Thought for May 31st

Todays readings.. Joshua 17, Isaiah 23, Hebrews 3,4&5

“IF YOU HEAR”

   As we continue reading Hebrews we notice its many quotations from the Old Testament.  Notice how many of these quotations contain that vitally important little word “IF” !  A major point Paul makes is that the readers should learn from the failures of the past, but will “hear” what is written.  Do we “hear” as we read?

   In chapter 3 v.4 we read that “the builder of all things is God.” Paul is developing his points in the opening chapters as we saw yesterday. We sometimes refer to God as the Master Architect – and so he is – for he planned all things from the beginning of the world, but he is also “the builder” who is carrying out his plan, a builder who looks for those with the vision to work together with him in its construction (see 2 Cor.6 v.1).  Paul saw himself as God’s “skilled master builder” [1 Cor.3 v.10] 

   Where is skill needed?  In allowing for the freewill of human nature and fitting that into the overall planning.  Remember how we read earlier this month of the ‘Crisis Conference’ in Jerusalem?   It was James who summed up their deliberations by quoting the prophet Amos that “the remnant of mankind may seek the Lord” [Acts 15 v.17]  Let each of us be a ‘seeker.’

   .  Twice in Hebrews Ch. 3 [v.7,15] and again in Ch. 4 v.7 words from Psalm 95 are quoted, “Today, if you hear his voice”!   David, in this Psalm, was awake to the voice of God, especially the lessons to be learnt from the past failures of his nation under Moses and Joshua that we have been reading this month.  David had a particular failure later in his life but he learnt that God is merciful to those who have a genuine God fearing attitude – and he had this far more than most men – a ‘real’ relationship with God.

   The Master builder is looking to shape us and make us part of his building.  We read that “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” [Heb.4 v.12]  

Jesus is the living word, “the word made flesh” [John 1 v.14] so that God could speak to us through Him.  We have God’s words in our hands; if we use them rightly they provide an unlimited source of strength in service to him, and we realize more and more that we are part of God’s building.  All its’ parts, however small, are valuable in God’s sight, every brick counts – and every bit of mortar – when God is the builder.  

As we read his word may we all  have an active conscience to enable what we read to come alive in our minds and provoke us into being fully conscious of all that God is – and all that we can become!

Note how Hebrews ch. 4 concludes! Let us “with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need”. 

Thought for May 30th

Todays readings.. Joshua 16, Isaiah 22, Hebrews 1&2

“HIM WHO PLANNED IT LONG AGO” 

Today we began reading the letter to the Hebrews and found some thoughts that have their parallel to our chapter in Isaiah (ch.22).  Both show us facets of the ultimate purpose of God: Hebrews wonderfully so!

Isaiah tells us, “For the Lord GOD of hosts has a day…” [v.5]  This is a “day” or time coming of “tumult and … confusion  This was a message for his people because so many had become blind to their ungodly ways.  The Lord GOD “called for weeping and mourning …” [v.12] because of their sins, but instead ” joy and gladness … and drinking wine” and saying “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” [v.13]

The people had lost their vision of their God – and it is just the same today. Isaiah tells them – and equally our world today, “you did not look to him who did it, or see him who planned it long ago.“[v.11]   To put it bluntly, then and now, nearly all had no sense of believing that there is a Creator with all-seeing power and an eternal purpose.

The letter to the Hebrews starts,  “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets …” and then makes the vital point that God has now “spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things” [v.2] Some translations are poor here, the translators are influenced by their trinitarian ideas: it was ‘because of’ Jesus’ – with him in mind, that God planned out his creation with Jesus as the “heir” to that creation.

We read this week in 2 Tim. 1 v.9,10 that  God “called us to a holy calling … which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and that “Jesus … abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.”  God does not see the passage of time as we do – he is not bound by time!  We will  read in Isaiah next month, that God says, “there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning” [46 v.9,10]

Back in Hebrews verses 8 and 9 also challenge us to understand them correctly!  “…of the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the sceptre of uprightness is the sceptre of your kingdom.   You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness …”  It is clear the Almighty is the God of Jesus.  Jesus is only ‘god’ in the sense that he represents God! 

Jesus ” loved righteousness and hated wickedness” – and we must do the same! Finally, let us take right  into our hearts the words of verses 1 and 3 in ch. 2, “… we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard (and read), lest we drift away from it … how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?”

Thought for May 29th

Todays readings.. Joshua 15, Isa. 20&21, Philemon

“SENDING MY VERY HEART” 

Paul is in prison, he is now “an old  man” [Philemon v.9] and writes a passionate letter to Philemon “a beloved fellow worker” [v.2].  He writes about  a believer called Onesimus,  “whose father I became, in my imprisonment.” [v.10]  How wonderful to have Paul as a “father”. Remember what he told the Corinthians, “For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” [1 Cor. 4 v.15]

Onesimus had become very useful to Paul, and that is what ‘Onesimus’ means; he had belonged to Philemon, but had run away.  But he had then been converted and became a follower of Christ and Paul tells Philemon, “this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever” [v.15] – now and in the kingdom.

When Paul stated  “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good”, adding, “for those who are called according to his purpose.” [Romans 8 v.28] he primarily must mean – for the good of God’s purpose in the outworking of their lives.  In v. 14 he had stated, “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” Paul was totally conscious he was “led by the Spirit.”

  Paul saw himself as a “prisoner also for Jesus Christ.” [v.9]  – and when you and I see our lives from that perspective, then it is possible for us to really begin “to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you (we!) may be filled with all the fullness of God.” [Eph. 3 v.19]  This had clearly become the experience of Paul.

Paul says, that in sending Onesimus back to Philemon, “I am … sending my very heart” [v.12] Let us ponder what Paul means by this.

When Paul told the Galatians that, “God sent forth his Son” and then developed this point to say, “God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” [ch. 4 v.4,6] we can be overwhelmed if we deeply meditate on the picture this reveals.  In a sense we should understand God as saying, “I am sending my very heart  This is food for our deepest meditation.  Is our “very heart” involved in all that we do in serving our Lord, and our God?  That should be our aim.

Thought for May 28th

Todays readings.. Joshua 14, Isaiah 19, Titus 1,2&3

“THEY PROFESS TO KNOW GOD, BUT ….” 

These days less and less people “know God” – and even many of those who claim to do so, fail to commit their lives to him.  But this has always been the case.  We see it in the history of God’s people: we are reading the book of Joshua and about the establishment of the nation after wandering in the wilderness for 40 years. But after it was established and Joshua and that generation died,  They forgot God, their Saviour, who had done great things in Egypt” [Psa. 106 v.21] We will soon read of the highs and lows of the nation in the days of the Judges. 

Our world reached an inspiring high in many nations when the Bible was first translated and printed – but in the last century, and especially today, the whole world  has descended to a terrible low. Today we read the short letter Paul wrote to Titus  whom he had “left in Crete” [1 v.5].  What a challenge faced Titus to get  the Cretans to live a Christ-like life: the situation he faced is quite comparable to today. “A prophet of their own,” says Paul, “said, ‘Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.’ “  [1 v.12] This is also true of far too many today.

Paul then makes this point to Titus,  “To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled.” [1 v.15]  How very difficult it is to be “pure” amid the impurities surrounding us in today’s godless world. Paul then surprises us by adding, “They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work.” [v.16]

Some still “profess to know God” today – but the old principle is always true, ‘actions speak louder than words’.  How vital that our actions ‘speak’ for what we really are in our hearts and as a result we “live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our … Saviour Jesus Christ,  who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” [2 v.12-14]

May we all genuinely “profess to know God” and live lives which show we mean what we say, our actions demonstrating that we have committed our lives to him – and – we long for everlasting life in “the promised land,” becoming, for our Saviour, “a people for his own possession” to help him rule a renewed world.

Thought for May 27th

Todays readings.. Joshua 13, Isaiah 17&18, 2 Timothy 3&4

“HAVING THE APPEARANCE OF GODLINESS, BUT DENYING IT’S POWER” 

This comment of Paul to Timothy particularly invites our meditations today. Jesus accused the religious leaders of his day of having an “appearance of godliness”, he said “‘This people honours me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me …” [Matt. 15 v.8,9]  They were too self-centred, they did not realize, let alone appreciate, the wonder of really having a relationship with God.

What we especially note in today’s 3rd chapter of Paul’s 2nd letter to Timothy is that Paul says that this will be the situation “in the last days” [v.1]  The Spirit gives Paul a ‘picture’ of the scene, this shows it will be far worse then than when Jesus criticised the Pharisees.   

Paul tells Timothy (and us) that “in the last days … people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy,  heartless…” [v.2,3] Furthermore they will be  “without self-control … not loving good … swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God,

having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.” [v.4,5]

Through the centuries, an “appearance of godliness” has existed, but today it has almost faded out of existence.  How much is this affecting you and I? True godliness had “power” to influence others, Paul was an outstanding example.Timothy is told, “But as for you” and we should say, ‘as for us’ – accepting Paul’s words as essential advice for us too, “continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” [v.14,15] 

Those sacred writings would have been the scriptures of the Old Testament so largely ignored by those who claim to be christian today.  We must take the final part of this chapter fully to heart, it is the opposite of “denying it’s power.  Paul declares, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man (and woman) of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”   How is our training progressing?

Thought for May 26th

Todays readings.. Joshua 12, Isaiah 16, 2 Timothy 2

“CALL ON THE LORD FROM A PURE HEART” May 26th

Paul’s final letter, the one he wrote to Timothy, is probably the most personally challenging one for believers – and that surely includes us today! He is warning and advising Timothy about some “who have swerved from the truth …” [2 v.18]  this problem has plagued believers ever since – it is the reason why so many different churches exist. Those who ‘swerved’ were “upsetting the faith of some” – sadly, it continues today.

We can stop our faith from swerving by diligently reading God’s word and prayerfully comparing scripture with scripture,  then we will see with increasing clarity how it all fits together into a harmonious message and becomes the foundation for us as we “pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.” [v.22]

The challenge that faced Timothy was to teach and guide others to do this.  How wonderfully satisfying when we, in all humility and thankfulness, are able to accomplish this.  Paul told Timothy, at the start of his first letter to him; “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” [1 v.5] 

What wonderful advice he gives him, advice that we ourselves should follow, that “the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth.” [2 v.24,25]

There is only one truth, the original gospel and good news that spread through the Roman Empire – and ultimately to the whole world.  This is discussed – and practiced as far as is humanly possible – by all “who call on the Lord from a pure heart” [v.22] as they “flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace” [same verse] This is the original gospel, it is “the faith” Paul taught and kept to the end! 

Paul stresses “the faith” – and we note he uses this phrase 14 times in his letters to Timothy.  Almost the final words he wrote as he neared the end of his life are in ch. 4.  What sincerity was in his heart as he told believers, “the time of my departure has come.  I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.   Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.” [v.6-8] 

May the “pure heart” we are developing, lead us to “call on the Lord” every day – and so be worthy, but only by his grace, of “the crown of righteousness” that is also “laid up” for us when Jesus returns – and we see the wonder of being “blessed” to “inherit  the earth” [Matt. 5 v.5] – How soon now! 

Thought for May 25th

Todays readings.. Joshua 11, Isaiah 15, 2 Timothy 1

“I REMEMBER YOU CONSTANTLY IN MY PRAYERS”

Today we started reading the final epistle that Paul wrote, his second letter to Timothy. The spiritual relationship he had developed with him is an example to us of the relationship we should aim to develop with fellow believers; surely we should remember each other constantly in our prayers.   The spiritual rapport we develop will be invaluable, especially in the times of real trouble that are increasingly threatening our world!  How close is the return of our Lord?

Paul tells Timothy, “I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day.” [1 v.3]  How often do we pray?  How much do we pray for each other?  Paul tells Timothy, “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you …” [v.5] That is a challenging way of describing the ‘active’ nature of a genuine faith!  It is more than an attitude in our brain – it is the active principle on which our heart operates.

The epistles of John illustrate this in a heart-challenging way, he wrote, “Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. … And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.  Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.” [1 John 5 v.11,12]  Food for the deepest thought and meditation here!

Clearly Paul had this “testimony in himself.”  We perceive this as meaning that his faith had developed to its’ fullest extent, his life was the outcome of a “sincere faith.”  It caused Paul to “constantlyremember” Timothy in his “prayers.”

We must each meditate on what werememberconstantly in… (our) prayers”   Do we “remember the spirit that was in us when we were converted.  Paul certainly did, and it is evident this “constantly” and dramatically influenced the rest of his life. What about ourselves? May we “constantly in (our) prayers” seek to follow, more and more, the example of Paul.

Thought for May 24th

Todays readings.. Joshua 10, Isaiah 14, 1 Tim 6

“BUT AS FOR YOU … PURSUE RIGHTEOUSNESS” 

    Righteousness?  In the very earliest translations of the Bible into English this word was spelt right-wise-ness!  Interesting – we like to think of it as indicating that the only wise way to live our lives was always to aim to do right – that is, right by God’s standards..

     Paul, in concluding his first letter to Timothy tells him that he needs to pursue a ‘right-wise’ way of life.  It needs mental energy, a real sense of the right direction on which to focus the eyes of our minds. Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom” [Matt. 19 v.23].  There are “riches” of human creation  all around us in the world today- as never before!

    This is the point Paul is telling Timothy to make to believers while he is living in Ephesus (1 Tim.1 v.3). Paul writes to him saying, “for the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils.  It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.  Fight the good fight of faith. Take hold of eternal life to which you were called …” [v.10-12]

     This advice to Timothy is surely for us as well! How do you “take hold” of something?  You need both hands!  Well, in those days, indeed until about 200 years ago, most individuals who needed to travel some distance had to mount and take hold of the reins of a horse (or a camel or an ass in Bible times) and guide it with firm hands to the desired destination. He had to have a good sense of direction, sign posts were non-existent!

   May all of us have such a commitment to living our lives that we “take hold” of the right and wise directions in life, ignoring the distracting human signposts and “the uncertainty of riches” [v.17] but, as Paul advised, to be “rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.”[v.18,19]  We can only effectively “pursue” that which we have set our eyes (and minds) to look upon!   David wrote in Psa. 101 v.3 “I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless”, let us do likewise.

Thought for May 23rd

Todays readings… Joshua 9, Isaiah 13, 1 Timothy 4&5

“KEEP A CLOSE WATCH ON YOURSELF”  

Paul’s 1st letter to Timothy is a source of much advice and guidance for us today.  Paul gives him much instruction about the problems at Ephesus and how best to deal with them.  Most are comparable with the problems we have today.

But having instructed others Timothy must put into “practice these things” himself. “Immerse yourself in them,” says Paul, “so that all may see your progress.” [ch.4 v.15]  Ponder the significance of the word “immerse”!

Setting an example is vital – otherwise we undermine what we are saying others should do.  The chapter concludes,  Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching.  Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.” This reminds us of the words of James we will read next month, ” For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror.  For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.   But the one who looks …. and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.” [ch. 1 v.23-25]

So let us all keep a close watch on ourselves: we and they must not be, Paul told Timothy, “gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not.”  [5 v.13]  There are so many things that encourage people (and us) to do just this today – so we need all the more to – to “keep a close watch on ourselves.”

“BUT AS FOR YOU … PURSUE RIGHTEOUSNESS”

Thought for May 22nd

Todays readings… Joshua 8, Isaiah 12, 1 Timothy 1-3

“LOVE THAT ISSUES FROM A PURE HEART”

 Love is a word in common use today.  The utter sincerity of its use by Paul in his letters bears no relation to the way most people use it today.  Paul wrote to Timothy, who is described as “my true child in the faith” – to practice love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” [1 Tim. 1 v.5].  Such a faith is an essential ingredient in true Christ- like living.  Imagine making bread without flour!

Paul illustrates his point by drawing the contrast with those who do not act in spiritual love, those who “have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions” [v.6,7]  It was the spirit of the Scribes and Pharisees re-emerging amongst the believers.

He tells Timothy that,  “I hope to come to you soon , but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God… 1 Tim. 3 v.15]  Paul goes on to explain how each community of believers should have overseers, or elders. He goes into great detail about the qualities such persons ought to have. He must be married and have brought up children for if he cannot effectively manage “his own household” how will he properly “care for God’s church.”?[v.5].   Paul also said “he must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil.”[v.6]

What is this devil?  How can an overseer be seen to be condemned by a devil?  The translators are inconsistent, for the Greek word diabolos they translate here as devil occurs again in v.11 about what the character of the wives of deacons should NOT be! They translate diabolos as “slanderer“  in this case!      Jesus said “Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil” (diabolos) [John 6 v.70]   It is to be greatly regretted that the Church, over time, built up a totally fictitious story about the existence of an unseen evil supernatural spirit being.

Those who take any position of responsibility in God’s church “must be dignified, not double tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy … They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience” [1 Tim. 3 v.8,9].  Timothy is told that he should, “set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.”[Ch.4 v.12]. We should all aim to do this and practice love that issues from a pure heart.”