Thought for November 20th. “JUDGE THE SURROUNDING NATIONS”

Todays readings… Nehemiah 8, Joel 3, 2 Thessalonians 3 

            The final chapter of Joel’s prophecy always intrigues us.  It’s opening verse is plain – “For behold in those days and at that time, when I restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem.  I will …”  The fortunes of God’s nation of Israel have been dramatically restored in the last 100 years.  How long, we ask ourselves, before “the LORD roars from Zion and utters his voice from Jerusalem and the heavens and the earth quake” [v.16] 

            Very pertinent questions arise from God’s words in v,12,13, “I will sit to judge the surrounding nations … for their evil is great.”   The next verse says, “multitudes” are involved – and yesterday’s chapter indicated a particular “northerner” is involved who is destroyed after “he has done great things.” [2 v.20]

            In today’s chapter the question is asked, “What are you to me O Tyre and Sidon?” [3 v,4] Today this is the nation of Lebanon, “the region of Philistia” is also involved, which is now known as ‘the Gaza strip.’   The answer of the question is clear – they are counted as nothing in God’s eyes.

            A wider challenge is made; “Proclaim this among the nations: consecrate for war; stir up the mighty men. Let all the men of war draw near; let them come up … let the weak say, ‘I am a warrior.’” [v.9,10]  All this has happened – is that happening complete?   Verse 16 & 17 indicate a final climax when “The Lord roars from Zion, and utters his voice from Jerusalem, and the heavens and the earth quake.  But the LORD is a refuge to his people, a stronghold to the people of Israel. So you shall know that I am the LORD your God …” 

            The world at that time will at last know – but those who diligently read God’s word should “know” now!

            What a blessing such knowledge will prove to be when the LORD “roars” and the nations are in great alarm.  Those who “know” will have a special ‘peace of mind’ – and they should have it now – they need to have it now.   Finally, take heart-felt note of the point Paul makes we also read today as he completed his 2nd letter to the Thessalonians.

            “Now may the God of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way.” [v.16]  

            Is your heart feeling receptive to that peace?  It should be if you are fully absorbing God’s word.

Thought for November 19th. “TO BE MARVELLED AT AMONG ALL WHO HAVE BELIEVED”

Todays readings.. Nehemiah 7, Joel 2, 2 Thessalonians 1&2                      

    Today we read two of the most dramatic passages in Scripture – in Joel and Thessalonians. It is far from easy to fit together some of the jigsaw pieces they present to us about the last days of human rule.   It is clear the return of Christ will be the most incredible event the world has ever witnessed when “the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, (put) away from the presence of the Lord and the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marvelled at among all who have believed.” [2 Thess. 1 v.7-10]   Let us be among those “who have believed.”

    What overwhelming awe the experience of that time will create in our hearts! It is also clear from the next chapter that there has to be a particular “lawless one” (AV. ‘man of sin’) “whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the brightness of his coming” [v.8].   This “lawless one” has been responsible for “false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refuse to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” [v.9-12]

    This ‘lawless one’ is associated with a false religion and deceives people attracting them by encouraging “unrighteousness.”  – some disgusting unrighteousness has been exposed in the Roman church in our country in recent years; we note there is no Scripture demanding ‘celibacy’ as a ‘law’ among God’s servants.

     When Jesus came the first time, the religious leaders all had a wrong understanding of the prophets’ causing them to fail to recognise their Messiah. As God’s “last days” judgements unfold it will become clearer to those who really ‘know’ God’s word what the ‘signs’ mean and how they will be fulfilled.  What is most vital is that we take no “pleasure in unrighteousness.” 

    Looking at Joel; he tells us of the drama of that day when “the earth quakes … the sun and the moon are darkened, and the stars withdraw their shining. The LORD utters his voice … he who executes his word is powerful.  For the day of the LORD is great and very awesome; who can endure it?”   [Ch. 2 v.10,11]  Yes, who will endure it?  The answer is – those whose “faith is growing abundantly” [2 Thess.1 v.3]  Is that true of you and I?

Thought for November 18th. “MAY YOUR WHOLE SPIRIT AND SOUL AND BODY BE KEPT BLAMELESS”

Todays readings.. Nehemiah 5&6, Joel 1, 1 Thessalonians 5

Every generation has thought it possible for “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” [1 Thess. 5 v.23] to occur in their lifetime.  Now what does the first part of the verse we have quoted above (and the 2 previous) say?   test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil. Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ”.

Uncommon word “sanctify” – it is a word rarely used today – it means ‘make yourself holy – in contrast to unholy!   There is nothing in between – there is a narrow way – or a broad way!

The opening verses of today’s chapter cause heart-numbing meditation!  ““You yourselves are fully aware”, writes Paul, “that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night; when people are saying ‘there is peace and security’ then sudden destruction will come …”  [v.2,3]

A big example of this occurred when I was just a child.  The British P M returned from an urgent meeting with the German leader Adolf Hitler.  They had made a peace treaty and he returned waving the treaty and saying ‘It is peace in our time.”   Within months Hitler broke the agreement and there was all out war in Europe for the next 6 years and something like 12 million died – and probably as many or more than that were injured, maimed for life! 

Today the powerful nations constantly act to try to keep the troublesome nations, such as North Korea, under control.  The masses of the people in just about all nations think there is no threat of major war between nations. The result is that they think the only threats are car and plane accidents and burglaries! Therefore they pursue every form of ‘enjoyment’ oblivious to the wonder that there is a God who, by his Spirit sees and knows all!

Let us remember that most meaningful 23rd Psalm of David – what a relationship he had with God! “He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake … I will fear no evil, for you are with me … Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.”

David learnt, after his sin with Bathsheba how “goodness and mercy… (would) follow me all the days of my life’  These are words that express his faith!  May we follow his example so that “(y)our whole spirit and soul and body (is) kept blameless until and at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ”.   And how soon now – we are a significant 70 years on from when Israel miraculously became a nation again in 1947/48!

Thought for November 17th. “WHOEVER IS WISE, LET HIM UNDERSTAND”

Todays readings.. Nehemiah 4, Hosea 14, 1 Thessalonians 3&4

    The above words are to be found in today’s last verse at the end of Hosea.  What is he (or she) to understand? The complete verse reads, “Whoever is wise, let him understand these things; whoever is discerning, let him know them; for the ways of the LORD are right, and the upright walk in them, but transgressors stumble in them.”

    This has ever been true, but how few are wise in the ways of God these days?  Today is like the final days of the northern kingdom to whom Hosea was bringing God’s final appeal.  The appeal in the previous verse, after lamenting their passion for idols was, “It is I who answer and look after you” and they were blind to this fact, just as the world today is blind. 

     Now we specially note how God, through the prophet includes, in this last chapter, a vision of his ultimate purpose for his people, “I will heal their apostasy; I will love them freely … I will be like the dew to Israel; he shall blossom like the lily; he shall take root like the trees of Lebanon; his shoots shall spread out … They shall return and dwell beneath my shadow … they shall blossom like the vine” [v.4-7] 

    Who will blossom? “Whoever is wise” in the ways of God and seeks his mercy!

    The same message is in the words we read today in Paul’s 1st letter to the Thessalonians. He told them “not to grieve as others do who have no hope” for the time will come when “the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command with the voice of the archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord” [4 v.13,16,17] 

And where will the Lord be?  Reigning from Jerusalem of course (Isaiah 24 v.23; Micah 4 v.7)  

   And the final words in our Thessalonians chapter 4! “Therefore encourage one another with these words.”  

Thought for November 16th. “TO PLEASE GOD WHO TESTS OUR HEARTS” 

 

Todays readings.. Nehemiah 3, Hosea 13, 1 Thessalonians 1&2                                                                 

            As Paul and his companions travelled to bring the message of Christ their reception was different in each place.  We have had the same experience ourselves. What is very pleasing is that in countries in which we did not expect to have much if any success in teaching the truth about the Bible, some progress has, most remarkably been made. We think of Nepal, then of Bangladesh, then Cambodia and now there is some response to our efforts to spread the truth of God’s word, even in Iran, time will tell, how much.

            Today we are reading Paul’s letters to the believers in Thessalonica and noted his comments in the first chapter that “they received the word in much affliction” [v.6], also how they “became an example … for not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere” [v.7,8] No wonder Paul is so enthusiastic in what he writes!  

            In the 2nd chapter he recalls; “we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict … we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. For we never came with words of flattery … nor with a pretext for greed …” [v.2,4,5].  It is tragic that so often the motive in preaching has been wrong and those with the wrong motive God will judge.  Those with the right motive accept Paul’s call to “walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.” [v.12]

            Finally, we noted the point he made at the end of the 1st chapter – that we “wait for his son from heaven … Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.” This reminded us of what we read in Hosea today, the fate of those who have no time for God, ”they shall be like the morning mist or like the dew that goes early away… or like smoke from a window” [13 v.3] to become no more, not even to know they ever existed.

             We must each ask ourselves, ‘What does God find when he tests my heart?’

Thought for November 15th. “THEN I WAS VERY MUCH AFRAID”

Todays readings.. Nehemiah 1&2, Hosea 12, Colossians 3&4

            Today we started to read the book of Nehemiah who was in exile in Susa, the capital of the empire of the Medes and  Persians. He is obviously a very special personality for he had become cupbearer to King Artaxerxes – a very responsible and trusted position to ensure the king was not poisoned.

             Nehemiah records that “… my brothers came … from Judah.  And I asked them … concerning Jerusalem.  And they said to me, ‘The remnant there in the province that survived the exile is in great trouble and shame.  The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed …” [Ch. 1 v.2,3]  The Temple had been rebuilt, as we have just read in Ezra, but nothing else.

            In reacting to this news, “I sat down and mourned and wept for days …” [v.4].  He is then “praying before the God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments.” [v.4,5]    We prove we mean what we say, especially in loving God, by what we then do.

            The climax of his prayer is in v.11, “O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayers of your servants who delight to fear your name.”  Do we “delight” in fearing God?  By “name,” we primarily mean – his ‘reputation’ toward those who love and therefore serve him truly.  We need to get our minds around this.

            Chapter 2 tells us that “in the month of Nisan” (4 months later) in serving the king as his cupbearer, but having continuing great sadness about the plight of Jerusalem that “the king said to me, ‘Why is your face sad, seeing you are not sick?  This is nothing but sadness of the heart.’  I was then very much afraid” [v.2]

            What should we do when we are “very much afraid”?   If we are truly godly, as Nehemiah was, we should instantly pray.  Nehemiah tells the king the cause of his sadness, saying, “Why should not my face be sad when the city, the place of my father’s graves, lies in ruins …” [v.3]

            Then the king said to me, ‘what are you requesting?’ So I prayed to the God of heaven …” [v.4]  What instant and urgent prayer was involved here!   Imagine it!  Nehemiah then asks, “If it please the king, and if your servant has found favour in your sight, that you send me to Judah, to the city of my father’s graves that I may rebuild it” [v.5]  The request is granted – because he responded in a godly way although in great fear –– there arose a challenging and wondrous opportunity.  The account that unfolds in this book from hereon is an inspiration to all who are fully committed to serve God at every opportunity.  Do you have that sense of commitment?

            How much will such be needed as life in this world becomes ever more uncertain – so let us all set our minds on developing that commitment more and more – and the foundation for this is to ‘feed’ on God’s word every day.   

Thought for November 14th.”THE RICHES OF FULL ASSURANCE’”

Todays readings.. Ezra 10, Hosea 11, Colossians 2

    Today we completed reading the book of Ezra.  Only the last 4 chapters were written by or for him, the first 6 are to be seen as a continuation of 2 Chronicles.   Before Ezra came, the people – led by Zerubbabel, and encouraged by the prophets Haggai and Zechariah (ch.5 v.1,2)  had rebuilt the Temple. When Ezra arrived it became plain many had not, however, regained the spiritual vision of a true relationship with their God.  

    We can see some comparisons with today’s Christianity – and also with the nation of Israel.  Churches continue to exist and be built and a few  flourish – but mainly in an emotional way.  The nation of Israel has now sustained its existence for more than 70 years, but these achievements are physical, they are not an end in themselves.  

     The nation to which Ezra came had compromised their separation from unbelievers.  They lived among people who had some knowledge of God, especially those who came to be known as Samaritans (Ch. 4 v.2) but also among idol worshipers. When Ezra realized many had taken wives from among them, including some of the priests; Ezra proved himself to be the strong minded God fearing man needed to inspire them to correct this situation.

    We read Ezra’s confession of great concern in yesterday’s chapter 9.  “O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift up my face to you for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up …” [v.6].  Today’s chapter starts, “ … Ezra prayed and made confession, weeping and casting himself down before the house of God, a very great assembly of men, women, and children, gathered to him out of Israel, for the people wept bitterly.”

     Shecaniah, one of the leaders, addressed Ezra, “we have broken faith with our God … but even now there is hope for Israel in spite of this. Therefore let us make a covenant with our God and put away all these wives and their children, according to the counsel of my lord and of those who tremble at the commandment of our God.”[v.2,3]  How many “tremble” today?  Do we need to?

    His final words to Ezra are an inspiration to all who have fallen away – or who are in the process of doing so – to turn back and serve God and his Son in the way that was established in the First Century as we read today in Colossians: many verses illustrate this point. Paul encourages them that “being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding …” [2 v.2]  Truly, God is a “mystery” to those who do not search the Scriptures he inspired to be written. let us not be guilty of that.  Paul feared that some “may delude you with plausible arguments” [v.4]. and so it has happened more and more through the centuries.  Let us gain and maintain a “full assurance” – and what “riches” will be seen and experienced when Christ returns!  And how soon now!

Thought for November 13th.“INCREASING IN THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD”

Todays readings.. Ezra 9, Hosea 10, Colossians 1

What a powerful and positive letter Paul wrote to the Colossians – let us take it as a letter to us in these last days.  May we “ be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding,  so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.  [1 v.9.10]

Reading God’s word every day is the essential foundation for us to do this.  Paul told them that God “has delivered us from the domain of darkness …” [v.13]  Let us recognise more and more how we live in “the domain of darkness” and it is only by reading – and then absorbing into our hearts and minds – the inspiring words God’s message to us contains that we can be delivered from  “the domain of darkness …”that surrounds us on nearly every hand. Let us not neglect to do this every day – and do it with all our hearts.

Let us remember what we read 3 days ago in acts, the words that Paul said Jesus spoke to him on the road to Damascus: that he was sending Paul to the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light “ [Acts 26 v.18]

As we read God’s word more and more, the eyes of our hearts (see ) are seeing more clearly, we are “increasing in the knowledge of God.  How tragic is the kind of “knowledge” that surrounds us!   It is full of unbelievers – those who imagine that all the marvels and beauty that surround us – all developed by pure chance!   They ‘worship’ a god of their own imagination and this reminds us of Paul’s words in his 2nd letter to the Corinthians. “…the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. “[4 v.4]  Let us make sure our minds are not “blinded.”

Thought for November 12th. “THEY HAVE DEEPLY CORRUPTED THEMSELVES”

Todays readings.. Ezra 8, Hosea 9, Acts 28

     We are naturally inclined toward the positive and encouraging matters we read in God’s word – and so it has been encouraging today to read of the faith and commitment of Ezra in leading many of God’s people back from captivity to Jerusalem.  We also read of Paul’s arrival in Rome and how “he lived there two whole years … and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the Kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.”

     This is how Luke’s account of the Acts of the Apostles ends and we have no certain information from other sources as to what happened after that. We see, however, the essential thrust of his teaching – “proclaiming the kingdom of God” and lament that such a message is just about totally absent among ‘Christians’ today.

       This brings us to see how the chapter (5) we read in Hosea today records many things that are equally appropriate to today’s situation.  The chapter starts, “Rejoice not, O Israel!  Exult not like the peoples.”  We are approaching the silly season of Christmas, how spiritually meaningless it is!  God’s son was certainly not born on Christmas Day!  That is not a day to particularly remember, the early church didn’t!. The one thing we should remember about Christ is his death and resurrection – a weekly inspiration for genuine believers.

      The prophet challenges the people, “What will you do on the day of the appointed festival?” [v.5]  Then he tells them, “the days of punishment have come.” [v.7]  Hosea as the true “prophet – is the watchman of Ephraim (the northern kingdom)  with my God” [v.8]

     What is a “watchman” ?  One who sees the situation from God’s perspective – and warns when there is a need, as God guides him.  Hosea is aware “they have deeply corrupted themselves” and God “will remember their iniquity, he will punish their sins” [v.9]   God then says, through Hosea, “Woe to them when I depart from them.” [v.12]  They will wake up too late, just like our world will – maybe very soon!

     In his final verse Hosea writes, “My God will reject them because they have not listened to him”.  Today, what would a true prophet say?  Would anyone listen?  Can you imagine what he would say?  More important – is to imagine what you would say?  Will you even try to say anything?

Thought for November 11th. “… FOR I HAVE FAITH”

Todays readings.. Ezra 7, Hosea 8, Acts 27

We read today of two outstanding characters, believers who had an active faith with whom God could work to perform his will, they are great examples for us.   First we have Ezra who is a direct descendent of Aaron [ch.7 v.5] “who had set his heart to study the Law of the LORD, and to do it and to teach …” [v.10]  The “king of Persia … granted him all that he asked, for the hand of the LORD his God was on him. ” [v.1,6]

May that be true of you and I because of our commitment to serve our king, and, as we develop our faith, to see him ever more clearly as we gain “a true heart in full assurance of faith” [Heb.10 v.22].  The attitude of Ezra convinced the Persian king and so, says Ezra, “I took courage, for the hand of the LORD my God was on me” [v.28]

God’s message through Hosea is one that applies to our world today and its total lack of faith and ignorance of God. He tells his prophet, “My anger burns against them … they sow the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind” [8 v.5,7] And they, the northern nation of Israel to whom he was a prophet, were soon no more.  The whirlwind for our world is developing more and more – and is looking increasingly fearsome, especially in the long term, as the people of the world convince themselves there is no Creator who watches over them and sees all that they do..

In our Acts chapter (27) the ship sailing to Rome reaped “the whirlwind,” but wonderfully ‘Christ’ was watching over Paul and he was able to tell those with him that “this very night there stood before me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship,  and he said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you.’   So take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told.” [v.23-25]

Paul’s faith was supreme in the crisis – and our faith? How have we “setour heart? Ezra is an example.  God’s word reveals to us the extremity of the crisis that faces our world – and which it deserves.  But, as Paul wrote, let us make sure “we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.” [Hebrews 10 v.39]