Thought for may 31st

Todays readings.. Joshua 17, Isaiah 23, Hebrews 3,4&5

“… AND FIND GRACE TO HELP IN TIME OF NEED”

We continue our heart challenging reading of the letter to the Hebrews – ch’s 3, 4 & 5.  Ch. 3 draws a contrast – between Moses and Christ.  ‘Grace’ is not an Old Testament word: in contrast, says God, the people he brought out of Egypt and who “saw my works for forty years” … hardened their hearts.

“Today” this letter to the Jews tells them “do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness,  where your fathers put me to the test…” [v.8 & 9]   What is a ‘hardened’ heart?  We only have to look at the attitude of the religious leaders to Jesus to understand the answer!

The writer (Paul?) takes his readers to a quotation from Psalm 95; his quotation begins, “Today, if you hear his voice” [v.7]  We can – and must – see this as a message preserved for us!  ‘Today, if you read his words.’!  Our world, especially now in the 21st Century, is full of hardened hearts, nearly all have closed their eyes to his word – to any realization that an all-seeing all-knowing Creator exists.

This Psalm is further quoted as saying, “they have not known my ways.’ … They shall not enter my rest.’ [v.10,11].  Then in v.15 this Psalm is quoted again, ” “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” And the writer (Paul?) adds,  For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses?” [v.16]  What wonders they witnessed!  What wonders we are able to witness today – especially the many varied wonders of creation in all parts of the world.

Are we in danger of rebelling?  How many are doing so?   May we do the opposite, instead, as we read at the end of ch. 4 ” Let us…with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”  What a wonderful – encouraging – inspiring word – the word “graceis.  It is often defined as the ‘unmerited forgiveness of God’ toward genuinely repentant sinners. Sadly, some live as though grace is ‘endless’ – unlimited!  How dangerous that attitude can be – it can lead us to being overcome by evil!   

Paul told the Romans “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” [12 v.21}  When we have overcome – we have had heart-felt thankfulness that there is “grace to help in time of need.”  We must be ‘overcomers’ in this godless world, our faith must be a ‘living’ faith’ – not just an intellectual one! 

Virtually the last words of the Apostle John who appears to have outlived all the other disciples – is ” everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.” [1 John 5 v.4] Let us make sure we have a heartfelt active faith which we put to use every day.

Thought for May 30th

Todays readings.. Joshua 16, Isaiah 22, Hebrews 1&2

“WE MUST PAY MUCH CLOSER ATTENTION” 

Today we started reading the intensely thought challenging letter to the Hebrews. The author is anonymous but it is often thought that Paul wrote it but because he had become so unpopular among the Jews, he did not reveal his authorship. 

Our first two chapters today contain at least 14 quotations from the Old Testament, mainly from the Psalms which Jewish readers would have been familiar with, these all pointed forward to the work of Jesus. Verse 5 in Hebrews ch. 1 quotes from the 2nd Psalm,  “You are my Son, today I have begotten you” – God’s son was to be “begotten”!

Chapter 2 starts, “Therefore”  – therefore what?  The last 2 verses of ch. 1 tells of the “ministering” work of God’s angels!  This is a thought-challenging subject in its’ own right!  “Therefore  we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.   For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution,  how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?” The Jews were in danger of neglecting it, so many were jealous of the Gentiles who had become believers in Christ.

We ourselves need to “pay much closer attention” to God’s word so that we have “no need to be ashamed” because we are “rightly handling the word of truth.” We read this 4 days ago in Paul’s 2nd letter to Timothy (2 v.15)

Many of the Jews were failing to do this – failing to see the full nature of the work their Saviour would perform. Over the centuries many christians have done the same, arriving at a belief that Jesus is God and equal with his Father.

They read God’s word seeking to find apparent evidence for this belief – and there seems to be a little, such as v.8 of Hebrews 1, where we read, “of the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever …”  Does this prove the human theory of the Trinity? 

No – as we read in the next verse, God says because “you have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness …”

After his resurrection, Jesus told Mary Magdalene, ” ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'” [John 20 v.17]  So Jesus was “anointed … with the oil of gladness.”

And those who truly believe in him having understood the truth about him and having heeded the advice that “we must pay much closer attention” to God’s word, will also, one day, be similarly “anointed” so let us not ” neglect such a great salvation” [2 v.3]

Finally, looking ahead to tomorrow’s ch. 4, may we recognize – from our hearts, that  the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword … discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all .. (is).. exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” [v.12,13] And that giving “of account” will be when Jesus returns!  How soon now?

Thought for May 29th

Todays readings.. Joshua 15, Isaiah 20&21, Philemon

“I REMEMBER YOU”

   Today, we read the short 25 verse letter of Paul to Philemon.  Paul wrote this about Onesimus, an escaped slave; he had escaped from the ‘ownership’ of Philemon many years before.  Onesimus had come to believe in Christ after his escape and this had changed the situation completely.  His name means “useful” and he had become very useful to Paul, who is now “an old man” [v.9] and in prison.  He writes, “I appeal to you (Philemon) for my child Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment.”

   What we particularly notice in this letter – is how they prayed for one another.  The message of Christ had now spread far and wide – as a result of Paul’s efforts and of others such as Apollos.  Prayer was an essential part of the life of believers. There was, of course, no instant communication between believers, their communications could take years!  Imagine it!   

We remember what Peter said about those converted on the day of Pentecost;  “they devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and fellowship and breaking of bread and prayers.” [Acts 2 v.42]  Prayer was thus one of the essential pillars on which the church was built. The church was not a building – it was, as Paul told the Romans that those who take on the name of Christ “though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” [12 v.5].   

This was much more than coming together to give praise and thanksgiving to God.  Paul writes, “I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers” [v.4]  

What is he thanking God for?  The answer: “because I hear of your love and the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and all the saints.”[v.5]   A “saint” is anyone set apart (which is what the word means) from the world to serve Christ.

   Paul tells Philemon, “I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you.” [v.7]  What a wonderful attitude that reveals!  If all true saints had the same attitude, what a powerful spiritual community would exist; but these are “the last days.”

 In those days prayer was the hidden power force that motivated true believers and kept God’s eyes upon them through his spirit.

Paul is praying for his release from prison and knows they are praying for him, “for I am hoping, through your prayers, I will be graciously given to you.” [v.22].    Who have we remembered in prayer today and last week?   And intend to remember in the week now beginning?

Thought for May 28th

Todays readings… Joshua 14, Isaiah 19, Titus 1, 2 &3

“TEACH WHAT ACCORDS WITH SOUND DOCTRINE”

            First, we read the words of Caleb to Joshua – in Joshua ch. 14.  Caleb was the only other ‘good’ spy among the 12 Moses sent from the wilderness to spy out the promised land – see Numbers 13. Today, we read that Caleb said to Joshua who was now the leader of the people,  “You know what the LORD said to Moses the man of God in Kadesh-barnea concerning you and me”[v.6]     And Moses swore on that day, saying, ‘Surely the land on which your foot has trodden shall be an inheritance for you and your children forever, because you have wholly followed the LORD my God.”[v.9]  

            What a comparison is in this – for us – may this be said of us – as we receive our inheritance.

            Our Isaiah chapter 19 uses the phrase “In that day” 5 times!  It is a day which is yet to happen!  It is about Israel – and Egypt and Assyria.  It says “there will be a highway” between them. [v.23] The chapter ends,  “In that day Israel will be the third with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth, whom the LORD of hosts has blessed, saying, “Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my inheritance.”

             It is clear that in the era of God’s world-wide kingdom there will be individual people from these nations whom God will raise and count as “worthy” to be blessed in Egypt and Assyria – because of their personal reaction to the power they witnessed and the words they heard about the God of Israel. This leads us to ponder the picture ‘painted’ in the 11th chapter of Hebrews, of those who are to be counted as worthy – from Abel onwards. These, Hebrews tells us, were people “of whom the world was not worthy” [v.38]  Those who seek to be “worthy” people in our world today – receive whatever honour they can now; they are unaware of “what accords with sound doctrine” which is what Paul told Titus to “teach” [ch. 2 v.1].  This was the main reason, Paul tells him, “why I left you in Crete”  [1 v.5]

            “Sound doctrine” refers to ways of living as well as ways of believing, Paul’s 2nd chapter makes this very clear. Titus is told to “Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned” [v.2,8] The Cretans are to “renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives … waiting for our blessed hope …” [v.12,13]

            Our ways of living today are an essential part of “what accords with sound doctrine.”  Let us “teach” this to each other – being fully aware of the need to “teachsound doctrine” – and also – as we read 5 days ago in Paul’s first letter to Timothy, how he told him (and us) to “set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” [4 v.12]

Thought for May 27th

Todays readings.. Joshua 13, Isaih 17&18, 2 Timothy 3&4

“HAVING THE APPEARANCE OF GODLINESS, BUT DENYING IT’S POWER” 

This comment of Paul to Timothy particularly invites our meditations today. Jesus accused the religious leaders of his day of having an “appearance of godliness”, he said “‘This people honours me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me …” [Matt. 15 v.8,9]  They were too self-centred, they did not realize, let alone appreciate, the wonder of really having a relationship with God.

What we especially note in today’s 3rd chapter of Paul’s 2nd letter to Timothy is that Paul says that this will be the situation “in the last days” [v.1]  The Spirit gives Paul a ‘picture’ of the scene, this shows it will be far worse then than when Jesus criticised the Pharisees.   

Paul tells Timothy (and us) that “in the last days … people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy,  heartless…” [v.2,3] Furthermore they will be  “without self-control … not loving good … swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God,

having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.” [v.4,5]

Through the centuries, an “appearance of godliness” has existed, but today it has almost faded out of existence.  How much is this affecting you and I? True godliness had “power” to influence others, Paul was an outstanding example.Timothy is told, “But as for you” and we should say, ‘as for us’ – accepting Paul’s words as essential advice for us too, “continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and 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.” [v.14,15] 

Those sacred writings would have been the scriptures of the Old Testament so largely ignored by those who claim to be christian today.  We must take the final part of this chapter fully to heart, it is the opposite of “denying it’s power.  Paul declares, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man (and woman) of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”   How is our training progressing? 

Thought for May 26th

Todays readings.. Joshua 12, Isaiah 16, 2 Timothy 2

“CALL ON THE LORD FROM A PURE HEART”

Paul’s final letter, the one he wrote to Timothy, is probably the most personally challenging one for believers – and that surely includes us today! He is warning and advising Timothy about some “who have swerved from the truth …” [2 v.18]  this problem has plagued believers ever since – it is the reason why so many different churches exist. Those who ‘swerved’ were “upsetting the faith of some” – sadly, it continues today.

We can stop our faith from swerving by diligently reading God’s word and prayerfully comparing scripture with scripture,  then we will see with increasing clarity how it all fits together into a harmonious message and becomes the foundation for us as we “pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.” [v.22]

The challenge that faced Timothy was to teach and guide others to do this.  How wonderfully satisfying when we, in all humility and thankfulness, are able to accomplish this.  Paul told Timothy, at the start of his first letter to him; “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” [1 v.5] 

What wonderful advice he gives him, advice that we ourselves should follow, that “the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth.” [2 v.24,25]

There is only one truth, the original gospel and good news that spread through the Roman Empire – and ultimately to the whole world.  This is discussed – and practiced as far as is humanly possible – by all “who call on the Lord from a pure heart” [v.22] as they “flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace” [same verse] This is the original gospel, it is “the faith” Paul taught and kept to the end! 

Paul stresses “the faith” – and we note he uses this phrase 14 times in his letters to Timothy.  Almost the final words he wrote as he neared the end of his life are in ch. 4.  What sincerity was in his heart as he told believers, “the time of my departure has come.  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, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.” [v.6-8] 

May the “pure heart” we are developing, lead us to “call on the Lord” every day – and so be worthy, but only by his grace, of “the crown of righteousness” that is also “laid up” for us when Jesus returns – and we see the wonder of being “blessed” to “inherit  the earth” [Matt. 5 v.5] – How soon now! 

Thought for May 25th

Todays readings.. Joshua 11, Isaiah 15, 2 Timothy 1

“I REMEMBER YOU CONSTANTLY IN MY PRAYERS”

            Today we started reading the final epistle that Paul wrote, his second letter to Timothy. The spiritual relationship he had developed with him is an example to us of the relationship we should aim to develop with fellow believers; surely we should remember each other constantly in our prayers.   The spiritual rapport we develop will be invaluable, especially in the times of real trouble that are increasingly threatening our world!  How close is the return of our Lord?

            Paul tells Timothy, “I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day.” [1 v.3]  How often do we pray?  How much do we pray for each other?  Paul tells Timothy, “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you …” [v.5] That is a challenging way of describing the ‘active’ nature of a genuine faith!  It is more than an attitude in our brain – it is the active principle on which our heart operates.

            The epistles of John illustrate this in a heart-challenging way, he wrote, “Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. … And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.  Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.” [1 John 5 v.11,12]  Food for the deepest thought and meditation here! 

            Clearly Paul had this “testimony in himself.”  We perceive this as meaning that his faith had developed to its’ fullest extent, his life was the outcome of a “sincere faith.”  It caused Paul to “constantlyremember” Timothy in his “prayers.” 

            We must each meditate on what werememberconstantly in… (our) prayers”   Do we “remember the spirit that was in us when we were converted.  Paul certainly did, and it is evident this “constantly” and dramatically influenced the rest of his life. What about ourselves? May we “constantly in (our) prayers” seek to follow, more and more, the example of Paul.

Thought for May 24th

Todays readings.. Joshua 10, Isaiah 14, 1 Timothy 6

“FLEE THESE THINGS”      

     The Apostle Paul concludes his first letter to “his son” (Phil.2 v.22) Timothy with a survey of the problems and bad influences amongst some of the believers. He stresses the things he should teach adding, “If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing.  ” [6 v.3,4]

      He warns Timothy  of “people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.” [v.5]   It is distressing that some appear to give the appearance of “godliness” – the worst example is those who seek to become Priests and Pastors and the like and as a result have a comfortable lifestyle and people look up to them.

Let us carefully note note the attitude Paul stresses, “there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.  But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.”” [v.7,8]

     We take nothing out of the world when our journey through life is complete!  Let us aim to “leave” an example of true godliness – that is the greatest bequest we can make having followed “the teaching that accords with godliness”. Our world is making a ‘god’ of money – and the possessions and travel experiences, and other things, many of them godless that it can bring.  Let us note Paul’s warning; “the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.  It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith …” [v.10]

      Look how Paul urges Timothy, “But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.  Fight the good fight of faith.  Take hold of eternal life to which you were called …” [v.11,12]  The phrase “flee these things” highlights the urgent need to get away from wrong attitudes – and what to “pursue” in their place.  Let us imagine Paul is writing to us with these words – for in following them we keep ourselves “unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ.” [v.14] 

Thought for May 23rd

Todays readings… Joshua 9, Isaiah 13, 1 Timothy 4&5

“… THE EARTH WILL BE SHAKEN”

   What place is named in the first and last books of the Bible – and in many in between? Yes, it’s Babylon, yet you may not recognize that it occurs in Genesis because it is translated in its Hebrew form of Babel.  The account in Genesis (Ch,11) is about what happened when the descendants of Noah multiplied  and built a city and a tower and said “let us make a name for ourselves” (v4).  They so soon forgot the lesson of the flood and the example of faith of their forefather Noah.   God judged that city and scattered its inhabitants.  The world forgets today!

Yet the name keeps occurring as further examples of human pride!  Remember Nebuchadnezzar’s pride as he ruled Babylon.  Recall the visions in Revelation where Babylon occurs and is used in connection with the latter day destruction of human pride and godlessness at the return of Jesus Christ. 

   Isaiah is the main Old Testament prophet that is caused to prophecy about Babylon. The city was a growing power in his day and a threat to Jerusalem.  Yet in the prophecies God gave him about Babylon are included some words which obviously apply to its final destruction.  Today’s reading of Ch. 13 is the first time we encounter this in Isaiah. Verse 1 tells us its “the oracle concerning Babylon” but part of what follows is echoed in words Jesus used to describe God’s judgements in the last days. We specially note v.10, “for the stars of the heavens and their constellations will not give their light, the sun will be dark at its setting and the moon will not shed its light.”

   Jesus spoke of the time when “the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light … then will appear in heaven the sign of the son of man … and they will see the son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” [Matt. 24 v.29,30]

     Looking further in Isaiah – the next verses to what we quoted tell us, “I will punish the world for its evil and the wicked for their iniquity; I will put an end to the pomp of the arrogant, and lay low the pompous pride of the ruthless.  I will make people more rare than fine gold … the earth will be shaken out of its place at the wrath of the LORD of hosts in the day of his fierce anger” [v.11-13]. 

The world today denies God as much as the people did in the days of Noah.  We fear that God’s message through Isaiah will come true, dreadfully true in the near future.  May our faith become stronger and stronger, anticipating the day when “the earth will be shaken” but then – the wonder of seeing “the son of man coming ….”

Thought for May 22nd

Todays readings.. Joshua 8, Isaiah 12, 1 Timothy 1,2&3

“LOVE THAT ISSUES FROM A PURE HEART”

Love is a word in common use today.  The utter sincerity of its use by Paul in his letters bears no relation to the way most people use it today.  Paul wrote to Timothy, who is described as “my true child in the faith” – to practice “love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” [1 Tim. 1 v.5].  Such a faith is an essential ingredient in true Christ- like living.  Imagine making bread without flour! 

Paul illustrates his point by drawing the contrast with those who do not act in spiritual love, those who “have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions” [v.6,7]  It was the spirit of the Scribes and Pharisees re-emerging amongst the believers.

He tells Timothy that,  “I hope to come to you soon , but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God… 1 Tim. 3 v.15]  Paul goes on to explain how each community of believers should have overseers, or elders. He goes into great detail about the qualities such persons ought to have. He must be married and have brought up children for if he cannot effectively manage “his own household” how will he properly “care for God’s church.”?[v.5].   Paul also said “he must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil.”[v.6]  

      What is this devil?  How can an overseer be seen to be condemned by a devil?  The translators are inconsistent, for the Greek word diabolos they translate here as devil occurs again in v.11 about what the character of the wives of deacons should NOT be! They translate diabolos as “slanderer“  in this case!      Jesus said “Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil” (diabolos) [John 6 v.70]   It is to be greatly regretted that the Church, over time, built up a totally fictitious story about the existence of an unseen evil supernatural spirit being.

     Those who take any position of responsibility in God’s church “must be dignified, not double tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy … They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience” [1 Tim. 3 v.8,9].  Timothy is told that he should, “set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.”[Ch.4 v.12]. We should all aim to do this and practice “love that issues from a pure heart.”