Thought for April 10th. “BUT TO ALL WHO DID RECEIVE HIM … “

Todays readings.. Numbers 28, Proverbs 20, John 1

    Today we start reading John; this is a gospel which challenges us to think very carefully and make sure we harmonise our thoughts about various passages of Scripture.  The Gospel starts, “In the beginning was the Word”  What beginning?  

    The very first words in the Bible are “In the beginning God created … “  The original Greek in this place for “word” is ‘Logos’ – a word translated several ways, a particular sense is  ‘a word that has been spoken’- see for example John 18 where it occurs in both v.9 and v.32 “this was to fulfil the word that he had spoken”.

    We recall that at the beginning of the world God spoke at the start of each day and certain acts of creation took place.  We have God’s word through Isaiah, “so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose” [55 v.11]  

    This happened at creation. Now note Peter’s words in his first Epistle – that Christ “was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for your sake who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.” [1 v.20,21]

    We read today, “And the word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” [v.14]. God’s word of foreknowledge had “become flesh” – it was all God’s doing.  What was in the beginning was God’s word, his plan, and it brought life and light to the world and ultimately it was made flesh in the person of his Son who came to speak God’s message as we will see most clearly as we read John’s Gospel.

    John the Baptist testifies of Jesus, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” [v.29] The world is about to celebrate Easter but for most it is a meaningless celebration, but those who know his voice will say, as Nathaniel said to him, “… you are the Son of God! You are the king of Israel” [v.49]  And one day he will return to be king, not just of Israel, but of the whole world.  

    We must take into our hearts the point made in v.12, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”  Let us receive him and the way we start (or have started) is to confess our faith and be baptised.     

Thought for April 9th. “NOT THAT I HAVE ALREADY OBTAINED … “

  Today’s readings… Numbers 27, Proverbs 19, Philippians 3&4

    There is an attitude among some who claim to follow Christ that they are already certain of being rewarded by God because they have accepted Christ. This is an unscriptural way of thinking. Paul did not have this attitude until the end of his life as we see in the final letter he wrote, see 2 Timothy 4 v.6-8.

    In his letter to the Philippians he makes some important points, “I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ … that I may know him … that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection of the dead” [3 v.8,10,11]  To know Christ is to have a real relationship with him, nothing must hinder that relationship.

     In the very next verse Paul says, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers I do not consider that I have made it my own.  But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” [v.12-14]   Paul’s way of thinking is plain!  

     Jesus said, “No one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” [Luke 9 v.62] What a mess you would make in ploughing a field if you did not look straight ahead, Paul is the ultimate example of doing this.  His message to the Philippians, which contains less criticism of believers than any of his other letters encourages them not to slacken their efforts in any way. 

    What encouraging words his last chapter contains,  “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say rejoice … 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.” [v.4,6,7]

      “Press on”  “Straining forward”  Those who read God’s word every day feel motivated to do this.

Thought for April 8th. “THE FOUNTAIN OF WISDOM”

Today’s readings.. Numbers 26, Proverbs 18, Philippians 1&2

    We live today in a world of many voices, many opinions and many opportunities to express them. There are ‘tweets’ and ‘blogs’ in abundance on the Internet where people express their views on matters and comment on those of others. Newspapers have Opinion pages on their sites and in print. Polls are taken, especially by politicians, to see if the opinion of people about them is still good, or fairly so. 

    Our thoughts flowed along these lines after we read Proverbs 18 this morning and noted v.2, “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding but only in expressing his (or her) opinion.”  Then in v.4 that “the fountain of wisdom is a bubbling brook” of clear fresh water for us to drink and absorb into our minds. In the final chapter of God’s word there is the invitation, “let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price” [Rev 22 v.17]

    God’s word provides that fountain of wisdom and as we began reading Paul’s letter to the Philippians we noted how he told them “you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defence and confirmation of the gospel” [1 v.7] The gospel was firmly established and it was now a matter of defending what had been established “and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ” [v.10]  Sadly, in the Centuries which followed, more and more followed their opinions than going to the fountain for pure water.

    Paul goes on to tell them he longs to “hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel” [v.27]   You are to realise, he tells them that you must “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” [2 v.12,13]  Let us ‘stand firm’ so that it will be our great joy on the day of judgement – to see the source of that pure water that we have held on to – so it has guided us throughout our life from the day we first drank of it.  

Thought for April 7th. “THE ORACLE OF HIM WHO HEARS THE WORDS OF GOD”

Today’s readings.. Numbers 24&25, Proverbs 16, Ephesians 5&6.

    The one who uttered the oracle referred to above was destroyed by God!  The wonder of hearing and reading the words of God is only of real value if it leads to godly thoughts and actions.  Indeed, the Apostle Peter writes of those who fail to do this, that “it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than, after knowing it, to turn back … “ [2 Peter 2 v.21] 

    Today we completed reading the 3 chapters in Numbers (22-24) which tell us about Balaam.  He was a unique man who had much power and influence and the king of Moab called on him to help him by putting a curse on Israel as they came to the borders of Moab.  He was willing to do what the king requested because he was promised much reward.  The events which followed are remarkable.  An angel from the LORD meets him in the way (22 v.31) and he has conversations with the LORD through his angel.   

    His efforts to try to put curses on Israel through divination fail and instead “the Spirit of God came upon him and he … said … the oracle of the man whose eye is opened, the oracle of him who hears the words of God who sees the vision of the Almighty” [24 v.15,16] Part of his vision is of “the latter days” [v.14] when “Israel is doing valiantly and one from Jacob shall exercise dominion …” [v.18,19] – surely a reference to Jesus.

    Yet, despite all this Balaam goes back to his place frustrated that he is unable to do what the king of Moab wants and gain wealth and honour as a reward.  Ch. 25 tells us that the people of Israel “began to whore with the daughters of Moab … and the people ate and bowed down to their gods” [25 v.1,2]  with the result God caused a plague and “those who died by the plague were twenty four thousand.” [v.9]

    The seduction by the women of Moab was deliberate for when we come to Ch. 31 we learn the Israelites “killed Balaam” [v.8] also that it was “Balaam’s advice, (that) caused the people of Israel to act treacherously … so the plague came among the congregation” [v.16]  This wily man knew the weakest part of human nature, he thought he had had some measure of revenge, but he had no vision of the Eternal.  There are far too many examples of those “who hear the words of God” but the way of the flesh appeals more strongly. Read 2 Peter 2 v.14-20. 

Thought for April 6th. “HAVING LOST ALL SENSITIVITY”

 Todays readings.. Numbers 22&23, Proverbs 16, Ephesians 3&4    

    Are you sensitive?  Is that a good thing or a bad thing?  It seems to us that people generally have largely lost whatever ability they had to be really sensitive to the feelings of others.  It is wonderful that there are always some who will give help to victims of some tragedy, such as when there are floods or storms, but is that as far as it goes?  Nearly everyone is living for themselves; almost all follow the principle of – ‘self-first’.  

    Paul in his letter to the Ephesians, as in his other letters, stresses the need for the committed follower of Christ to be sensitive to the feelings and needs of fellow believers. As we completed reading Galatians we may have noticed v.10 in the last chapter, “as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially those who are of the household of faith.”

    Today in Ephesians we read, “Put away falsehood, let each of you speak the truth to his neighbours for we are members one of another” [4 v.25]  Challenging isn’t it to be described as “members one of another”!  It is because committed believers have become, in God’s eyes, one spiritual family.

    We came across the word sensitivity when reading the NIV Bible which translates Paul as writing that they “must no longer live as the Gentiles (non-Christians) do, in the futility of their thinking … having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with continual lust for more” [v.17,19]

    The ESV (which we normally use) translates it as “they have become callous” – and that is what the world today has become as it becomes less and less Christian.  The true believer is the very opposite! “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouth”, writes Paul, “but only such as is good … that it may give grace to those who hear” [v.29]

    This fits in with today’s Proverb’s reading, “The heart of the wise makes his speech judicious … gracious words are like honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body” [Ch. 16 v.23,24].  This is the best possible advice for us in this insensitive world.  Next Friday, which is known as, ‘Good Friday,’ some in the world vaguely remember that it is to do with the crucifixion of Christ.   Did Jesus ‘die in vain’?  May our reading of God’s word make our memory of him grow stronger and make us more and more like Him – otherwise our reading is in vain.

Thought for April 5th. “A PLAN FOR THE FULLNESS OF TIME”

Todays readings… Numbers 20&21, Proverbs 15, Ephesians 1&2

    The opening chapters of Ephesians, when read prayerfully and carefully, open an intensely thought provoking picture of the whole purpose of God “that we should be holy and blameless before him.” [1 v.4]  This holiness is achieved, not by our works, but by our reactions to his actions to show us his love. Our reaction should be one of “praise of his glorious grace.” [v.6]

    What intense value Paul puts on the word grace; “the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight, making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time …” [v.7-10]  We are now on the brink of the fullness of time, the climax of this world as we know it.  There is a danger we can become side tracked from our present humble role in working for God – let us continue to watch and be ready for our Lord’s return.

    Paul reminds the Ephesians how they “were once dead in trespasses and sins …” [2 v.1].  That would be our situation now if we were walking through life in this way!  But, by “the grace of God” – having been either brought up to know God’s will – or having been attracted to it by some means and brought to realize the darkness of our thinking (despite its fleshly attractions), we came to realize how “the god of this world has blinded the minds of unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ …” [2 Cor. 4 v.4] 

    Paul also warned the Ephesians of “the spirit that is now at work among the sons of disobedience” [v.2] and how “we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature, children of wrath like the rest of mankind.” [2 v.3]  We are surrounded by these “passions” more than ever – and they are penetrating amongst us – just as with the Israelites in the wilderness as they journeyed toward their promised land.  So many of them lost their vision and their trust in the word of God through Moses.  And as for us?  Let us think positively – note how Paul wrote; “we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” [v.10] Let us walk more confidently so God can work more effectively in us, for the “fullness of time” is coming. Let us constantly seek ways of “encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day approaching” [Heb.10 v.25] 

Thought for April 4th. “WHO HINDERED YOU FROM OBEYING THE TRUTH?”

Today’s readings.. Numbers19, Proverbs 14, Galations 5&6

    In every generation there are things which hinder people from living their lives in God’s way. Our chapter in Proverbs lists many positives and their counterpart negatives in human behaviour. “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people” [14 v.34]  In past centuries we can see how, when the Bible was printed, the countries in which it was widely read – many people tried to live godly lives.  The U.S.A. had a reputation for this, led by those who came to this new world in the 17th and 18th Centuries, sometimes they were seeking religious freedom to live according to God’s word instead of the traditional Christianity practised in most of Europe: sadly the U S A’s  reputation has been badly tarnished since those days. 

    Looking at Proverbs again, “In the fear (awe) of the LORD one has strong confidence, it is a fountain of life” [v.26,27]  When we direct our minds to the reality of God and establish a relationship with him, then our lives develop a wonderful positiveness.  We completed the reading of Galatians and some of Paul’s words make this point. But we see how he is most concerned about the influence of those who want the Galatians to obey the Mosaic Law and practice circumcision.   He writes, “You were running well.  Who hindered you from obeying the Truth?” [5 v.7]  We do not have their problems today but there are many others!  We each need to ask ourselves, ‘Is anything hindering me from being obedient to Christ?’  Note how Paul states that “the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘you shall love your neighbour as yourself’” [v.14]  

    Whether we achieve this depends on whether we produce ‘the fruit of the Spirit” which “is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” [v.22-24]

    Is anything hindering you from developing more and more of these fruits?  Let us all prove we “belong to Christ.”  

Thought for April 3rd. “ANGUISH OF CHILDBIRTH UNTIL …”

Today’s readings.. Numbers 17&18, Proverbs 13, Galations 3&4

Paul in writing to the Galatians asks, “Who has bewitched you”[3 v.1] because many had been persuaded to follow the observances of the law.  We commented on this yesterday and the seriousness of this is emphasized because today we are reading more about this problem.  But is the issue relevant to us today?  The celebration of Easter in two weeks time provokes our thoughts on this for we read of Paul’s complaint to them, “You observe days and months and seasons and years!  I am afraid I may have laboured over you in vain’ [4 v.10,11] 

What was wrong in observing days, etc?   Quite apart from the fact it was no longer commanded, it did not bring a sense of humility, instead it often created pride, ‘Look how holy I am because of what I do!”   “The Law”, with all its rules, Paul writes, “was our guardian until Christ came … but now faith has come we are no longer under a guardian … as many of you as were baptised into Christ, have put on Christ.” [3 v.24,27]

The Law had been fulfilled; all the sacrifices have come to their completion and fulfilment by the sacrifice of Christ. No more observing of feasts, Easter was never instituted by the followers of Christ.  There is only one way to commemorate the death of Christ, that is to break bread and drink wine.  The Church calls this the eucharist, but there is no specific day commanded in relation to doing this!  To begin with they did it every day! [Acts 2 v.42-46]  Paul wrote most urgently that this had to be done with the right attitude. (read 1 Corinthians 11 v.17 onwards)  

What mattered above all was the birth of the spirit of Christ in their hearts!  Note his impassioned plea – “my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ be formed in you” [4 v.19]   They had been born anew into Christ at their baptism, but had been “bewitched” by false teaching, now they needed a rebirth back to that which was true – and Paul was in anguish for that to happen – and that is the urgency of his letter!  Is there not the same urgency today?

Thought for April 2nd. ASTONISHMENT

Todays readings.. Numbers 16, Proverbs 12, Galations 1&2

In the opening chapter of his letter to the Galatians Paul writes of his astonishment “that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel.” [Ch.1 v.6].  He goes on to say that “if anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received let him be accursed” [v.9].  He says further, “the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel … I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ” [v.11,12].  Why were people trying to change it?   In the 2nd chapter he writes of “false brothers secretly brought in – who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery” [v.4].  He means slavery to keep the law with its priesthood system and rules like keeping the Sabbath, circumcision and tithing to be observed by every Gentile convert.  This would have corrupted the gospel and destroyed what Christ died to achieve.

Now we noted that Paul was astonished that this was happening so soon – and we are similarly astonished in our reading in Numbers today that Moses very soon has a fresh problem with the people.  This time it is not among the tribes; the bad report of the 10 spies had been dealt with.  This time it among the Levites, the priests.  

Korah, Dathan and Abiram challenge Moses saying, “Why do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?” [16 v3]  Moses responds, “Is it too small a thing for you that the God of Israel has separated you from the congregation of Israel, to bring you near to himself to do service in the tabernacle?”   [v.9]  

All too often the desire for pride of place is the root cause of problems, so, despite all the evidence of the divine presence, this folly is committed and they are destroyed because of it. It reminded us of the proverb we read yesterday, “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom.” [11 v.2]  Let us in humility make sure we believe and teach the same gospel as Paul.

Thought for April 1st. “BURNING WITHIN”

Today’s readings.. Numbers 15, Proverbs 11, Luke 24

Today we completed our reading of Luke’s Gospel and it is Luke who gives us the fascinating account of the two disciples who were walking to Emmaus.  They had heard news that some women had gone to the tomb early that morning and had found it empty and claimed they had seen a vision of angels who said Jesus was alive. As they talked and puzzled it is obvious they had no faith in this story.  Jesus drew near to them as a fellow traveller on the road, but “their eyes were kept from recognizing him … and they stood still, looking sad” [v.17]  Jesus asks what they are concerned about, so they presume he has only just arrived in Jerusalem, so they tell him about “Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet, mighty in deed and word” [v.19] and how they “had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel” but he had been killed by the leaders and now the report this morning about a “vision of angels.”  

Then the stranger starts talking, “O foolish ones and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken” and “he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” [v.25,27].  Later, after Jesus is revealed to them and then vanishes, they say, “did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures” [v.33].  Now there are times when we suddenly see what the scriptures mean, so that our hearts thrill with spiritual excitement.  This depends on our spiritual zeal as we read. Suddenly words come “alive” on the page! 
As an example, reflect on what happened to cause them to recognize Jesus?  What was happening at that moment?  We read, “He took bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them” [v.30] Visualize this, as his hands move to give them the broken bread they would have seen those hands. What hands, what had happened to them!  What a stunning shock to realize who he was!   Imagine if it had been you having that experience!   

And how long before we have the greatest experience any mortal being can have to witness the unimaginable drama of events as Christ returns.  Many. we suspect, will be like the men appointed to guard the tomb! When Jesus rose, they became “like dead men”!  

But for us, the experience of his return, our hearts, our very being, will be “burning” – imagine it!