LIFE AND DEATH IN CHRIST

“We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body”.

2 Cor 4:10 NIV

The great German Christian leader during World War II, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote a book called, “The Cost of Discipleship”. In it he said, “When Christ calls a man to be a disciple, he bids him come and die”. Being a disciple is not easy – nor is it cheap. Discipleship is costly. But Christ does call people. And some are ready to pay the price. Bonhoeffer was killed by the Nazis a few days before the end of World War II.

Christ had given Paul a new kind of life. In his travels as a missionary he suffered many privations. He said, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil 1:21 NIV). He lived as a missionary and minister to proclaim Christ crucified and lived under the cross all the time. But his ministry and mission of preaching Christ crucified brought life to many people. It still does. It was a new kind of life. It was one in which the power of the resurrection of Jesus lived again in those who united themselves to Christ as Paul himself had done. And just as the glory of God shone in his inspired life and ministry so it shone in the lives of the believers who came to know Christ through Paul’s ministry. These new believers “lived” Jesus as Paul and his fellow missionaries had done.

And Jesus wants you to be so united with him that his risen life shines out in all you do and say as well. This is a miracle – that the glory of God can be manifest in the lives of ordinary believers.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, live again in me.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION

Lord, I thank you for the Bible and all it teaches me about you. Thank you for those who wrote it over a long time span and all who copied it by hand over the early centuries. Thank you that it informs me, guides me, challenges me, comforts me, corrects me and inspires me. Thank you that it points me and leads me to Jesus. I thank you Lord. AMEN

I.B.R.A. Readings

Acts 8:26–40

CARRYING THE CROSS

“We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus”.

2 Cor 4:10 NIV

Paul the missionary knew the meaning of Christ’s self-sacrifice. His whole enterprise involved risk, hardship, suffering, stress, danger and opposition. Most others do too. Just to venture to unknown places involves “carrying the cross”.

John White was called by God to go to Mashonaland in northern Zimbabwe to do evangelism among the African people. One of those he led to Christ was a chief. “Jonas Chiremba Chihota, the eldest of the chief’s sons, fired with a zeal for Christ, went into a neighbouring pagan village to preach the word of God. He denounced their polygamy, their drunken feasts, their witch doctors; whereupon they beat him half dead and sent him home. On the next Sunday he went to the same place and was beaten again. He offered no resistance but remained in prayer while the blows fell. The third time when he went, they did not beat him at all. His faith and courage had been so great that they allowed him to preach without any hindrance.

Later John White set himself to translate the Gospel. A packing case formed his table, a soap box his seat, and a fruit tin his writing -pad planted between his Greek New Testament and a Revised English version. Then, with his wagon-driver to help him with his vocabulary, he began the laborious task of translating those wonderful words of life and putting into the Mashona language the stories of Jesus. The wagon-driver’s name was Jonas Chiremba Chihota – who had risked his life to take the message to his own people” (C.F. Andrews, John White of Mashonaland, p87).

Working “under the cross” is the lot of many who are called to serve Christ.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, show me how I must bear the cross for you.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION

As I look back, I thank you Lord for those who taught and educated me in years gone by. I thank you for those first steps in primary school and the patience those teachers exercised. Thank you for all their encouragement, skill and wisdom. For all the progress and learnings that later teachers inculcated, thank you Lord. AMEN

I.B.R.A. Readings

Acts 5:12–16

NO BED OF ROSES

“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed but not in despair; persecuted but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed”.

2 Cor 4:8, 9 NIV

The life of people who serve God is a mixture of joy (in worship), much preparation time for services, a never-ending demand for pastoral support, a constant round of meetings to effect the business of the church, a need to spend time with family, keeping up to date with studying, and prayer.

In Paul’s day it was much more rigorous. There was physical danger, no easy transport in a motor car, constant concern about financial support, loads of opposition and criticism. And they were constantly having to sort out problems in congregations because people misunderstood their message. And there were rival teachings. There were also rivalries for leadership and power. Sometimes they were physically attacked. And the civic authorities often opposed them for fear of “unrest”. You had to be pretty tough even to try to bring the message of Jesus in a foreign country. It wasn’t easy living away from home for long periods. And medical help when needed was rudimentary. And the water wasn’t always clean! Paul and his companions accepted these difficulties – and others – out of obedience to Christ and motivated by love for the communities to whom they went. They reasoned that Jesus had suffered opposition, misunderstanding, violence and death. The work they had embarked on involved “blood”.

Don’t ever assume that your minister has it easy because “he only works one day a week”. One retired minister said, “That’s often the easiest day of the week”. And many clergy families know stress because the minister is away for long hours and buckles under the pressure of multiple problems. Pray for them.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, make your ministers strong and willing to work hard.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION

On this day, Lord, all glory and praise be to Jesus Christ. May your church throughout the world ring with praise at this time of questioning, searching and doubting. Confront your people everywhere with the truth of the gospel and the promise of Christ that your kingdom would come, and you would be revealed. I ask it in Jesus’ name. AMEN

I.B.R.A. Readings

Acts 3:1–10

SPIRITUAL TREASURE IN JARS OF CLAY

“We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us”.

2 Cor 4:7 NIV

One of the besetting sins for a minister is pride. Most ministers think they are good preachers. Sometimes their congregations tell them so. They genuinely appreciate their ministers. Few of their hearers criticise them to their faces.

The message Paul brought, offering forgiveness of sins, superior faith when compared with the surrounding cultures, and a passionate dedication to Christ impressed people. He testified to his own “new dawn” and offered it to the Corinthians also. Offering the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ was great stuff. And some of the community had come to their own “about turn” under his ministry. He had constantly to remind himself that it was not because he was a genius that all this was happening. It was because God was great, and the Holy Spirit empowered him. The message, he said, was everything. He was nothing. He, and his fellow ministers were only clay pots – earthly, common, and easily broken. But the message of Jesus and the salvation he gave to people was spiritual treasure.

It is an understanding every preacher of the word needs to cultivate. As soon as a preacher “fancies his chances” he loses much of his Christian character and starts to sound hollow. Some introduce illustrations from their own private experience – and nearly always convey the message “See how close to God I am”. Some even try to portray themselves as humble but it usually means “See how humble I am”.

Hold your minister or priest up to God in prayer that he might do his work without any sense of his own importance.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, help all ministers to elevate God and hide themselves.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION

Lord, I thank you for the people who were my forebears. I think of how primitive the educational facilities were for some of them and how difficult some found it to get qualified and make a living. I thank you for all they bequeathed to me, for the dreams they had and the hard work they undertook. I thank you in Jesus’ name. AMEN

I.B.R.A. Readings

John 21:20–25

LIGHT OUT OF DARKNESS

“Let light shine out of darkness”.

2 Cor 4:6 NIV

Paul was on fire with the love of Christ as he went to Corinth proclaiming Christ. He knew that God’s light had shone out of the darkness in his own soul. “The picture in Paul’s mind was obviously taken from Genesis 1:2 ‘The earth was without form and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. This came home to Paul as a picture of his own pre-Christian condition. His life had been in chaotic darkness, without any vital purpose or meaning. There was no light by which he could understand himself or solve the problem of his uneasy conscience. Yet from his youth the Spirit of God had brooded over him. Looking back, he could see signs of this which he had not before been able to interpret. Then at last had come the light, the creative word, bursting through the primeval darkness, reducing chaos to order and bringing new life to birth within him. He knew that this experience was the act of God. There was nothing in it of his own effort or merit. He also knew that God had acted creatively. There was ‘a new creation’. The light of God comes like the dawn of a new day. It is the action of God, and its effect is creative. A new thing has happened. The soul has been born. To realize this truth and identify our experience with the light of God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ will bring to us the recognition of God’s presence in our life and set us exploring and discovering the love of Christ” (J. Reid, The Interpreter’s Bible, Vol 10, p317).

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, let your light shine in me.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION

I pray today Lord, for all the people who find it difficult to use all their idle time meaningfully. Show them creative ways to do worthwhile things in the meantime. Teach them the value of time and help them to see that they are always stewards of their time, whatever the circumstances. I ask it in the holy name of Jesus Christ. AMEN

I.B.R.A. Readings

John 12:12–19

CHRIST OUR ADVOCATE

“My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father – Jesus Christ, the Righteous One”.

1 John 2:1 NIV

Today is Ascension Day when the Christian community throughout the world remembers that strange and mysterious event recorded in Acts 1:9, when the risen Christ was taken up from before the disciples and hidden by a cloud. What did it mean? The New Testament writers derived meaning from it to help Christian believers to understand the ministry of the exalted Christ.

John understood Christ’s ongoing ministry to be that of an advocate, one of a number of English words that have been used to translate the Greek word “paracletos”. “A paracletos has been defined as ‘one who lends his presence to his friends’. More than once in the New Testament there is this great and precious conception of Jesus as the friend, the advocate and defender of mankind. In a military court-martial the officer who defends the soldier who is under accusation is called the prisoner’s friend. Jesus is our friend. Paul writes that ‘Christ Jesus … who is at the right hand of God, and is also interceding for us’ (Romans 8:34 NIV). The writer of the letter to the Hebrews speaks of Jesus Christ as the one who ‘always lives to intercede for people’ (Hebrews 7:25 NIV); and he also speaks of him as entering ‘heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence’ (Hebrews 9:24 NIV).

The tremendous thing about Jesus is that he has never lost his interest in, or his love for us” (W. Barclay, The Letters of John p43). Whatever your present circumstances know that the exalted

Jesus still loves you.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, thank you that you are my advocate on high.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION

Lord, today we celebrate the ascension of Jesus at the conclusion of his earthly ministry. In his heavenly priesthood, may he intercede for the human race in its present turmoil, trouble and anxiety. Grant that more people may turn and acknowledge him as Lord and Saviour, and find in him life, salvation and hope. I ask it in his exalted name. AMEN

I.B.R.A. Readings

Luke 8:1–3

GOSPEL LIGHT

“For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’, made his light shine in our hearts”.

2 Cor 4:6 NIV

“The Damascus Road event, upon which Paul builds his view of Jesus, is also important as a description of Christian conversion. The bright glory Paul saw near Damascus is now also said to be internalized in the hearts of all who hear and believe the preaching about the glorified Lord. Once again Paul establishes a close identification between the God whom he had known as a Jew and the Lord Jesus whom he now knew. It is one and the same God who at creation said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’ who now

shines his light in the hearts of believers by means of the gospel, which is the knowledge of God.

At the beginning of the creation, when all was darkness and chaos, ‘God said, ‘Let there be light, and there was light’. God now addresses his gospel word to sinful people whose lives are, metaphorically speaking, darkness and chaos. As we hear and submit to his word, God shines his light into our hearts, dispelling the darkness of ignorance, guilt and fear. It is a new creation, of which we are now part, achieved by the word of God.

The ‘god of this age’ who ‘has blinded the eyes of unbelievers’ is, therefore, limited in his power; he is not omnipotent. God has placed in the hands of his people the more powerful instrument of the gospel which can overcome this blindness and allow the light of God to break into human hearts. This is the point at which we observe the sovereign power of God the creator. God restores sight and the spiritually blind can see” (P. Barnett, The Message of 2 Corinthians, p85).

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, thank you for opening my eyes.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION

Lord, I pray for all the schools, universities and colleges that have had to suspend their teaching programmes during the last few weeks in the interests of social distancing. Help the teachers to re-schedule the study programmes. Enable the students to put their backs into their studies and make up for lost time. I ask it in Jesus’ name. AMEN

I.B.R.A. Readings

Mark 10:46–52

SERVANTS FOR JESUS

“We preach … ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake”.

2 Cor 4:5 NIV

It has been said many times that those who are called to minister as preachers say as much by their loyal, pastoral ministry to their people as they do by their sermons. They know well what Paul meant when he described himself as the people’s servant – and Christ’s.

Dr W.E. Sangster was one of the best known preachers in the world of the middle twentieth century. Twice a Sunday his church, the Westminster Central Hall in London was packed to capacity as two thousand people each service came to hear what God had to say through this powerful preacher. He died of an unusual disease at the relatively early ago of 59. Writing his biography later his son, Paul, said that after his father’s death his mother was inundated with letters from all over the world. They all expressed appreciation for his long and powerful ministry. She counted them – all one thousand four hundred of them! What amazed the Sangster family was that more than nine hundred of that enormous mailbag wrote to tell her, not about a wonderful sermon that had inspired them but of some incident when they were in trouble and Dr Sangster had visited them, prayed with them, advised them and guided them. In the blitz he had helped them carry their few belongings from their bombed-out homes and had found a corner in the basement of “The Hall” till they could find more permanent accommodation else- where. He was the servant of the people. His strong preaching illustrated the life of action, caring and servanthood he lived seven days a week.

Be a Christian servant to any or all who need love, caring and God.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, make me a humble servant – like you.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION

Lord, I pray for all those people who are thinking that the present world pandemic of Covid-19 is a judgment by God being visited on the world because of his displeasure with the state of the world. Help us all to be silent where we do not know the mind of God. Help us to look in hope for lessons to be learnt. I ask it in Jesus’ name. AMEN

I.B.R.A. Readings

Luke 9:57–62

PREACHING

“What we preach is not ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord”.

2 Cor 4:5 NIV

The word “preach” has acquired a negative understanding. Some churches have dropped the word “sermon” from their vocabulary and call it “the teaching”. Similarly, the preacher has become “the teacher”. People who teach are told “Now don’t be preachy”. It suggests dreary talks that are neither interesting nor engaging to modern ears.

Paul talked about exercising his God-given ministry. How did he exercise this ministry? “What was its characteristic activity? The ‘ministry’ is exercised by preaching. It is regrettable that the distinctive activity of the apostle has such negative associations today. The very word evokes images of religious buildings, strangely dressed clergy and long, dull sermons. ‘Preaching’ certainly sounds off-putting to modern people. But what did Paul mean by ‘preach’. In his day the word we translate as ‘preach’ was not primarily a religious but a secular word. The verb keryssein in the New Testament Greek comes from the noun kerux, meaning a ‘herald’, a person who brought important announcements from a king or emperor to his people scattered throughout his kingdom. An approximate modern equivalent to the ancient kerux is the radio or television news reader who announces the news to the listening world. Like the modern news broadcaster, the ancient ‘herald’ had to possess a good speaking voice and the self-discipline not to embellish or alter the message. It is unfortunate that the profound and good news of God about Jesus Christ has been made to appear trivial and narrowly religious by associations with the word ‘preaching’” (P Barnett, The Message of 2 Corinthians, p83).

If each minister is a herald of God ask, “What is God’s message for us today?”

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, help me to find Good News in our worship today.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION

Lord God, I bring to you the many people whose incomes have been drastically reduced by the present health problems and restrictions on movement. Guide those seeking to find a way forward in the economic problems arising from the health crisis. Make money available to relieve the suffering of those affected. I ask it in Jesus’ name. AMEN

I.B.R.A. Readings

Mark 3:13–19

THE GOD OF THIS AGE

“The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers”.

2 Cor 4:4 NIV

Whatever else you do, don’t, as a Christian believer, go around with blinkers on! Let loose in the world of the twenty-first century is the power of evil, Satan, demonic forces – call evil what you will. But know it is evil and that it is alive and well, active and destructive. It always has been, from the Garden of Eden onwards.

“From the biblical perspective, it is the age commenced by Adam’s rebellion, not the created world, which is evil. The creation is merely the stage on which the tragedy of man’s sin is enacted. The Scriptures teach, however, that the revolt against God began not with man but with Satan. Humanity has, in reality, been caught up in the cosmic and supernatural uprising of Satan against the one true and living God. Thus, mankind is said to be ‘the children of the devil’ or of ‘the evil one’. John wrote that the ‘whole world is under the control of the evil one’ (1 Jn 5:19 NIV), the imagery suggesting that the human race lies helpless in the coils of a huge serpent. The evil one is also said to be ‘in the world’, that is, inhabiting and controlling the minds of all people everywhere. Dr Hughes comments that ‘the unregenerate serve Satan as though he were their God’.

By what means does the evil one control the world? He ‘has blinded the minds of unbelievers’” (P. Barnett, The Message of 2 Corinthians, p82). And he makes a go at poisoning the minds of believers too, especially when he convinces them that he doesn’t exist. Beware – this world is full of evil. Look around you!

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, help me to be aware of the dangers of evil today.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION

Lord, I pray for the medical personnel who are working to save the lives of patients who are infected with the Covid-19 virus. I hear that some have themselves become infected and I pray for the better protection of them all. Provide them with adequate protective equipment and grant that they may be kept safe. I ask it in Christ’s name. AMEN

I.B.R.A. Readings

Proverbs 7:6–18