Thought for February 28th

Todays readings … Leviticus 3&4, Psalm 104, I corinthians 12&13

“THE GREATEST OF THESE IS …” 

What is the most valuable thing to possess?  It is not a material possession – not even gold, which was greatly used in making the Tabernacle and Solomon’s Temple. Paul spells out to the Corinthians in today’s ch. 13 what is the greatest attribute that a believer can – and must – possess. 

It is evident from his words in ch. 12 that the believers in Corinth were keen to possess gifts of the spirit.  Most Corinthians had been idol worshippers and had previously possessed “gifts” of some sort. Paul, makes the point, “when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols” [v.2]  He then adds, “however you were led” (“moved” – some versions) – referring to some ecstasy experiences.  Such ecstasies have been practiced down the centuries and even in recent years in some tribal regions in Africa, some go into a trance to walk on hot coals and so forth!

Paul summarises the varieties of genuine gifts that were now miraculously available.  Why were these needed?  We must remember that they had no Bible to read – so, says Paul, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.  For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge … to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit,  to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy …” [v.7-10]

From v.14-20 Paul spells out the need for teamwork. In v.25 he says there should be “no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.”   Then we come to ch. 13 we note his declaration, “if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. “[v.2]

This chapter ends with his declaration of the situation after the gifts “cease” and “pass away” [v.8].  He makes a point we must take into our hearts. ” So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”  Let us all seek to develop “the greatest of these” – for when the  kingdom becomes a reality – what we hope for and have faith in – will be fulfilled – but love will abide forever.

How we live now will ‘decide’ whether we too will abide forever. Today we must make sure we have laid the foundation to our thinking and living – by believing from our hearts the original gospel message Paul and other disciples taught as they followed in the footsteps of their (and our) Lord. Let us do the same.   

Thought for February 27th

Todays readings.. Leviticus 1&2, Psalm 103, 1 Corinthians 11

” … TOWARD THOSE WHO FEAR HIM” 

What is it to “fear” God?  It does not mean to be afraid or scared of God – but rather – to be in awe of him: this is the sense in which we encounter the word in verses 11,13 & 17 in today’s 103rd Psalm, “so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him

  We also encounter the phrase, “Bless the LORD, O my soul” in the 1st and 2nd verses.  We ‘bless’ our children and we seek for the LORD to bless us,   The LORD told Moses to tell Aaron and his sons to “bless the people” and “say to them, The LORD bless you and keep you …” [Numbers 6 v.24]  In our seeking to “bless the LORD” – what do we mean? We surely say this with a humble spirit of praise and thankfulness for the relationship he invites us to have with him.

Then we noted the start of Psalm 104. “Bless the LORD, O my soul! O LORD my God, you are very great! You are clothed with splendour and majesty, covering yourself with light as with a garment, stretching out the heavens …”.   The discoveries of man in recent years reveal, among other things, the endless way the heavens have been stretched out.  We read in Romans at the beginning of the month, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” [11 v.33]

We bless, i.e. we thank the LORD for so many things.  How the angels must bless him!  And what is at least part of their work?  Remember what we read in Psalm 91 v.11, “he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.”  And now we note v.20,21 in today’s Psalm. “Bless the LORD, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his word, obeying the voice of his word!   Bless the LORD, all his hosts, his ministers, who do his will!”   We know, as we read earlier this month, “he will send out the angels and gather his elect” [Mark 13 v27] when our world reaches the climax of its godlessness and God acts to “punish the world for its evil.”  (see Isaiah 13 v.9-13).

God’s angels are, in a sense, an extension of God, we could say, his ‘spiritual arms’ by which he acts.  We read in Hebrews. “the angels … Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?” [1 v.13,14]   That is clearly their physically unseen role toward us now – which will climax when they are sent out to gather “those who fear him” – and such will say, at that time, with all their heart, “Bless the LORD O my soul.”

Thought for February 26th

Todays readings… Exodus 39&40, Psalm 102, 1 Corinthians 10

“WE MUST NOT PUT CHRIST TO THE TEST”      

    Paul’s comments on Moses and how the people “all passed through the sea and all were baptised into Moses” [1 Cor. 10 v.1,2] obviously relate to what we have been reading in Exodus.  Paul then states, “For they all drank from the Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.” [v.4]   What does he mean?

    Their baptism in the sea was symbolic of the baptism to come and which the Corinthian believers had experienced.  Moses had, at God’s command, been able to produce water from the rock as we read in Exodus 17.  This pointed forward to Christ, Jesus knew this and was to say, “on the last day of the feast” when he “stood up and cried out, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink, as the  Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ [John 7 v.37,38] These words related to what he had earlier said to the Samaritan woman that, if she had asked, “he would have given (her) living water” [John 4 v.10] which he then explained, “the water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” [v.14]

    Paul draws a vital lesson in our Corinthians chapter; it is the lesson of the tragic failure of the Israelites in the wilderness, a failure the Corinthians must aim to avoid.  Paul writes, “Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did” [v.6] despite the evidence before them of God’s care and guidance.

    Paul makes a particular point in v.11, “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction.”  Among the things written down Paul particularly notes, as a common temptation, “it is written, ‘the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.’ We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did … we must not put Christ to the test …” [v.7-9] 

    Our Master sees the motives we have in our hearts.  Near the end of today’s chapter Paul states a simple but profound principle we must all aim to keep, “whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” [v.31].    A another thought: a “rock” cannot literally follow, but Jesus used exactly the same phrase as Paul did when he taught, “Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” [John 8 v.12].

Jesus also said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me”[John 10 v.27]   In following Christ means he also follows us, providing for our needs (as distinct from our wants).  Let us follow the lessons that were written down for our instruction.

Thought for February 25th

Todays readings.. Exodus 38, Psalms 100&101, 1Corinthians 8&9

“IF ANYONE LOVES GOD, HE IS KNOWN BY GOD”

    Love is, above all, an active quality; genuine love causes us to do things: it is a motivation from the heart.  The things love causes us to do are not things we do out of a sense of obligation, occasions when we say, “I suppose I had better …”

    We meditated on this as we read the start of 1 Corinthians Ch. 8.  Verse 3 tells us, “But if anyone loves God, he (or she) is known by God.”  When God, who sees all things through his spirit (Psalm 139), knows our professions of love for him are genuine – we are “known by God.”   But this is more than a one sided sense of knowing, to truly know God results in a two-way relationship. David’s Psalms show this, we read this morning, “Know that the LORD, he is God!  It is he who made us, and we are his” [100 v.3]

    We read a few days ago in Exodus, “Moses said to the LORD … you have said, ‘I know you by name … therefore if I have found favour in your sight, please show me now your ways, that I may know you …” [Ch.33 v.12,13]  Knowing God comes through living and therefore working for and with him and knowing his ways; this produces the end result – the wonder of the realization that we are “working together with him” [2 Cor. 6 v.1].

    The great wonder of this, Paul told the Corinthian, is to realize that “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” [1 Cor. 10 v.13]  Many believers in Corinth experienced temptations to continue to enjoy the fleshly advantages of “fellowship” in the idol temples and the feasting on the food that had been offered to the idols.  In human ways of thinking this food was special having been blessed by Temple priests: we have seen this happening in Indian temples.

    It is not difficult to see the modern equivalents, especially in prosperous countries in the things that the masses idolize.  In Corinth athletic sports were idolized, it is no different today; the spectators idolize those who perform successfully – and are idolised.  Paul’s pointed comment is – “Every athlete exercises self-control … they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable” [1 Cor. 9 v.25]

Paul tells believers, “So run that you may obtain it … I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” [v.24,27]

    We can say that the ‘oil’ which ‘lubricates’ all our understanding and ways of thinking and resultant efforts to “run” effectively – isour love for God and our awareness that we are “known” by God.  The foundation for this is the extent to which we “know” – in our hearts – his word.    

Thought for February 24th

Todays readings.. Exodus 37, Psalm 96-99, 1 Corinthians 7

“SECURE YOUR UNDIVIDED DEVOTION TO THE LORD”

This phrase occurs in our Corinthians chapter (7) today.  It is a chapter that is not as clear in meaning in some sections as we would like, but it becomes clearer as you take a contextual view of the flow of Paul’s reasoning.   As we have read in the preceding chapters the large ecclesia at Corinth is in a real spiritual mess. The members were largely from a pagan background – the Jews had “opposed and reviled”  [Acts 18 v.6] Paul when he preached in their synagogue at Corinth.

Now we note that Paul wrote to the ecclesia about the extensive immorality they were failing to deal with. Given the rapidly increasing immoral atmosphere in which we live today, the principles revealed in this chapter apply so much to us today.  Paul writes, “I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.” [v.35]    In v. 31 he had written, “for the present form of this world is passing away”.    

Actually it was nearly 200 years before the city was totally wrecked by the barbarians, a city with a 1700 year history of human greatness, but the ecclesia failed to continue and make any mark on ecclesial history. The only way for an individual to survive was to have “undivided devotion to the Lord”.  Remember how in yesterday’s chapter (6) Paul gave a list of those who will not have a place in God’s kingdom.  

We must note that he is not just listing what we would call the worst forms of behaviour, but he says the kingdom will not include “thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you.  But you were washed, you were sanctified … “ [v.10,11] Sanctified means counted as holy.

The ever more evil world of Corinth was influencing and destroying the devotion of believers to the Lord – recall how the previous chapter concluded – before Paul made these points!  We read there, “do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit within you … you are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” 

Some claiming to be Christians today make much of their imagination of possessing the Holy Spirit; but it is really the other way round, the Holy Spirit possesses us, but we only realize this if we give the Lord our “undivided devotion”  the challenge and the difficulties in achieving this have never been greater. 

Thought for February 23rd

Todays readings.. Exodus 36, Psalm 94&95, 1 Corinthians 6

“WHEN THE CARES OF MY HEART ARE MANY … “

    Our readings today provoke a multitude of thoughts,  but it is the Psalms that provoke our personal meditations – that are so needful in the godless world of 2017,   Psalm 94 contains many consoling and stimulating thoughts, especially for those who are exposed, every day, to the world and its unspiritual values most days of the week. This Psalm shows that our only sure strength of mind when life is difficult – is to have a real ‘living’ relationship with our God.  

    We read the Psalmists’ prayer, “When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul” [v.19] and “When I thought, ‘My foot slips,’ your steadfast love, O LORD, held me up.” [v.18] 

What are God’s consolations? It has the sense of compassion and comfort.  It reminds us of Paul’s words, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” {Philpns.4 v.6,7]

    When God answers the petition with which this Psalm begins we will need that attitude of mind in all its fullness.  We read, “O LORD, God of vengeance, O God of vengeance shine forth!  Rise up, O judge of the earth … O LORD …how long shall the wicked exult? They pour out their arrogant words …” [v.1-4]   Arrogant words!  The new U.S. President exemplifies this.

    The Psalm concludes, “But the LORD has become my stronghold, and my God the rock of my refuge.  He will bring back on them their iniquity and will wipe them out for their wickedness …” [v.22,23]  Psalm 95 is also our reading today.  Let us meditate on v.6-8, “Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker! For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts …”   

We hear his voice by reading his word, let us make sure we “hear” what we are reading.  Oh the wonder that we “are the people of his pasture” and he knows “the cares of my (our) heart.”

Thought for February 22nd

Todays readings.. Exodus 35, Psalm 92&93, 1 Corinthians 4&5

“FOR YOU O LORD HAVE MADE ME GLAD ….”

Today’s Psalm (92) tells us “It is good … to declare your steadfast love in the morning” [v.1,2]   It is important to begin each day with taking at least a little time to focus our thoughts upon God, to declare to him in prayer our “steadfast love.”  We read on, “For you O LORD, have made me glad by your work; at the works of your hands I sing for joy.”[v.4]

The wonders of creation are all around us, it is so easy to take them for granted. It is the greatest foolishness of human thinking to imagine that everything, sort of “created” itself.  God’s handiwork surrounds us on every side, men have discovered so much more about the wonders of their own bodies and the incredible intricacies of nature, yet so few acknowledge and are in awe of the unlimited creative “mind” that brought it all into being.

The Psalmist says “It should make us “glad” and “sing for joy.  How great are your works O LORD!  Your thoughts are very deep.” [v.4,5]  That last brief statement seems inadequate.  Can we begin to imagine the thought processes of God!  No – we cannot.  Through Isaiah God said, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” [55 v.8,9]     

Last month in Psalm 40 we read “You have multiplied, O LORD my God, your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us; none can compare with you! I will proclaim and tell of them, yet they are more than can be told.” [v.5]   Tomorrow in Psalm 94 we will read the contrast, “the Lord knows the thoughts of man, that they are but a breath” [v.11] But having said that the Psalm is positive and we read on and see, “Blessed is the man whom you discipline O LORD, and whom you teach out of your Law” [v.12]

So we learn, especially in the Psalms, that God’s eyes and thoughts are toward those who fear and love Him.  We have been learning in Exodus of how close to God Moses became; we read yesterday of how he was able to speak to God “face to face, as a man speaks to a friend” [33 v.11]  This does not mean physically face to face, but rather, mind to mind: the limits to physical contact is described in v.20 when God said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.”   

How wonderfully precious the Bible should be to us, our reading of it should lead us to us, “… you O LORD have made me glad.” .  How God fearing men and women longed to read it hundreds of years ago.  Copies were precious then because they all had to be hand written.  Today the situation is the very opposite, the attitudes toward God’s word today are tragic. How much are we affected by this? How “glad” – for a godly reason – do you feel this morning.

Thought for February 21st

Todays readings.. Exodus 33&34, Psalms 90&91, 1 Corinthians 3

“I … COULD NOT ADDRESS YOU AS SPIRITUAL PEOPLE”

         Our 5 chapters today were intensely thought provoking.  First, the utterly remarkable and challenging relationship of Moses (and the people through Moses) with the LORD (yhwh) who had delivered them from Egypt .

          Second, the Psalms of Moses, 90 & 91; “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” [90 v.12]: then noting the opening words of Psalm 91, “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High … will say to the LORD, ‘My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust’.”  Moses is the ultimate Old Testament example of one who achieved an intimate relationship with God.

            And now in Paul’s heart searching first letter to the Corinthians we read Paul’s distress at their minimal progress toward real spirituality – so parallel to Moses’ experience with the God’s nation in the wilderness.   In chapter 2 we read, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he (or she) is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” [v.14] and then ch. 3 starts, “But I, brothers (and sisters – footnote) could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ.”[v.1]

           Paul deplores their lack of unity, their failure to see the need to team together under the guiding hand of Christ as he had been doing himself. “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants not he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.” [v.6,7]  He goes on to state, “For we are God’s fellow workers”[v.9].         Visualise that!  As such we team together to build God’s spiritual house which is only seen by the “eyes” of those who have spiritual vision.

           God laid “the foundation … which is Jesus Christ.” [v.11] “Let each one take care how he (or she) builds upon it” [v.10] whether it be “gold silver … hay, straw” then “the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done.”[v.13]:  whether you have genuinely become “spiritual people.”

    What does v.15 mean? “If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he (or she) … will be saved, but only as through fire.”   What is our work? It is the same as Paul at Corinth, to witness, to bring people to Christ beginning with our children. The time appears to be very short; let us become more spiritual, more zealous to build – how close is God’s building to being completed!?  How soon now to when he comes to inspect our building?

Thought for February 20th

Todays readings.. Exodus 31&31, Psalm 89, 1 Corinthians 1&2

“THAT YOU BE UNITED IN THE SAME MIND”

We have an overflow of challenging thoughts in our readings today.  Paul’s words that particularly arrested our attention was his “appeal to you brothers by the name of our Lord that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment” [1 Cor. 1 v.10-11]. 

This essential factor needs to exist among those who follow Christ.  However the believers in Corinth were in disarray because they were following leadersPaul is stressing that the only way believers can be united is to follow Christ;  that they must aim to develop the “mind of Christ” [1 Cor.2 v.16], as Paul had done.

God is faithful,” writes Paul, “by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” [1 v.9]   God is faithful to believers – and expects faithfulness in response. The failure to do this is the tragedy we read of today in Exodus 32; they were put to the test when Moses delayed – and they failed the test.  This was a very great tragedy after they had been given so much evidence of the Divine presence.  There are many examples of how, after evidence of divine presence and power has been given that God puts people to the test to see if they are faithful.

Paul writes about the challenge ofthe cross.” [v.18]  The message of “the cross is folly to those who are perishing.”    What they could not understand they tried to ignore, yet they were attracted by the dynamics of the Christian movement and the fact that they were “not lacking in any spiritual gift” [1 v.7].  So many in Corinth wanted the experiences the church offered but were unwilling to put their minds to understand that Paul “preached Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and folly to the Gentiles” [1 v.23]

God had an objective in all this testing; Paul puts it this way, “God chose what is low and despised in the world … so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.” [1 v.28-29]  Where there is boasting and human ego, believers will never be united.  So often, those seeking leadership, or looking for leaders to follow, are elevating men: this attitude destroys unity, a unity that should be based, not on human wisdom, but on the wisdom that is from above. 

What does the word wisdom mean to us?  There is no mystery about it.  The Greek word for wisdom, Sophia, means more or less the same as in English. Human wisdom has invented the theory of evolution!  Earlier the lack of good wisdom caused would-be ‘believers’ to look for what they wanted to believe, as a result we have so many churches and divisions among believers.   Let is make sure that in 2018 we read God’s word diligently, absorbing the spirit of it as well as the ‘letter’ so “that” we are “united in the same mind.”

Thought for February 19th

Todays readings.. Exodus 30, Psalm 87&88, Mark 15&16

“THAT WE MAY SEE AND BELIEVE”            

     What causes belief – real conviction of belief?   Well, it depends what you want to believe; what you see you need to believe!  If someone cries ‘Fire’ – you lose no time in acting to verify if the cry is genuine – and seeing what you can possibly do in helping to put it out – or escape from it!.

     Our thoughts were triggered along these lines as we read today in Mark 15 that “the chief priests and scribes mocked him to one another, saying, ‘He saved others; he cannot save himself.  Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe” [v.31,32]

     These men had witnessed – or had had first-hand testimony of his remarkable miracles! When he raised Lazarus they had “made plans to put Lazarus to death as well, because on account of him many of the Jews were …. believing in Jesus.”  [John 12 v.10,11]  Their minds were locked into a certain way of thinking – like a race horse – they had ‘blinkers’ on their eyes.  And isn’t it the same today; especially as more and more marvellous miracles of nature are discovered – they still say – all that exists is a result of pure chance – given enough ‘endless’ time!

     Verse 39 tells us that “the centurion who stood facing him” witnessing the incredible events at his death, and “saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, ‘Truly this man was the Son of God.’”  Recall how several Roman Centurions had contact with Jesus and his miracles with significant impact on them (e.g. Matt.8 v.5-13)  Now Roman history shows that there were so many Christians in Rome by AD64 that Nero put hundreds to death (see Tacitus) – astonishing – but could not have returning Centurions and soldiers have been a vital factor in this happening?

     The disciples, apart from John (John 19 v.26,27), had disappeared after the arrest of Jesus, their unstable faith shattered.  An interesting fact is that, at the crucifixion “there were also other women looking on from a distance (and names three) … and there were also many other women who came up with him to Jerusalem.”[ Mark v.40,41]

     In Mark 16 we read of 3 who came to the tomb “very early on the first day of the week” [v.2] to anoint his body: those who sought to do something for Jesus were the first to believe.  What about us?  Do we really believe?

Jesus told his disciples just before he ascended, to “proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptised will be saved.” [v.15,16]  “Whoever believes?”  What is the quality – the absolute conviction – that is the foundation of genuine belief?  Each individual must discover that for themselves: their lives thereafter will be different – and when they sing, “Take my life and let it be, ever only all for thee” – they will mean it.