Thought for December 18th. “BE STRONG”

    Todays readings.. Job22, Haggai 1&2, 1 John 5

     Zerubbabel is the “governor of Judah” at the time Haggai uttered his prophecy, the prophet is contemporary to Ezra and Nehemiah and there are dozens of references to him in their books – and Haggai, whose 2 chapter prophecy we read today, is referred to by Ezra (5 v,1 & 6 v,14) as being “the prophet” who was present.

     Haggai is sent by the LORD to try to strengthen the will of the people in rebuilding the temple. There is not enough zeal among the people to get on with the work of completing the rebuilding.  The prophet says, “Who is left among you who saw this house in its former glory? How do you see it now?  Is it not as nothing in your eyes?” [2 v.3]

     What is the reason for this?  A lack of vision?  A spiritual lack of vision has always been really serious. The prophet rebukes them for their lack of endeavour, “Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins? … Consider your ways!” [1 v.4,5]

     In today’s language we could say, ‘Consider your priorities in the way you use your time and spend your money!   We noted particularly what God then says through the prophet, “my house … lies in ruins, while each of you busies himself with his own house” [v9] 

      Then the prophet is inspired to develop a ‘strong’ message to the leaders and the people, we read, “Yet now be strong O Zerubbabel, declares the LORD.  Be strong, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest.  Be strong, all you people of the land declares the LORD.  Work, for I am with you, declares the LORD of hosts” [2 v.4]

      A parallel message for followers of Christ is emphasized in the New Testament, “,,,be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus” Paul tells Timothy (2 Tim. 2 v.1).  Last week we read Peter’s words in his first letter telling believers, “you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God … “ [1 Pet. 2 v.5] 

        Finally, we see how Haggai is given a picture of the ultimate time, a time which has a far greater temple!  We appear to be on the brink of this time!  “I will shake all nations,” the LORD tells him, “so that the treasures of all nations shall come in, and I will fill this house with glory … the latter glory of this house shall be greater …. And in this place I will give peace, declares the LORD of hosts.” [2 v.7,9]

      Let us all be strong in the ways the LORD sees true strength, for we have ‘the wonder of his grace’ – noting the words of Paul as he brings his first letter to the Corinthians to its climax, “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.” [v.13]   

Thought for December 17th. “NO ONE WHO KEEPS ON SINNING HAS …”

  Todays readings …. Job 21, Zephaniah 3, 1 John 3&4

The subject of LOVE is used so much in text and conversation that we may take what it means for granted; then again, there may be some unclear thoughts in our minds.  It is a simple, yet, at the same time, a profound subject.  The Apostle John uses it frequently in his Epistles.   

He himself is described as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” [John 21 v.7,20]  But did not Jesus love them all?  Of course he did!  But love comes in degrees of intensity; it understands the character which is the objective of its love.  A mother still loves a naughty child, but there is a different “focus” to that love.

Jesus found it necessary from time to time to reprove the disciples for their little faith, to rebuke Peter for tempting him to disobey his Father and to chide Thomas for his lack of belief, unless he saw with his own eyes.   But John was prepared to go in and witness the trial of Jesus, although he does not name himself [John 18 v.15-16] and to stand beside the cross with Mary.[19 v.26-27] 

All true believers must develop a living relationship with Jesus day after day.  As in all true relationships, it must grow and blossom and bring forth fruit.  In his epistle, which we read today, John writes, “You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in him is no sin.  No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or knows him” [1 John 3 v.5,6]  

So those who fail to become more like Jesus have never really known him!    John says they haven’t “seen him”.  The sense of “see” we read yesterday how, the “eyes” that our hearts develop when we associate with Jesus.   But, it is more than associating with him, isn’t it!   We have not just joined an Association.  John goes on to write, “let us not love in word and talk, but in deed and in truth” [v.18].   Our actions prove we mean what we say!  

In the next chapter John writes, “No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us … we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us.  God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.  By this is love perfected in us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgement … there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear “ [4 v. 12,16-18]. 

Yes, we know what love means – and the wonder of the meaning can frighten us.

Thought for December 16th. “THE BURNING ANGER OF THE LORD”

   Todays readings.. Job 20, Zephaniah 2, 1 John 1&2

           Yesterday in reading the chapter in Peter we could have noted that Peter also wrote, “you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets …” [2 Peter 3:2]. Now we are currently reading the short prophecy of Zephaniah. His message starts “The word of the LORD that came to Zephaniah …” It is God revealing the future to him  and through him to us.
            His first chapter is about “the great day of the LORD” [Zephaniah 1:14] and of course a day of God’s judgements was soon to come on Jerusalem in the next generation or two  but this prophecy, while including predictions about that tragedy, so much deserved because of their spiritual failures, goes on to look beyond this to an ultimate day when, says God, “I will bring distress on mankind, so that they shall walk like the blind, because they have sinned against the LORD … In the fire of his jealousy, all the earth shall be consumed” [Zephaniah 1:18].

              This reminds us that Peter wrote that the “heavens and the earth which now exist are stored up for fire” [2 Peter 3:7]. Now “fire” is used as a means of getting rid of that which is bad, a cleansing, leading to renewal. We know how the bushfires in this country lead to a cleansing and renewal of growth.
            In today’s chapter God in Zephaniah has a powerful message for us. “Before the decree takes effect (today, here and now) before there comes upon you the burning anger of the LORD. Seek the LORD, all you humble of the land who do his just commands; seek righteousness; seek humility; perhaps you may be hidden in the day of the anger of the LORD.” [Zephaniah 2:2,3]
           To that message we can add what John writes in our New Testament reading, “all that is in the world  the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of possessions  is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” [1 John 2:16,17]

Thought for December 15th. “TO THOSE WHO HAVE OBTAINED … “

  Todays readings.. Job 18&19, Zephaniah 1, 2 Peter 3

            The marvel is – that although one has read the Bible over a great number of years one still comes across things one has not really taken notice of before.  The opening words of Peter’s second epistle caught our attention “to those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours.”  The point does not stand out so much in the AV as the ESV.  How great was Peter’s faith now – as he reflects back on his life’s experiences.   In v.16-18 he reflects on the incredible experience on the mountain when his Master was transfigured before him and 2 fellow disciples; he declares, “we were eye witnesses of his majesty.”  Yet we know that not long after, in the panic that followed his Master’s arrest, Peter’s faith collapsed.

             Faith is a quality that is proved by actions as we saw emphasized by James in his epistle. Those who are not conscious of the need to develop a real active faith, would not be impressed by the urgency of the words of Peter in his second epistle.  He writes, “You …having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire … make every effort to supplement your faith with …” [1 v.4-7] and there follows a list of the qualities of character which enable faith to grow.   Have a look at them! Then he says, ”IF these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful….” [v.8]   Unfruitful in  Do we appreciate the point here? Peter writes of the danger of being “unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ”  But he is not talking about intellectual knowledge.  The Gk word here is epignosis and Paul uses it in Romans 1 v.28 “and since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind …”  

Peter uses it again in his 2nd chapter, expressing his dismay that there is no growth in their awareness of God’s presence and oversight of their lives.

            He writes (v.20), “For IF, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome; the last state has become worse for them than the first.” (See also the next verse!)

            Peter is referring to what we might term ‘heart knowledge’ as distinct from ‘head knowledge.’  Both are essential, but, dare we say, ‘head knowledge’ is easier!   But do not miss the point Peter makes in v.9 – what the failure of ‘heart knowledge’ causes! 

            Such a person “is so nearsighted that he (or she) is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore brothers (and sisters) be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for IF you practice these qualities you will never fall.” Then our faith will have some comparison to Peter’s and verses 11 to 13 will be true for you as it will be for him. Read them!  

Thought for December 14th. “IF THESE QUALITIES ARE YOURS”

   Todays readings… Job 16&17, Habakkuk 3, 2 Peter 1&2     

    Ah, that little word – “IF” again!  Our quotation above is from today’s readings in 2nd Peter, chapters 1 & 2  This is Peter’s final message as he realises he is soon to die.  He sees much evil growing and false believers coming to the fore who “promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption.  For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved. For IF, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first” [2 v.19,20]  

      What is the false promise of freedom?  A glaring example today is the slogan in some churches, ‘Once saved, always saved.’  

     This unBiblical interpretation astonishes those who know their Bibles!   Can it be that after you are initially ‘saved’ – and in the First Century this meant you showed this by being baptised into water – was it then that ‘grace’ covered all your future sins regardless?  A remarkable kind of freedom!   

    Now take careful notice of Peter’s powerful words in his first chapter.  He tells his readers that he and they have been “granted … all things that pertain to life” and “having escaped the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire … (therefore) make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective and unfruitful …” [1 v.3-8]  

       It is helpful to look at other versions to get the fullest meaning behind some of these qualities.   Some Greek words cannot be effectively translated by one English word. For e.g. virtue has been rendered as integrity and knowledge can be the act of knowing, in the sense of having a relationship, as we will see in Job shortly.  

      Finally, note v.10.   “Therefore brothers (and sisters) be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for IF you practice these qualities you will never fail”    Let us make real progress in making sure we “never fail.” 

Thought for December 13th. “THE GLORY OF THE LORD”

Todays readings… Job 15, Habakkuk 2, 1 Peter 3,4&5       

            It has always been so – but it is more obvious today – how meaningless life is in the ultimate sense.  More than ever before people are living for the here and now.  With this thought in mind we can relate to the words of the prophet Habakkuk. 

              In today’s ch. 2 where he says of his decadent nation, “Woe to him who heaps up what is not his own … and loads himself with pledges.”[v.6] It is so in today’s ‘have it now’ society in the western world – pledging payment sometime later and almost always forever in debt.   A question is asked in v.13, “Behold, is it not from the LORD of hosts that people labour merely for fire, and nations weary themselves for nothing.”   

             Once again God’s prophet reminds his people (and us the readers) that God is behind the scenes and knows all – and has the ultimate control. People labour “merely for fire” – to provide heat in time of cold, to cook their food – and light in the darkness.  Few had any long term view of life, they had then and have now, no idea of God’s vision as stated in the very next verse.  “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.”   

             Any vision people have could be described as ‘tunnel vision’ –that of having fixed objects of thought – unable to see the larger perspective, Job’s ‘friends’ suffered from this.  As we read Peter’s 1st epistle we particularly noticed his reference to “when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared.” [3 v.20] Noah and his sons laboured for 100 long years while around them was total godlessness (Gen. 6 v.5).

             Peter sees their salvation in the ark as it was riding on the flood waters as a type of baptism; he writes, “Baptism which corresponds to this (the flood), now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience …” [v.21]  Baptism cleanses the conscience and provides a new start, with a new vision ‘nothingness’ is swept away – and replaced by the anticipation of participation in the glory that is coming.   

              In Peter’s time God’s judgements were looming over Israel, Jerusalem was doomed for rejecting the Messiah, and Peter warns, “The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded …”  [4 v.7] – the very opposite attitude to those who ”weary themselves for nothing.”   Let us all heed Peter’s words, living with a real sense of purpose in our hearts “by the strength that God supplies – in order that in everything God may be glorified  through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” [v.11] 

Thought for December 12th. “THAT BY IT YOU MAY GROW UP INTO SALVATION”

Todays readings… Job 14, Habakkuk 1, 1 Peter 2

We meditate thoughtfully on Peter’s 1st letter: he was writing to the “elect exiles of the Dispersion” [1 v.1] – primarily Jews – as James (1 v.1) had also done “To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion.” [1 v.1] Peter names them as being in “Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia” – and Paul visited some of these places, and he usually began by teaching in the synagogue, e.g. Acts 17 v,17 and 18 v.4.

Today we saw how Peter’s message to his fellow Jews was largely about how they must live – ways which were to be in contrast to that of the Jews who had opposed and crucified Jesus. Peter told them to “put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander” [2 v.1] and – “like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation — if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.“ [v.2,3]

Interesting, indeed, challenging, is this word – “tasted”! It implies the contrast between ‘head knowledge and ‘heart knowledge.’ We ponder the points Solomon makes in his Proverbs on this “for wisdom will come into your heart”, see ch. 2 v.10; 15 v,14; 22 v.17. Let us reflect on the degree to which we have been through the stage of being “newborn infants’ – spiritually.

Peter tells his fellow Jews, who are now believers, “this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.”[2 V,15,16] Peter is giving practical details on how to “grow up into salvation” and show, in doing so, that “now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” [v.10]

Let us “grow up into salvation” becoming more and more grown up spiritually, ready for our Lord’s return when he will “gather his elect” [Matt 24 v31] for God’s “fig tree” [v.32] shows us “that summer is near” and “this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.” [v,34] There may not be much time left to complete our “growing up.”

Thought for December 11th. “YOU WHITEWASH WITH LIES”

Todays readings… Job 13, Nahum 3, 1 Peter 1

           When we were young ‘whitewash’ was used a lot, it was a very cheap sort of white ‘paint’ you could quickly put on walls, even splash on and a grubby wall would quickly look good – but it was all for ‘looking’ good, it easily got dirty again and could not be cleaned down. 

           As we continue reading Job – we see his increasing frustration at what his 3 ‘friends’ are saying; their self-righteousness is evident, and their false representation of the ways of God even more so!  

          Job is now even blunter in responding to the worldly ‘wisdom’ of these three.  “As for you, you whitewash with lies; worthless physicians are you all … Will you speak falsely for God  and speak deceitfully for him?” [13 v.4, 7] Their speaking falsely was to say that all bad things are caused by God as a punishment for sin.   

          This is a dangerous half-truth: it is true that God brought destruction on Nineveh as we read in Nahum today, a “city, all full of lies and plunder” [3 v.1] – a sad failure after the previous generation repented at the preaching of Jonah.

          Job is so committed to his service to God that he declares, “Though he slay me I will hope in him, yet I will argue my ways to his face.  This will be my salvation that the godless shall not come before him.” [v.15,16]   Yet when God finally reveals himself in conversation and “answered Job out of the whirlwind.” [30 v.1] Job is almost silenced, see v.3-5. Later God speaks of the “friends” and says his “anger burns against” them… for you have not spoken of me what is right as my servant Job has.” [40 v.7]

          Are we speaking of God and his Son “what is right”?  Sadly, many use “whitewash” in their self-confident portrayal of what God is; what many talk of as “faith” has no real substance. This took our thoughts to what we read today in Peter’s 1st Epistle, he told the believers “if necessary (in the wisdom of God) you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith – more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire – may be found to result in praise and glory and honour at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” [1 v.6,7] 

     May our faith become really genuine, if it is not that way already.  May we not deceive ourselves by using “whitewash” in our thinking and ways of talking.    

Thought for December 10th. “YOU HAVE SEEN THE PURPOSE OF THE LORD”

   Todays readings.. Job 12, Nahum 1&2, James 5  

            Have you seen it?  The context of the above statement we read today in the Epistle of James is most interesting – and challenging!  We can say that we have seen the purpose of the Lord in many things, in particular in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, but note the particular context in which James makes this statement.. 

            “As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.  Behold, we consider those blessed who remain steadfast.  You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.” [Ch.5 v.10,11]

              The Lord does nothing without a purpose, but do we always recognize that purpose?  Our reading of Job illustrates God’s purpose with him in developing his character.  The prophets all went through a similar development of character, although only in the larger books is this fully apparent. Studies of the lives of Jeremiah and Isaiah are most revealing about this!  

  Now James was writing when the nation of Israel was soon to be destroyed.  In v. 3 today he calls them “the last days” and he has many thoughts very suitable for our last days.  Patience and steadfastness were vital qualities. The Greek words could also be translated as endurance. 

                It is God’s will and purpose that we go through trial, look at Ch.1 v.2-4. James’ life was a huge learning curve.  If we accept that, in all probability his mother was Mary (the mother of Jesus) and that Jesus made a special appearance to him after his resurrection (1 Cor. 15 v.7) we see that James is writing this as he reaches the climax of his life. Historical records indicate fairly clearly that he was martyred in A D 62. 

                So James marvelled at the purpose of the Lord in his life and he is exhorting others to see the same in their lives – and so be among those who “remained steadfast under trial” and who followed his exhortation to  “establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.” [v.8]   

What an appropriate message and example for us as we near the end of 2018 and world  events are so unstable with unpredictable leaders. The latter day “purpose of the Lord” is steadily unfolding – and God’s purpose will become increasingly clear to those who really know his word..    

Thought for December 9th. “MY GOD WILL HEAR ME”

   Todays readings .. Job 11, Micah 7, James 3&4

          This is how the final chapter of the prophecy Micah begins, ‘Woe is me’!  Much of this chapter, as with his previous chapters, pictures the lawless attitudes surrounding the prophet.  

           His words of lament could just about describe life as it is becoming today around many of us.  “The godly has perished from the earth,” he writes, and “there is no one upright … put no trust in a neighbour; and have no confidence in a friend”[v.2,5].  

           Family life in Israel in his days had broken down, “the son treats the father with contempt, the daughter rises up against her mother” [v.6].    It was similar in the previous chapter, the “inhabitants speak lies, and their tongue is deceitful in their mouth.” [6 v.9]

           However – and this is remarkable, as with all the so-called smaller prophets we have been reading in recent weeks, the final message God gives through them ends with a triumphant picture of ultimate blessing.  This must have been a great source of encouragement to each prophet – as it is to all those today to those who make sure they spend adequate time reading and reflecting on these God-inspired messages.

           Micah says, “But as for me, I will look to the LORD; I will wait for the God of my salvation, my God will hear me” [v.7].  That is the power of a positive faith, this is the spirit we need and may well need more and more, especially if we feel overwhelmed by events and we are tempted to cry, “Woe is me”. 

           The last verses indicate final blessings for God’s people, blessing for those who maintain their faith and also those who have sought repentance after failure.  “Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance … he will again have compassion on us” [v.18,19] The remnant of God’s inheritance in Israel is back in their land; we must watch events with the greatest interest.

            May he have compassion on us too – for no one is perfect but if we, with Micah, will “wait for the God of my salvation,” we can say with Micah, “my God will hear me.”