Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Unsung hero: Ebed Melech

Exeter Temple Bible Message notes:  Sunday 9th August 2015
Bible Reading: Jeremiah 38-39

Many people have heard of Jeremiah but the name of Ebed-Melech is not so familiar. Yet, without him Jeremiah would have died a slow and painful death.

The Northern Kingdom of Israel has already fallen to the invading Babylonian army. The same fate now awaits Judah, but King, Zedekiah has allied the country with Egypt and they had already sent troops to support  the Judean army  and as a result they had pushed the Babylonians back. Jeremiah, had continually prophesied any hope Judah had of staying free, was to return to God. Jeremiah could see that Egypt would only defend Judah whilst it was in its own interests. Jeremiah counselled that the Babylonians would have their day, but all would not be lost for Judah, if she learned from this lesson returned to the Lord and forsook worshipping other gods. His advice sounded like treason to the Jewish leadership desperate to cling on to power.  On an innocent family business trip Jeremiah was arrested, beaten up and imprisoned. 
Secretly King Zedekiah knew that Jeremiah was right but was too weak to challenge the decision of his officials to issue a death warrant on Jeremiah, Jeremiah was taken and put him into the cistern of Malkijah, the kings son which was in the courtyard of the guard where without help he was sure to die.
Who was Ebed-Melech? 
This was not his name, but a title for what he did.  It literally meant “Servant of the King.”  He came from the land of Cush, a general term for regions of Africa south of Egypt.  Some modern translations state that he came from Ethiopia.  The NIV lists him as an official in the palace of King Zedekiah, other translations say that he was a eunuch. If he was this possibly indicates he was a guard of the women’s quarters. It is also possible he was a slave.  His was a very different status to that of the four officials in Jeremiah 38:1 who opposed Jeremiah. They were members of the royal family and were very powerful. Ebed-Melech, the man with no
name, was a foreigner and a lowly back-room servant, just doing his job. But despite his position he became a key figure in Jeremiah’s rescue.
One commentator describes him as “a moral man in tune with God”

1. He heard v 7
How Ebed-Melech heard about Jeremiah’s plight is unknown.  Jeremiah had not had a trial; he was not to be executed publicly. He was kept hidden away in the private drainage system within the confines of the palace.  The point was to get rid of Jeremiah, whilst letting the world think he had defected to the enemy.  
Zedekiah should have protected Jeremiah but he claimed he could do nothing.
v 5 “He is in your hands. The king can do nothing to oppose you.”
We are prone to saying, “Somebody should do something about this.”  Sometimes we wish somebody else would go – but God says, I want you to go.  Sometimes we wish somebody else would do the task needing to be done but God says I have placed this in our hands; no one else is going to pick this up. This is yours.
Christian speaker Ruth Hill likens the situation to being at baggage collection at the airport.  Dozens of bags pass before your eyes on the conveyor belt. You don’t pick them all up but you do step forward and you do collect those with your name on. Most of the time, if you don’t pick it, it becomes lost luggage.
When we don’t really want to do something, many good reasons surface in our mind to justify our passivity. It is easy to be absorbed in the endless busy-ness of our small worlds: my study, my family, my home, my job, my local church, my comfort, my future. 
But Ebed-Melech’s sensitive heart would not allow him to remain indifferent. He has been called the Good Samaritan of the Old Testament

2. He went      v8 
Ebed-Melech could have brought Jeremiah bread every day to keep him alive until the fall of the present regime. This would still have been an act of sacrifice because in the current crisis they were in bread was difficult to come by and it would have been an act of faith because it showed that Ebed-Melech believed Jeremiah’s prophecy.   This would be all very commendable and sensible; helping but not risking too much; caring but not compromising your own position.  But this was not what faith in God was calling Ebed-Melech to do.
Instead he had a two-fold mission.
1. - to expose the truth of what had happened to Jeremiah, clear Jeremiah’s name so that the word of God would not be discredited.
2. to show some compassion for Jeremiah personally and literally get him out of a hole.
It would take great faith and courage for Ebed-Melech to go to the king and plead for Jeremiah.  He went to see Zedekiah when he was in a court outside the palace where, as the king he listened to appeals for justice.  Ebed-Melech made Jeremiahs plight public and shamed the king into acting more justly.  
Ebed-Melech’s words are bold. Kings usually don’t like to be corrected and especially not on moral matters. Yet King Zedekiah knew EbedMelech was right and he commissioned him to lift Jeremiah the prophet out of the cistern before he dies”
Even with King’s permission, it was still a risky act to go and get Jeremiah out of the cistern, given the power of the men who had put Jeremiah there in the first place.  Ebed-Melech didn’t need the 30 men provided by Zedekiah to pull one man out of a well. He needed them as body guards!

3. He used what he had
When Jeremiah prayed for deliverance he probably did not think that a bag of jumble would be a sign of hope.  It is obvious that without the ropes Jeremiah could not have got out of the cistern but the old rags made it possible for him to get out without further injury.
Ebed-Melech was in the right place to hear about Jeremiah’s need, he knew where the king was to be able to bring the truth to light and who else but someone who knew the palace as well as a servant would know that there were worn out clothes in a room under the treasury!
For Ebed-Melech, serving the Lord, being the hero God asked him to be, simply depended upon him being himself and using the opportunities and the resources that were already his. 
, “Just thanking God for making ordinary people like us indispensable co-workers with himself in his plan of redemption for those who are near to us and of course further afield. “ Commissioner Harry Read- Facebook
1 Peter 4:10 “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in various forms.”

4. He held on
Amazingly, Ebed-Melech had stayed at his post. He hadn’t gone over to the Babylonians, he hadn’t run away back to Ethiopia or escaped to Egypt but this meant that the outlook for him now was very bad indeed. His very title  gives him away as a member of the deposed king’s staff.  Prison, forced labour or execution is the most likely outcome for him.
In the midst of the chaos Jeremiah starts to prophesy but his message is not for the nation, it is not for the new governor or for the exiles in Babylon, it is a personal word for a faithful servant of God, with no name who was alone and terrified. 
“I am about to fulfil my words about this city through disaster not prosperity. At that time they will be fulfilled before your eyes but I will rescue you on that day declares the Lord; you will not be handed over to those you fear. I will save you and you will not fall by the sword but will escape with your life, because you trust me.”   (Ch 39:16-17)
God doesn’t always choose to physically protect the people he is pleased with but he never overlooks them, even if others do. Notice too, that even though he was afraid, God talks in the present tense of Ebed-Melech’s trust.
We can be assured that whatever it is that God calls us to get involved with, he knows us and he is aware of our fears, our battles  and  temptations.  
And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted[b] beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted,[c] he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”  1 Corinthians 10:13
Ebed- Melech may never be in the Top Ten of biblical heroes but it is unlikely he ever wanted to be, his main concern being to do what was right.

God Bless

Taught by the Spirit

Exeter Temple Message notes: Sunday 2nd August 2015
Bible Reading:  1 Corinthians 2:6-16  

The God, Paul speaks of is not shallow or superficial but deep, even mysterious, a God whom we have never reached the bottom of.
 “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.” v 9
Some things in the world remain a mystery and personally there are things that we may never know e.g. How our life would have turned out if we had met different people, or made different choices. 
Can the deep things of God be discovered or are they forever beyond us, forever mysteries?  It is true that we will never get to the point when we will know all there is to know about God.  If we could completely categorise, label and analyse him God would not be God.  However God has chosen to reveal himself to us, he wants us to know him, and he wants to teach us.
It might not be prominent in our consciousness and we might try to satisfy it with other things but there is a deep longing in us that reaches to something deep outside of ourselves. In Psalm 42 the writer described that experience as “deep calling to deep”.   The two need to be connected.
“Deep within your interior spaces is a meeting place God built to commune with you. From it he calls to you with tender urgency and from the furthest reaches of your inner space an ache of yearning echoes back the call.”       Dr John White
How do we reach the place of connection?

“This is what we speak, not in words taught to us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words.”  (v13)

1. The inability of human reason to know God.                                                    
We cannot even know the innermost thoughts of another human being, never mind the God of the universe.                                                                        
“For who among men knows the thought of a man except the man’s spirit within him.”  V11                                                                                                        
Whilst a mother can often distinguish what her baby needs from crying that seems just a noise to everyone else and married people can sometimes know each other well enough to finish one another’s sentences our knowledge even of those we have an intimate relationship with is not complete.
If that is true of each other it is even more so when we try to enter the thoughts of God. “O, the depth and the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgements and his paths beyond tracing out who has known the mind of the Lord?” Romans 11:33
Using the mind alone will never lead us to discovering the deep things of God.  God is not found by only the mind but also the heart. 

2 The indwelling Spirit 
Discovering God can never be just an intellectual exercise any more than finding a marriage partner can be or being a good parent.  This is because essentially God is not just a vague force but also a person with whom to have a relationship.  But even then we dare not just trust our hearts.  The Bible tells us that our hearts can be deceitful and led astray.  The deep things of God, the things that are eternal and divine cannot be known by our own investigation.  Do we really think we could find God if he didn’t want to be found?  
 “No one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.” v 11
So then, if we could have access to the Holy Spirit then maybe we could have a chance of getting somewhere.
God had decided that the way he can be found is through the divine revelation of the Spirit.  The way to access to the knowledge of God’s character in depth only comes to those who have committed themselves to Christ who have the authority that is theirs because their sin is forgiven through Christ’s work on the cross. They can then receive the Spirit of God within that leads us to know the Father.
 “We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God that we may understand what God has freely given us.” V 12
Before returning to heaven, Jesus promised to send His Holy Spirit to lead, guide, and comfort us. And by accepting Jesus as our Lord and Saviour, we also accept this vital gift of the Holy Spirit. 
If we are Christians we have the Spirit and if our ultimate goal is to know God then it makes sense to open us ourselves to more and more of him.

3. The difference between the spiritual and the natural                                         
All of this leaves us with two different kinds of people.                                                     “This is what we speak, not in words taught to us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. v 13
 The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God for they are foolishness to him and he cannot understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”
A diver cannot discover the wonders of coral reef by simply jumping out of a boat. He is not a fish and he cannot function underwater without breathing apparatus. The unspiritual self just as it is by nature can’t receive the gifts of God’s spirit. There is no capacity for them. They seem like so much silliness.  Spirit can only be known by Spirit God’s Spirit and our spirits in open communion.
Spiritually alive we have access to everything God’s spirit is doing.”  (v14 The Message)

4. The Spirit will always take you back to the Cross
What is it that God will reveal to us about his heart for the world, his solution for the mess the world is in? 
It will be the cross of Christ.  This is God’s wisdom on the matter.  We can never move on from the cross of Christ, only into a deeper understanding of it.  The Spirit of God will always lead us towards a cross-centred life.

“The Bible tells us that, while there are many different callings and many possible areas of service in the kingdom of God, one transcendent truth should define our lives. One simple truth should motivate our work and affect every part of who we are.
Christ died for our sins.
If there's anything in life that we should be passionate about, it's the gospel. And I don't mean passionate only about sharing it with others. I mean passionate in thinking about it, dwelling on it, rejoicing in it, allowing it to colour the way we look at the world. Only one thing can be of first importance to each of us. And only the gospel ought to be.” 

God bless

Boasting in the Lord

Exeter Temple Message notes:  26th July 2015
Bible Reading:            1 Corinthians 1:18-31

Our expectation is probably that God does not like boasting and therefore it should be got rid of.  However in the Bible if it is God or the commendable qualities of others we are boasting of it is seen as a good thing.
The Hebrew word mahalal which is sometimes translated "boast." in the Bible can also be translated as "to praise, " and is closely connected with the word rejoice. Boasting is really a bit of rejoicing for something.
"My soul will boast in the LORD; let the afflicted hear and rejoice. Glorify the LORD with me; let us exalt his name together" Psalm 34:2-3

We have a God-given desire to praise, to exalt and to rejoice. The problem comes when we seek to make ourselves the object of people’s praise and adulation, either through parading our own accomplishments before them or perhaps being a little more subtle about it.
It is very clear that God really does not like to see pride in us. In fact Proverbs 6:6-19 lists the 7 things that God hates and right there among them is pride. And it is pride that is at the heart of our boasting about ourselves.
1 Corinthians 1:31 calls for us to boast in the Lord. 

1. Realistic Assessment
1 Corinthians 1:26-29 “Take a good look, friends, at who you were when you got called into this life. I don’t see many of “the brightest and the best” among you, not many influential, not many from high-society families. Isn’t it obvious that God deliberately chose men and women that the culture overlooks and exploits and abuses, chose these “nobodies” to expose the hollow pretensions of the “somebodies”?
Why would a pastor speak this way to his congregation? 

That doesn’t seem the right thing to say to a congregation of Christians. Although Paul’s words could be misunderstood he wrote them for a reason.  The Corinthian’s seem to have been boasting about how smart they were to be followers of Jesus. Sinful pride had descended upon them like a fog over their church.

The reason God is against pride in ourselves is not that he is jealous of us. He is not trying to put anyone down. The answer is that our human boasting is always based on an illusion of self–sufficiency. And God is a realist.
Paul also urges the Corinthians to get real. The Message version of what he has to say on the matter reads like this: “That makes it quite clear that none of you can get by with blowing your own horn before God. Everything that we have—right thinking and right living, a clean slate and a fresh start—comes from God by way of Jesus Christ. That’s why we have the saying, “If you’re going to blow a horn, blow a trumpet for God.”

A businessman wrote, “It’s appealing to me to feel I am the master of my fate; I call my own shots; I go it alone. But that feeling is my basic dishonesty.  I have to get help from other people and I can't ultimately rely on myself. I am dependent on God for my very next breath. It is dishonest of me to pretend that I am anything but a man, small, weak and limited. So, living independent of God is self-delusion. It's not just a matter of pride being an unfortunate little trait and humility being an attractive little virtue.  When I am conceited, I am lying to myself about what I am. I am pretending to be God, and not man. My pride is the idolatrous worship of myself, and that is the national religion of hell”.

Pride essentially is an attitude of independence from God. It makes us feel ungrateful to God for what we have and makes us feel better than other people.

2. Honest Testimony
Understanding how to be humble and boast in the Lord is tricky.  And one of the ways we get it wrong sometimes is that we thing that somehow in order to make God look better we have to make ourselves look worse. 
Christians can say some very negative things about themselves.  Whilst recognising our sinful state, thinking about ourselves as worthless rubbish is as equally unrealistic as thinking that we are independently running the universe.
The truth of the gospel is that whatever we have become and whatever we have done God still regards us as being worth sending his son into the world to save us.
 “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: “While we were still sinners Christ died for us. Romans 5:8

If boasting in the Lord is about giving him honour, we have to ask ourselves how honouring it is to God when we disagree with him about his opinion of us.  People in the Bible did this all the time.  God calls them into his service and their reaction is to respond with, “I can’t.”  I’m not good enough. .
For example Moses argues that he is not the best choice to lead God’s people out of Egypt. He doesn’t have the gift of clear speech, he doesn’t have the qualities of a leader that inspire others to follow. How does he dare argue with God, except that he thinks that he knows better than God? That’s pride; that is to boast that he has a better plan for his life than God does.

In the name of humility we testify more about our struggles in our faith than we do about our victories.  We may not want to hear super-hero testimonies from people who never have any doubts, struggles or melt downs. It is too easy to assume that we are the only ones who fail and that everyone else is doing better than us. It is such a relief sometimes when Christians we admire shares their doubts, mistakes and disappointments.  
However we need to avoid a tendency to feel embarrassed when things are going well in our spiritual life because we do not want to appear too pious.   Yet if the Holy Spirit has given us the courage to face a fear or looking back we can see that we have overcome a temptation through applying the word of God, shouldn’t we be prepared to testify about that so that people can know that this faith thing actually works.
We do God dishonour if we don’t acknowledge the work he is doing in our lives
Another meaning of the word boast is to "speak often of" God wants us to make our boast in Him always! That’s why the Psalmist declared, “In God we boast all the day long…” (Psalm 44:8). To make your boast in the Lord is to vocalize your faith in His ability and how that ability is functioning in you.

3. Courageous witnessing
When we think about people who brag or people who boast, we think of people who like to draw attention to themselves.  We think of them like peacocks, inviting everyone looks at them with admiration.
We tend to think of humble people as being those who stand back and work quietly in the background.
But there are times when our pride means that the last thing we want to do is be noticed or looked at.  Rather we would like the ground to open up and swallow us or we could become invisible because of fear.
Humility is not the same thing as blending into the background. We are not called to draw attention to ourselves but we are called to draw attention to Christ.

God does not call us to be centre pieces but he does call us to be signposts pointing to Christ.  We are to boast in the Lord and for many in our day that means suffering as a result.
In Acts Paul gives his testimony to his Christians friends in Ephesus. “And now compelled by the Spirit I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me, the task of testifying (boasting?) to the gospel of God’s grace.”

Is the challenge for us, not to shut up but to speak up, not to back off but step up? 
Every part of our life, everything we do, everything, we think, and everything we say is to bring honour and glory to God. 

God bless