Thought for July 31st

Todays readings.. 2 Samuel 17, Jeremiah 21, Romans 7,8

“TO SET THE MIND ON THE SPIRIT IS LIFE AND PEACE” 

Today we follow on from our thoughts yesterday on Romans 5 & 6 and read slowly and meditatively to savour the unfolding reasoning of Paul.  He laments, “I do not understand my own actions … I do the very thing I hate” [7 v.15] and then adds, “I have the desire to do what is right but not the ability to carry it out” [v.18].  This was his experience in trying to keep the law from Moses.

He continues, “I delight in the Law of God in my inner being, but I see another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members (i.e. within me).  Wretched man that I am!” [7 v.22-24].  He then asks the question, “who will deliver me from this …” and he answers himself, in his meditations,  “thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ …” [v.25]

   We are now back to the subject of GRACE! The questions recurs, does it matter how much I sin seeing that the “law of sin … dwells” in me? The answer at first seems to be ‘No’ when the first verse of Ch. 8 tells us, “There is therefore no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.”  But the answer starts to unfold as we read on in this chapter. 

Jesus also experienced “sinful flesh” [v.3] and he achieved what we cannot, he remained sinless.  Through him “God has done what the law (of Moses), weakened by the flesh could not do … that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the spirit.” [v.3,4]  What kind of walk is that?

   Then we specially noted the next 2 verses, “those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.  To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” 

   There is no “life and peace” until we develop a spiritual relationship with our Lord.  Those who do this are no longer “in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you.” [v.9].  This is not the power to do miracles, rather it is the strength that comes from a heartfelt relationship with our Saviour.  In his final letter Paul tells Timothy, “God gave us a spirit, not of fear, but of power and love and self-control.” [2 Tim.1 v,7]

   This is a spirit of mind that the old law could not do.  Those who “set their minds” on this new relationship areset free” and  experience the reality of the Proverb, “But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day.” [4 v.18]

Thought for July 30th

Todays readings… 2 Samuel 16, Jeremiah 20, Romans 5, 6

“THAT GRACE MAY ABOUND” 

   What is grace?  Simple question, but the answer is not exactly simple, especially when we try to be sure we understand the means by which ‘grace’ works.  The word ‘grace’ was a special word for Paul!  He had been persecuting believers, he had put them in prison, had been complicit in the death of the first martyr, Stephen.  But the Lord Jesus had picked him out as a ‘chosen instrument’ [Acts 9 v.15] as he told Ananias in a vision.

   It is evident from the words Paul heard him speak on the Damascus Road, “It is hard for you to kick against the goads” [Acts 26 v.14], that Paul had been having a battle with his conscience.  Now the 4 words in our heading, that grace may aboundtaken from today’s reading in Romans 6 v.1; they have to be put in their context.  Sadly, in many cases, such as popular Christian songs, they are not. Twice in Chapter 5, which is also our reading today, Paul makes the point that those who sin, who follow the example of Adam (and this is everybody) can experience the “free gift” [v.15,16, 17] of grace, which means unmerited forgiveness; their sins are blotted out of God’s sight. 

   WonderfulWhat then? Paul writes, “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” [v.20].  Some read this and think it is saying that it does not matter how much you sin, grace always abounds more and more!  If they, or you, think that, they (and you) are completely missing Paul’s point. Yet, tragically, some do think that. There is a misleading slogan, ‘Once saved, always saved’ used in some circles, but it is a distortion of the words of Scripture.

   Paul asks, “What shall we say then?  Are we to continue to sin that grace may abound?  By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” [6 v.1,2] The statement immediately causes us to ask, how can we ‘die to sin’ when we are surrounded by it; the world has become so godless, it constantly bombards us with temptations in many different ways!?

   Consider what Paul goes on to write, he says the result of having “died to sin” was “in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin” [v.6]  

Paul had previously known of Christ, but what he knew he completely misunderstood.  But all that changed with his conversion, outwardly demonstrated by baptism (Acts 9 v.18). He now belonged to Christ.

As Paul moves toward the climax of his most challenging epistle, he writes, “put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” [Ch. 13 v.14]    

There are more texts that will challenge our thinking on this as we come to Chapters 7 and 8 tomorrow.

Thought for July 29th

Todays readings.. 2 Samuel 15, Jeremiah 19, Romans 3, 4

“HE GREW STRONG IN FAITH” 

Paul’s message to the Romans, chapters 3 & 4 which we read today, contain the ‘heart’ of the divine message of salvation, yet how few perceive this.  The foundation springboard truth is the point Paul made to the Galatians “that God … preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” [3 v.8]   Here in Romans, this is enlarged to give us a fuller picture , that all should “also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had …” [4 v.12] In this way they demonstrate that they truly believe.

Paul then makes the point that “the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith.” [v.13] and he adds, most significantly,.” it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace …. to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all,  [v.15,16]

We meditate on this – the wonder of “grace” – instead of trying to observe the detail of the Mosaic law and the many failures to do so we read in the Old Testament – climaxing in the motivations of those who called for the crucifixion of Christ.  Let us follow in the footsteps of the followers of Jesus, who, like Paul, ” walk in the footsteps of the faith that … Abraham had.”   

Abraham, as “he grew strong in his faith … gave glory to God” and in  “hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations that God was able to do what he had promised.” [v.20-22]  And what had God promised?  That he would have a son and heir was only the start!

Abraham “in hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations” [v.18] May we, with him, be “fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised” and grow “strong” in our “faith  – following “in faith”, as Paul was obviously doing. Let us, with Paul, be ” fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.” [v.21] and grow really “strong in faith” – amid the faithlessness – and increasing spirit of hopelessness – all around us in the world.

As a ‘footnote’ – let us note how Abraham is mentioned in the very first verse of the New Testament – isn’t that significant!

Thought for July 28th

Todays readings… 2 Samuel 14, Jeremiah 18, Romans 1&2

 “THE GOSPEL … THE POWER OF GOD” 

Paul in writing to the Romans speaks about the power of God.But he is not referring to physical power such as will be shown at the time Jesus returns when the greatest earthquake ever (Rev. 16 v.18) and other terrible events occur.  

God gave Isaiah a vision of this time, as we read last month in in ch. 29 about events around Jerusalem (code named ‘Ariel’) “the city where David encamped” [v.1] and how God will deal with “the multitude of all the nations … that fight against Mount Zion” [v.8]. Note especially v.5-7.  

We can reason that some of these events have a spiritual interpretation as the hearts of people tremble in fear, but there is no doubt that there is to be a remarkable and totally awesome physical manifestation of God’s power.

   Now today, in Romans Ch. 1, we saw how Paul wrote of the gospel saying, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes “ [v.16].  What is the point of Paul writing that his is not ashamed of the Gospel?  Well, I recall when a Hindu (the manager of the Hotel at which I was staying in India, years ago) asked me to tell him about the Christian God as he could no longer believe the nonsense about an Elephant headed God!  But what do we tell people about the true God?  How do we describe “the power of God” – in a genuine scriptural sense?

   Paul’s point is that the Gospel makes sense, compared to the nonsense surrounding the many gods (of human imagination) the Romans believed in. Today, we can say it makes sense – compared to the nonsense of the theory of evolution –  that everything that exists, sort of invented itself, and there is no need for a creator God.

   But we need to take this one step further and realise that to believe a gospel about believer’s having a future life in heaven is also nonsense!   As it is a falsehood, it has no power at all. It is only the gospel God revealed to men through his son that has “power”- because it is truth, because it is based on historical fact, because the events of the First Century and what followed, only make sense when we accept them as truth: the evidence for them is so strong it had the power to turn the beliefs of the pagan Roman world upside down.

   Have we let this gospel become a power in our lives – influencing every aspect of our thinking and doing?  Only then will we really live a life worth living – and – in the future – experience the wonder of the far greater life God is about to reveal for those who genuinely love him.   

Let us embrace “the power of God” through ‘the original gospel’ – showing this in every aspect of the way we live our lives.

Thought for July 27th

Todays readings.. 2 Samuel 13, Jeremiah 17, Matthew 28

“BLESSED IS THE MAN WHO … ” 

It is our chapter in Jeremiah that particularly jumps out for our mediation today, but first we read the sad story of the trouble that developed in the family of David following his sin with Bathsheba and her husband, adultery and murder!   God “put away” [2 Sam. 12 v.13] David’s sin, in the sense he did not suffer the penalty decreed under the law; but he suffered the consequences, his authority with his family had been undermined.

However,  the words of Paul come to mind, “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” [Rom. 8 v.28]  This applies to even bad things and in this case they caused David to pen some meaningful Psalms, prayers (e.g. Psalm 40) that have been a solace and inspiration to sinners down through the centuries.

How parallel to these lessons are the words the LORD inspired Jeremiah to write we read today in his 17th chapter.  ” “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the LORD.” [v.5] The next verse is a mini-parable, “He is like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see any good come. He shall dwell in the parched places … salt land.”  Our world is becoming such a land, so little spiritual food is growing. Israel had become like this and how agonising life had become for Jeremiah!  And is becoming for us!

Jeremiah’s next verse provides the inspiration we need – if we are to survive in the “parched places” that surround us. “Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD. ” There are two statements there – notice the difference!?

Those whose trust is “in the LORD” are invited to develop a relationship so that their “trust is the LORD  Our thoughts go to David’s Psalm 40, “Blessed is the man who makes the LORD his trust …” [v.4]  And how many, who reach our stage in life, can make Psalm 71 v. 5-9 their prayer?

We live in a world, where, more than ever, v. 9 of our Jeremiah chapter, is so woefully true! “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick …”  Let us remain healthy in mind being fully conscious that “the LORD search(es) the heart and test(s) the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.”  [v.10]  Oh the wonder to come for those who are among the “blessedwho trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD.”

Thought for July 26th

Todays readings.. 2 Samuel 11, Jeremiah 16, Matthew 27

“FOR MY EYES ARE ON ALL THEIR WAYS” 

    We found today’s readings rather overwhelming in the variety of thoughts they provoked!  Our chapter (16) in Jeremiah is in two contrasting parts.  The first part was God’s denunciation of his people; he said, “I have taken away my peace from this people, my steadfast love and mercy” [v.5].   And God did so – in greater and greater degrees because they failed to maintain their belief in God, no one was godly any more.

     We are in awe that a parallel to this is happening in our world. Godless behaviour is more openly permitted; homosexuality for example is becoming accepted as “normal” with legislation to recognise this. !  Jeremiah tells his generation on God’s behalf, “you have done worse than your father’s … every one of you follows his stubborn, evil will, refusing to listen to me.” [v.12]  Could not the same be said of the ‘christian’ world today!

     Then the scene changes to the distant future of Israel, a scene which we have witnessed in our lifetime. “Behold the days are coming declares the LORD when … I will bring them back to their own land that I gave to their fathers,” adding, “I am sending for many fishers … afterward I will send for many hunters … for my eyes are on all their ways.” [v.14-17]   

    Israel are God’s people, their re-establishment as a nation after 1900 years is a miracle God caused.  Just as God’s eyes have been on all their waysbecause they are his people so it is true, that the Gentiles who accepted Christ also became his people (see Romans 9 v.24-26) and God’s eyes are therefore on all their ways.” 

How sad he must be as he sees what has become of the world today where the Bible is so readily available in every tongue, but so little heeded.  Will he not end up dealing with them as he did the Jews in the days of Jeremiah – and again in the days of the apostles, because they killed His Son?  Of course he will – and, we are in awebecause this seems to be about to happen.

    Glancing forward to tomorrow’s chapter in Jeremiah we note God’s words recorded there. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick: who can understand it?  I the LORD search the heart and test the mind, to give to every man (and woman) according to his (or her) ways, according to the fruit of their deeds” [v.9,10]  What “fruit” is your life producing? Let us each do some careful self-examination.

Thought for July 25th

Todays readings… 2 Samuel 11, Jeremiah 15, Matthew 26

“NOT AS I WILL BUT AS YOU WILL”    

Today we read the account of the dreadful last 24 hours or so in the mortal life of our Lord Jesus. It is clear he was mortal, otherwise his death was only a sort of ‘mirage.’  His agony of mind in the Garden of Gethsemane shows he knew what awaited him.  It is possible he reasoned, as he prayed to his father, that his father’s will could be the same as with Abraham when he was willing to sacrifice Isaac and the Father, at the last moment, would intervene. (Gen. 22 v,10-12).  

With what utter urgency of mind Jesus prayed, “if it be possible let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” [Matt. 26 v.39]  This clearly shows Jesus had a separate will to his Father, he was not an ‘automated’ son. The theory of later centuries that the Father and Son are co-equal, co-eternal, etc. is pure human theology and is false, many scriptures make this plain, especially Hebrews 5 v.5-9. 

     There are several lessons that flow from this, especially the lesson for us on the foundation purpose of our lives  and what our “will” should decide as to the paths open to us in pursuing our ambitions in life: it is essential we make them with a clear appreciation and acceptance of true godly principles.

    Sometimes there are critical lessons to be learnt!  We saw the lesson Peter learnt in a mind of extreme anguish: he had brash self-confidence in declaring he would never deny his Lord, as we read in v. 33.

It can be that when we seek relaxation from the battles of life as David did, as we read today in 2 Samuel 11 v.1-2, that we let down our defences and our clear vision of our relationship with our Saviour is dulled.  There is a proverb about idle hands, there should be one, and probably is, about roving eyes and minds!

     There has never been an age when human minds and eyes have been faced with such a multitude of opportunities to rove as there is today. .  All around us are those who indulge in ungodly ways and each year, it seems, this occurs to greater and greater degrees.  

Let Jeremiah’s trials and his words, we also read today, be examples to us, “I did not sit in the company of revellers … because your hand was upon me … your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O LORD, God of hosts.” [15 v.17,16]

Is Jesus your LORD, are you called by his name?  Then let us follow Jeremiah’s example, and may God’s “will” – but our “will”!

Thoughts for July 24th

Todays readings… 2 Samuel 10, Jeremiah 14, Matthew 25

” … AND HAVE NO KNOWLEDGE” 

   Today we continued reading Jeremiah and saw the exchange of words between the LORD and the prophet.  There is no genuine spirituality left among the people, it is all a sham –  yet the prophet appeals to God to act to relieve the terrible famine that is afflicting the land and all the people.  He says, “though our iniquities testify against us, act O LORD for your name’s sake for our backslidings are many ..” [14 v.7]  Jeremiah appeals for God to be merciful “for his name’s sake” – that is,  his reputation for being a merciful God. 

This is parallel today with the concept that God is fundamentally a God of love – and because of this – endlessly forgiving however sinful we might be – his  punishments always have an end.  But note what God says,  “both prophet and priest ply their trade through the land and have no knowledge.” [v.18],    Being a prophet or a priest is just a “trade” – they have no knowledge, that is, no relationship with God: they do not know his word, they do not take into their minds and hearts what he is saying.

In contrast the portrayal of the work of Jesus in the familiar ch. 53 in Isaiah, says, “By his knowledge, shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous and he shall bear their iniquities” [v.11]

       Tomorrow’s ch. 15 in Jeremiah starts, “Then the LORD said to me, “Though Moses and Samuel stood before me, yet my heart would not turn toward this people.  Send them out of my sight …”   So God is not endlessly forgiving – it is essential we have a true knowledge of him, that we ‘know’ his word and develop a genuine relationship with him through his Son.

      The parables of Jesus we read today give essentially the same message; if we do not use the talents he has given us, in the end he does not want to know us.  He says to the foolish virgins who were waiting for the bridegroom to come, “Truly I say to you I do not know you.” Then he adds,  “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day, nor the hour” [25 v.12,13] 

       If the knowledge we have of God’s word does not result in a real relationship with our heavenly Father he will not seek to ‘know’ us when that vital “hour” arrives! 

      We can sense today with the chaos in many nations, together with the events around God’s Holy Land, especially to the north,  that this is the “day” – but at what “hour” of the day we do not know. Let us absorb God’s word more and more – to make sure we are not among those who “have no knowledge.”

Thought for July 23rd

Todays readings… 2 Samuel 8&9, Jeremiah 13, Matthew 24

“AT AN HOUR YOU DO NOT EXPECT” 

Today our Matthew reading is about the Olivet prophecy of Jesus.  As we read this in one of the Gospels every 2 months we may tend to become too familiar with it.  As the clouds of trouble and ungodly behaviour multiply in so many countries, we have every reason to be fully alert as to the significance of the words of Jesus to his disciples as he answered their urgent questions to explain what he had said when they were in the Temple.  They had been marvelling at the magnificence of the Temple when he had said, “there will be left here not one stone upon another that will not be thrown down” [ch.24 v.2]

    “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and the close of the age?” [v.3] were their urgent questions.  We see his answer as a twofold prophecy: first about the destruction of Jerusalem and how to avoid being caught up in that destruction – but then the ultimate time of trouble for the world, called “the great tribulation” [v.21] at the time of his return to earth.

    Verse 14 is a saying that particularly demands our attention! “This gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”  Only now through the marvels of the internet, is the “whole world” wired in so that anyone can search for any information they desire, and this includes automated translation facilities to overcome language barriers!

    So what happens when the end comes?  Why is it at an hour you do not expect”?  Notice the word “you”!  One would expect that believers would be the only ones who will “expect.”! But the most obvious answer is because the message of Christ is no longer believed by the great majority! 

The Apostle Paul was to write, “the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.  While people are saying, ‘There is peace and security,’ then sudden destruction will come upon them …” [1 Thess. 5 v.2,3].  This implies a time of great trouble, maybe around Jerusalem, but then people think they have achieved an agreement through a lot of “saying” to achieve “peace and security”! 

But careful Bible readers “are not in darkness … for that day to surprise you like a thief” [v.4] “at an hour (we) do not expect”!  But we cannot be totally confident about that!    

Thought for July 22nd

Todays readings…  2 Samuel 7, Jeremiah 12, Matthew 23

“WHO AM I, O LORD GOD?”

Do you ever ask yourself this question?  In our reading in 2 Samuel Ch. 7, we read how David did!  When we ask ourselves this question – is it the Bible that prompts us to do so?     Those who do not know or read the Bible – if they ask, ‘Who am I?’ – conclude they are but the highest form of an evolved animal and agree, as Paul wrote, “If the dead are not raised, ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” [1 Cor. 15 v.32 – but then they should read the following verses, especially v.42!]  

    It is vital to understand why David asked this question – Who am I, O LORD God?” [v.18]  David had been very successful and “the LORD had given him rest from all his surrounding enemies” [v.1]  So David, in his heart, started to think of what he could do for God – which shows he was developing a real conception of what God must be  – this surely began from the time he was a shepherd boy watching over the sheep by night and meditating on the “heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place” which leads him to ask, “what is man that you are mindful of him?” [Psa.8 v.3,4]

    In developing his answer he writes, “you have given him dominion over the works of your hands” [v.6] 

And what are human beings doing today with that “dominion”? What a mess they are making! But let’s come back to ourselves – each one of us must ask ourselves – Who am I? 

    David’s question to himself arose because God had sent Nathan the prophet to him telling him, “Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me.  Your throne shall be established forever”[v.16].  The vision of this overwhelmed David, especially its reference to a particular son and that God “will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.”[v.13]

    Coming back to our own need to ask this question – what of the promises made to all those who claim a relationship with that particular son?  In claiming a relationship, have we ourselves, asked in prayer?

“Who am I, O LORD God?”  Have we felt overwhelmed, as David was, by the vision of what is to come? But if we reject that vision as unreal – we cannot leave it at that – we have to ask ourselves – what is real

No fiction writer could have invented the character and words of Jesus we have been reading in Matthew.  Let us “enlarge” our hearts, as David did his.

David wrote, “I will run in the way of your commandments when you enlarge my heart!” [Psa. 119 v.32] We, like David, need to really enlarge our heart, the perceptions of our mind, so that we can more fully serve our Lord. That service is founded upon the reality of the perceptions we have developed in our heart, our ability to “see” the unseen. Surely that should be one of things we are praying for most of all?  So we ask, ““Who am I, O LORD God?”  We do! Wonderful! Are you satisfied, maybe, overwhelmed, by the answers you are getting?