Thought for November 30th. “THE HOUSE OF ESAU STUBBLE”

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

     Esau was the twin brother of Jacob; when Jacob was given the name Israel, Esau began to be called Edom (Gen. 25 v.30) Remarkably both Jacob and Esau had 12 sons – see Genesis 36 v.9 – 43, Esau’s spread out, certainly as far as the Euphrates (v,37)

      Our reading of the prophecy of Obadiah today reminded us of this remarkable situation – and parallel – in the picture Obadiah was given of the future.  We could wish the prophecy was more explicit, but that is actually the case with all prophecy. What we are told challenges our thinking.  In v.8 we read, “Will I not on that day, declares the LORD, destroy the wise men out of Edom?  What day?  Why?  “Because of the violence done to your brother Jacob” [v.10]

     Is this the answer as to why?  “For the day of the LORD is near upon all nations.  As you have done, it shall be done to you …” [v.15], Edom is told.    For the LORD, for whom time is different, everything is “near.”   

             Verses 17,18 reveal “…. In Mount Zion shall be those who escape, and it shall be holy, and the house of Jacob shall possess their own possessions (again) The house of Jacob shall be a fire … and the house of Esau stubble … ”   The return of the exiles is indicated. “The exiles of the host of the people of Israel shall possess the land …” [v.20]

             The final verse of the prophecy tells us, “Saviours shall go up to Mount Zion to rule Mount Esau, and the kingdom shall be the LORD’s.”    And when the kingdom is the LORD’s God’s plan and purpose will have brought into being one of its’ major objectives.   The king of the kingdom will be Jesus Christ.   Will you be there?   

Two verses out of many interesting ones in today’s chapters in Hebrews jump out at us.  “Take care brothers, lest there be in any of you and 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.” [3 v. 12,13]  Are you being “hardened”?  There are lots of factors causing hardening today, but our reading and meditation – in our hearts – on God’s word every day provides the cure.

Thought for November 29th.”YOU HAVE LOVED RIGHTEOUSNESS AND HATED WICKEDNESS, THEREFORE …”

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

    Today we start reading Hebrews; much of this letter is a remarkable testimony to what Jesus achieved.  It prevents any impression some might have that the work of Jesus was, sort of automatic, in fulfilling God’s will. Having previously spoken “by the prophets” [1 v.1] God “has now spoken to us by his Son whom he appointed heir of all things” [v.2]

     A comparison is made between the work of Jesus and the angels.  We read how when Jesus completed his work for God on earth, “he sat down at the right hand of the majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs” [v.4].  There follows some comparisons of Jesus with the angels.  The first is, “to which of the angels did God ever say, ‘You are my Son, today I have begotten you’? Or again, I will be to him a father and he shall be to me a son’?” [v.5] 

    We learn that Jesus was “begotten” – he had a beginning – creating a father and son relationship.  Verses 8 and 9 are a very informative quotation from Psalm 45 v.6,7. “But of the Son he (i.e. God) says, ‘Your throne O God, is forever and ever, the sceptre of uprightness is the sceptre of your kingdom.  You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.”    This is the only passage where God refers to His begotten Son as “God” – but we must note that it then goes on to say, “therefore God, your God has …”  

     The co-equal, co-eternal” perceptions of Jesus were inventions of human minds centuries later.  Now notice that the exaltation of Jesus was becauseyou have loved righteousness and hated wickedness”. 

` Only Jesus succeeded in achieving that completely, but he set the example of the quality of mind those who follow him must aim to develop – that it should be said of them that “you have loved righteousness and hated wickedness” – What do we love? What do we hate?  Let us examine our hearts for a genuine, a true answer!

Thought for November 28th. “IF YOU KEEP SILENT”  

Todays readings… Esther 3&4, Amos 8, Philemon

     We are reading the dramatic story of Esther and how she became the Queen of King Ahasuerus.   Haman comes on the scene and wins the King’s favour, but Esther’s uncle, Mordecai declines to honour him by bowing down as he passes. 

A proud man, Haman decides to destroy, not only Mordecai but also all the Jews and he sends out an edict in the King’s name, for this to happen in month of Adar – chosen by lot (3 v.7).  But this is 11 months away!

      Mordecai now stands at “the king’s gate” [4 v.2] dressed in sackcloth.  Esther, within the Palace is not aware at the first of these events.  As a Jew, should she speak up?  She has not had an audience with the king for 30 days (v.11) – this only happens when the king calls you: it would cost you your life if you came before the king uninvited, unless he held out the golden scepter. 

      Mordecai sends a message to her, “Do not think to yourself that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews,  For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place … who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” [v.13-15] .    

      Mordecai is conscious of the over-riding hand of God in affairs, causing “all things to work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” – as Paul told the Romans (8 v.28) 

The “good” is the good of God’s purpose in the all-seeing perspective of the Creator who sees “the end from the beginning” (Isaiah 46 v,10).

      Paul is making a parallel point in his letter to Philemon that we also read today. This was about Philemon’s runaway slave Onesimus who had now become a believer.  Paul comments, “For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever; no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, as a beloved brother.” [v.15,16]

     Let us not “keep silent” in testifying to the truth when challenging situations arise!  If we really believe we are in the service of God because we now, spiritually, belong to his son, having taken on his name, we will become more and more conscious that God has the oversight of our lives and so “all things” are working “together for good”. We need to have the ‘vision’ Mordecai wanted Esther to have. .   

    Now that God’s word is so freely available everyone should regularly feed their minds on it.  It is “training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives …” [2 v.12]

    May it be that you are making – indeed – have made – great progress in your “training” and are holding firm to God’s trustworthy word.”

Thought for 27th November.“HOLD FIRM TO THE TRUSTWORTHY WORD”

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

     What things really matter?  Today we read the 3 short chapters that make up the whole of Paul’s powerful letter to Titus who is described as “my true child in a common faith.” [v.4]  There is one “faith” which should be “common” to everyone; but the many parts of Christendom shows that is now far from the case.

.   The Apostle says, “I left you in Crete that you might put what remained into order” [1 v.5]  His first step is to “appoint elders in every town”   They must be married men of such a calibre that “his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination.” [v.6.]   Obviously they are experienced older men.

     There follows a list of the qualities such elders must possess; “lovers of good, self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined.  He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke them who contradict it.” [v.9]

     Sadly in Crete “there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party” [v.10]   – that is, those with a Jewish heritage, they are “teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach.” [v.11]

     Just as sadly, the effort to make money, sometimes a lot of money, out of practicing religion has been seen in every generation. 

Paul stresses that Christ “gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works”. Titus is told, “Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority.” [2 v.14,15]

Thought for November 26th. “ … AND HAVE FIRMLY BELIEVED”

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

     Today we completed reading Paul’s letters to Timothy whom he calls “my true child in the faith [1 Tim.1 v.2]  Paul writes in a most passionate way.  It is a very intimate letter revealing the bond of service to Christ that had grown up between them. He tells him, “You however (in contrast to some others) have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions …” [3 v.10,11]

      He then makes the point  – which has been true in various degrees in all ages – but is not true in countries such as ours, well not in recent decades.  Paul states, “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”  [v.12], but what he then adds is true today – everywhere!   “… evil people … will go from bad to worse.” [v.13]

     The words that come next jump out as a message especially for us.  “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed.”   There must be no doubt in our minds about the foundations of our faith.  It must be based, as Timothy’s was, on our being thoroughly “acquainted with the sacred writings (the Old Testament)  which are able you make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” [v.15]  Of course the New Testament was in the process of being written – and that now adds an extra plank to the foundation of our faith. Peter acknowledges the “wisdom God gave to Paul in his writings (2 Peter 3 v.15)

       We are not saved through knowledge, but through the wisdom and belief that our knowing the word of God imparts.  The Scripture, says Paul, has been “breathed out (i.e. inspired) by God”   It is “profitable” in many ways, “for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” [v.16]

      The result of doing this is so that the man and woman “of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” [v.17]   Are you becoming so equipped?  If you “have firmly believed” you will realize that knowing God and his word, is not just to acquire head knowledge, but to become competent in using it every day, in at least  some small way, in a “good work” or word – of some kind. 

We are “known” by our works, just as much as by our words – together they become a witness to others of the reality of our faith.  

Thought for November 25th.”DO NOT WIPE OUT MY GOOD DEEDS”

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

    Today we completed reading the book of Nehemiah.  For some reason (13 v.6) the Persian King had caused Nehemiah to leave Jerusalem. This happened “in the thirty second year of Artaxerxes (12 years after Nehemiah first came)… and after some time I asked leave of the king and came to Jerusalem, and I then discovered the evil that Eliashib (“the priest” v.4) had done for Tobiah, in preparing for him a chamber in the courts of the house of God.  And I was very angry and threw out all the household furniture of Tobiah …” [v.6-8] Nehemiah’s good work was being undone through a failure to obey God’s decrees.  They had previously “found written in the book of Moses … that no Ammonite … should ever enter the assembly of God” [v.1] and Tobiah was an Ammonite (2 v.10). This is a lesson in the need for faithfulness in correctly following what God has decreed.  Following this Nehemiah makes the plea, “Remember me, O my God, concerning this, and do not wipe out my good deeds that I have done for the house of my God and for his service.” [v.14. ] 

Nehemiah then finds they are “profaning the Sabbath day”.  Nehemiah warns them (v.15).  Tyrians, “who lived in the city brought in fish and all kinds of goods and sold them on the Sabbath” [v.16] Nehemiah “confronts the elders of Judah” [v.17] over allowing this.

    A day of “rest”, which is what the word Sabbath means, has been a valuable practice in human life.  When we were young no sport was played on Sunday and none of the shopping centres opened. Sunday was observed as the Christian day of rest; it was the day when Christ rose from the dead. Nehemiah then asks, “Remember this also in my favour, O my God, and spare me according to the greatness of your steadfast love” [v.22]

    Each generation must learn the true ways of living and believing for God will “remember.” His word abounds with examples of failures, especially among following generations.

Paul is anxious at the end his life to train Timothy to carry on his work for the Lord, so that his achievements are not wiped out. We read today his words to Timothy, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” [2 Tim. 2 v.15]  Let us follow Paul’s advice today, and then the Lord will remember this in our favour.

Thought for November 24th. “NOT BECAUSE OF OUR WORKS, BUT …”

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

We started reading Paul’s final letter today; “the time of my departure” from this life “has come’ [4 v.6] he tells Timothy.  Since his dramatic conversion his life had been filled with doing a great many works in carrying his saviour’s name to a great many places.   But his ultimate salvation will not be because of this! We cannot ‘earn’ salvation through “works” – rather we are “working together with him” [2 Cor. 6 v.1] “for,” as Paul told the Philippians, ” it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

Our “works” should be the result of our totally committed love for Christ, the result of realizing that this life, although remarkable in so many ways, is a preparation for the transition to the ‘real’ endless life that is to come. There are ‘burdens’ in this life, and Paul fully experienced these, but, as he told the Corinthians, “this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” [2 Cor. 4 v.17,18]

Paul reminds Timothy in his last letter to him (and us) of the ‘spirit’ of mind they shared together in serving Christ. We should notice and try to absorb into our own thinking the point he makes, “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” [v.7] This is the end result of developing a genuine relationship with God, fully sensing that “in him we live and move and have our being.” [Acts 17 v.28]

With this wonderful relationship, which is impossible to fully comprehend, we are motivated to work in his vineyard, Paul being an outstanding example for us in doing this.  And yet, may we all fully realize, as Paul tells Timothy [v.9] it is ” not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus …”

It is a challenge for us to comprehend how Paul had become so conscious of the eternal timeless nature of the Creator for which the word, ‘omniscience’ has been created by men.  Paul perceives that, in God’s consciousness, this “holy calling” was given “us in Christ Jesus before the ages began” but “has now has been manifested through  the appearing of our Saviour Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” [v.9,10] 

It is God alone who “knows the end from the beginning” [Isa. 46 v.10].  In Rev. 21 v.5,6, the one on the throne says, he is “the beginning and the end.”  So he has, already in his all-seeing ‘knowing’ seen death as being “abolished.” 

This is far beyond normal understanding and provokes thought challenging meditation on the infinite nature of the Creator we serve.  Let us join with Paul in saying, as he told Timothy, “I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me” [v.12].  May we use our minds to “follow the pattern of the sound words” [v.13] that can only be found in the scriptures “which is (are) at work in you believers.” [1 Thess 2 v.13] – but only if we continue to feed our minds on them every day.

Thought for November 23rd.”SO THAT MY HOLY NAME IS PROFANED”

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

   How is God’s name profaned?  Two days ago we started reading the prophecy of Amos, he ministered at about the same time of Hosea, about 30 years before the collapse and captivity of the northern kingdom, and the seeds of godlessness that Ahab and Jezebel had sown were bearing evil fruit.

   Israel and Judah both claimed to know and serve the living God, the only God. Amos gives details of their bad behaviour, his comment on their sexual misconduct made us think of the way of life today in so many countries that were formerly, to some degree, Christian and still profess a form of Christianity.  He says, “a man and his father go into the same girl so that my holy name is profaned[2 v.7] and “in the house of their God they drink … wine” [v.8] instead of going there to worship.   

God’s name, i.e. his good name, his reputation, is profaned, by the bad behaviour of those who claim to serve him.  When Priests on both sides of the first World War blessed and prayed to apparently the same God for his help to the soldiers going into battle against each other, God’s name was profaned – and many turned away from Christianity and churches have become increasingly empty over the last 100 years.

   Today’s chapter tells us of “this word that the LORD has spoken against you … against the whole family that I brought up out of the land of Egypt: you only have I known of all the families of the earth” [3 v.1,2] God had “known” them and had made a covenant with them giving them the 10 Commandments and other laws.  Their special standing in his sight should have been reflected in their behaviour. Then, because it didn’t, God causes the prophet to say “therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.” [v.3]   

    Special blessings and privileges should so lift up our minds and aims in life that we joyfully live at a high spiritual level – and this gives glory to God’s name. How little is this happening today!  Depravity is seen on every side. How long before Amos’s message applies to this age?  It already has, but it will apply more and more – for he said, “Does disaster come to a city unless the LORD has done it?” [v.6].   We need to reflect more on the words of God’s prophets, “For the Lord GOD does nothing without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets.” [v.7]

Thought for November 22nd. “KEEP A CLOSE WATCH ON YOURSELF”

Todays readings.. Nehemiah 10, Amos 2, Timothy4&5

            Paul, who told Timothy he was his “true child in the faith” [1 v.2], is very straightforward in his advice to him about making sure he grows spiritually.  There are many verses in his epistle to him we can, and should, apply as his advice and encouragement to ourselves and so be ” trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine” [4 v.6]

            “Godliness,” Paul tells him, “is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come….  to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God …”[v,8,10] Nearly all his advice equally applies to sisters.  Timothy is to “set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.”[v.12] He was to devote himself “to the public reading of Scripture…”[v.13] as well as teaching.  None of the believers would have had their own copies of Scripture, which would of course be our Old Testament!  What a blessing we have!  Do we genuinely appreciate this?

            There is a danger that those who see their role as being in the forefront of working for Christ – start to fail in their own spirituality – there are sad and distressing examples of this. All such should note Paul’s advice to Timothy to  “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching.” Adding,  ” Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.” [v.16]

            As our world grows ever more godless – and we encounter this godlessness in so many ways, almost every day – it is ever more vital that we take Paul’s advice to Timothy to ourselves to “keep a close watch on yourself.”

Thought for November 21st. “GODLY AND DIGNIFIED IN EVERY WAY” 

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

          We live in a world where those in authority are constantly being challenged.  Elections are confrontations that make news headlines; reasoned discussion is at a minimum: slogans are bandied around.  An earnest and committed Bible believer is increasingly dismayed by the various environments that surround them.  What attitudes should such believers take, especially when some specific attitude is expected of them?

            Dedicated believers were confronted by a critical problem 150 years ago in the USA by the Civil War; it was a testing time as these pioneers realized they had a higher citizenship.   Paul wrote, “our citizenship is in heaven” [Philippians 3 v.20]. There is a parallel between a war of swords and a war of words, those who truly believe and fear God can engage in neither.  The “soft answer” [Prov.15 v.1] is rarely practiced today. 

            Our God and Saviour are the highest authority; we will read next week in Hebrews, that the divine authority functions by “discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart … (and) … no creature is hidden from his sight” [Hebrews 4 v.12,13].  

           Today’s chapters in 1 Timothy includes some valuable principles for our lives for these days..  Timothy has been left at Ephesus to help the converts there grow spiritually [1 v.3] and the advice in Paul’s letter to him highlights that our foremost allegiance is to “the king of the ages, immortal, the only God,” to whom “be honour and glory for ever and ever” [1 v.17].   

             This allegiance leads to a different kind of warfare!  Timothy is told to “wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience.” [v.18,19]  In contrast those who fight in human wars hand over their conscience to their commanders.

              A true believers’ relationship with human authorities is not one of rebelliously campaigning against such authority however justified than might sometimes appear.  History shows that some believers have destroyed their faith and service before God by doing this.  Paul tells Timothy, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable lifegodly and dignified in every way” [2 v.1,2] 

                What a challenge this was to Paul in his own life, such was the nature of the opposition he encountered, yet he was “godly and dignified” in all the confrontations that were forced upon him.  It becomes increasingly evident that the true believer cannot in conscience take part, or take sides, in the confrontations between factions in elections because he (or she) serves a higher authority.  

              For those who will, by their Master’s grace, be in a position of exercising remarkable authority in God’s coming kingdom; life now is a valuable period of training. How is your training progressing?