Saturday, 16 April 2016

Exeter Temple Message notes: 3rd April 2016
Bible Reading: John 20:24-31

The women in the Easter story were afraid, the soldiers were terrified, the centurion was amazed, the Jewish leaders were angry, Peter full of regret and Judas in despair.

Thomas was doubtful. Maybe this was because of his deep disappointment and he was not ready to hope again. Or perhaps he was concerned that his friends were facing a reality that Jesus’ mission was over.  

It is rather unfair to link only Thomas with doubt as none of the other followers of Jesus believed Jesus had risen from the dead at first either.  Mary saw the risen Lord but did not believe until she heard His voice. The two friends on the Emmaus road heard Jesus but did not recognise Him until they saw Him break bread. None of the disciples believed the women. 

Yet although he was the last disciple to see the risen Christ, Thomas was the first one to voice the truth that Jesus is God. 
Thomas doubted at first but progressed to great faith.

1.      Thomas was candid.
Thomas would not believe in the resurrection on the say so of his friends. He was clear about that.
 “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finder where the nails were and put my hand in his side I will not believe it.” (John 20:25)

 “Doubt is not always a sign that a man is wrong, it may be a sign that he is thinking.”  Oswald Chambers

Not all doubt comes from the same source. There is a kind of doubt that is utterly condemned in the Bible. It is a deliberate denial and resistance to God. There are those who approach the Bible with scorn and blanket assertions that something is impossible. Their minds are closed.

 “Doubt is the sincere question - but unbelief is the unwillingness to hear the answer.”  (Anon)

The Bible calls people who show that unwillingness, “Fools!”
 “The fool has said in his heart, there is not God.” (Psalm 14:1)

Thomas’ doubt came from a reverence of the truth. Thomas absolutely refused to say that he understood what he did not understand or that he believed what he did not believe. He knew he would never still his doubts by pretending they did not exist.

How much better to be honest than to profess and insincere faith! Yet Thomas was open and ready to accept the evidence when he could see for himself. Then he was humble enough to bow the knee in worship.

2.      Thomas is convinced
The story of Thomas bears witness to the fact that honest doubt can grow into full faith. 

Suddenly without warning Jesus appeared in the room where the disciples had gathered and He greets them with; “Peace be with you.”  (John 20:26)

There is no rebuke for Thomas. In fact, Jesus was very gentle with him and showed Thomas the evidence he had asked for.
Thomas’ story is important because he took a leap of faith and worshipped. Thomas gave up his own conditions and his own demands and had his eyes opened to the truth that he was seeing God in the face of Jesus Christ.

Thomas then made the most amazing declaration for a Jewish man to make. “My Lord and my God.”  (John 20:28)

The Greek Old Testament translated Yahweh as Lord and Elohim as God and were used together to address the Almighty as Lord God. Thomas was using the same language to address Jesus as he would have used to address Yahweh!

Thomas had set the conditions for faith based on miracles - yet he learns that sense and sight are not the sufficient proofs he thought. His declaration of Jesus as Lord God was not the result of physical sight but when he believed what he saw he was given a holy understanding of the significance of what was happening.

 “Belief in the resurrected Lord does not require physical sight or touch of him. It requires spiritual insight into him and allowing oneself to be touched by him.” (Anon)

Jesus confirmed this by saying, “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”  (John 20:29b)

3.      Thomas was challenged
Thomas was a latecomer in believing in the resurrection and had earlier missed out because he was not with the other disciples when Jesus first appeared to them.

We are not told why that was but maybe Thomas did not want to go back to the upper room with the other disciples to be reminded of their failure and be together with them without Jesus. What changed his mind and caused him to join in with the others we don’t know - but Thomas the latecomer did not get left out after all.   This gives such hope to all those who are slow on the uptake.
 At the earlier appearance of Jesus, Jesus had given the disciples a challenge, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” (John 20:21)
Thomas wasn’t there for that but I have no doubt that it was a commission for him too. Thomas believed on and submitted to Jesus as Lord and God. His testimony would be invaluable in spreading the news that Jesus was alive.

Even his doubts could be used to help others. The fact that he and the others doubted shows that they only started spreading the good news of the resurrection when they were sure the evidence was reliable.

This is reassuring for us. We who believe, but who do not see in the same way as those first disciples can know that the accounts of the resurrection were not made by the gullible but by people who made sure of the facts.

We don’t hear much more of Thomas, except that the other disciples did not treat him with disrespect because of his early doubts. He became one of the leaders of the early church, some believe that he was the first missionary to take the gospel to India.

He obeyed the commission of Christ and was a true witness. He did not miss out and we don’t have to either.

 God bless
Exeter Temple Message notes: Easter Sunday 28th March 2016
Theme: Resurrection Hope!
Bible Readings:  Matthew 28:1-10     1 Peter 1:1-9

Peter equates hope with the Resurrection of Jesus. 

1. We need hope in the face of the inevitability of death.
Physical death is inevitable for all of us but when it happens it is a shocking, difficult thing because it means separation from those we love and because we cannot comprehend what a life beyond this one will be like, any more than we knew what life in the world we now live in was like before we left our mother’s womb.  The unknown scares us. On the one hand the thought that we are born, live and die and that’s it seems so pointless, on the other what if there is a life beyond the grave but it is one that is empty, barren, full of pain and loneliness? 
 “Life is just a dirty trick, a short journey from nothingness to nothingness. There is no remedy for anything in life. Man’s destiny in the universe is like a colony of ants on a burning log.”  Ernest Hemingway
Job asked the question that every human being has to face.  “If a person dies, will they live again?” (Job 14:14).
It is a question that touches on what it means to be human, how we relate to other humans and how we relate to God.  It determines our views on abortion, assisted suicide and capital punishment.  As humans death bothers us so much that we idolize youth, seek to deny aging, don’t talk about it and comfort ourselves with such ideas as reincarnation or spiritualism to make it seem less dreadful.

It could be that the Christians hope of eternal life is an anesthetic used to numb the pain of death but with no real foundation.
However, there is good reason to have hope of eternal life and the reason for our hope is the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

2. Our hope in the face of death is Jesus
Rather than point people to God for salvation Jesus called people to himself.  In his “I am” sayings in John he claimed to be the source of light, satisfaction, truth, fruitful living, guidance and protection and the one through whom reconnection can be made with God.  He also declared that he even had the answer to death itself when he said, “I am right now, Resurrection and Life. The one that believes in me, even though he or she dies, will live.  And everyone who lives believing in me does not ultimately die at all.” (John 11:25 The Message)
The only way to validate such a claim would be to die and come back to life again yourself. At Easter we celebrate the belief that he did just that.
Those who deny that this was possible use some of the following argument.
a)      Jesus was not dead when placed in the tomb
-          Jesus had been flogged, nailed to a cross for six hours. How did he roll away the stone in that condition?
-          The soldiers would not nave let him live otherwise they would have been executed themselves.
-          When the soldiers found Jesus had died earlier than expected one of the soldiers pierced Jesus side with a spear bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. This appears to be the separation of clot and serum, which is medical evidence that Jesus was dead.
b)     The disciples stole the body
-          The tomb was guarded by trained soldiers
-          It is psychologically improbable. The disciples were depressed and disillusioned at the time of Jesus death.
-           It is unlikely that they would have faced the persecution they did for something for something they knew to be a lie.
c)      Others stole the body stole the body
-          Grave robbers would not want take the body and leave the grave clothes which were the only thing of value in the tomb. 
-          If the authorities had moved the body they would have quickly produced it to quash the rumour that Jesus was alive.  
d)     The Appearances of Jesus were hallucinations
-          Hallucinations normally occur in highly-strung or in people who are sick or on drugs. The disciples do not fit into any of these categories.
-          People who hallucinate would be unlikely to suddenly stop doing so. Jesus appeared to disciples on eleven different occasions over a period of six weeks. The number of occasions and the sudden cessation make the hallucination theory highly improbable.
-          Over 550 people saw the risen Jesus. It is possible for one or two people to hallucinate. but it is unlikely that 550 people would all share the same hallucination.
-          Jesus could be touched; he ate a piece of cooked fish and on one occasion cooked breakfast for the disciples.  He held long conversations with them teaching them many things about the kingdom of God.

It is unlikely that with their leader a failure the disciples would have been filled with such enthusiasm and power, even more so if they had faked the resurrection. The church began with uneducated fishermen and tax collectors and swept across the whole known world in the next three hundred years. Millions of Christians from different ages, races cultures, social and intellectual backgrounds say that they experience presence and power of Jesus as a daily reality.
 3. This hope of a secure and better future                                                      
The Bible calls Jesus “the firstborn from the dead.” (Colossians 1:18) Because of Jesus’ resurrection we have a certain hope that even if we die, one day we will live again. Jesus was not raised from death just for Himself but to open the door to life for every man who follows Him. It is first Him and then us.
Jesus said; I solemnly assure you that the one who hears my word and believes on Him who sent me has eternal life, He does not have to face judgement, he has already passed from death to life.” (John 5:24)
And this is a life that lasts forever and is secure   
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade…” 1 Peter 1:3-4 [NIV]
Our inheritance can't be destroyed, it won't decay like a piece of overripe fruit, and it won't fade like an old shirt that's been washed too many times.

4. Our hope gives us new life now
The future is secure so the present has meaning.
“Therefore we were buried with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too may walk in a new way of life.”  (Romans 6:4)
Many who have been trapped in sin, who have battled the same sin time and time again, and have been beaten over and over and over again, sometimes reach the point where they believe they can never escape but a risen Jesus gives us the possibility of living in victory over sin in our daily life now.

“Christ in you the hope of glory!”   

(Colossians 1:27)
Easter Blessings 
Alan and Carol 

Exeter Temple Message notesPalm Sunday 20th March 2016
Bible Reading: Matthew 20:29-21:1
ThemeA cry for hope

Examples of loud cries to God.
-          Jacob.  (Genesis 32:22-32)
-          Jesus and Lazarus.  (John 11:38-44)

What kind of things do people cry out to God about?

Personal help for their need
-          Psalms
“Evening and morning and noon I cry out in distress and he hears my voice.”  Psalm 55:17

-          Hannah  (1 Samuel 1-20)
“In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the Lord.”
(1 Samuel 1:10)

-          Two blind men (Matthew 20:29-34)
 “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!”   (v 30)

The key to the lifting of despair and the beginning of hope is direction.  Hannah pointed her bitterness of soul towards the Lord. 
God heard her cry and granted her what she asked of Him.  Jesus was not just moved by the depression or self-pity of the two blind men. He moved because of their willingness to come to Him.

Both Hannah and the blind men cried out persistently. It isn’t that we need to badger God into helping us but that our persistence reveals commitment and faith in God’s ability to meet our need or we would go somewhere else for an answer!
What have you prayed about persistently?
What is your one prayer?
What is the one thing that you go back to time and time again?

2. A cry for salvation
A people in slavery longed for freedom and looked to God to send a Saviour.
“The Egyptians mistreated us and our fathers but when we cried out to the Lord he heard our cry and sent an angel and brought us out of Egypt.”   (Numbers 20:16)

Moses was told that God is acting because He has heard the cry of Israel.  The simple act of their crying out to God provoked the Lord to action. 
I have heard the groaning of the people of Israel, whom the Egyptians hold as slaves, and I have remembered my covenant.” (Exodus 6:5)
When Jesus rode into Jerusalem and the crowds shouted Hosanna, like their ancestors in Egypt they were crying for salvation.  

Hosanna means save now! In the Hebrew "Hosanna" always comes from one who is desperate, about a problem which can only be resolved by the intervention of the King. The crying out of Hosanna was a cry to God not only to save but to send them the Saviour promised by the prophets. The people didn’t fully understand how Jesus would fulfil His role as Saviour, but they were incredibly aware of their need to be saved.
While many on Palm Sunday probably cried out for political salvation we now can make an even more accurate application, and cry out for deliverance from oppressive regime of the evil one, Satan.
Is this not a time when it is right for us to shout Hosanna? Save our marriages, save our families, save our children, save our communities! In the midst of the biggest migration of people in Europe because of war and persecution, since the second world war, is it not time to cry Hosanna?  But rather than articulate the cry Hosanna, we often stay silent.

"In the midst of a generation screaming for answers, Christians are stuttering."  Howard Hendricks

We might not have all the answers about the many problems in our world but we can cry out to God.  
3. A cry for revival
There is a cry that comes because we see ourselves and we know that it is us that needs to be changed, to be free.  The cry is for our own revival as the people of God.

In the face of the pilgrims of Jerusalem, shouting and crying out for salvation, Jesus went to the Temple, the centre of Israel’s identity, faith and worship and turned it upside down.
When we cry out to God, we must never be surprised if the first thing he does to bring change to our circumstance or to our world is to challenge us to change.

Jim Parisi states that we need revival when any or all of the following things are true. 
-          When there is complacency, self-satisfaction or satisfaction with the status quo.
-          When we become a self-serving and not a God serving people.
When there is a lack of concern for the lost.-          When we are hiding or covering secret sins, doing things that we think no one else sees.
-          When we have an unforgiving spirit.
-          When we are fill of pride.
-          If in any way were are spiritually less that we were.

“It doesn’t require us to be courageous or wise, pure or particularly holy.  We don’t have to be smart, or eloquent. Crying out only requires one thing of us, honesty.  Our cry to God, just like Israel’s, flows from an honest assessment of who we are before God.  It requires us to be honest about our flaws and weaknesses, about our limits and sins.  When we cry out we confess ourselves, we confess who we are and what we cannot do on our own.  And so, it requires us to be honest with ourselves as we speak to the one who already knows the truth about us anyway.”
Steven Hovater

 “Will you not revive us again that your people may rejoice in you?  Show us your unfailing love O Lord and grant us your salvation.”   Psalm 85:6

Alan and Carol 

Exeter Temple Message notes:  Mother’s Day 6th March 2016
Theme: Elisha and a widow
Bible Reading:  2 Kings 4:1-17

This is the story of one mother’s struggle to fulfill her responsibility to her family. However, the life principles she employed and the ways of God she learned are good not just for mothers but for anyone in any situation.

1 The principle of facing reality and avoiding self-pity.

Many people in debt find it very difficult to face up to and resort to hiding bills and put off facing up to what is happening to them.  There is a pride about us that doesn’t want somebody else to know how much need we are in. However, given the time, culture and small community this woman lived in it is unlikely that she could keep her situation private, even if she wanted to. Her creditors may even have been her very near neighbours.  In desperation she went to Elisha, the prophet, the man who in her eyes represented God and cried out to him for help.

The woman reminded Elisha that her husband was his servant and that he had been a faithful prophet. Implied in her words is anger and confusion about how she ended up in the position of losing first her husband and now her home and her children and an implication that Elisha had an obligation to help her. We should not miss the sense of injustice that she feels.  Sometimes we too feel that it isn’t fair that when we have served God faithfully that bad stuff still happens to us. We feel justified in feeling self-pity as if somehow we have earned the right to a trouble free existence.  When we do that we miss out on an opportunity to see God supply all our needs and deepen our relationship with him.

Elisha did not admonish the woman for her anger or offer platitudes, but in a practical way led her to take a step of faith that proved to be life changing for her and for her whole community.

 2. The principle of there always being possibilities

The widow might have expected that Elisha would pay the debt but instead he asks her for something.
“Tell me what do you have in your house?”  (v2)
We would prefer it when we turn to God for help that there is instant resolution but rather than ask the woman about what she needed and didn’t have, he asked her what she already had which was nothing but a little oil. She thinks this is of no significance at all because if it had been, the bailiffs would have taken it.  Probably she was saving it for her burial, which she assumed would not be long away, given the depth of her poverty.  To her this oil was a symbol of impending doom rather than something that signified hope.
But the pot of oil became the turning point in her situation. It is not trite to say that we should never dismiss anything that God has given us as too small for him to use. This is a biblical principle and the way God works, for example Moses in Exodus 4:2 and a widow in 1 Kings 17:12
If we asked same question that Elisha asked the widow of Jesus, “What do have in your house?”  his reply might have been “I do not even have a house all I have is this cross.” 

3. The principle of obedience

Elisha instructed the widow to ask all her neighbours for empty jars.
Why? He probably had a supply of empty jars in his household but instead he made her go to all her neighbours.

-          Faith involves obedience even when we don’t understand

For the poor widow to go out & appeal to her neighbours was a humbling, embarrassing thing to do in itself. To ask that she might have their empty oil jars rather than for oil seemed ridiculous.
We should admire this woman’s faith. What Elisha asked of her hard. risked ridicule, anger and further rejection It is the kind of trust that acts in obedience to God when it makes no sense at all in human terms.  The Bible is full of commands but very often they are not accompanied with detailed explanations of how obeying them will work out.  Yet we know that God is good and we can trust him even when we don’t know where it might lead. 

The thing that we often have to overcome is our reluctance to face being laughed at by those who do not have our hope and our trust in God.  The widow had got to the place where she did not care about saving face but only about losing her sons.  Our priorities change when we are desperate enough.  Our faith is sometimes small because we really don’t realize the depth of our own spiritual poverty or how desperate the situation regarding the future of our mission is, or if we don’t really believe that an eternal destiny devoid of God’s presence awaits those who do not know the Saviour.
If we did would our priorities about reputation, preferences, comfort change dramatically?

-          To show her that God can do more than we can ask.

She was to collect all the empty jars possible and then go inside her house, shut the door and pour oil from her little jar into all the jars. She did as she was told, even though it must have seemed impossible to fill even one jar, when all that she had left was such a tiny amount.
She had to raise her expectations because God can do what we think is impossible. In fact, he did more than she asked.  In the end not only could she pay the debt and save her boys from slavery, there was enough for her and her sons to live on.
“God is able to do immeasurably more than we ask or imagine according to his power that is at work within us.”  (Ephesians 3:20)

-          To alert the community of the God they had forgotten

Why did Elisha involve the widow’s neighbours in this miracle?
If the community had been living their lives according to the Covenant they had with God, then they should have stepped in and sorted this out.  In 
 involving the neighbours Elisha was calling the community back to the God, they had forgotten and reminding them what he was like.
The creditors were coming and they were going to take away this woman’s children into slavery but this was forbidden in God’s law. This was not supposed to be allowed to happen in Israel.
 “If one of your countrymen becomes poor among you and sells himself to you, do not make him work as a slave.” (Leviticus 25:35) But this case the creditors were coming to take this woman’s children and her community were standing by and letting it happen.  More than, not letting the widow’s children be taken into slavery, God’s law demanded that when a person fell into poverty the whole community should support them. But they were not helping. They had forgotten God’s laws, they had forgotten him and they forgotten what kind of God he was.

Elisha, in making the woman go around and ask for their empty pots, is rallying these people into remembering their God and their covenant responsibilities. The impact of the miracle on the community would be immense. It would raise questions for them all.

What kind of God do we have, who cares about the needs of a little person like her?

Will he meet my needs like he met the need of the woman?

Could I have more faith like that of the widow?  

If this is the God we are in covenant with, what does he expect of us? What kind of people should we be, if we are in relationship with a God like that? 

We need to ask the same kind of questions ourselves.  

God bless 
Alan and Carol