God knows your suffering: do not fear

Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life (Revelation 2:10).

Read Revelation 2:8–17

God knows our suffering more intimately than anyone. Even ourselves. When trials and torments come to us, we need to know that our suffering has an endpoint. And that it is not without purpose.

While suffering, people seek something to believe in. They entrust themselves to large bank balances and good reputations (or bad ones, as the case may be). Anything that can be put on Instagram or get us recognised at the pub, in church, or at work. We don’t care much for poverty unless it gets attention.

In Revelation, as well as in Hebrews, we hear about another sort of believer. Those who believed that there was a hope yet to come. A home beyond this home. These believers were tortured, flogged, and suffered mocking, chains, and imprisonment. They went about homeless and were put to death with the sword. These people, though poor in the world’s eyes, were rich. They are called ‘those of whom the world was not worthy’.

Riches in the world’s eyes are foolishness in God’s. We come to the world with nothing, and we leave with nothing. Imagine being taken to a toy shop (perhaps the leisure-cruise-and-gold-bullion sort of toy shop) where we can play with anything until the sun sets – then we must go home. Some fight and squabble and fool themselves that this is all there is. They forget they have no power. When the sun sets, it is all gone, and we must account for our time, for where we have put our hope.

Certainly, God has given us many good things in this life, and we have known many wonderful promises to come to fruition. We have been given the promise of life in Christ, yet fully entering into this is still to come. In this in-between time of waiting, we experience suffering. God promises to give the crown of life at the end of it all. Amid trials, we do not run to more comforts in the toy shop, nor even to temporal promises the Lord has given, but we flee for refuge and find strong encouragement in the hope set before us. In the tossings of our lives and the waters threatening to drown us, we have a sure anchor for our souls.

Thank you, Father, that we have Jesus, who has gone before us into your presence on our behalf and sent his very own Spirit to comfort us. He has been faithful unto death, and we are in him. He has won for us the crown of life. Cause us to fix our eyes on him and lay aside anything that might hinder our looking to him. Amen.

Kirsten enjoys working as a Medical Rural Generalist in the remotest part of Australia – from Warruwi to Ramingining and Ltyentye Apurte to Lajamanu, to name a few. Her favourite thing is showing her husband, Noel, around the communities and coming home to him and their two ragdoll cats (Courage and Perseverance). Kirsten says she does not like flying sideways in a tiny Cessna in bad weather or having to run away from grumpy buffalo, red-belly black snakes or crocodiles.

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The Living One exposes our deadness

Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died and behold I am alive forever more, and I have the keys of Death and Hades (Revelation 1:17a,18).

Read Revelation 1:17–2:7

Something happens when mortal man encounters the Living Man.

Knowing Christ is not simply a matter of becoming a nice person. Nor just believing by rote that God sent Jesus as a ‘substitute’ to die for my sins. We are not nice people made nicer by going to church. We may be walking, talking, cappuccino-drinking, rotary- and CWA-attending people, and still be dead. People are not just ‘stunned’ or ‘resting’ as the dead parrot in Monty Python.

The Bible says that when sin came, we died. It says we were dead in our trespasses and sins. In our love of ourselves and self-esteem, in our love of money and dependence on things other than God, we became as dead a hundred-dollar note. As dead as the face on a glossy magazine. As dead as a new four-wheel drive, a boat cruise, or the sound system or scones at church. We are as dead as our idols; we have eyes that do not see, ears that do not hear, and lungs that cannot breathe (Psalm 135:15–18).

On the cross, Jesus battled us and our deadness. He battled our deafness to his word. And in slaying us, he brought us to life. (This means that our physical death, when it comes, will have no power over us because we are unchangeably alive.)

Even John, a Spirit-filled prophet, fell like he was dead at Jesus’ feet when he saw him in all his pure and holy glory. He was in good company – the same happened to Joshua (Joshua 5:14,15), Abram (Genesis 17:3), Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1:28,3:23), Daniel, Peter, James, John and Saul (Paul). Perhaps none of us have had a vision of God as a consuming fire. Fire in the Old Testament is often a symbol of judgement. A vision of God’s judgement – when we see it – is a terrifying thing. God knows this, so he speaks a word of reassurance. This word is that he has judged us in the cross, killed our deadness and brought us to himself. We are raised to a new hearing in that word of motherly comfort (Isaiah 66:13) and fatherly love (Psalm 103:13).

Dear God, thank you for the revelation that you are here now. You find us in the desert places. You find us in our terror and under the weight of accusation. Thank you for slaying the idols and setting us on our feet in you. You find us in death and raise us up to life. Amen.

Kirsten enjoys working as a Medical Rural Generalist in the remotest part of Australia – from Warruwi to Ramingining and Ltyentye Apurte to Lajamanu, to name a few. Her favourite thing is showing her husband, Noel, around the communities and coming home to him and their two ragdoll cats (Courage and Perseverance). Kirsten says she does not like flying sideways in a tiny Cessna in bad weather or having to run away from grumpy buffalo, red-belly black snakes or crocodiles.

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A word to be read, remembered, heard and believed

Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near (Revelation 1:3).

Read Revelation 1:1–8

We cannot find the truth of God in the way we discovered Antarctica or how Watson and Crick discovered the secrets of DNA. It is a mystery, but not of the Sherlock Holmes or Miss Marple variety. The truth of God belongs to God, and he has given it to Jesus Christ to show his people what will soon take place. Prophecy is not just foretelling but forth-telling. It reveals the truth of the way things are, as well as how things will be.

We are told that the one who reads aloud the words of the prophecy handed from Jesus to John will be blessed. It is not a superstitious or magical blessing. Studies have shown that reading aloud involves multiple different areas of the brain and helps get words into long-term memory. This sounds very much like ‘letting the word dwell in you richly’ (Colossians 3:16). For much of history, texts were read aloud rather than silently to oneself. Over 4000 years ago in the Middle East, the commonly used words for ‘to read’ literally meant ‘to cry out’ or ‘to listen’. Reading aloud to one another is even more beneficial because it strengthens emotional bonds between people.

In his other letters, John says there is something special about speaking the gospel face to face – that it brings a joy not known just through reading words on a page (2 John 12; 3 John 13). In his book Life Together (1954), Dietrich Bonhoeffer spoke beautifully of the communal act of reading aloud and worship. He reminds us that our lives do not belong to us as individuals but to ‘the church of the triune God, to the Christian family, to the brotherhood’. God’s word comes by revelation. It is his gift. His word is intended to be heard, with faith, and especially, where possible, read and heard in the company of believers.

Lord, thank you for giving us the gift of time to read your word. Thank you for the gift of reading aloud, and we pray for those who cannot read or hear – especially those unable to hear the word in the fellowship of believers. Help us to reach out to them. Give us hearts ready to receive your word, submit to the truth of your revelation, and be patient in hearing even when we don’t yet understand. Amen.

Kirsten enjoys working as a Medical Rural Generalist in the remotest part of Australia – from Warruwi to Ramingining and Ltyentye Apurte to Lajamanu, to name a few. Her favourite thing is showing her husband, Noel, around the communities and coming home to him and their two ragdoll cats (Courage and Perseverance). Kirsten says she does not like flying sideways in a tiny Cessna in bad weather or having to run away from grumpy buffalo, red-belly black snakes or crocodiles.

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Finders Keepers

The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, ‘Follow me’ (John 1:43).

Read John 1:43–51

The day before Jesus called Philip, Philip had been with John the Baptist in Bethany beyond the Jordan. This was over a 24-hour walk from Philip’s home, which was in the north. So, Philip must have been a long way from home. We don’t know which way he was travelling. We don’t know what occupied Philip’s thoughts as he journeyed. Perhaps he was away from home for business or family matters. Maybe he wanted to see what all the fuss was concerning John the Baptist. When he woke that morning and slipped on his sandals, he had no idea that, within hours, his life would be turned upside down. Something profound would happen to him that God had been planning before the foundation of the world.

Strange things happen when God is in town – think about Moses walking in the desert, minding his own business, when he suddenly sees a bush on fire and meets God. Or Zechariah, going into the temple (‘called up by lot’ – like the throw of dice) just expecting to do his job, and, suddenly, God is there in all his terrifying presence. Think about that.

Imagine, today, a pastor goes into a church to set up for the morning service, turns on the lights, and sees God. He would come close to dying of fright. God in church! The poor bloke was just there trying to get the PowerPoint to work and find a replacement guitarist. God finds us.

God found Philip. He found Abraham. He found Zechariah and gave him good news. He finds prostitutes, prisoners, parishioners, pastors and sometimes even politicians. My husband says I’m a keeper. Well, let me tell you – God is a finder. That’s what he does and who he is. Even when we don’t know we are lost.

Thank you, Father, for meeting us where we are, whether we are near or far from home. Even before we call or know our needs, you come to us. Thank you for coming to this world to seek and save the lost. Amen.

Kirsten enjoys working as a Medical Rural Generalist in the remotest part of Australia – from Warruwi to Ramingining and Ltyentye Apurte to Lajamanu, to name a few. Her favourite thing is showing her husband, Noel, around the communities and coming home to him and their two ragdoll cats (Courage and Perseverance). Kirsten says she does not like flying sideways in a tiny Cessna in bad weather or having to run away from grumpy buffalo, red-belly black snakes, or crocodiles.

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Constantly watched over

How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I would count them, they are more than the sand. I awake, and I am still with you (Psalm 139:17,18).

Read Psalm 139:1–6,13–18

Psalm 139 is one of my favourite passages of Scripture. I have turned to it for comfort many times. It has carried me through grief and loss, as well as into new life and new beginnings.

It is a wisdom psalm with themes that match those we have seen already.

For example, the whole psalm resonates with the utter sovereignty of God, who has not only created all things but created us. God did not create us randomly to see what would happen. Rather, he had a plan and purpose for us, which is unfolding as we live our lives day by day. He has been present with us even before we knew of his presence.

The more science progresses, the less we seem to know. We think we understand the biology of conception and how a baby grows in the womb. Yet we have no real understanding of how God does that and what it means for a person to be a living soul in his presence. This psalm talks about the relationship God has with us from before we were conceived, right through to the very end of our days.

In reading our text for today, we are amazed to find it is not our thoughts of God that sustain us, but his thoughts of us! His thoughts of us are endless. His eye is constantly upon us. He is continuously meditating on us with joy and singing over us with love: ‘The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing’ (Zephaniah 3:17).

It is as though God can’t get enough of the joy he has in having us in his presence. Even while we’re asleep, he is with us. And as we awake, we do not enter his presence; we realise we have been in that presence all the way through. That’s so if it’s our afternoon siesta, night-time sleep, or the doctor’s anaesthetic.

This takes us away from our self-centered reflections. It moves us to a world where we are amazed at God’s mindfulness of us far more than our mindfulness of him. And that means we can live freely and at peace with him and the world he has made. Because even when we sleep the last sleep of death, we awake in his presence, knowing he has never left us.

Thank you, Father, for your care for us. Thank you for holding us eternally in the threefold embrace of Father, Son and Spirit. Thank you that your embrace carries us from the womb to the grave and beyond, with no condemnation in Jesus and no separation possible because of our union with him. Amen.

Noel is currently spending his retirement serving as the Intentional Interim Pastor of the Top End Lutheran Parish. He lives in Darwin with his wife, Kirsten, a medical doctor who mainly works in remote Indigenous communities. He also serves as a professional supervisor for a number of pastors, chaplains, and others.

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The Lord is Lord, indeed

No wisdom, no understanding, no counsel can avail against the Lord (Proverbs 21:30).

Read Proverbs 21:30–22:6

The very first verse in the section is today’s focal verse. It encapsulates a theme that runs throughout the Bible: the all-sustaining sovereignty of God.

God created the world without any human agency. All things owe their existence to him. We might imitate him by being creative in art, music or literature. But we cannot create the earth on which we stand, the colours with which we paint, or the clay we mould into a pot.

In contrast, God creates all things out of nothing. Including us. Because God is the creator of all things, he sustains and keeps all things. Nothing fashioned against him can overthrow him. No element of the creation can defeat his goodness. No evil purpose under heaven can toss him out of heaven. And no purpose he has planned can be thwarted.

That is very good news for us! Paul puts it this way:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38,39).

Jesus put it like this: My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one (John 10:27–30).

God’s sovereignty is not a threat to our freedom. Instead, it’s the absolute guarantee of it. And we can rest in that security all the days of our lives right up to our last breath.

Thank you, Father, for bringing all things into being, even me. Thank you for sustaining all things by the word of your power, even me, this day. Thank you for being the Lord of all the details, even in my life. Thank you that no one and nothing can snatch me out of your hand. Amen.

Noel is currently spending his retirement serving as the Intentional Interim Pastor of the Top End Lutheran Parish. He lives in Darwin with his wife, Kirsten, a medical doctor who mainly works in remote Indigenous communities. He also serves as a professional supervisor for a number of pastors, chaplains and others.

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Honest dealing no payback

If anyone returns evil for good, evil will not depart from their house (Proverbs 17:13).

Read Proverbs 17:1–20

As you reflect on the last few devotions, you’ll find some recurring themes. Themes like humility, quietness, trusting ourselves to God, ceding our sovereignty to his. And having a listening ear.

The focal verse for today is a self-evident truth: if you are treated kindly, you should not repay it unkindly. Sadly, what should be self-evident often isn’t. Otherwise, we would not have crucified Jesus. He is the ultimate fulfilment of passages such as Psalm 109:5: ‘They repay my kindness with evil and friendship with hatred’.

Even on the level of normal human relationships, if we are treated kindly and repay it badly, we reap a harvest of unhappiness: our relationships become tainted by our selfishness, and we diminish ourselves as human beings.

When we come to the New Testament, Jesus expands this teaching: ‘But I tell you who hear me: love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who ill-treat you’ (Luke 6:27,28). That is what Jesus did. It is what he does.

Thus, Peter says to us, ‘Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing’ (1 Peter 3:9).

Peter also says that in a time of suffering, when we are treated unkindly, ‘in [our] hearts set apart Christ as Lord’ (1 Peter 3:15) and that it is better ‘if it is God’s will to suffer for doing good than for doing evil’ (1 Peter 3:17).

Because of Jesus’ ministry and the gift of his Spirit, we must also let go of wrongs suffered and not seek revenge or hold grudges. Or, to put it positively, to walk in the liberty of the Lord.

Heavenly Father, thank you for not repaying us as our sins deserve. Thank you for sending Jesus to us, full of grace and truth, and that even as we vented our anger and hatred on him, he turned his eyes towards us in love. May we be filled with his Spirit so that his life is shared through us. Amen.

Noel is currently spending his retirement serving as the Intentional Interim Pastor of the Top End Lutheran Parish. He lives in Darwin with his wife, Kirsten, a medical doctor who mainly works in remote Indigenous communities. He also serves as a professional supervisor for a number of pastors, chaplains and others.

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8th January 2024 Devotion

The wise of heart will receive commandments, but a babbling fool will come to ruin (Proverbs 10:8).

Read

Over the next few days, our devotions will take us to some of the most ancient parts of the Bible.

The Bible contains different types of literature. To name just some of them, there are letters, such as Paul’s letter to the Romans. There are prophetic books, such as Isaiah and Ezekiel. There are books that comment on the history of God’s Old Testament people, like 1 and 2 Kings. There is poetry. And there is wisdom.

Proverbs is chief among a number of Bible books characterised as wisdom literature. But also, some of the psalms are wisdom psalms, and books like Ecclesiastes and Job are also types of wisdom writing.

Why is this important? Because God is not only interested in the big themes of salvation and redemption but also the practical day-to-day issues of how best to make our way in this sometimes confusing world.

Proverbs is a collection of wisdom sayings. They are easy-to-remember, shorthand descriptions of what makes for a good life. Our focal verse contains one of the most important biblical principles: wisdom is found by listening – in having a quiet, humble and submissive spirit, which cedes our sovereignty to God’s.

That is what faith is. Trusting him more than ourselves.

Proverbs 10:8 can also be translated as:

- The wise in heart accept commands, but a chattering fool comes to ruin (Proverbs 10:8 NIB).

- The wise are glad to be instructed, but babbling fools fall flat on their faces (Proverbs 10:8 NLT).

This is good advice. We are too prone to rush headlong. We are apt to trust our own opinions. We often refuse to be told, even when we are clearly in the wrong.

Yet, as we ponder this proverb even more, it becomes clear that the one person who has lived this most fully is Jesus. He was not a babbling fool. He had a listening ear and a humble heart.

Even if we sometimes babble too much, he does not. If we have been foolish, he remains our wise Saviour. If we have fallen flat on our faces, he delights to raise us up and put us on a straight path. Perhaps today is the day for your heart to stop babbling and be still and receive from the hand of God, who knows what we need and what he is doing.

Thank you, Heavenly Father, for your wisdom, which has been most perfectly embodied in Jesus. Thank you for your patience with us and for the humble heart with which Jesus serves you and saves us. Let us be filled with your Spirit so that we can walk with wisdom in this sometimes confusing world. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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7th January 2024 Devotion

Heavenly Father, thank you for the senses that you have given me to be able to worship you with my whole being – sight, smell, touch, hearing, and tasting/talking. You have given me so much, help me to be thankful for all your goodness and blessings to me every day. I have ‘Experienced Jesus’ this last Advent Season, help me to carry these experiences with me each day through the coming year and be willing to share and tell others of your incredible love, faithfulness and forgiveness. Guide me through the coming year, and bless my family, friends and those I meet. Give me the courage and strength of purpose to fulfill the commission you have for my life. We praise you daily for your goodness and love. In your Son’s precious name I pray, Amen.

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