Thought for April 30th

Todays readings.. Deuteronomy 17, Ecclesiastes 9, Acts8

“ … AND TO THE END OF THE EARTH”           

    We should be familiar with the words of the Lord’s Prayer that Jesus taught his disciples….”thy will be done on earth”  Our readings today show us how God creates situations to see that his will is carried out – when men neglect to do so!

    The last thing that Jesus said to his servants before he ascended into heaven was that they were to be his witnesses “in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth” [Acts 1 v.8].    They had witnessed in Jerusalem very effectively.  A great congregation had resulted but it brought its own problems so 7 deacons had been appointed so that the 12 Apostles could concentrate on “prayer and the ministry of the word”  [6 v.4]. Consider how attempts were soon made to carry out the commission to preach further afield.

    With the stoning to death of Stephen there was a big change.  No doubt many had expected Stephen to experience some dramatic deliverance as had happened with the Apostles earlier.  There would be much heart searching because that did not happen.  Now we read there was “a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem and they were all scattered and went about preaching the word” [v.4] 

    This preaching resulted in conversions in Samaria with men and women being baptised after they had heard “the good news about the Kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ” [v.12]  Peter and John came down from Jerusalem “and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit” [v.15] which implies that the Apostles had special authority in this and no one else, so that the ability to pass on the powers of the Spirit ceased when they died. 

    The chapter ends with another baptism – an Ethiopian who “had come to Jerusalem to worship” – so he already knew of the true God. God’s spirit made Philip link up with him.  God was seeing that His will was being done.   God was causing “all things to work together for good” [Romans 8 v.28] – that is for the good of God’s plan and purpose: the grieving relatives of Stephen may have seen it in time from that perspective. 

Now let’s consider  our perspective!  The gospel is now going, in these last days, to the end of the earth via the wonder of the internet!  What an exciting time in which to live!   But also a very challenging time! What facilities of travel there are!   Consider the opportunities to open up the full wonder of the original gospel! It now reaches everywhere, but is there any real faith and heartfelt conviction among the readers and hearers?  A heart searching question!

   Remember what Jesus said about the last days? “Nevertheless, when the Son of man comes, will he find faith on earth?” [Luke 18 v.8]   That is, genuine faith, evidenced by the commitment and actions of those who possess it.

Thought for April 29th

Todays readings… Deuteronomy 16, Ecclesiastes 8, Acts 7

“YOU STIFF-NECKED PEOPLE”                                                                                                                       

    Stephen’s speech (in Acts 7) before the Jewish Council is a history lesson!  Why?  For what purpose?

He reviews all that had happened since the time of Abraham.   But the members of the Council would have known their history?   But was it just academic knowledge to them?  Had they failed to draw lessons for themselves from it?  Yes! – and the same failure is evident today!

     As we read the chapter we see Stephen is tracing the things God had instigated since he called Abraham from his homeland in Ur.  The lesson is clearly that his people should be aware and, as a result, be awake to the actions of God, If they do this, they will respond in faith. The same challenge faces us today!

Stephens’ lesson then looks at the experiences of Joseph in Egypt when God acted and miracles occurred.  Next there are the incredible events when they leave Egypt – and more drama at Mt Sinai and the 10 commandments are given and a tabernacle created.  Following this there is the establishment in the land under Joshua – and the dramas in the days of David.

Stephen’s final point is the great Temple built by Solomon, which was rebuilt by Herod just before the time of Christ, 46 years of work!  His audience evidently gloried in the sense of prestige the Temple gave them in the eyes of the people. The tragedy is that the thinking of his audience was focussed on themselves and not on their Creator. 

     God is far far greater than just a being that dwells in a temple.

The climax of Stephen’s speech is to quote Isaiah, “Heaven is my throne and earth is my footstool” [v.49].  That was the climax of the history lesson, the aim of which was to portray the real lessons for them – of the relationship with God that they should have learned from the failures in history.

     Stephen suddenly challenges them, “You stiff necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit (God in action) as your father’s did … “ [v.51]   He accuses them, you “betrayed and murdered … the Righteous One” [v.52]      

What brave words … and now they murder Stephen, but that event was in time to be the catalyst in the conscience “of a young man named Saul” [v.58] who was to become a “chosen vessel” and lead to an incredible life of dedication, “for all things work together for good for those who are called according to his purpose” [Rom. 8 v.28]. This is the lesson of Scripture as we trace the outworking of these events. 

     Can you see God working in your life when – and since – you were “called”?  Or, maybe it hasn’t happened yet! Are you seeking for it to happen – or are you among “the stiff-necked people”?  Let us read God’s word every day – regularly praying – being ready to co-operate with your Creator – and His Son – who sacrificed his life – for you?  His sacrifice was for all who sincerely seek – from their hearts – a relationship with the Creator.

Thought for April 28th

Todays readings… Deuteronomy 15, Ecclesiastes 7, Acts 5&6

“WE MUST OBEY GOD RATHER THAN MEN”

The above statement was made by Peter and the Apostles when they were brought before the council.  They were told “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name” [Acts 5 v.28].  The council then then warned the Apostles, saying, “you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” 

How short is the human memory when there are things they prefer to forget!  In Matt. 27 we read of how Pilate “washed his hands” saying, ‘I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.’  And all the people answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!” [Matt.27 v.24, 25]

We wonder when the world experiences the wonder of Christ’s return – whether there will be a denial of having ever believed in evolution!  Let us ponder what we are about to read in Ecclesiastes, “God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil” [12 v.14].  Also Paul’s words in Romans 2 v.16 of “that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.”  How soon now!?

In Acts ch. 5 today we read how Peter, through the power of the Holy Spirit, knew that Ananias and Sapphira were telling lies [v.4] about how much money they had acquired through selling land. They both died because, said Peter, “You have not lied to man but to God.”

Our world abounds with liars!  Oh, very few will admit to lying, they just ‘bend’ the ‘truth’ to suit the occasion!  This spirit can affect us – if we are not fully committed to serving our Lord, for “We must obey God” 

The failure to do this – started at the very beginning, causing Adam and Eve to tell lies to their Creator. In the Kingdom era “Satan” will be “bound” [Rev. 20 v.2] and the saints will be able do this because they will then have “the powers of the age to come” [Heb. 6 v,5] and people will find they “must obey God” or they will suffer the fate of Ananias and Sapphira.

Because we truly “know” God’s word we “must obey God” today. Finally, how relevant to these scriptures are the words of Moses to Israel we read today in Deuteronomy ch. 15. “the LORD will bless you in the land …. if only you will strictly obey the voice of the LORD”   [v.4,5].  Let us meditate on the appropriateness of these words for us for we ‘hear’ his voice through His word!  Let as make sure we ‘hear’ it every day.

Thought for April 27th

Todays readings… Deuteronomy 13&14, Ecclesiastes 6, Acts 3&4

“FOR THE LORD YOUR GOD IS TESTING YOU” 

    Today’s Deuteronomy reading brings to our attention an aspect of God’s dealings with us we need to understand and appreciate.  This final message of Moses, we are finding very interesting: in a number of places it contains lessons very appropriate to our days. Moses warns the people to beware of simply following some person who forecasts correctly about a “sign or a wonder” and it “comes to pass.”  [Ch. 13 v.1,2]  For if such a person “says, ‘Let us go after other gods … and let us serve them’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer of dreams.”[v.3]   And then Moses makes a point we may struggle to appreciate.

    Moses says, “For the LORD your God is testing you, to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.”  Our immediate question might be – why does God need us to do that?   We do not understand this as meaning that God makes this happen, rather that he allows this to happen and he has a good reason for allowing it.  When the people entered the promised land they faced many challenges and had to fight many battles, their faithfulness to their God was tested, they had to prove themselves by their trust in God as they went to conquer the idol worshipping nations with all their humanly attractive bad and immoral behaviour. 

These were situations they encountered before they crossed the Jordan and some of them died because they failed the test.

    Moses exhorts them, “You shall walk after the LORD your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast to him.” [v.4]. 

They (and we) would not need to hold fast if there were no situations which threatened to pull us away from him; that tested our faithfulness.  Today there are a multitude of such situations.  But what is the quality of faith if it is not tested? Can you identify when there have been times in your life when the Lord has been testing you?  How close are we now in 2017 to crossing the Jordan?

    The miracles we are reading about in Acts are such that they defy any possibility that human cleverness was involved.  Today we read of a man so lame from birth that he had to be carried each day and laid at the Temple Gate.  He was more than 40 years old and Peter and John said to him, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk. Peter took him by the right hand and raised him up and immediately he  …” [Ch.3 v.6].  

The reaction of the people gave the disciples a wonderful preaching opportunity, but the reaction of the priests was quite the opposite [Ch. 4], they failed this testing. The Bible message is there in every language for all to read, but nearly all, in 2018, are failing the test.  Can you sense God testing you?  Are you passing the test?

Thought for April 26th

Todays readings.. Deuteronomy 12, Ecclesiasties 5, Acts 2

“EVERYONE WHOM THE LORD CALLS TO HIMSELF”      

What sort of person is the Lord seeking to call?  As we completed reading Peter’s speech on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2 today this familiar question surfaced again.  It was a remarkable speech before this great crowd intrigued to hear all these Galileans speaking in their own languages.

Peter quoted from two different Psalms and the prophet Joel to show that the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, their real Messiah, had been foretold. Of course we only have the essential kernel of his speech, as the record says, “and with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them saying, ‘Save yourselves from this crooked generation.’ ” [v.40]

             All generations are ‘crooked’ to differing degrees – but today we live in one that is extremely so!  Now, did all those who heard Peter save themselves?  Peter had previously said, “the promise is for you and your children and for all who are afar off, everyone one whom the Lord calls to himself[v.39].  

This was the promise that was made to David; Peter had quoted his Psalm [v.28] “”You have made known to me the paths of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence  Back to our question, did all those who heard Peter act to save themselves?  Verse 41 tells us, “So all those who received his word were baptised.” 

It is essential for those who hear (or read) to receive into their hearts the word, realizing what it means for them personally – and so be motivated to act.  We are reading in Deuteronomy of those who heard Moses final stirring messages before he died – they received his words and so entered the promised land and were faithful in their lives.

             The initial effect on those who received Peter’s words and were baptised was that they “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and prayers” [v.42].  This is still the effect on those who perceive and receive wonder of the inspired scripture message.

             Our thoughts then go to those most moving words in Hebrews, “let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.  Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering … all the more as you see the day approaching.” [Ch. 10 v.22,23,25] convinced, in faith, we are among those “whom the Lord calls to himself. 

Thought for April 25th

Todays readings.. Deuteronomy 10&11, Ecclesiastes 4, Acts 1

“FOR IF YOU WILL BE CAREFUL TO DO …”

What do we all need to “be careful to do”?   Our quotation is from the words of Moses; his final address to the generation who are about to enter the promised land under Joshua (and we know what Joshua means!)   

  Their parents had died in the wilderness – because of their lack of faith, altho’ they had witnessed all the wonders of the powers of the true God as they escaped from Pharaoh in leaving Egypt and then crossed the Red Sea. There followed by the awesome evidence of the nearness of their God, the only true God, as they encamped before the mountain when the 10 commandments were given to Moses.

We can, indeed we must, absorb these words, being “fully persuaded” that they are a diving message to us – to keep us strong in these last days – and then we will enter the ultimate promised land – to be established when Jesus returns – and how soon now!

Let us ponder carefully and prayerfully the words of Moses we read today in Deuteronomy ch. 11 (v. 22,23) “For if you will be careful to do all this commandment that I command you to do, loving the LORD your God, walking in all his ways, and holding fast to him,   then the LORD will …”   Are we all “holding fast” to our Lord today – and every day?

Let us redouble our efforts to “be careful” to hold fast, and then, in the kingdom, as Moses promised  Israel in the wilderness of those days, also in the kingdom, “no one shall be able to stand against you.  The LORD your God will lay the fear of you and the dread of you on all …” [v.25].  In that wondrous day, we, as saints in the kingdom, will possess “the powers of the age to come”  [Heb. 6 v.5] having been careful to do and follow all the words of spiritual guidance in God’s word. Let us ”be careful” to be motivated to read and absorb God’s word every day.

Thought for April 24th

Todays readings.. Deuteronomy 6&9, Ecclesiastes 3, John 20&21

“AND THAT BY BELIEVING YOU MAY HAVE LIFE IN HIS NAME”

Today we read the climax and reached the end of the gospel of John, and what a challenging climax it unfolds to us..  These final two chapters are two of the most heart-warming and heart stirring chapters in the whole of the Bible.

  The words of Jesus to the disciple Thomas are words which we should be particularly appropriate to us.  Thomas was one of the twelve but “was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.”

But he said to them, “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.24,25]

Jesus was ‘present’ [!] to hear his declaration and “eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.”[v.26,27]

The final words of Jesus in the chapter are his statement, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

The chapter ends with the admission by John that “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.” May our belief be total! It cannot be anything less!

Thought for April 23rd

Todays readings.. Deuteronomy 6&7, Ecclesiastes 2, John 19

“THIS WAS MY REWARD”                                                                                

The wisest of kings, Solomon, reflects on what his life had really achieved.   In reading Ecclesiastes, we perceive his remarkable insight into the meaning and purpose, from a human perspective, of all that we do and all that we possess in our lives.  What does Solomon’s insight reveal? He sees he has used his wisdom to accomplish everything possible.

His second chapter details this, “ … my heart still guiding me with wisdom … I made great works, I built houses and planted vineyards … made myself gardens and parks and planted in them all kinds of fruit trees.  I made myself pools … had slaves … also great possessions of herds … also gathered for myself silver and gold … I got singers … many concubines … so I became great and surpassed all who were before me … whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them.  I kept my heart from no pleasure … this was my reward for all my toil” [v.3-11]

Consider carefully his conclusion!  “this was my reward”  – but we noted even more his next comment, “then I considered all that I had done and the toil I had expended.”   And what does he see as the outcome of his considerations?

“Behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind.”   Other versions have, “I saw everything was emptiness and chasing the wind” (NEB) “meaningless” (NIV).  Solomon saw that life has no lasting substance, yet we all strive after things we can possess and experience, but at the end of the day there is nothing ‘eternal’ in what we have achieved!  Solomon then declares “so I hated life”  [v.17]

            It seems evident he wrote Ecclesiastes near the end of his life. He lacked the vision that his father David possessed. David wrote a Psalm and commented about “men of the world whose portion is in this life” but in the next verse stated, “As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness.” [Psa. 17 v.14,15] What reward we be satisfied with?

Ecclesiastes makes humans look in the mirror of their minds and consider what they are accomplishing in life. Do you have a ‘mirror’ in your mind?  What do you see when you look in it?   What they see makes many read and reflect on God’s word more fervently.

Thought for April 22nd

Todays readings.. Deuteronomy 5, Ecclesiastes 1, John 17&18

“EVERYONE WHO IS OF THE TRUTH LISTENS …”                                                                                                          

    Jesus had little to say to the High Priest who first questioned him; he simply told him, “I have spoken openly to the world, I have always taught in the synagogue and in the temple” [John 18 v.20].  Jesus is challenging them; if I have said things that are wrong, you produce witnesses to show this!    

Ananias passes the problem on to Caiaphas, the High Priest.  He in turn sends him to Pilate and the drama starts to reach its climax.  When Pilate wants to know what he is accused of,  they are evasive saying, “If this man were not doing evil, we would not have delivered him over to you.” [v.30].   They need Pilate to approve his death; we get the impression they would not stone him and risk the consequences, as they later did with Stephen.  

    Pilate questions Jesus again, “What have you done?” [v.35]   Jesus responds, “ …my kingdom is not from this world”  He means,  this world cannot give him a Kingdom, his kingdom will not come as a result of human endeavours.  Jesus further perplexes Pilate by saying,  “I have come into the world – to bear witness to the truth.”  Then he adds, “everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice?” [v.37].  What does he mean?   

    In chapter 17, we read the prayer of Jesus [v.1]. “Sanctify them (his true followers) in the truth; your word is truth … for their sake I consecrate myself, that they may be sanctified in truth.”  [v.17,19]  To sanctify means to be made holy, set apart from the rest – from those who do not want to make any commitment.

Only those interested in what is really true – listens – and act on what they hear.  The world is full of half-truths and deceptions; this is evident most of all in politics. The message of Jesus is the only really important truth in the world!     Pilate’s final question is – “What is truth?” [v.38] 

We suspect this is asked in a sense of ridicule, but the context gives no clear clue.  Given the machinations surrounding him, one can imagine an attitude of derision – nothing is really true, everyone puts their own spin on what they say!   Do we really, from the depths of our heart, seek and believe the real truth?  Jesus knows!  The way we talk and act – proves whether we do.

Thought for April 21st

Todays readings.. Deuteronomy 4, Proverbs 31, John 15&16

“WATCH YOURSELVES VERY CAREFULLY” 

Today we have a remarkable set of meaningful readings.  In Deuteronomy Moses commences his final exhortation to his nation; in Proverbs, the final chapter is taken to be an exhortation from the mother of Solomon (Bathsheba), a message that at the end of his life, he failed to follow.

In John, we have now reached the point in his gospel where he records in detail the intense personal encouragement Jesus gave to his disciples before his arrest.  He tells them, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away ….” [ch. 15 v.5,6]   The wonder of this abiding (living) is that it functions both ways!  Let us all meditate on this!

The message of Moses is rather similar, illustrating that the Divine challenge to human beings to overcome their lower nature – is by making sure they come closer to their Maker – and stay there!  This message is the same throughout Scripture.  Moses tells them, “take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart …. Make them known to your children and your children’s children” [ch. 4 v.9]

Our world is presently doing a lot of reminiscing about the Anzacs – but we ourselves can and should say, “Lest we forget” on our spiritual wavelength!  Or could it be that the ‘batteries’ in our spiritual radio have not been kept plugged in?

Note what Moses goes on to say, “watch yourselves very carefully beware lest you act corruptly …” [v.15,16] They are going to be surrounded by idol-worshippers!    Different kinds of idols attract us today! 

Sadly many of the children and descendants of those who entered the promised land did act corruptly. Then, to our surprise and wonder, Moses is inspired to look way into the future and speak about that!  “When you are in tribulation, and all these things come upon you in the latter days, you will return to the LORD your God and obey his voice. For the LORD your God is a merciful God. He will not … forget the covenant with your fathers that he swore to them.” [v.30,31]

May we all “watch ourselves very carefully” especially as it is increasingly clear we live “in the latter days” as we watch the events in and surrounding God’s holy land and the miracle that his people have returned there. How soon now Lord?