Thought for October 31st

Todays readings… 2 Chronicles 29, Daniel 9, Acts 9

“CHOSEN … TO CARRY MY NAME” 

What does it mean – to carry a name?  Well, those who have worked for companies and have gone out as ‘their representative’ know how they have carried ‘the name’ of their Company in visiting its customers – but these days, with the internet, this is rarely practiced. This reflection arose from our readings today of Acts ch. 9 with its’ account of the divinely initiated dramatic conversion of Saul (soon to be called Paul). 

As Saul neared Damascus intending to bring any believers in Christ he found there “bound to Jerusalem.“  [v.2] “suddenly a light from heaven shone around him.” [v.3] he hears a voice, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”[v.4] and is told, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” [v.5] and to go into the city and it will be told him what he is to do.  He is led blind into Damascus” and for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.”[v.9] – a sort of counterpart to Jesus being 3 days in the tomb. The Lord instructs Ananias, a disciple in Damascus, to go to Saul and tells him where to find him and “lay hands on him.” [v.12] Ananias is very concerned about this instruction, “But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles” [v.15] 

And so Saul, soon to be known as Paul, spearheads the carrying of Christ’s name, God’s message of salvation through His Son.  In doing this he sets the example to others like Silas, Titus and Timothy to do the same.  These are among the examples that have come down to us today! Let us see ourselves as “chosen … to carry Christ’s name” wherever an opportunity is available – until he come!  And how soon now to that time?! 

Thought for October 30th

Todays readings… 2 Chronicles 28, Daniel 8, Acts 8

RECEIVED THE WORD OF GOD”    

  The Gospels tell us Jesus often went through Samaria in travelling from Jerusalem to Galilee and back. On several occasions he had encounters with the Samaritans and on occasions spent time with them.  We read earlier this month of an occasion when he heeded their request to stay and teach them and, as a result, some said, “we know that this is indeed the saviour of the world.” [John 4 v.42]  So we can see that the Samarians were ready for the Gospel harvest.  Jesus commissioned his disciples as he was about to ascend to heaven that they were be to “be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” [Acts 1 v.8]   Only in our days, is the message really reaching “the end of the earth”

   They were at first slow to carry out his commission. Preaching was concentrated on Jerusalem until Stephen was killed, but, as we read today in Acts 8, after “his execution … they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.” [v.1] 

Philip made a particular effort to preach in Samaria (v.5) “and the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said … and saw the signs that he did … so there was much joy … “ [v.6,8]  “When they believed Philip as he preached the good news about the kingdom of God, they were baptised … now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God they sent to them Peter and John” [v.12,14]. 

   This is a key word –, received and receive that we will encounter in the book of Acts and apostolic writings.  Ch. 11 starts, “Now the apostles and the brothers who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God.” [v.1].  The point is; it is one thing to read and to hear about the message of the Kingdom and of Christ’s is return to establish it – but the vital thing is whether that message is received into the heart and mind  Look up the words in Acts 17 v.11 as a special example.  If you “receive” a message it becomes part of your thinking and motivates the person into action. Have youreceived the word of God – or only just know about it?  To find it interesting is only a stepping stone – the journey to conviction has to be completed.

Thought for October 29th

Todays readings… 2 Chronicles 26&27, Daniel 7, Acts 7

“YOU STIFF NECKED PEOPLE” 

What is a “stiff neck”? What does this phrase mean?  It implies that those who develop a “stiff neck” cannot look around to get what they see – in balance; they have blinkers on their eyes, like a horse in harness!

Sadly, indeed tragically, this is the case today, so many have their minds fixed on the belief there is no God – that everything that exists, with its many marvels, in some ‘magic’ way, created itself!  We encountered the word “stiff necked” in the book of Acts.  Who was accusing people – and which people – of being “stiff necked”?  Yesterday we read ch. 6 and today ch. 7 – chapters which need to be read in con-junction. 

We learn in ch. 6 that, to assist the disciples in the rapidly growing Jerusalem ecclesia “they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit” [v.5] and six others to assist the disciples in the functioning of the now massive ecclesia.  Jews from many parts were visiting Jerusalem for Pentecost, which was 7 Sabbaths after the Passover and “those from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and disputed with Stephen.” [v.9] Cilicia is where Paul was from (Acts 21 v.39) Stephen is “seized … and brought him before the council,” [v.12].   

Today’s ch. 7 starts with the High Priest asking him “are these things so?” – that is, that “Jesus would destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses delivered” [6 v.14] 

Stephen’s speech is recorded in detail, over 50 verses. We note how many times he says, God did this and said that!  It is all about what God caused to happen in the past – with Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, David and Solomon.   Up to a point they knew these things – but they missed the point of what the past was leading up to!  Similarly today, so many ‘christians’ are missing the point that the present is leading up to the return of Christ – with the wondrous result of the kingdom of God being established on earth.

Stephen’s speech reaches its climax with the challenge; “”You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered…” [v.51,52]

There is no Stephen today to denounce today’s ways as “stiff necked” thinking. – Actually minds are even more “stiff necked” than they were then! They are now totally blind to the reality – that there is a Creator.

As they “cast him out of the city and stoned him.[v,58] Stephen gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.” [v.55]

How soon now before we gaze into the heavens and we will see “the Lord himself will descend from heaven … with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.” [1 Thess 4 v.16]

Thought for October 28th

Todays readings… 2 Chronicles 25, Daniel 6, Acts 5&6

“WE MUST OBEY GOD RATHER THAN MEN”

We live in a world which has largely pushed out of its’ mind any contemplation that there is a God, the Creator of their lives – and of all that exists. They therefore believe they can live as they please, and ‘enjoy ‘lifestyles’ and experiences in many different ways as long as they do not kill, deliberately injure or steal:  no thought is given to the laws of God – since most do not believe there is a God!

But Paul was inspired to say there would come a time (how soon now?) “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.” [2 Thess.1 v.7,8]  To “know” God is to have a genuine relationship with him, day by day. Paul told the Galatians, “you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God” [4 v.9], he means, for them to realize they have a relationship with him – a two way relationship!

Our thoughts were prompted to travel along these lines by today’s readings in Acts and the efforts of the “rulers and elders” [Acts 4 v.5] to stop the apostles preaching about Jesus, but Peter bluntly tells them, “We must obey God rather than men.”   He further tells them, “The God of our fathers raised Jesus” and “exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Saviour, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.” [Acts 5 v.30,31]

Earlier, Peter told them Jesus had “become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” [4 v.11,12] 

And that salvation will be for those who not only say they believe in God and Jesus, but who also accept, in their hearts, the privilege that they “must obey God rather than men.”

This is more than ever necessary today when most do not even acknowledge there is a God – and true believers sense that many who say they think there is a God – do not “know God” !  Jesus is coming to deal with those” who do not know God” as well as those who do not “obey God.”

Thought for October 26th

Todays readings… 2 Chronicles 23, Daniel 4, Acts 2

“YOU WILL MAKE ME FULL OF JOY” 

            What a fascinating set of readings we have today!  First in 2 Chron. 23 we have the account of how “Jehoiada” the priest “took courage and entered into a covenant with the commanders” [v.1] to protect the very young king, the surviving son of Ahaziah. He ultimately placed him on the throne when the wicked Athaliah was executed. (v.14,21).  How soon now before the wicked ungodliness of our world is “executed” to be replaced by God’s kingdom.

            It is most interesting how, Nebuchadnezzar, when restored to health is inspired to say (in today’s ch. 4 in Daniel) –   “I blessed the Most High, and praised and honoured him who lives forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will…” [v.34,35]  

            Yes, we are “as nothing” unless we take on the name of his Son in baptism, and then truly follow and serve him, which is the challenge Peter makes as we read today’s ch. 2 in Acts. 

            Our chapter starts by describing the remarkable events that occurred on the day of Pentecost when the 12 disciples, now called apostles (v.42)  were able to speak in other languages (v.6,7) which are recognised by the many visitors from distant lands who are in Jerusalem for the feast. 

            The Apostle Peter is inspired, first to quote from the prophet Joel (ch. 2 v.16), that the pouring out of the Spirit is a fulfilment of his prophecy.  But then the prophecy leaps forward to dramatically describe events (surely our days) “the last days” [v.17] before our Lord returns – when God will “show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below… the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day.” [v.19, 20]

            Peter brings his speech a climax by quoting “the patriarch David” [v.29] how he, “being … a prophet … foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ.” [v.30-31].   We will end by contemplating the state of mind David achieved – “You have made known to me the paths of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’ [v.28]: that wonderful state will be in the “presence” of Christ – when he returns

How soon now?  We know not, but it could be very soon – may we all live so that, by his grace, we will all be “full of gladness.”   

Thought for October 25th

Todays readings… 2 Chronicles 21&22, Daniel 3, Acts 1

“OUR GOD … IS ABLE TO DELIVER US” 

The friends of Daniel; Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were in trouble, king Nebuchadnezzar in his pride, had set up an image of gold 60 cubits (about 90 ft) high “in the plain of Dura” [Dan. 3 v.1] and said, “when you hear the sound of… every kind of music, you are to fall down and worship the golden image …” [v.5] and if those who hear do “not fall down and worship (they) shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace.”  [v.6]

Daniel is evidently not present, but his 3 friends are in trouble as Nebuchadnezzar’s servants report on their failure to obey his decree.  The friends declare, “our God whom we serve is able to deliver us … we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”[v. 17,18]

In a sense today, the vast majority serve the gods of the flesh and ignore their Creator, indeed; many say he does not exist – that everything sort of created itself!  What an insult to the Creator!  Is some sort of equivalent to the burning fiery furnace in store for them?    

Twice, through Jeremiah (23 v.20; 30 v.24), this prophet is caused to write, “The fierce anger of the LORD will not turn back until he has executed and accomplished the intents of his heart. In the latter days you will understand it clearly.”  Our world deserves the “fierce anger” of the Creator – and when it comes let us be among those who say, “Blessed be … God …” who has sent his angel and delivered his servants, who trusted in him” [Dan. 3 v.28]  Ponder Jesus’ words – Matt. 24 v.31,36.

We might think – this all happened thousands of years ago, Daniel is ‘lost’ in history – but Jesus refers to the prophet Daniel and what he predicted (Matt. 24 v.15) and Peter, in his last epistle, was caused to write, “The Lord is not slow to fulfil his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief …. what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness,  waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God ….” [3 v.11,12]  In that day “our God whom we serve” “is able to deliver us” and will do so because we have become the “sort of people” he will seek to “deliver” in that day,” Let us ponder the first 3 verses of Zephaniah ch, 3.

Thought for October 24th

Todays readings.. 2 Chronicles 20, Daniel 2, John 20&21

“BLESSED ARE THOSE WHO …”

We have a remarkable set of readings today, probably the most remarkable and thought challenging in the whole year!  First in 2nd Chronicles 20 we have Jehoshaphat’s impassioned prayer which is dramatically answered. Then in Daniel ch. 2 we read of the remarkable dream given to Nebuchadnezzar which Daniel reveals to him – and then gives the king the interpretation:  this reaches its’ climax with the words, “the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever…”  [v.44]

Our readings then climax with the last 2 chapters of John’ gospel which detail the appearances and teaching of Jesus after his resurrection.  The disciple Thomas was not there at first and he would not believe Jesus was alive again.  He had surely witnessed his awesome death – being among “all his acquaintances … who had followed him” and who “… stood at a distance watching these things.” [Luke 23 v.49] 

Thomas declared, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” [John 20 v.25]  Then later, Jesus appears to them all! This includes Thomas, who then declares his belief. “Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” [v.29]  May we be so “blessed.”

John ends this chapter by writing, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

This means – “you may have” eternal life – to be wonderfully given when Jesus returns – and how soon now!?  We are awed to think his return is now very near – and, to quote the climax of Daniel’s interpretation of the king’s dream; to be there at the time when “…the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed … it shall stand forever.”  [ch. 2 v.44] “Blessed are those who ….”

Thought for October 23rd

Todays readings… 2 Chronicles 18&19, Daniel 1, John 19

“… THAT YOU ALSO MAY BELIEVE”

What do you believe?  What do people believe today? Most people seem to have given up trying to believe anything except what they can see and touch.  For many, life is like the man in the parable that Jesus told,   “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”‘[Luke 12 v.19] But that night he died, as the next verse tells us.  And the lesson Jesus draws? Verse 21 tells us, “So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”

Today, for nearly everyone, life is increasingly uncertain, there is nothing they feel they can believe – in the long term sense, so they concentrate more and more on finding ways to “relax, eat, drink, be merry.”

What started our thinking along these lines is what we read today in the 19th chapter of John’s gospel.  John, who stood by the cross with Jesus’ mother (v.26) witnessed all that happened and, as Jesus had said earlier, as we read in ch. 14 v.29, “I have told you before it takes place, so that when it does take place you may believe.”

As John spells out in detail the awesome events of the crucifixion, he says “these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled” [v.36,37].    In Psalms 22 v.16-17 and 34 v.20 we read the Scriptures that were then being fulfilled. Verse 18 of Psalm 22 also forecast how they would “divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots” – fulfilled by the solders beside the cross as v.24 tells us.  Today there is clear evidence with the discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls that this was written long before these events took place.

Now note what John declares in v. 35 “He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe.”  And so they did believe – as the testimonies of the disciples were written and spread abroad in the first and second centuries!  And again as the Bible was translated and spread round the world in recent centuries. 

But today the question Jesus asked and which we read in Luke 18 v.8, echoes in our minds, “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”  Real belief and faith only comes through reading and absorbing God’s word every day – let us make sure we each do this – and strengthen each other whenever we get together, “making the best use of the (our) time, because the days are evil.” [Eph. 5 v.16]

Thought for October 22nd

Todays readings… 2 Chronicles 16&17, Ezekiel 48, John 17&18

“YOUR WORD IS TRUTH”

    Does anyone speak the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth in the world these days? Pilate asked Jesus, “What is truth?” [John 18 v.38]; the motive behind the question is not readily apparent – and it was the end of their conversation.

    Before his arrest, in his prayers, Jesus had expressed some remarkable thoughts which John has recorded for us.   In the pressure on him, because he knew what was about to happen, Jesus is thinking and praying for his disciples!  What a remarkable example for us to try to follow if we are ever in a difficult and dangerous situation; we should focus our minds and pray for others.

    Jesus prays, “Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me that they may be one, even as we are one” [17 v.11].  Strength comes through unity and Jesus knew they faced 3 heart wrenching days: it seems obvious they were together in their deep distress.  Jesus continues, “I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction that the Scripture might be fulfilled.  But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves.  I have given them your word …” [17 v.12-14]. What kind of joy was fulfilled?

      Glance back to Ch.16 v.22-24, “you have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you … Until now you have asked nothing in my name.  Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.”  Joy beyond imagining awaits Christ’s genuine followers in the time soon to come.

    For now, the words of Jesus are so meaningful, “They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” [17 v.16,17]  

This brings us back to the question, “What is truth?”  Surely it means that the foundation of all that is true is in what God has spoken via Jesus and other godly people.   Another word for truth in modern parlance is the saying, ‘Get real!’ meaning something like – ‘Face reality.’ 

    So when Pilate asked Jesus, “What is truth?” – we think it was likely said in exasperation. He, as are others, are constantly surrounded by distorted “truth” and half-truths.  In today’s world it is more than ever the case.  But we can say, as we pray to God, Your word is truth” and make it the foundation of our thinking and doing every day.

Thought for October 21st

Todays readings.. 2Chronicles 14&15, Ezekiel 47, John 15&16

“DO YOU NOW BELIEVE?” 

“Do you now believe?” is the question Jesus asked his disciples after they had declared, “Now we know that you know all things and do not need anyone to question you; this is why we believe that you came from God.” [John 16 v.30] The last verse in this chapter provides much food for thought; Jesus tells his disciples, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” There is much ‘food’ for meditation here – and the 18th chapter – which we will read on Sunday – describes the arrest of Jesus by a band of soldiers and its’ effect on his disciples!   Jesus prays for them.

In Luke’s gospel we read how Jesus tells Peter, “I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”[22 v.32]  Faith may falter, but our Lord will be there to strengthen, let us be sure we believe this

We sense that our world is facing increasing tribulation, the news media appears to be trying to camouflage how serious are the situations that are developing in a multitude of ways –.at the moment.   If we reach the stage of feeling great anxiety – we could hear the voice of Jesus asking, “Do you now believe?”  When we come to John 20 we will see how “the doors (were) locked where the disciples were for fear …” [v.19]

How close are we now to the fulfilment of the forecast of Jesus about the state of the world when he is about to return? The anxieties will be such that we could be asking each other “Do you now believe?” Jesus said that at that time there will be “distress of nations in perplexity….people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world.” [Luke 21 v.25,26]  Let us make sure we “now believe.”