Thought for November 30th

Todays readings.. Esther 7&8, Obadiah, Hebrews 3,4&5

“THE DECEITFULNESS OF SIN”

The word ‘sin’ is an obsolete word today, do we ever hear it used in personal conversations?  It would only be in a Bible talk and occasionally in discussions between brethren and sisters. What challenges we face in our godless world – but I doubt we ever tell anyone today that they are sinners – I recall a conversation in which the word “adultery” occurred and the young lady I was talking to did not know what it meant, had never heard the word before!

Our thoughts travelled along these lines this morning at we read the 3rd chapter of the letter to the Hebrews.  “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.  But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘Today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” [v.12,13]

  Think about that word “hardened.”  The constant exposure to some things – causes our minds to be “hardened.”  Those who work a lot with their hands outdoors know how their hands get “hardened.”  Surrounded as most of us are – constantly – by the godless ways of the world, if only in conversation, there is a danger we are becoming “hardened” to some degree – without realizing it!  Paul in writing to the Romans, reminds them how in the past “Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened” [11 v.7] Let us make sure we stay among “the elect.”

The conclusion in Hebrews ch. 3 is a lesson drawn from how the great majority of “those who left Egypt led by Moses … were unable to enter because of unbelief.” [v.16,19]. Yet they had seen the wonders God did as they left Egypt and how God had provided for their basic needs in the wilderness – and witnessed the divine dramas displayed to them at Mt. Sinai.  Our world is a wilderness – how ‘real’ is our belief? Are we drawing real strength of mind from God’s word every day?  Not just by reading it – but mediating on what we read – making it ‘live’ in our minds – to continually build up strength to resist “the deceitfulness of sin.”

Thought for November 29th

Todays readings… Esther 5&6, Amos 9, Hebrews 1&2

“YOUR THRONE O GOD IS FOREVER” 

We read today – in Hebrews ch. 1 – which is one of the only two places where Jesus is called ‘God’ – and we have made this our caption today.  Why is Jesus called “God”?  We look at the context and it becomes clear that it is when Jesus is being contrasted with the angels.   

In v. 7 of ch. 1 we read, “Of the angels he says, “He makes his angels winds, and his ministers a flame of fire.” (He is quoting from Psalm 104 v.4) where angels are called ‘messengers’.

Then in contrast to angels the next words in Hebrews are, “But of the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the sceptre of uprightness is the sceptre of your kingdom.” 

The next verse clarifies for us the sense in which Jesus is called God – “You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.”

So the Creator of all things made (anointed) His son with the name ‘God’ because he “loved righteousness and hated wickedness.”  He set the example for us!  And, now the key question, what is the future for those who do this?  The answer is self-evident – note how the 2nd chapter ends!  There is the wonderful declaration to you and I, “because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”

Our world abounds with temptations, so we must, says Paul, have “the eyes of (y)our hearts enlightened, (so) that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance…” [Eph. 1 v.18]  We achieve this, the 12th chapter in Hebrews tells us, by daily “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” [12 v.2]

Being seated in this way, there is a sense in which Jesus can be called, ‘God.’   Paul sums up the wonder of this situation in 1 Cor. 15 v.57 in writing, “thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Thought for November 28th

Todays readings.. Esther 3&4, Amos 9, Philemon

“IF I PERISH I PERISH”

We are reading the dramatic story of Esther.  When I was young, around 60 years ago – and a member of the large Melbourne Youth Group, we put on an elaborate presentation of Esther and I played the part of Mordecai.  It is the sort of thing that sticks in your mind. 

The pivotal point in this book is the challenge that Mordecai gave to Esther now that she had the position of Queen to King Ahasuerus.  Mordecai’s declaration was that she must go before the King and plead for the life of the Jews – and this would include revealing that she herself was a Jew.

Such was the protocol of the Palace that anyone pushing their way into the King’s presence without being invited – could be put to death.  Esther had a crucial decision to make, self-preservation, to put her personal safety first, or to act on behalf of others.  This was an action she was the only one who was in a position to undertake.

Esther chose to do what Mordecai requested, declaring, “If I perish, I perish” [Ch.4 v.16]  It is an exciting drama to read, especially the events which followed, but the lesson for us is that there always seems to be at least one pivotal event in everyone’s life, a cross roads as to the destination we decide to aim for, the pathway that beckons us to go down!  Whether we go or not, becomes for us, a decision which is a life changing event.

To make NO decision, is itself a decision!  It is a decision to drift along with life with no specific destination in view.  From a spiritual point of view that is what many are doing, refusing to decide whether there is a God or not!

But if they have no time for God – then God will have no time for them – this life is their only future – and how increasingly uncertain is it becoming – and how many will “perish” eternally, because of their failure.

Thought for November 27th

Todays readings.. Esther 2, Amos 7, Titus 1,2&3

“THE GRACE OF GOD … TRAINING US” 

             When I was a child I remember the word GRACE as being what was said before a meal, words of thanksgiving and that, up to a point, is what it means. 

             It is a special word in the writings of Paul; have a careful look at how he uses it! Paul sees a great need to express his thanksgiving at the wonder of God’s grace toward him. So grace is specially related to the spirit of forgiveness, God’s mercy toward those who fear and love him – especially those who had been kicking against the goads of conscience as Paul had been. It is the same today, God never changes.

            Our reading today is the whole of his letter to Titus, 3 chapters, but that’s only 46 verses. Four times he uses the word GRACE.  The passage that particularly jumps out is, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people; training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives” [2 v.11,12]  

            God’s work of Grace is centred on the work of His Son.  But, here’s a very important question.  How does God’s grace train us?  Usually training means to receive instruction.   Surely Paul understood that the spirit of thanksgiving for God’s mercy in that He is not dealing with us as we deserve – that this should cause such a reaction of appreciation in our minds that it causes us to WANT to live self-controlled and Godly lives and be ready to show grace to others.

            But that did not always happen.  Elsewhere Paul asks the question, “Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace?” [Rom. 6 v.15]  Meaning, dare we think, that as God is always forgiving, does it really matter if we sin?  

            Is this what he was indicating when he wrote, “Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” [Rom 5 v.20]?   It is tragic that some “Christians” see this as a licence to do whatever they like without experiencing any pricking of conscience; it was a perception of this attitude which turned Mahatma Ghandi away from Christianity – if you read his autobiography.  It is an attitude caused by shallow thinking! 

             But we are invited to lift up our minds toward heavenly things, as Paul also writes to Titus, “so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” [Titus 3 v.7]

Thought for November 26th

Todays readings.. Esther 1, Amos 6, 2 Timothy 3&4

“YOU … HAVE FOLLOWED MY … ”   

    Today we read the conclusion of Paul’s final letter, his second letter to Timothy.  A couple of verses especially caught our eyes: these listed 8 things which describe the way in which Paul had set an example to Timothy.  

They provide for us a challenging summary of the way a genuine community of  believers should dedicate their lives: and set examples for the next generation. Paul writes, “You however (in contrast to the bad examples he has just listed), “have followed my teaching, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions and sufferings” [3 v.10,11].

    These are all major aspects of a godly character manifesting itself in reaction to the challenges life in the world around them. and that of faithless followers (v.5-8).  It is beneficial to meditate on each one. Then we noted Paul’s comment, “from them all the Lord rescued me” [v.11] and while this applies particularly to the persecutions he endured, we specially appreciate how the Lord was intimately with him from the moment he met him on the road to Damascus. 

Tragically there are those, says Paul, who, while “having the appearance of godliness” [v.5] are “lovers of self” [v.2]  Our world is full of such, let us make sure their attitudes do not ‘rub off’ on us. 

     The climax to his thoughts is, “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 …” [4 v.7,8] 

Earlier he had written of his commitment that “by any means possible, I may attain the resurrection of the dead.  Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” [Philippians 3 v.11,12]  How well are we ‘pressing on’?

    Paul’s final message of encouragement to Timothy is invaluable advice to us, “as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed … 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.  All scripture is breathed out by God … “ [3 v.14-16] – and should be breathed in by us and used – so that a crown of righteousness “is laid up” for us.  

Thought for November 25th

Todays readings.. Nehemiah 13, Amos 5, 2 Timothy 2

“WHO DESIRE THE DAY OF THE LORD”

   In Amos we read “Woe to you who desire the day of the LORD! Why would you have the day of the LORD?” [5 v.18]  This verse provides food for much thought.  We desire the day of the LORD!  Why?  We long for the day when our Saviour comes when he reigns over all the earth and controls the nations as we will read in Micah next week (Ch.4 v.1-3).   

What kind of people “desire the day of the Lord” – when they should not?  They were only hearing half the message of the prophets, just like they do today, when many churchgoers think God is purely a God of love. 

A contemporary of Amos was Obadiah whose short message we will read next Wednesday. He wrote “For the day of the LORD is near upon all nations” [1 v.15].   Many of the people in Israel were looking for that day to come – so that their enemies would be destroyed, blind to the fact that they deserved destruction too!

Only those truly trying to walk righteously in the sight of God should “desire the day of the LORD”– knowing it will be a time of distress for all nations

The words of Jesus in Matthew ch. 24 are challenging!   “But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short … For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.” Matt. 24 v.22, 27. 

It will be the greatest shock our world has ever had!   A shock for believers, the elect? What does Jesus tell us?  He tells us, “He will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect …” [v.31]

The day of the Lord that was coming on Israel in those days was to particularly affect certain classes of people. Ponder what the LORD inspired Amos to write, “Woe to those who lie on beds of ivory and stretch themselves out on their couches … who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp … invent for themselves instruments of music, who drink wine in bowls and anoint themselves with the finest oils …”  [6 v.4-6]  

The words of Amos are very appropriate for way many live today, they live for the here and now, they find it impossible to believe in any long term future.  

Let us make sure we desire the day of the LORD for the right reasons – being fully aware of what is to take place in that ultimate day when Jesus returns and the final utterly wondrous “day of the LORDoccurs.  Remember how we were very conscious of this in our reading of Joel’s prophecy a few days ago!

Thought for November 24th

Todays readings… Nehemiah 12, Amos 4, 2 Timothy 1

“FOR I KNOW WHOM I HAVE BELIEVED”

This is what Paul declared in his 2nd letter to Timothy (ch. 1 v.12).  This is the final letter of Paul’s life and he writes with utter conviction.  It becomes obvious as we read these 4 chapters that Paul is writing from his heart; this is both because of his special affection for Timothy and because he is aware from his heart that his mortal life is nearly complete.   He tells Timothy “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner” [1 v.7,8]  Note that – he “gave us” not just Paul. This is a challenge to us as our world becomes ever more godless; indeed, increasingly – ungodly – that we should “do not be ashamed” of our faith and our convictions of the incredible meaning of life and of the wondrous events that seem sure to happen – and seem more and more likely – to happen soon.

Let us echo the words of Paul – from our hearts!  “Do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord … who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace … manifested through the appearing of our Saviour Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel … I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day” [ch. 1 v.8-10,12]

When Paul says, “I know” we can clearly see – there is no shadow of doubt in his mind. Can we say this – with the same conviction?

We must develop this – more and more – and be able to say with Paul, “I know whom I have believed” and “follow … in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus” [v.13], our manner of life showing this day after day, being conscious of the words of our Master, “whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes.” [Mark 8 v.38] 

Thought for November 23rd

Todays readings.. Nehemiah 11, Amos 3, 1 Timothy 6

“FLEE THESE THINGS.  PURSUE …” 

Today we completed reading Paul’s first letter to Timothy who was his “true child in the faith.” [1 v.2] There are so many lessons for us for our days in these 2 letters; they reveal the wonder of a genuine spiritual relationship.

In today’s final chapter Paul details warnings to Timothy – “if anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ…” [v.3] he or she, in reality “understands nothing” [v,4] that really matters. Let us realize that the “doctrine” referred to by Paul here is unChristlike attitudes and behaviour, rather than wrong intellectual perceptions; but of course such perceptions are often a foundation for such behaviour: for example Paul says, “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils.” [v.10]

Paul calls Timothy “a man of God” [v.11].   What a challenging thing to be called! Dare we call each other – ‘a man (or woman) of God?   As a “man of God’ Timothy is to set the example to other believers, and that surely includes ourselves.  Timothy is to “flee these things” and instead, “pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.” [v.11].   We ponder what a thought-challenging word is the word “pursue”!  To effectively “pursue” something – you need to have your eyes fixed on it – if you are to have any real expectation of catching it!

Paul sees it as something you “fight” for – he tells Timothy to “Fight the good fight of the faith.”  Did we have to “fight” for our faith? 

Paul then tells Timothy to, “take hold of the eternal life to which you were called …” [v.12]  We have to “pursue” it, in order to effectivelytake hold” of it.   In doing the same, let us learn to “flee” all otherthings” in the process.  Those who wage a successful “fight” are, Paul tells Timothy, genuine believers who are, “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.19].   In this way they make sure they keep themselves “free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ.” [v.14] And how soon will that be!?

Thought for November 22nd

Todays readings… Nehemiah 10, Amos 2, 1 Timothy 4&5

TRAIN YOURSELF FOR GODLINESS”                                                            

            We constantly see and hear reference to athletes and other sportsmen being in training.  For many, it is something they do daily, especially just before a competition, so as to to build up their muscles or other skills and bring them up to peak performance.  During our lifetime we have seen new records being set again and again.  

            We thought of this as we read Paul’s advice to Timothy, “Train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life that is to come” [1 Tim.4 v.8],   We must read over that verse again and fully absorb and see the reality of Paul’s point – indeed, memorise it.

            How much effort do we put to that challenge to train ourselves for godliness?  How do we do it?     Many will answer ‘by reading the Bible every day’   True, but how do you and I read?

            God’s word is food for the mind, it needs to be chewed over and its meaning fully absorbed – and then put into practice.  The more we read, thoughtfully, meditatively, the more we realize the breadth of thought our minds and hearts need to absorb. 

            How much do we skim over it?  It is so easy to do – and we do not notice spiritual malnutrition nearly so quickly and easily as physical malnutrition.  Paul also told Timothy, “be a good servant of Jesus Christ being trained in the words of faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed” [v.6]

            Athletes compare their abilities with each other, but that could, in a spiritual context be like comparing “lukewarm” attitudes.  Our comparison should be with men like Titus and Timothy or women like Mary and Dorcas.  

            Finally, and most importantly, the “race” we are running is one in which we help each other, so that all receive the prize (read 1 Cor.9 v.24-27)  

Thought for November 21st

Todays readings.. Nehemiah 9, Amos 1, 1 Timothy 1,2&3

“THE AIM OF OUR CHARGE IS ….”

We all have aims in life, what we hope to do and achieve.  If these ‘aims’ are ‘alongside’ our aims in service to our Master, our Lord Jesus, then we have a wonderful spiritual foundation – on which to build a worthwhile life.  The reality of this is made increasingly plain by the Christlike character we are developing.

Today we started reading Paul’s two letters to Timothy, Paul’s words are ideal in causing us to recognise the aims we must have clearly in view in our lives.  We need to regularly check we are going in the right direction to achieve our aims.  Paul tells Timothy to teach the Ephesians to turn from their “speculations” and concentrate on “the stewardship from God that is by faith.’ [1 v.4]

Do we see ourselves as ‘stewards; working for our Master, making sure we understand and do his will?

Our Master, the Lord Jesus, set us the example of how to do this.  Let us be continually mindful of his example and now, as we read Paul’s words, we must feel ‘inspired’ to see that “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” [v.5].   Let us memorise this verse  – and meditate on the ‘fullness’ of its meaning. Paul urges Timothy to “wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience.” [v.18,19]

When we come to ch. 6 Paul’s comment on the “warfare” will jump out at us! “Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called” [v.12] – we note that phraseology – “take hold”!  How firm is your grip, how clear is your vision?   Let us fully accept (with ‘no holds barred’ as the saying is) that “The aim of our charge is love that issues from …” And what does it issue from?  Let us each carefully check the source and foundation and inspiration that motivates our “aim” in life.