THE HOME IN HEAVEN

“For we know that when this tent we live in – our body here on earth – is torn down, God will have a house in heaven for us to live in, a home he himself has made, which will last for ever”.

2 Cor 5:1 GNB

We all want to know what happens when we die. And we all believe that we somehow go to God, link with the great company of Christian believers, and will be re-united with our loved ones.

Paul had previously spoken about resurrection in and like Christ, and “the rich and glorious eternal life that awaits the faithful servant of Christ”. Here he develops his teaching on this subject further. “He now restates that hope of an eternal home, and then considers how he may receive that gift. He says, ‘we know’, i.e. know with the solid assurance of faith, he indicates that this is no new teaching which the Corinthians now hear for the first time. He probably expected his own physical death before the end of the age, and seems to have been willing that this should occur. The idea of a future home with God is paramount. He begins by contrasting the present, fragile, temporary earthly tent we live in with the more durable, eternal building or house which will come to us as a gift from God at the last day. The reference to the earthly body as a tent dwelling brings out the inferior, insecure, and transient nature of the present life. The more permanent building will be a ‘spiritual body’, not made with human hands or of human origin, but God’s good gift to his people to fit them for life in the coming kingdom” (F.V. Filson, The Interpreter’s Bible, Vol 10, p326).

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, help me to prepare for my eternal home in heaven.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION

Lord, bless all Christian ministers as they prepare to lead their people in worship tomorrow. Guide them as they try to relate the gospel message to the context in which their people are trying to pick their way. Help them to use whatever medium they are working with effectively and imaginatively. I ask it in Jesus Christ’s name. AMEN

I.B.R.A. Readings

Luke 16:19–31

THE SEEN AND THE UNSEEN

“For we fix our attention, not on things that are seen, but on things that are unseen. What can be seen lasts only for a time, but what cannot be seen lasts for ever”.

2 Cor 4:18 GNB

People with discernment soon understand that what happens in this world cannot always be detected by eyesight. Some things are obvious. Others are hidden. A person’s hair is clearly blond, brown, black, grey or white. But what a person loves is not so obvious without extensive knowledge and acquaintance with the person.

“According to Paul, our troubles are achieving for us the glory of which he writes. It is not that he viewed sufferings as ‘good works’ or as virtuous in themselves. They do not automatically or mechanically intensify the ‘glory’. Rather, it is that troubles cause us to fix our eyes not on what is seen but on what is unseen. Troubles help us to understand that there is no future for us here in this tawdry, fading, existence. Therefore, we focus, increasingly, on the unseen, resurrected and glorified Christ. Bodily needs are important, certainly, and so are the needs of others. Yet what we are to long for is not the pleasures and possessions put before us by the advertising agencies in the media, but the promises of the gospel in the Bible. The Christian’s study of holy Scripture, both privately and in the context of fellowship, prayer, worship and service, will be very important to rivet his attention on what is unseen” (P. Barnett, The Message of 2 Corinthians, p94).

Of course, the reality that is “unseen” is, put more simply, God himself. It requires a conscious effort on the part of the Christian believer to focus constantly on Christ. Try it.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, help me to fix my eye and mind on you and your love.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION

Lord, I pray for staff and pupils at schools as they try to learn lessons from the outbreak of Covid-19. Help them all to cope with the disciplines required in the strange situation in which they find themselves. Enable the generations to support each other. Prompt the repairs to damaged schools to be carried out quickly. I ask it in Jesus’ name. AMEN

I.B.R.A. Readings

Leviticus 6:14–17

THE EFFECTS OF WEAR AND TEAR

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day”.

2 Cor 4:16 NIV

Many years ago in one large denomination, retired ministers were referred to as “worn-out ministers”. Now they are merely “supernumeraries”. Some ministers of God have an easy

time by virtue of being sent to congenial appointments. Others find themselves landed with a number of congregations to see to. One senior minister, having spent his entire ministry in large city congregations, got into his sixties and thought he would spend his final three or four years in a quiet country position in order to build up a few more years of contributions to the pension fund. When he got there he found that he had a number of small country village churches to pastor and that he was run off his feet frantically trying to run from one meeting or pastoral call to another. He packed it in after three years, saying, “It was more tiring than the big city centre church”.

Paul had plenty to cope with at Corinth. There was nearly always trouble. And there were disputes, opposition, criticism and “wonky” teaching to refute. But he faced it all in the certainty that he was doing it for Christ, that God was being glorified, and that the church was growing under the influence of the Holy Spirit. He was wearing out under the burdens – but he was finding the strength and durability from knowing Christ. And his prayer life supplied him with the enthusiasm and will to “go labour on, spend and be spent”. He had inner resources that came from Christ – and they just kept coming!

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, keep me going by your hidden power and strength.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION

Lord, I pray for all the children going back to school after the lockdown. Help the school authorities to control the children properly, without being too rough and physical with them. Help them to pick up the curriculum where they left off and to work with a will to make up for lost time. I ask it in the name of Jesus the teacher. AMEN

I.B.R.A. Readings

2 Chronicles 7:1–11

ALL FOR THE GLORY OF GOD

“All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God”.

2 Cor 4:15 NIV

There is always a problem for those who promote the work of the Christian church. For one thing it isn’t easy. You have to persuade people that the stories and message of the Bible can have a powerful and beneficial effect on those who are prepared to believe them. For another thing, if you make any headway in this enterprise there is a tendency for both the people who do the promoting – usually ministers – and those who respond and find joy in knowing God to think that the ministers are “great people”. The ministers yearn for success. When they are successful the people automatically attribute the growth of the church to the ministers being clever, hard-working, deeply religious, and so on. Not many people can see that it Is all happening because of the working of God himself. Egos and misunderstandings get in the way. Ambition and self-confidence are powerful factors.

Paul knew that the growth of the church in Corinth was due to the grace of God and wanted to deflect any attention from himself and his fellow-ministers. He knew that the glory had to be attributed to God. Only so would the grace of God work its healing and saving activity in the lives of the people. He was giving thanks for what God was doing to effect salvation in the people who were being converted. The more they gave the glory and thanksgiving to God the greater the number of people who came to find and know Jesus. The thanksgiving went to God – and it overflowed in glory to him.

PRAYER THOUGHT

“We give him all the glory, Christ the Lord”.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION

Lord I pray for all those families where loved ones have been taken by the Covid-19 illness. Throw your arms of love around every grieving soul and give comfort and consolation. Prompt others to care for them and love them through their grief and desolation. Help them to move forward with new hope. I ask it in Jesus’ name. AMEN

I.B.R.A. Readings

Exodus 13:17–22

A CHRIST-DESIGNED FUTURE

“We know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself”.

2 Cor 4:14 NIV

The belief in life after death is one that confuses many Christian believers. This is because they hold to beliefs that were propagated by the ancient Greek philosopher Plato who lived about five hundred years before Christ. Long before Christ he taught that there are two worlds – this earthly one and a heavenly one. He taught that the human soul is immortal and cannot die whereas the body does die. When Christ died and rose again on Easter Day it brought Plato’s ideas into question. And the Christian preachers, led by Paul, tried to get Christian believers to see that Christ in his resurrection was the model around which we are to focus our hopes of life after death.

“The fact that God has raised … Jesus is taken as solid ground for confidence that he will likewise raise those who believe in the Lord Jesus. The resurrection of Jesus is the guarantee of the resurrection of his people at the last day. It does not mean that God will raise us at the same time with Jesus – that was a historic event. Jesus has already been raised, but our union with Christ will enable us to share his resurrection glory. Paul expresses his confident trust that the God who has raised Christ and offered salvation to those who believe will finally present us to Christ. … Removing all trace of separation, he will give believers full salvation in perfect fellowship with the Lord to whom they owe their eternal life” (F.V. Filson, The Interpreter’s Bible, Vol 10, p322).

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, thank you for assuring us of eternal union with you.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION

Lord, as a new month dawns, I bring to you this troubled world and pray that during this month new hope will surge through people everywhere. Help us to see progress in the combatting of the Corona Virus. Grant that the search for an effective vaccine will make significant strides forward. I ask it all in the name of the divine physician. AMEN

I.B.R.A. Readings

Exodus 3:1–10

WHAT LIES AHEAD?

“God is the one who has prepared us for this change, and he gave us his Spirit as the guarantee of all that he has in store for us”.

2 Cor 5:5

It is Pentecost, a day to celebrate and rejoice that God gave the Holy Spirit to the apostles and they passed this precious gift on so that all Christian believers might experience the joy and power of this extra dimension of Christian grace.

Paul wrote much to the Corinthian church about life and death. Their Christian experience and life were based on the life and death of Jesus. The gospel was all about the new life Christ gave them. It derived from the cross and resurrection of Jesus. Through this gospel they received a transformation of their ordinary, humdrum lives. Their transformation was affected by the Holy Spirit. But they knew that one day they were still going to die. Here Paul comes with an amazing promise. The Holy Spirit is a guarantee of a fuller and more magnificent transformation beyond this life. His work in them here is only a foretaste of greater things. Just as Christ’s risen life and presence were even more miraculous and glorious than his life before the cross, so there is a more glorious life in Christ awaiting us hereafter. There is a new age to come, far more wonderful than the present age which is corrupted with evil. “By the Spirit, who belongs to the new age, but whom God has given us now, we are being prepared for our new dwelling, our new apparel. The presence of the Spirit within us is signified by the deep longing believers experience for their future with God” (P. Barnett, The Message of 2 Corinthians, p100).

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, thank you for the Pentecostal promise of a future life.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION

Lord, today is Pentecost Sunday and I join with the whole community of Christian believers to celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit in Jerusalem. Help me to seek the greater depth of being possessed by your Spirit, empowered by him and made into a servant of Jesus. Spirit, grow in me and grow me in grace. I ask in Christ’s name. AMEN

I.B.R.A. Readings

Acts 2:1–13

BELIEVING AND SPEAKING

“It is written, ‘I believed; therefore I have spoken’. Since we have that same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak”.

2 Cor 4:13 NIV

Charles Wesley sang, “My heart is full of Christ and longs its glorious matter to declare”. When we are “Full of Christ”, or for that matter any other towering belief, we do feel impelled to let others know. It seems so wonderful, so all-dominating, so all-consuming that we think everyone else needs to share the experience. Paul’s quotation is from Psalm 116:10 which does not translate exactly into English. But his Damascus Road experience of Christ so filled and dominated his thinking that he “couldn’t keep it in”. Also, the Holy Spirit so filled him with the sense of Christ’s love and presence that it drove him to trudge his way round the ancient Mediterranean world and suffer the setbacks and enmity he often mentioned in order to tell others of the transforming power of Jesus.

That same belief in Jesus took possession of St Augustine, St Francis, St Bernard of Clairvaux, Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Wesley and William Booth – as well as Billy Graham and other great Christian leaders. It drove them to teach, to preach, to reason, to initiate and to evangelize. They knew that thousands to whom they spoke had no awareness of God and that the greatest thing in the world (the love of God in Christ) was their greatest need. For each of them it would have been true to say, “My heart is full of Christ”.

Is your heart “full of Christ”? Does it long to declare this glorious matter? The gospel is usually spread by those whose hearts are on fire for Christ. Is yours?

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, set my heart on fire for Christ.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION

Lord, sometimes I feel as if I am lost, a mere dot or ant in the vast universe you created. When I think like this, remind me that I am a son (or daughter) in your vast family and that you are my Father, my Lord and my Saviour, that I matter to you and that you have counted every hair on my head. Help me to love you. I ask it in Christ’s name. AMEN

I.B.R.A. Readings

1 Corinthians 16:5–12

IT’S HOW THE GOSPEL WORKS

“So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you”.

2 Cor 4:12 NIV

The Christian life is all about living the life of Christ. Paul’s favourite term for it was to be “in Christ”. And sometimes he used the expression “Christ lives in me”. But he was fully aware that John had recorded a saying of Jesus during his lifetime when he said, “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full” (Jn 10:10 NIV). After his Damascus Road experience Paul knew the meaning and richness of that “life to the full”. Christ was the whole meaning of his life from that event onwards. Indeed “the triumphant life of Jesus is made clear in his apostles; he delivers them and makes them able to continue their service for him.

Then the thought takes a sudden turn. Paul has said that both death and life are at work in him as he lives in close union with the crucified and risen Jesus. He has said that he accepts this suf- fering for Jesus’ sake. Now he adds that while ‘death is at work in’ Christ’s ministers, it is for the good of others that they suffer. The result is ‘life in you’ Corinthians. This is not ironical; it is deep spiritual truth that one suffers for another; this truth is embodied in Jesus’ cross and in the cross that the follower of Jesus takes up and carries. Only by the great cost that Christ paid and by the voluntary suffering of Paul and his fellow workers do the Corinthians have the gospel and continue in its blessings” (F.V Filson, The Interpreter’s Bible Vol 10 p321).

The gospel invites you to live and die in Christ.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, help me to live in Christ and live to the fullest.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION

Lord, help us all to reflect on the nature of humanity in the light of the recent and ongoing events. Help us to see how small we are in the bigger scheme of things and how vast the universe is, how hazardous human life is and how vulnerable we are to unseen and unknown forces. Help us to trust finally in you. In Christ’s name. AMEN

I.B.R.A. Readings

Acts 16:6–15

DEATH AND LIFE

“For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body”.

2 Cor 4:11 NIV

Christianity is more than packing loads of people into church buildings and getting them to sing. It is more than providing soup for the hungry – praiseworthy though that is. For the early apostles it was a life-and-death matter. For some believers, those who live in dangerous situations, it can still be a costly exercise. Martyrdom happens frequently in places where other faiths thrive, and the devotees vent their wrath on the Christian community.

In 2 Corinthians Paul was referring to himself and his fellow apostles when he spoke of the privations and sufferings they endured in order to bring faith and hope to the local community. Nevertheless, “what he writes will apply to other Christians who give themselves in ministry in a world environment which is generally unsympathetic. A Christian employee is passed over for promotion or is dismissed because he or she is a godly person who will not bend the rules. A missionary doctor loses her place in the structures of the profession because she has spent ten years in an out-of-the-way hospital. A pastor and his family pass up the security of their own home in obeying the call of God to serve, now here, now there. While there are great compensations, all ministry is costly not only in terms of what one relinquishes to pursue it but also in the accompanying misunderstanding or abuse, perhaps from friends and family. This cost, whatever it means in specific circumstances, is what Paul means by “carrying around in the body the death of Christ” (P. Barnett, The Message of 2 Corinthians, p89).

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, help others to know life through my sacrifice.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION

Lord, help people everywhere to think about the fact of the Coronavirus pandemic and that it has shown that no one can ever consider themselves to be completely safe and secure on planet earth. Guide them to turn to you to seek their final destiny within your love and care, your salvation and your kingdom. I ask it in Jesus Christ’s name. AMEN

I.B.R.A. Readings

Acts 12:6–19

GIVEN OVER TO DEATH

“We who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake”.

2 Cor 4:11 NIV

In the general life of the suburban church in western society there is little or no mention of the situation of the church in those countries where stiff opposition and enmity towards the Christian church is the order of the day. But month by month the newsletter of the Voice of the Martyrs (V.O.M.) tells stories of brave missionaries and pastors in those countries who face the possibility of death on a regular basis – just for believing in Christ! Dietrich Bonhoeffer knew what he was talking about. Following Jesus is, as it always has been, a choice that can involve bearing a cross for Christ’s sake.

The first martyr for Christ was Stephen, one of the seven deacons appointed in the Jerusalem church to assist the apostles. His story is told in Acts 6:8-7:60. When a persecution against the Christian apostles broke out in Jerusalem they scattered – taking the message of the gospel with them. Any one of them might follow the example of Stephen any day. They truly were being given over to death for Jesus’ sake every day. So was Paul on his travels and in the hostile cities of the Mediterranean world of the first century. Whilst opposition could break out on any day, Paul and his companions could have been arrested – and often were – and they never knew when their lives were going to be demanded of them. Sometimes the Emperor in Rome ordered a general persecution of the Christian believers. Then others in addition to the apostles were subject to physical abuse, being thrown to the lions or sent to the salt mines.

Pray for those leaders whose lives are in jeopardy today.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, preserve the lives of your servants threatened with death.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION

Lord, I pray for the leaders of the world as they try to find the way forward after the devastating pandemic of the Coronavirus. Make them humble enough to learn and to listen, wise enough to plan and to move forward with new hope and expectation. Make them seek your guidance and respect all mankind. I ask it in Jesus Christ’s name. AMEN

I.B.R.A. Readings

Acts 9:1–19