Saturday 30 December 2023

War and Peace

In searching for some words of wisdom to mark the transition into 2024 I stumbled upon the wise words of Benjamin Franklin. “Be at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let every new year find you a better man (and woman).” 

For me, his words sum up the overall spirit of starting another year. We are deeply aware of our faults and short-comings, and we desire to change them. However, change is not an easy exercise for us all, but there is always the motivation to become a better human being. I also believe that seeking 'peace' with our neighbor's is a great way to minimize conflict and anxiety.

As followers of Jesus, we remember that Jesus actually put us onto this same path nearly 17 centuries earlier than Mr. Franklin. Jesus said:

"He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” - Luke 10:27

And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” - Mark 11:25

I pray that 2024 holds much Hope, Peace, Love and Joy for you all.

Living in Grace


Friday 29 December 2023

Planting in the soil of Contemplation

Meister Eckhart once remarked:
"What we plant in the soil of contemplation, we shall reap in the harvest of action." 

This time of the year has always been a time of contemplation for many of us. In reality, we must make a conscious effort to slow down, or else our opportunity to reflect could be taken from us. Contemplation is both a discipline and a choice. When we allow God the space to speak into the stillness of our lives, many of these seeds will bear fruit later in our lives.

2 Corinthians 3:18 - And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

Aristotle added his thoughts to this discussion: "The ultimate value of life depends upon awareness and the power of contemplation rather than upon mere survival."

As you reflect on all that has gone before you, and contemplate the future, my God be very near to you.

Living in Grace


Saturday 23 December 2023

I have asked of the Lord

One of the ancestors of Jesus is Shealtiel (Matthew 1:12). We so often skip over the genealogy of Christ, without taking much notice of these people, which is a little sad, as they are very intriguing characters. 

In the light of Christ's Advent, I wanted to draw attention to the meaning of his name (Shealtiel), because I think it is significant for us. His name means: I have asked of the Lord. We can only assume that his parents had prayed for a child and when Shealtiel was born, they saw it as an answer to prayer.

The birth of Jesus Christ is the answer to millions of prayers, spanning numerous generations. We all long for a Saviour to redeem us from the mess of the world. Jesus is the Hope of the world, and we are given the great opportunity to place our lives into his hands.

May the birth of Jesus Christ, be the answer to all your prayers. 

May you experience some of the Hope, Peace, Joy and Love of Christ this season. 

Living in Grace


Friday 22 December 2023

The sparking of enthusiasm

"So, the Lord sparked the enthusiasm of Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the enthusiasm of Jeshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the enthusiasm of the whole remnant of God’s people. They began to work on the house of their God, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies..." - Haggai 1:14

Zerubbabel is mentioned as the son of Shealtiel in a number of places in the Bible (see Matthew 1:12) and we note that he was filled with the Spirit and began to restore the house of the Lord, when the people returned from exile. The verse (above) mentions that the Lord 'sparked his enthusiasm' and this led to him doing remarkable things.

We can use different words to describe something similar: 

our hearts being strangely warmed;
filled with the Spirit;
prompted by the Lord.

But they all imply the same thing. God does something in our hearts and spirits, that leads to a changed life.

May we all encounter the renewal of our spirits this Christmas time and may we be 'sparked with enthusiasm' for the things of the Lord. I know that many of us feel as if we truly need it. 

Living in Grace


"After the Babylonian exile: Jehoiachin was the father of ShealtielShealtiel was the father of Zerubbabel." - Matthew 1:12

Tuesday 19 December 2023

Light is about to break upon us...

“And you, my little son, will be called the prophet of the Most High, because you will prepare the way for the Lord. You will tell his people how to find salvation through forgiveness of their sins. Because of God’s tender mercy, the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us..." - Luke 1:76-78

In these moving words from Zechariah, I have noted a number of powerful thoughts:

1. John's mission is to show people how to find salvation through the forgiveness of sins. Our salvation will not come from our righteousness, but rather through the grace of God and the righteousness of Jesus.

2. We may not understand why God allows things to happen, but it is important to remember that God is full of tender mercy.

3. The beautiful morning light is about to break upon us - the time to celebrate the birth of Christ is very close.

As time draws us closer to the birth of our Lord, may we look out for His Light and Mercy. 

Living in Grace


Monday 18 December 2023

Come thou long expected Jesus

When Charles Wesley wrote the words of the hymn 'Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus', in 1744, I wonder if he grasped the legacy of his words. I am sure he wanted Christians to proclaim their desire for the return of Jesus, but did he think that we would still be singing his words in 2023? I am not so sure!

Anway, regardless of Charles Wesley's wishes, we are still singing this powerful song and I believe that each word holds the incredible grace and truth of God's love for us all. 

As we read these words again today, may they become our deepest prayer for this Advent season. 

Come, thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us;
Let us find our rest in Thee
Israel's Strength and Consolation
Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear Desire of every nation
Joy of every longing heart

Born thy people to deliver,
born a child and yet a King,
born to reign in us forever,
now thy gracious kingdom bring.
By thine own eternal spirit
rule in all our hearts alone;
by thine all sufficient merit,
raise us to thy glorious throne.

Living in Grace


Thursday 14 December 2023

King at 8 years of age!

Can you remember being 8 years of age? I can't really remember that age exactly, but I do remember being a child and how simple life seemed to be. So, can you imagine being asked to be a sovereign ruler at just 8 years young? I couldn't think of anything worse - the sheer weight of that responsibility must be crippling. 

One of Jesus' ancestors, King Josiah, was made King when he was just 8, succeeding his father Amon, who had been assassinated. Josiah was an influential King - for all the right reasons. 2 Kings 2 describes his reign in this way: “And he did what was right in the eyes of the LORD and walked in all the way of David his father, and he did not turn aside to the right or to the left.” (v.22)

Another of the highlights of his reign was that ordered the restoration of the temple, and it was during this rebuilding process that the book of the Law was rediscovered. He then instituted a campaign of reformation and returning to the Lord:

“The king stood by the pillar and made a covenant before the LORD, to walk after the LORD and to keep his commandments and his testimonies and his statutes with all his heart and all his soul, to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book. And all the people joined in the covenant” (2 Kings 23:3).

Advent is a time when we should rediscover the ancient story of God's love for us, and then as we retell the Gospel stories, we should recommit our ways to God. I find that the Nativity never gets stale or boring for me - I love being reminded of the child, who was born a King! 

Jesus didn't have to wait until he was 8 before he was anointed as King - we honour him as the One born to rule!

Living in Grace


Wednesday 13 December 2023

Coming to our senses

Even though Hezekiah's reign was deemed successful, his son, Manasseh made a real hash of the succession plan. Manasseh did evil in the eyes of the Lord and undid much of what his father had put in place. He even spilt much innocent blood (2 Kings 21) and rebuilt altars to Baal. 

I keep thinking to myself, how is possible that he was an ancestor of Jesus?! But his name is recorded in Matthew's Genealogy, and we can't erase that. However, it would be remiss of me to only tell half of his story. Manasseh does eventually come to his senses. He has his own moment of conversion, and he turns back to God. 

"But while in deep distress, Manasseh sought the Lord his God and sincerely humbled himself before the God of his ancestors. And when he prayed, the Lord listened to him and was moved by his request. So, the Lord brought Manasseh back to Jerusalem and to his kingdom. Then Manasseh finally realized that the Lord alone is God! - 2 Chronicles 33:12-13

The story of Manasseh is a vital reminder that God can change the hearts of anyone willing to admit their need of God. The story of Christ's birth grabs our attention, teaching us again that Jesus came to seek and save the lost.

Thought: Never give up praying for those friends and family who seem far away from the Lord. This is the season of miracles!

Living in Grace


Monday 11 December 2023

Leaving an amazing legacy

If we had the chance to write our own obituary, I am not sure we could compete with words written about Hezekiah. This is what the Bible records about his life and legacy: 

"Hezekiah trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel. There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before or after his time." - 2 Kings 18:5

This is some testimony. Bearing in mind the long list of kings recorded in the books of Kings, as well as in the Genealogies of Jesus, this is a massive compliment. Hezekiah will be remembered for his influence in bringing about religious reforms in Jerusalem and for being faithful to the Lord. 

Another of his impressive achievements (we believe) was to champion the building of a tunnel carrying water into Jerusalem. This was to prevent the Assyrian invaders from having access to the water. The tunnel was carved out of rock, carrying water from the Gihon Spring into the pool of Siloam. We have had the privilege of walking through this tunnel, and it is very impressive indeed. 

As an ancestor of Hezekiah, we remember that Jesus is the Living Water - he brings refreshing 'spiritual' water to all who are thirsty. 

"Anyone who believes in me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from his heart.’ - John 7:38

Living in Grace

Saturday 9 December 2023

We must decide for ourselves!

It is clearly evident that Jesus' ancestors were a mixed bunch of people - some were godly and upright, but there were a few that were quite the opposite. Even in a short list of names we can see the diversity of these men (Matthew 1:8-9): 

"Asa was the father of Jehoshaphat (good guy). 
Jehoshaphat was the father of Jehoram (not so good).
Jehoram was the father of Uzziah (okay - better than his dad).
Uzziah was the father of Jotham (righteous).
Jotham was the father of Ahaz (very dodgy)".

No matter how good a King tries to be, it is still the responsibility of the people to follow God or not. Jotham seemed to be a man after God's heart, but many people stubbornly chose their own paths, ignoring his example.

"Jotham did what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight. He did everything his father, Uzziah, had done, except that Jotham did not sin by entering the Temple of the Lord. But the people continued in their corrupt ways." - 2 Chronicles 27:2

This is an important lesson for all of us: We can teach our family about the ways of Jesus, but in the end, we really must pray that they decide to follow Christ for themselves. We cannot have a 'personal' relationship with God on behalf of someone else.

Thought: When we stand at the manger this Christmas, we must each decide what to do with Jesus!

Living in Grace

Friday 8 December 2023

Holding fast to the Lord

Jehoshaphat was known as a king who followed the commands of God, and he is definitely a relative that we would love to see in our own genealogy, let alone in the lineage of Jesus. He succeeded his father (Asa) when he was about 35 and reigned for another 25 years. 

The bible mentions him a few times, including:

1 Kings 22:43 - Jehoshaphat was a good king, following the example of his father, Asa. He did what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight. 

One of his success stories was that he managed to make peace with the king of Israel - at this point in history the 2 kingdoms were divided, and this was a remarkable achievement. His reliance on the Lord is evident in this exchange with the king of Israel:

"Then the king of Israel turned to Jehoshaphat and asked, “Will you join me in battle to recover Ramoth-Gilead?” Jehoshaphat replied to the king of Israel, “Why, of course! You and I are as one. My troops are your troops, and my horses are your horses.” Then Jehoshaphat added, “But first let’s find out what the Lord says.” - 1 Kings 22:4-5

Those last words are very telling, for me. They show me that he was willing to seek the wisdom of the Lord first, before he ran into any situation, or he was tempted to make rash decisions. 

Jesus was also very good at doing this. Before he had to make any major decision, we note how he withdrew to a quiet place and spent time in prayer with his Father. It seems that some of the great wisdom of Jehoshaphat may have worked its way down the family line :) 

Thought: Advent is a time for pausing and reflecting on our relationship with Christ and others. Are we able to seek the face of Jesus, despite the noise around us? Are we able to hold fast to the Lord, as Jehoshaphat did?

Living in Grace


Thursday 7 December 2023

It is not always, "Like father, Like son!"

Another one of Jesus' ancestors was King Asa, the son of the wicked Abijah (Matthew 1:7). Thankfully, Asa was nothing like his father, and he remained faithful to the Lord for most of his life. This is how he is described in 1 Kings 15:

"Asa did what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight, as his ancestor David had done."- v.11

"Although the pagan shrines were not removed, Asa’s heart remained completely faithful to the Lord throughout his life." - v.14

As much as each of us is shaped and influenced by our families and peers, we all need to take responsibility for our own faith. Asa could have also ended up as the "bad apple", but he chose a different path from his father, and he ended up leaving a fairly positive legacy. 

Asa was not perfect and sadly towards the end of his 41-year reign, he began to make some foolish mistakes. On the whole, he is still considered to be a good and godly King, thus putting pay to the old saying: "like father, like son!" In the end, Asa was nothing like his dad.

As we think about the life of Jesus, especially during the season of Advent, it is wonderful to reflect on how much Jesus reflects the nature of his Father. The bible reminds us that we actually get a glimpse of God, through the person and life of Jesus.

Living in Grace


Wednesday 6 December 2023

Drawing straight lines with crooked sticks


After our church services on Sunday, one of my friends shared this intriguing quote with me. He was speaking in the context of how God's divine plans are carried out by fallible human beings. 

"God can strike a straight stroke by a crooked stick." - Thomas Watson, English Puritan (also used by Martin Luther and Ignatius Loyola) 

These words came back to me today as I was reading Matthew 1:7, noting that Rehoboam's son, Abijah was not the best of kings. He was not fully committed to the Lord and did some wicked things. In many ways, he becomes an interesting ancestor of Jesus.

"But the Lord’s plans stand firm forever; his intentions can never be shaken. – Psalm 33:11

Advent reminds me that God chose to use 'ordinary' people to accomplish his extra-ordinary purposes. We can never deny the eventual outcome of God's plans. 

Living in Grace


Monday 4 December 2023

When your family tree looks a little sketchy!

As I work my way through the genealogy of Jesus, I have been reading up on a few of his ancestors. It seems that Jesus also had some relatives who were a little sketchy. However, despite their short-comings, God was still able to work through their lives and to pave the way for his Son, Jesus. 

Solomon's son, Rehoboam, was the first King of Judah and he certainly was not a saint. Some of his decisions were based on arrogance and were disastrous for his people, however he at least came to a place of admitting his folly. Perhaps this is his most redeeming feature - he was able to admit his mistakes and say sorry:

"Because Rehoboam humbled himself, the Lord’s anger turned from him, and he was not totally destroyed. Indeed, there was some good in Judah." - 2 Chronicles 12:12

Advent takes us on our own spiritual journey of discovery. It should remind us that Christ came to earth for all people - arrogant, proud, sinful, righteous, faithful, humble, weak and strong. 

Rehoboam's story teaches me that every one of us has to face a big decision in our personal lives: Do we blindly follow our own will and plans or are we willing to humble ourselves and submit to the Lord?

No person can come to the manger on their own terms!

Living in Grace


Saturday 2 December 2023

The importance of a name - Jesse

In the season of Advent, we re-read the stories of Christ's birth and the fulfillment of many prophecies. There is much hope and wonderful anticipation hidden in these special pages of the Bible. One of the passages that often gets brushed over is Matthew 1 (and Luke 3), which includes the Genealogy of Jesus. 

I think the reason it gets skipped past is because we are confused by the many names. Some of the people mentioned we recognise, but many of the names don't ring a bell for us. However, we must remember that they are all included for a specific reason, and we would do well to understand the significance of each person - after all, they are all ancestors of Jesus Christ.

During Advent this year, I will try and shed a little light on some of these people and it is my prayer that this will help us understand the magnitude of the birth of Christ.

In Matthew 1:6 we come across arguably three of the most recognizable names in the bunch - "Jesse the father of King David. David the father of Solomon..." Each of these men has their own powerful story and legacy, but to note that they are ancestors of Jesus is remarkable.

Jesse is a unique man in that he is also surrounded by famous family members. He is the grandson of Ruth and Boaz, and then the father (and grandfather) of the greatest Kings of Israel. He was obviously some special guy and even his name alludes to this: Jesse means 'God's gift.'

Isaiah writes of him:

"A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him— the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord— and he will delight in the fear of the Lord. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; .." (Isaiah 11)

As we slowly focus our attention on the Christmas season, let us not overlook the deep significance of the people involved in our Lord's life.

Living in Grace