offers us.

We will recall opportunities that presented themselves to us. Some of these we took but others we missed. Those missed opportunities will not return to us and this could cause us to despair. There is nothing to be gained by constantly beating ourselves up, wishing we could turn the clock back and change events. We cannot change the past. The past is the past. It is gone. Instead of despairing we must put those wasted opportunities into God’s hands and then leave them in His hands.

On thinking about the new year perhaps we are excited about the future or maybe we are very worried. None of us know what the next 12 months will bring. We hope that it will be better than the previous 12 months, but we cannot guarantee that.

We can pray about the future and make plans. However as we have seen this year sometimes unexpected events occur preventing these plans from being fulfilled. Therefore, as we face the future we need to have open hands and commit our future into God’s hands, not worrying but trusting Him to work out His good purposes in our lives.

The above thoughts are inspired by a reflection written by Oswald Chambers and I shall conclude by a direct quote from it:

Leave the broken, irreversible past in God’s hands, and step out into the invincible future with Him.

Categories
Reflections

Good News that will Cause Great Joy for All the People

Shortly after Jesus was born an angel of the Lord appeared to some shepherds who were nearby and said:

Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:10-12)

That is a very familiar passage of scripture to many of us and perhaps we gloss over it quickly without paying it much attention. There are some amazing truths in these words from the angel. I especially like the fact that we are told that this good news will cause great joy for all the people.

Currently there does not appear to be much good news or great joy around. Last Saturday many people’s Christmas plans were ruined following the announcement of tighter restrictions to combat the spread of the new variant of Covid-19. Sadly, due to the late change of government policy concerning Christmas, many of us will be facing a very different celebration this week then we had planned a few days ago.

However, whilst the government may have cancelled our planned Christmas celebrations, you cannot cancel Christmas itself. Why you might ask? Well because at Christmas we are remembering the birth of Jesus and that has already happened!

As we have seen in the verses from Luke, Jesus has already been born. And it is: “good news that will cause great joy for all the people.”

Maybe you are feeling fed up about your Christmas being ruined? Maybe you feel totally devastated at the end of a dreadful year? Maybe you have lost all hope?

Whatever your personal circumstances remember these three things:

  • The birth of Jesus was and is still in 2020 good news.
  • The birth of Jesus did cause great joy and will still in 2020 cause great joy.
  • The birth of Jesus was and still is in 2020 for all the people.

This Christmas put your hope and trust in Jesus and know He is the “good news that will cause great joy for all the people.”

Categories
Bible

Reading the Old Testament in 2021

I think that if we are honest with ourselves there are parts of the Bible that we probably do not read very often. There may even be sections of the Old Testament that we have never read at all.

With that in mind it is interesting to observe that towards the end of his life, in what was probably his final letter, Paul wrote the following words to Timothy:

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3: 16-17).

The first two words of the above are especially worth noting “All Scripture

The phrase “All Scripture” does not seem to leave much room to exclude anything! I expect on hearing that phrase some questions come to your mind such as:

But what about those last few chapters in Exodus covering the building of the tabernacle that I do not really understand?

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

Ok but I really find Leviticus difficult to understand. Is that included too?

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

How about those chapters in Joshua concerning the allocation of the promised land?

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

What about the first few chapters of 1 Chronicles with all those family trees?

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

What about those minor prophets and all those images of judgement?

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

Now obviously there are some parts of the Old Testament that are at face value harder to read and understand. In addition to the above examples you may have some that spring to mind. However, to enable us to get the most out of God’s word it is important that we read it all. If we only read the New Testament then we are missing out on seeing all God did in the Old Testament with his people Israel.

There are so many great and inspiring stories in the Old Testament: Ruth’s loyalty to her mother-in law Naomi (Ruth 1:16-17); Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego’s determination not to compromise their faith (Daniel 3) and David humbling himself before God after his sin with Bathsheba (Psalm 51) to name but three.

Therefore may I encourage you in 2021 to consider reading the whole Bible? Yes even those difficult pieces that you would normally avoid. And remember as you read:

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

Categories
Bible

Reading through the Bible Chronologically in 2021

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Have you ever read through the whole Bible in a year?

The prospect of reading through the Bible in a year may appear a daunting task when first considering this challenge. Many might think that it is impossible for them to do this. Perhaps you have tried in the past but given up after a couple of months. It might surprise you however, to know that it only takes between 15 to 20 minutes of reading each day to do this. Yes that is right only 15 to 20 minutes each day and you will read through the Bible in a year!

When we consider the amount of time we spend daily watching You Tube videos, Netflix’s or television, then surely such a small amount of time each day can be found to read the scriptures in 2021?

Now that we have seen that reading through the Bible in a year in not quite the impossible task we imagined, we can move onto thinking of the best way for us to do this.

There are many different ways of reading through the Bible. If you visit your local Christian bookshop or type “bible readings plans” into your favourite search engine, you will see a variety of options that can be used.

Reading the Bible chronologically

One of my favourite ways of reading through the scriptures in a year is to read through the Bible chronologically. The main benefit of reading the Bible chronologically is that it enhances our understanding of the historical context of the individual books of the Bible and the timeline of events.

I have personally found that to read the Bible chronologically is especially helpful when reading the Old Testament. This has helped me to see where books like Job, Obadiah, Joel and Malachi fit into the history of God’s dealings with his people. It is also interesting to see when the various different Psalms were written too (for example: Psalm 51 follows Nathan confronting David in 2 Samuel 12).

When reading the New Testament it is also useful for looking at each of Paul’s letters and seeing at which stage of his missionary travels they were written.

There are a number of plans available for those wishing to read through the Bible chronologically. The two below are ones you could use:

One Year Chronological Bible

This plan can be found both on the Bible.com website and via the YouVersion app on either your phone or tablet. Thereby enabling you to carry the plan around with you at all times. And it is free!

Cover to Cover Through the Bible As It Happened

I personally have used this reading plan which is produced by CWR. This is an edition of the Bible that is split into 365 different readings with various helpful notes and maps that assist the reader as they read through the scriptures.

If you have not yet read through the scriptures this way, why not make 2021 the year you read through the Bible chronologically?

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Useful Links

Encouraging Articles

This week I am sharing some links to articles written by other Christians that I have found helpful. I have included an extract from the article beneath the link to give an indication of the content of the article.

Advent in a Global Pandemic

Advent, the season of waiting and preparation before the high feast of Christmas, is a chance to regain spiritual sanity, and create fresh and healthier rhythms personally and as a family and as churches. As we enter the six darkest weeks of the year in this hemisphere, we will pivot midway to mark the greatest and brightest turning point in all history: the birth of Christ. And perhaps this Advent will begin restoring what the locusts have taken this year.

Advent doesn’t pretend the darkness is gone. Our lives may yet grow darker. But Advent looks darkness square in the eye and issues this great promise for our season of waiting: darkness will not overcome the Light. It is only a matter of time. And Christmas is just over three weeks away.

How to Pray for the Advent Season

If you’re feeling stressed and over-taxed this Advent season, if you’re feeling lonely and left out, if you’re longing for how things used to be during the holidays of your past, you can still pause and remember the coming of Jesus, both past and future. Praying through the month of December can prepare your heart to focus on Jesus so you don’t miss the days of celebration and remembrance.

Secret Sins Will Harm Others

One of the most treacherous lies we can believe about sin, especially sin we consider private or secret, is that we can keep its consequences to ourselves. That we will be the only ones — if anyone — affected. We rarely consider how our sin inevitably influences others in one way or another.

Behold Your God: A Plea to Look to the Sovereign God

To know that God is completely in control of all things is the greatest comfort for the Christian. In these changing and uncertain times, we have an unchangeable and eternal refuge for our souls, the Lord Jesus Christ. Now, if we are completely honest, this season has brought about much weariness to the soul. We have been pressed and tried on every side. Where do we look to? My friend, by faith, look to the Sovereign Ruler of the skies!

Self-Discipline Is the Gateway to Christian Maturity

Well, there is good news. While some might be more naturally disposed to being disciplined, discipline is not an innate quality some have, and some don’t, like blue eyes or male-pattern baldness. Discipline can be cultivated, it can be grown, and by it we too can grow into Christlikeness. Let’s look at exactly what Christian discipline is, why we so desperately need it, and the practical steps we can take to cultivate discipline in our lives.

Thoughts on Flipping the Bible Open and Reading Wherever You Land (and Recommended Study Resources)

I don’t normally do the “flip the Bible open and put my finger down” method of reading Scripture. However, I used to mock that practice, and I don’t anymore. “Mock” is perhaps too strong of a word, but I used to think, Come on, don’t study the Bible that way. But I’ve often done it and been richly rewarded for it. It’s certainly not my usual way of opening God’s Word each day, but one real positive is that no matter what, you’re still going to end up in the inspired Word of God.

Categories
Work

Tips for Working from Home

Whether you have worked from home for several years or are relatively new to it, it is good to adopt working practices that will benefit you. The following are ones that I have found useful and are tips I would happily pass onto others.

Remember that you are at work

First and foremost it is important to remember that although you may be at home, you are actually supposed to be working! You may be sitting on your favourite chair in your house, but your employer is still paying you. You are at work. Therefore you need to adopt a mindset that remembers this.

There will probably be plenty of distractions at home but these need to be ignored. Some people are comfortable working with music being played and if that is you then fine. However for others this is too distracting.

If your job is one that is a responsive one (i.e. your work is to respond to calls) and you have cleared all your tasks then it might be appropriate to have the television on. You just need to be ready to respond to calls as soon as they arrive in.

Make sure your work station is comfortable

I cannot emphasise how essential it is to ensure that your work station is comfortable. It is not good for anyone to spend any length of time hunched over a laptop. If you persist in doing this you will encounter aches and pains in your neck and shoulders. Do not do this!

Not everyone has a designated room as a home office. Therefore some of us will need to work off the dining room table. If that is you, then I strongly recommend that you purchase an external keyboard to connect to your laptop and find something (for example: box files, hardback book, etc) to place your laptop on to bring it up to eye level. You will not regret this. Trust me! Whatever you do please do not setup your work station like the photo below.

Take breaks from your screen to stretch

No matter how comfortable your work station is our bodies do not like being sat in front of a laptop all day long. The general advice on this is that it is good to take at least a five to ten minute break each hour.

Our bodies can start to ache if we neglect to have breaks. To avoid unnecessary pain it is good to do some gentle stretching exercises to ensure our necks and shoulders remain flexible. I am not suggesting a fully blown workout! Just gently stretching. Trust me it works!

Take a lunch break

Following on from taking short breaks from the screen, it is wise to take an actual lunch break. Switch off your laptop and phone. Get away from your work station and have something to eat and drink. Please do not work straight through lunch. It is not a good habit.

My personal preference to is go for a short walk at lunchtime. I find this very beneficial. Exercise refreshes you not only physically but mentally too. Enjoy the fresh air and the break from work.

Have a start time and end time and stick to them

There does appear to be the temptation for people, when working from home, not to have a set start and end time to the day. It can be easy to work additional hours and not have a set finishing time for the day. Would you stay the night if you were still working in the office? If not then why do the same at home?

Also, there really is no need to spend the whole evening checking your laptop or phone for emails. It is not a good habit to develop. Do not worry the emails will still be there in the morning for you!

Separate work from home

If you are someone who does not have a dedicated office space in your home then you are no doubt working in a common communal part of your house. Therefore it is important to endeavour to separate work from home. You may be working from your dining table, but once you finish for the day you want to avoid staring at anything work related. You are at home and it is time to relax after a day at work. With that in mind, it is essential to put your work stuff away at the end of the day. It is not good for either you or your family to have your work on view on the dining room table each evening.

On a personal note I have found that putting my work equipment away at the end of each day has enabled me to relax and I no longer feel that I am at the office.

Put a padlock on your fridge

Finally, ensure that you have a padlock on your fridge and that someone else has the key to it! For some reason, when working from home, the fridge seems to draw me like a magnet. Too much time in the fridge can lead to putting on the pounds. This needs to be avoided!

Categories
Bible

Bible Reading Notes

When first coming to Christ we are usually taught the importance of spending time with Him each day in bible study and prayer. This is excellent advice because if we wish to grow as believers then we need to continually feed ourselves through the reading of God’s Word.

However, where do we start when first reading the Bible? Do we just start at the beginning in Genesis or should we start with one of the gospels instead?

How do we develop the habit of regularly reading the scriptures?

Also what about those of us who may have been Christians for several years, but if we are honest are struggling to spend time reading the Bible?

I personally would suggest that using Bible reading notes is a good place to start both for the new believer and the experienced one. There are a vast variety of different ones available both in paper and electronic format to aid us in the study of scripture.

The majority of Bible reading notes that I have used over the years follow a similar format:

  • A passage from the Bible
  • Comments from the author on the passage
  • Closing prayer

Some also have further questions, challenges or thoughts for the reader to consider, in addition to the above.

I know not everyone would necessarily agree with my suggestion of using Bible reading notes but I believe there are a number of benefits from using them.

The Development of a daily habit

The vast majority of Bible reading notes have a reading for every day of the week. Therefore just as following a daily dietary or exercise training plan assists us to develop good daily habits in these areas, then using Bible notes can do the same for us spiritually.

Not needing to decide which passage to read each day

There have been times, when not using notes, that I was unsure which book of the Bible to read next. However, this is not an issue when using notes as the decision has already been made for you. All you need to do is read it!

Introduces us to parts of the Bible that we might not normally read

It can be very easy for us just to gravitate towards our favourite passages of scripture. However, Paul told Timothy “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. “

Someone once said to me that when eating food you cannot just eat cakes only! What this person meant was that a varied diet was important. One of the advantages of using notes is the author may spend some time in a part of the Bible that you would not normally read. This will help enrich and deepen our understanding of the whole Bible and how God has worked throughout time.

Introduces us to wide range of contributors

Many Bible reading notes have a range of different contributions who write for them. This provides an opportunity for us to read writings from people who we might not encounter under normal circumstances. It is a good balance to ensure that we do not only read our favourite authors and their particular theology. This may well challenge our thinking on occasions, but hopefully will also enrich us as we consider passages in perhaps a different light than previously.

Exposes us to good Bible teachers

God has given His church those who have the gift of teaching. Therefore using Bible reading notes, written by those with this gift, enables us to benefit from their ministry and grew in our knowledge of the scriptures.

As mentioned earlier, it is important to read the scriptures daily and feed ourselves spiritually. If you are struggling in this aspect please let me encourage you to consider using Bible reading notes. There are many different types available and you should be able to find something that is suitable for you. Just enter Bible reading notes into your favourite search engine and have a look at the results that appear. I have put a couple of links below to ones I have used myself:

Every Day with Jesus

New Daylight