Sunday, 12 March 2017

The 'Common' Duties of the Christian

I recently came across this Dr Guthrie quote in his book 'The Angels Song' which is available as a Kindle book.  It is vintage Guthrie and as always reveals his great respect for the Christian involved in the nitty gritty of everyday work.

"But people are too apt to suppose that religion lies mainly, if not exclusively, in prayers, reading the Bible, listening to sermons, and attending on sacraments; in time spent, or work done, or offerings made, or sacrifices endured, for what are called, in common language, religious objects. These are the means, not the end. He who rises from his knees to his daily task, and, with an eye not so much to please men as God, does it well, carries divine worship to the workshop, and throws a sacred halo around the ordinary secularities of life. That, indeed, may be the highest expression of religion; just as it is the highest expression of devoted loyalty to leave the precincts of the court and the presence of the sovereign, to endure the hardships of a campaign, and stand in soiled and tattered regimentals by the king's colours amid the deadly hail of battle. He who goes to common duties in a devout and Christian spirit proves his loyalty to God; and, as this case proves, is of all men the most likely to be favoured with tokens of the Divine presence--communications of grace which will sustain his patience under a life of toil, and fit him for the rest that remaineth for the people of God."

Monday, 20 February 2017

Confessions of a Secret Disciple

This was written by Catriona Murray and appeared in the February 2017 Stornoway Free Church Newsletter.  It appears by kind permission from Catriona who shares this very personal journey.

The Lord’s presence in my life is something of which I have been aware for almost as long as I can remember. This makes it all the more shameful, therefore, that I have not always followed Him. Despite my upbringing, I actively chose to go my own way many times. Sometimes I would remember Him, and this would be followed by a period of seeking which would, inevitably, give way to disobedience. It wasn’t so much that I fled from the Lord, but more that I drifted aimlessly away, lukewarm.

In my early twenties, while still a student, I began once more to go to church regularly. I would come to the morning service in the seminary with my parents and go alone to the English service on Kenneth Street. Perhaps because of my own innate shyness (yes, really) and because I didn’t know anyone of my own age in church, I used to come and go without usually speaking to anyone.

There were many occasions when the preaching very much affected me, but there was no one to discuss it with. The Lord, in His providence, has given me a lot of good friends who are, at best, sceptics and, at worst, all-out atheists. So, trying to figure it out for myself, I bought a study Bible and filled it with post-it notes, but found it hard to read scripture for myself, without having it opened first by a preacher.

I had graduated and was working as a development officer in Ness when I spotted an advert for the first of the Saturday theology courses. Thinking that this might be something which could help me, I enrolled, despite being filled with trepidation at the thought of entering – as I saw it – a den of Daniels, with no Christian credentials of my own.  Putting these doubts aside, I completed the certificate, but felt no further forward in my walk.

By the middle of 2003, I was working as a lecturer in the Gaelic department at Lews Castle College UHI, teaching Highland history, politics and folklore (all more related than you might think). That summer, I married Donnie Murray, from North Tolsta, and we made our home in his native village. We started with good intentions, but I’m afraid that we made one another our priority. He worked away all week, only getting home at weekends. That was our excuse for not attending church. It is ironic that, because we were so happy in our marriage, we neglected the One who had given it to us. We were both well aware that the Lord had brought us together and felt, from time to time, the pricking of our consciences. Nonetheless, we did not make room for Him in our home.

My father passed away in 2011 and I was deeply conscious of his own and my mother’s faith, as well as the upholding of our whole family by the church community. I remember the pang I felt when a lady came up to my mother at the funeral and said, ‘he’s in the happy land’. They both had something that I did not have, and I began to keenly feel the absence of it once more.

In the weeks and months that followed his passing, I had an almost constant awareness of death as a real and present threat. It was as though this first breach in the family circle had left us all somehow exposed to it in a way that we never had been before.

My sense of foreboding, sadly, proved well founded when my husband passed away on March 20th, 2015, 17 months after the initial diagnosis of bowel cancer. He had been in hospital with a chest infection when I was summoned and told that he was dying. The same day, he was transferred to Bethesda Hospice, and I slept in a chair by his bedside for the week that he was there. This may all sound terribly bleak – and so it would have been, but for the Lord’s presence. However, He transformed that scene into one of such grace and peace as it is ever likely to be my privilege to witness in this life. Among the last things Donnie said to me were Christ’s words in John 14:3, about going to prepare a place in His Father’s house. Who would not be comforted by that?

It was around this time that I realised just how much I was living by faith and how little of my own strength was needed because the Lord was giving me His. Without my requesting it, He had stretched His arms out to catch me before I even knew that I might fall. I believe that I had been converted some time before this and honestly cannot say when, but I feel that this was my moment of blessed assurance. A few weeks after Donnie’s funeral, I closed in with Christ. Having felt exposed to death after my father’s passing, I now felt open to the reality of eternity in a way I never had before.

I told no one, except one atheist friend who asked me directly. Strangely, although I could not deny my Saviour to this man, it also seemed that I could not confess Him to the Kirk Session. It was firmly fixed in my mind that I would remain a secret disciple forever, until Kenny I preached on the woman with the issue of blood: Christ required that she tell of her healing and I felt the message was for me, and me alone. Of course, I changed my mind hundreds of times during the next fortnight. Nonetheless, at the opening of the February 2016 communion, our soon-to-be new minister preached from 1 Peter 3:15; he spoke directly to anyone present who loved Christ, but who might be afraid, to obey Peter and simply sanctify Him in their hearts. I had nowhere else to hide, and professed faith that same evening.

Secret discipleship had become a burden to me; loving Him in plain sight has brought blessings by the score.  

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Who was Dr Thomas Guthrie?

When Dr Thomas Guthrie was buried in the Grange Cemetery in Edinburgh on 28th February 1873 there had not been a funeral since that of Sir James Y Simpson, the Professor of Midwifery at Edinburgh University, who had died a few years earlier.  The sun shone down on that black day as Scotland said farewell to one of its best and most noble sons.  A procession stretched for nearly a mile to Guthrie’s house in Salisbury Road and it is estimated that around 30,000 lined the streets.  The ecclesiastical and civic world were united in grief.  The loss was felt across the known world at the time such was Guthrie’s influence as a preacher, writer and social reformer.  The following Sunday Dr Candlish preached a sermon from Hebrews 9 v 27, 28 and spoke tenderly of his great friend of 35 years: ‘Friend and brother, comrade in the fight, companion in tribulation, farewell!  But not forever.  May my soul, when my time comes, be with thine!  A great man truly in Israel has fallen.  Men of talents, men of abilities, men of learning, are not uncommon.  Men powerful in thought are often raised up; but genius, real poetic genius, like Guthrie’s come but once in many generations.  We shall not look upon his like soon, if ever.  Nor was it genius alone that distinguished him.  The warm heart and the ready hand; the heart to feel, and the hand to work.  No sentimental dreamer or mooning idealist was he.  His pity was ever active’ (The Life of Rev Thomas Guthrie, 1875, John S Marr and Sons, Glasgow, p 124, 125).

Thomas Guthrie was born on July 12th 1803 in Brechin, Angus.  The second youngest of 13 children, Thomas was a lively boy who loved scrapping with his friends.  ‘Providence’, as Guthrie used to say, ‘is kind to fools and bairns.’  It was certainly kind to him when he and his brother were playing with their uncle’s gun and it discharged into the wall narrowly missing the young Thomas.  By his own admission Guthrie was no great academic.  He was sent when he was aged 4 to a Tutor called Jamie Stewart who taught his pupils while he was weaving.  The tutor was an elder in the Burgher Church (the Secession Church) and the young schoolboy was greatly impressed by his prayers.  While Guthrie never really spoke in any detail of a conversion experience he talks warmly of his mother’s spiritual influence (also a Seceder).  Little could she have known the great influence her teaching and prayers were to have on Scotland as Guthrie rose to prominence over the next few years.  As was the custom Guthrie was sent to university in Edinburgh at the tender age of 12, to study literature and philosophy, followed by a further degree in theology.  Another 2 years were spent studying anatomy and natural history, which started a life-long interest in medicine.

After several ‘wilderness years’ first travelling in Europe and then working in his father’s bank, Guthrie was eventually called to Arbirlot in Angus in 1830.  Now settled, and a man of means, Guthrie married Ann Burns the daughter of Rev James Burns of Brechin.  A Parish of 1000 people, Arbirlot had almost 100% attendance at the local Parish Church.  Despite large attendances Guthrie found his congregation to be spiritually dead: ‘He had thundered in their ears the terrors of Mount Sinai, he had sounded the Gospel trumpet with a blast loud enough to rouse the dead; he had implored, threatened and almost scolded them…but they went to sleep under his most fervent and heart stirring appeals’ (ibid, p 26).  One day he tried an anecdote and the effect was electric.  This was a turning point in his ministry. His ministry was marked from then on by rich imagery.  He cancelled his evening service and substituted for it a catechism class for young people.  There were also signs of the emerging social reformer as Guthrie set up a library and savings bank in the manse.

After 7 fruitful years of ministry in Arbirlot, Guthrie was called to Edinburgh where he assisted Rev Sym in the Old Greyfriars Parish Church.  Ever the pioneer, Guthrie suggested a church plant in the parish, and St John’s Parish Church in Victoria Street was opened in 1840.  The great Thomas Chalmers had a vision to see 200 churches planted in the poorest areas of Scotland and the Cowgate in Edinburgh was an area of almost unimaginable squalor.  Guthrie insisted to the Town Council that one third of the seats in St John’s were given to the poor while another third were allocated at a nominal rent.  Along with Chalmers, Guthrie applied the Parochial or Territorial system in his new parish:  the gospel free to all, the Elders and Deacons visiting systematically and frequently, and a school open to rich and poor alike.  After the Disruption of 1843 Guthrie’s congregation built Free St John’s (the current St Columba’s Free Church in Johnston Terrace, Edinburgh).  The architect, Thomas Hamilton, designed an ornate pulpit and an attractive sanctuary.  As Guthrie said at the opening on 18th April 1845: ‘there is no sin in beauty, and no holiness in ugliness’ (Autobiography and Memoirs of Thomas Guthrie, 1896, Burnet and Isbister, London, p 512).

After the Disruption Guthrie was appointed to head up the Manse Fund.  Despite our rather romantic view of the Disruption, there was considerable hardships experienced by the 474 ministers and professors who signed the Deed of Demission.  This was particularly true in the Highlands where many a minister reached an early demise due to the sudden hardships and poverty which they faced.  Guthrie smashed the target of £100,000 for new manses as he travelled ‘from Cape Wrath to the Border, and from the North Sea to the Atlantic Ocean’ in the course of a year.  Due to the burden placed on Guthrie, his health was badly affected and for the next 25 years he suffered from a weak heart. 

Guthrie’s next great venture was his lasting legacy.  He published his first pamphlet in 1847 entitled ‘A Plea for Ragged Schools’, which Guthrie says ‘fell like a spark amongst combustibles.’  It was estimated that upward of 1000 children in Edinburgh were living as ‘savages in the midst of civilisation, ignorant in the midst of knowledge and heathens in the midst of Christianity.’  By 1847 the Edinburgh Original Ragged School had been set up on Castle Hill.  Many thousands of ‘street Arabs’ were saved from a life of neglect and abuse as Guthrie became the ‘Apostle’ of the Ragged School Movement.  This was closely allied to his great campaign against drunkenness and his leadership of the temperance movement.  

While Guthrie is remembered as a great preacher and social reformer, he was also a prolific writer.  After ‘A Plea for Ragged Schools’ (which actually had 3 editions (1847, 1849 and 1860) and are now available together) Guthrie went on to write: ‘The City its Sins and Sorrows’ (1857), ‘The Gospel in Ezekiel’ (1956 – now back in print), ‘Discourses from Colossions’ (1858), ‘Speaking to the Heart’ (1862), ‘The Way of Life’ (1862), Man and the Gospel (1865), and ‘On the Parables’ (1866).  From 1867 he published the Sunday magazine which had, at its height, a circulation of 100,000. 

It is very hard to summarise Guthrie’s legacy.  He was an evangelist, a preacher, a social reformer.  He hated sectarian or party spirit, and loved all who loved Christ.  As Dr Candlish said the week after Guthrie’s death: ‘To our own Church he was to the last loyal and loving. No one more so.  But he grew, as I would desire to grow, more and more from year to year, in sympathy with all who love Jesus and hold the truth as it is in him.  May the Lord, in his own good time, answer his many prayers for the repairing of all breaches in Zion, and send to the divided and distracted Christian family all over the world that peace and loving unity on which his large heart was set’ (ibid, p 126).

For further reading ‘The Autobiography and Memoir of Thomas Guthrie D.D.’ (1875) by his sons David and Charles, is perhaps the richest and most accurate mine of information.  The author of this article has also written a short booklet called ‘A Mission of Mercy – the Life and Legacy of Dr Thomas Guthrie’ which is available as an e-book on Amazon or from the author;

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

What can we Learn from Dr Guthrie?

Over the last few months in The Record we have looked at different aspects of Dr Guthrie’s incredible ministry: his preaching, his pastoral work, his work as a social reformer, his pioneering work as a church planter and his role as the 'Apostle of Temperance'.  
His legacy is awe inspiring and very humbling.  The key question is what can we learn from Dr Guthrie and apply in our own situation today?
1.  Vision - Dr Guthrie had incredible vision.  He literally, by God's grace, changed Scotland.  His vision was not shaped by the challenges of 19th Century Scotland but rather shaped by the greatness of the God he served.  He believed that the Christian gospel could save anyone and transform any community.  By the time of his death Guthrie had, along with many other social reformers, changed childhood.  Rather than being seen as commodities, towards the end of the 19th Century, children were seen as those in need of protection and nurture.  Partly as a result of lobbying from social reformers like Guthrie legislation was passed protecting children from working long hours in often dangerous situations.  The DNA of men like Thomas Guthrie and Thomas Chalmers is that they had a big vision.  It wasn't a congregational vision or even a Free Church vision but a national vision.  Surely Guthrie teaches us that our current vision for Scotland is too small and parochial.   

2. Truth - We need to know what we believe.  Unlike so many Christians who get involved in social action, Guthrie never lost his Biblical moorings when he became a social reformer.  It is clear from his writings that he adhered to the Bible as the word of God and remained confessionally Reformed throughout his ministry.  He believed in the supremacy and centrality of preaching as the main method that God uses to save sinners.  Guthrie preached the whole counsel of God with love and tenderness but never compromised on doctrine.  Are we as a church falling out of love with the reformed theology that compelled men like Guthrie and Chalmers?  Are we embarrassed by our reformed heritage?

3. Love - As a minister of the Gospel, Guthrie embodied love.  We are told in James 1 v 27:  Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.  The fruit of true Christianity is always love for the poor and the oppressed.  Many people regard practical love for the poor as a deviation from the gospel.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Guthrie's work with ragged children enhanced his message and gave his Christianity a reality and authenticity that made the gospel attractive to sinners.  We must never love people just because they may become Christian’s or come to our church.  We must love them because they are made in the image of God and the gospel commands us to love our neighbour.  The very essence of grace is to love with no strings attached.  How are we loving those on the margins of society like Dr Guthrie?  Are our churches places where people with addictions, relationship difficulties, prisoners, women experiencing domestic violence will find grace and love? Do we want these kind of people in our churches?  If we do, how will we support them and disciple them?

4. Hope - It was this combination of truth and love that gave Guthrie such hope for the communities he worked in and for the individuals he sought to reach.  The gospel, when preached in all its fullness and freeness, should fill every sinner with a sense of hope that Christ died to reconcile them to a holy God.  The church has gone though many periods when this message has been lost or when she has lost confidence in the power of this gospel to reach the darkest and most hopeless parts of our communities.  Guthrie (among others) gave the Free Church the belief that the gospel, accompanied by education for the poor and the practical outworking of love through the local church could redeem the darkest and most hopeless communities. Do we still have this hope?

There is a famous story about Dr Guthrie and Thomas Chalmers standing on George IV Bridge looking down on to the Cowgate.  Guthrie tells us; ‘Hopeful of success, he [Chalmers] surveyed the scene beneath us, and his eye, which often wore a dreamy stare, kindled at the prospect of seeing that wilderness become an Eden, these foul haunts of darkness, drunkenness and disease, changed into "dwellings of the righteous where is heard the voice of melody."  Contemplating the scene for a little in silence, all at once, with his broad Luther-like face glowing with enthusiasm, he waved his arm to exclaim, "A beautiful field, sir; a very fine field of operation” (Out of Harness, Thomas Guthrie).  

It takes great vision to look at some parts of Scotland and see them as a ‘beautiful field’ but yet that is what men like Dr Guthrie saw in places like the Cowgate. Thomas Guthrie brought hope to thousands through his preaching, his pastoral care and his practical Christianity.  Nobody was beyond redemption for Guthrie.  He preached a gospel that was free for the worst sinner and believed that nobody was a hopeless case.  He is an inspiration to us, that in dark and difficult days, the gospel can once again reach the darkest corners of Scotland. 

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Singing the Song of the Incarnation

Most of the material in this blog post comes from Tim Keller's excellent book 'Hidden Christmas'

Luke 1 

 And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord,47 And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.48 For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.49 For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name.50 And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation.51 He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.52 He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree.53 He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away.54 He hath helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy;55 As he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever.

What does Christmas mean to you?

For most of us it probably involves some extra shopping, lots of food, presents, family and friends.

Hopefully for most of us it is also a reminder of the glory of Christs Incarnation – how God became Emmanuel - God with us.

Unfortunately, the way the Christmas story is told has become so sentimental, that when we read what the Bible actually says, we are shocked.  Far from a cosy scene of domestic bliss we see Mary and Joseph arriving in Bethlehem under the prospect of shame and uncertainty.   Mary was an unwed, pregnant mother in a culture where marriage was important.

Far from receiving kindness and sympathy, Mary and Joseph took refuge in a stable, or perhaps a cave, or maybe the house of a poor relative who lived with animals.  An ‘Inn’ can mean a furnished room so its possible that Mary and Joseph were staying with relatives but they had to stay with the animals.

At some point in his young life Jesus flees from a genocide commanded by the paranoid, bloodthirsty Herod.

The Christmas story is wonderful – but it is also full of the brutal reality of poverty, shame,  uncertainty and fear – which is good news because that is what most of us struggle with.  

The Christmas story reminds us why Jesus came into the world – to bring light into darkness.  The Christmas story is not sweet and sentimental – it deals with the most fundamental issue that we struggle with – the sin of the human heart.

But what the Christmas story does give us is hope, hope in the midst of despair and light in the midst of darkness.

And at the heart of the Christmas story is a mother – frightened, confused, unsure – just like thousands of mothers in Scotland today.

We see in Mary, this young, vulnerable mum, the hope that can come when we see the wonder of Jesus and when we tell others about that wonder.

While Matthews account focuses more on Joseph, Luke tells us more about Mary.  We want to look in this blog about how she responds to the news of Jesus coming into the world through her.  She responds thoughtfully, gradually, in wonder and in willing surrender.

1.  She responds thoughtfully Luke 1 v 26 - 38

People often accuse Christians of ‘blind faith’ of not asking enough ‘hard questions’.  But when the angel appeared to Mary in Luke 1 v 28 we are told that she was ‘greatly troubled’ or ‘moved at the strangeness of it’. We are told that Mary ‘wondered’ – ‘to make an audit’ (accounting, to add up, weighing, pondering).  She asks in verse 34 ‘How can this be?  It is a question of innocence because she is not yet married.

We sometimes look back at ancient cultures and think they were less developed and less enlightened that we are.  But this is not true.  Mary was just as astonished at the appearance of an angel as we would be.  She had also been trained by her culture never to believe that God could become a man. Mary has just as much difficulty in believing in the Christmas message as many people do today – it is a belief in the supernatural.

But a mixture of evidence and experience shatter Mary’s objections.  It’s interesting when we compare Mary to Zacharias, that when Zacharias expresses doubt, he is struck dumb. You see there is doubt that comes from a closed mind (like Zacharias) and doubt that comes from an open mind (like Mary).  Mary was open to truth and she found faith despite her initial doubts.

2. Mary responds Gradually

It is a dangerous experience to standardise Christian experience. 

Some people come to faith like the Philippian jailer while some come to faith very gradually like the dawning of the sun.

We see Mary’s first response as one of incredulity v 34.  Mary’s is basically saying to the angel ‘this is crazy!’  How can I give birth to the Saviour of the world?

For most of us we can think of a time in our lives when we have finally understood the gospel in a real way and we have reacted like Mary.  The gospel is (at one level) ridiculous, impossible and inconceivable.  But Mary’s response is measured – she wants to know more.

Secondly, she responds with simple acceptance. Mary says these beautiful words in verse 38: ‘I am the Lord’s servant.  May your word to me be fulfilled.’  Mary has gone from shock to submission – she is now a disciple, a servant.  At this stage Mary still doesn’t understand everything but despite her fears and reservations, she follows.  We also see that she exercises faith from the heart.

It is only when Mary visits her cousin Elizabeth that Mary fully comprehends what is happening. Elizabeth by the power of the Holy Spirit recognizes that Mary is carrying the Messiah.  This confirms what the Angel and said to Mary and gives her assurance.  Mary breaks out into praise and recognises that the child she is carrying is the fulfilment of centuries of promises:

‘My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour. For he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant’ Luke 1 v 46-47.

Mary is no longer agreeing with what the Angel said, she has gone from mental assent and duty, to worshipping joyfully with her heart.  Mary’s faith was gradual.  

Why does faith take so many different paths?

Well because it is God who gives us faith – it is a gift of grace – we are not in control.
We may have heard the Christmas story a thousand times but one day God opens our eyes to see it a different way – gradually God draws us to himself and assures us of his love.

Where are you in terms of faith?  Are you a sceptic? Are you a seeker? Are you saved?

Follow Mary’s example – seek, submit and serve.

3.  Mary Responds in Wonder

We see in verses 46 and 47 that Mary speaks of her soul glorifying/magnifying and her spirit rejoicing in God her Saviour.  What is the difference between her soul and spirit?  The answer is that there is no difference.  It is a repetition that is saying every part of her being is moved to worship.

But Mary is also amazed that this is happened to a sinner like her ‘…the Mighty One has done great things for me.’ v 49

Mary is looking down through history and suddenly recognises that the baby she is carrying is the fulfilment of centuries of promises. And as we see from the genealogy in Matthew 1 – who does God use?  God uses women, he uses Gentiles, he uses prostitutes, adulterers and cultural outsiders.  Even the royalty in Jesus family tree was a murderer and an adulterer.  As Tim Keller says ‘even the begats of Jesus are dripping with God’s mercy’.

What was God saying? What God says through the Christmas story is people who are excluded through culture, by society, excluded by the law of God, can all be brought into Jesus’ family. Just like Mary – it is not our family, or pedigree, or our church connections that saves us – it is God’s grace.

God spent centuries preparing his people for the Messiah, and how would the Messiah be born in to this world?  Through a simple, poor, teenage, unmarried mother.

Surely this sense of wonder and amazement is at the heart of what it means to be a Christian.  Grace is a miracle – that God should shower us with his love.  Have you responded like Mary with wonder?

4.  Mary responds with Willing Surrender

If we go back to verse 38 Mary says ‘I am the Lords servant.  May your word to me be fulfilled.’  ‘Behold the servant of the Lord: be it unto me according to thy word.’ (Geneva Bible).  Remember Mary was in a traditional, paternalistic society where shame was real. She knew that even if Joseph stayed with her, people would work out that Jesus was the result either illegitimacy or unfaithfulness.  But in her song of praise she links her experience to Abraham.  What is the connection?

Well remember God promised Abraham that salvation would come through his offspring, his family. But the first thing God told him to do was to give everything up – he had to leave his homeland, your family, your friends, your security and go out into the wilderness.  Hebrews 11 v 8: ‘He went out not knowing where he was going.’  Just like Abraham, Mary was asked to put aside her hopes and dreams of a normal, average married life. Mary simply says ‘I am your servant.’

This is what it means to be a Christian.  It means surrendering our will, and our plans to God’s plans.  It is the most radical thing we can do in out individualistic, rights based culture.  But look at Mary.  She knew that her surrender would sink her even lower down the social ladder.  Imagine the pain she felt watching her son being tortured and crucified. Mary is a living example of the verse in Matt 23 v 12 ‘those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.’

But however low Mary had to go for Jesus, think how far Jesus came for you – from the glory of heaven to this dark world.  Jesus accepted God’s will knowing it would cost him everything.  Christ’s surrender to his fathers will brought salvation to a broken world.  That’s what Christmas is all about.  Jesus was born to die – to give us eternal life.

Mild, he lays his glory by,
born that we may no more may die
born to raise us from the earth,
born to give us second birth.

He used a poor, unmarried young mother to carry the Messiah.  This Saviour who came from generations of cultural and racial outsiders.  Today he is offering you the greatest gift of all – eternal life.  There is an answer to sin and suffering – Jesus came to bring life and hope.  

Sunday, 27 November 2016

The Life of Joseph (3) - A Rapid Promotion

The Life of Joseph – Genesis Chapters 37 - 50

The story so far (Studies 1 and 2)
  • Joseph is Jacobs favourite son
  • He has 2 dreams that involve his family bowing down to him
  • His brothers think about killing him but eventually fling him down a well
  • He is sold into slavery and then accused by his master’s wife of rape
  • He interpreted 2 dreams in prison and was promised that a ‘good word’ would be put in with the Pharaoh but he remained in prison.

Themes so far:
  • God is at work even when it looks like he isn’t
  • Challenges mould and shape our character and made Joseph a better man
  • Joseph is not consumed by bitterness despite the injustice he experiences
  • Joseph is like Jesus is many different ways

Study 3
Genesis chapter 41

1.  A Unexpected Opportunity

What was Pharaoh’s dream ch 41 v 1-7?

What do you think would have been the significance of Kings dream in ancient Egypt?

Can you think of any other Biblical examples of God speaking to people through dreams?
  • Genesis 28
  • Judges 7
  • I Kings 3
  • Daniel 2, 4
  • Matthew 2, 19, 22, 27

Does God still use dreams to speak to us today?

How should we test if dreams are from God?
  • Does the dream confirm or contradict scripture?
  • Does the dream confirm something that you feel God has already been saying though his word.
  • Is the dream confirmed through providence?
  • Consult mature Christians.

Look at verse 16 and verse 25 – Who does Joseph say will interpret the Kings dream?

What does that say about Joseph?  This shows hos God centred Joseph was - God received all the glory.

What was Josephs interpretation of the Kings dream? v 25-36  Seven years of plenty followed bhy seven years of famine.

2.  A Rapid Promotion Gen 41 v 37 – 57

Look at verse 38.  What were the personal traits that Pharaoh saw in Joseph and which marked him out as a believer in a different God?  He was a man of integrity, humility and deep wisdom.

If we claim to be a Christian, what personal traits do people see in our life?

How did Joseph cope with his rapid rise to power at the age of 30?

How do you think his thirteen years as a slave and then a prisoner would have prepared him for power?

What does godly leadership look like?

3.  The Pressure to Conform

Joseph live in a culture that worshipped many gods – how do we know that he continued to worship the living and true God – v 50-52  He called his sons Manasseh (God has made me forget my hardship and my fathers house) and Ephraim (God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction).  Joseph wasn't consumed with bitterness but had forgiven his brothers and acknowledged God's hand in his suffering/

How can we live a Christ centred life in a society that hates God and everything he stands for?

What can we learn from Jesus?

Personal Application

Do you ever think that all the challenges you are going through are preparing you in the future for a God given opportunity?

Joseph seemed to move on from all the injustices he had suffered.  What are we holding on to from the past that we need to let go?

Where do you feel most under pressure to confirm to the word rather than following Christ?

Seeing Jesus in Joseph

Pharaoh saw the Spirit of God in Joseph – how does this compare with Luke 3 v 22 when the Spirit rested on Jesus at his baptism?  What did God say of Jesus?

When Jesus read from the scroll in Luke 4 he was ascribing all the Old Testament promises of a coming Messiah on himself – he was the promised Saviour.

Both Joseph and Jesus were saviours but Jesus name is above all names.


Lord thank you for the godly wisdom you gave Joseph.  Give me a similar wisdom to discern the times we are living in and to live godly in Christ Jesus.  Lord protect me from the pressures all around me that would pull me away from you and keep in a closer walk with Jesus every day.  We pray for peace in this prison and for more men to come to know the living and true God and Jesus his beloved son – amen.



The Life of Joseph (2) - Promotion and Imprisonment

This is the second Bible study used with a group of prisoners in my local jail.  You can read more about the life of Joseph in Genesis 37-50.  It is not meant to be exhaustive but to provoke discussion.

In our first study we saw how Joseph's brothers planned to kill him but ultimately sold him in to slavery.

1.  Success and Promotion – Gen 37 v 1-6
What do you think the Egyptian slave market would have been like?  More than likely the prisoners would have been naked and shackled as people bartered over them. It would have been humiliating and degrading.

Joseph was sold to Potiphar.  What was Potiphar’s position? Gen 39 v 1

What position did Potiphar give Joseph?
            Gen 38 v 4, 5 and 6.

How do we know that Potiphar trusted Joseph?  We are told that he gave him responsibility so that he didn't know anything other than the food that was in front of him.

How many times do we read in verses 1-6 that God was with Joseph?  Isn't it amazing how often we read that God is with saints in the Bible even in really difficult circumstances?

How could God still be with Joseph after all that happened?
  • Attempted murder
  • Flung down a well
  • Sold into slavery
  • Ripped from his country and family

Why do you think God allows suffering?  Check out Gen 45 v 7-8

God was working out his eternal purposes through the life of Joseph.  We see many examples in the Bible like in Job and David of how, through great suffering, God was still working.

2.  Accused and Imprisoned Gen 39 v 7 (b) – 20

Joseph has the chance to sleep with Potiphar’s wife – how persistent was she? 39 v 10

What arguments did Joseph use to resist Potiphar’s wife in verse 9?
  • Marriage to Potiphar
  • Breaking of God’s law/code of conduct

What is the Bible’s view of marriage and how seriously should we take this commitment?
What are the benefits of a good marriage?

What does Potiphar’s wife accuse Joseph off in v 11-18?
  • How would Joseph have felt given that he was still a slave?
  • Notice how once again his coat is used in a conspiracy against him.
  • Notice how she shifts the blame onto her husband v 14.

How do you think Joseph would have felt as he was flung into prison?

Where was God v 21?  He was there all the time.

In what way was God with Joseph in prison?

3.  False Hope

Why did the Cup Bearer and Baker end up in jail?  40 v 1

Did Joseph claim to intemperate dreams v 8?  He gave all the glory to God.

Read v 23 – how do you think Joseph would have felt?

Personal Application

Have you ever been falsely accused?  How did you react?

Was God more with Joseph when he was promoted, when he was falsely accused or when he was in prison?

Why do you think we sometimes feel nearer to God when everything is going wrong?

What can we do to feel nearer to God?

Why do we find it so hard to ‘wait on God?’

Seeing Jesus in Joseph

Christ was exalted like Joseph was in but then falsely accused imprisoned and ultimately killed.
Isaiah 53 v 4-9
Just like Joseph God was with Jesus in all his trials and temptation
John 17


Lord, thank you for the story of Joseph.  Thank you that you remained with Joseph through promotion, false accusation and imprisonment.  Even in the midst of great evil and darkness we thank you that you showed him your steadfast love and favour.  Please show that love to me today.  Help me to put all my faith and trust in your son Jesus.  Thank you that he was accused and condemned so that I can be declared innocent from my sin and set free to live a life of obedience and truth.  Help me to stay closer to you as I resist sin and live the way you want me to live.  For Jesus sake Amen.