Thursday 23 October 2014

"A SPIRIT OF GRACE AND PLEAS FOR MERCY" Bible Readings Thoughts for Oct. 23rd


             Zechariah’s remarkable prophecy (12 v.10) is quoted in today’s reading in John Ch. 19. John is completing his intimate account of the final hours of Jesus. The dying commission that was given to John by Jesus was to look after his mother.  John and Jesus’ mother stood near the cross.  John “the disciple whom he loved … took her to his own home” [v.26,27].  As to the others “they all left him and fled” [Mark 14 v.50], apart from Peter – and we know well the tragedy of his denial.
            Let’s consider the two Old Testament prophecies that John quotes as being fulfilled at this time.  The first is that “not one of his bones will be broken.”  This is an unexpected application of the Divine command to Moses that they were not to break the bones of the Passover lamb (Exodus 12 v.46, reaffirmed in Numbers 9 v.12).  Should we conclude that the purpose of the Passover had been fulfilled after the sacrifice of Jesus?  Maybe not, the religious Jews still celebrate the Passover today.  We believe the final awakening of its meaning for natural Israelites will happen and that could be very soon. 
            We note the other prophecy that John refers to in this chapter; “they will look on him whom they have pierced” [Zech.12 v.10]. This prediction of their looking “on him” surely applies to when Jesus returns. The complete prophecy is, “I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn …”  
            At Christ’s return, those who caused him to be pierced will need to be there. At the resurrection some of these will receive the “spirit of grace” as they make pleas for mercy”!    We serve a merciful God,  but tragically there will be anguish for some, for Jesus had warned, “when once the Master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock … you will begin to say, We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.  But he will say … Depart from me … there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out” [Luke 13 v.25-28].   
            Today God’s Word and its wondrous Gospel is there for the entire world to read!  Will some say, ‘We had a Bible in our home and we did read it sometimes’, as they seek that “spirit of grace” and make their “pleas for mercy” - for not only natural Jews will be involved on that day – but all who claim a relationship to him – and all he sees – as being accountable for judgement!  In John 12  we read, “The word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day” – especially those who “do not receive my words” [v.48]    Today it is the word that has been written!  What will Christ see – as to your real reaction to that word? Are we whole-heartedly receiving it – as we see many did - in the book of Acts?  As the hymn puts it – ‘We make the answer now’

Wednesday 22 October 2014

"THE EYES OF THE LORD" Todays Bible Readings Thoughts - Oct, 22nd


            Today in 2nd Chronicles we read the climax of the life of king Asa – and it has vital lessons for us.  He had been a good king – for 35 years – but then he began to trust in his own ways of thinking – and not seek the LORD’s guidance when enemies came against him.  The northern kingdom of Israel provokes a war against him [16 v.1] and he contacts the king of Syria for help instead of the LORD. Hanani the seer is sent by the LORD to rebuke him saying,  "Because you relied on the king of Syria, and did not rely on the LORD your God, the army of the king of Syria has escaped you.   Were not the Ethiopians and the Libyans a huge army with very many chariots and horsemen? Yet because you relied on the LORD, he gave them into your hand." [16 v. 7,8]
            The next verse is one we should memorise and reflect on day by day, it should be a foundation principle in our awareness of God." the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him." 
 There was one fully  blameless heart - resulting in a blameless life, that of our Lord. His intensely personal prayer we read today in John 17 includes the significant point (for us) that he is "not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours." [v.9].  Later he prays  " "I do not ask for these only (the disciples), but also for those who will believe in me through their word ..." [v.20]
            We believe because we have accepted the word the disciples spread and recorded.   The time is coming when the disciples - and all who have believed through their word" (the Lord says in this special prayer as his arrest is immanent)  that they “may be with me where I am to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world." [v.24]   
            That verse takes us forward to the Kingdom era - it also challenges us to appreciate that timelessness is with God "declaring the end from the beginning" [Isa. 46 v.10  cf. Rev. 21 v.6] This further illustrates the truth that "the eyes of the LORD" constantly scan "throughout the whole earth"  We are reminded of Paul's words to the Athenians, that the one real God "is actually not far from each one of us, for 'In him we live and move and have our being' " [Acts 17 v.27,28]
            May we embrace this 'vision' of the awesome reality of the unseen, and be able to sense "the eyes of the Lord" watching over us and rely on him and his Son to the end of our days - or until his Son, our Saviour appears - and that maybe very soon.

"DO YOU NOW BELIEVE?" Bible readings Thoughts for Oct. 21st


            We follow on from yesterday’s thoughts and the final climax of the conversation Jesus had with his disciples in the hours before his arrest – and his encouragement to them to “believe in God.” Today we have 2 of the most challenging chapters (15 & 16) in John’s Gospel. Jesus teaches them, in increasingly straight forward language, but even then, they only grasp part of what he is saying; even when they say, "Ah, now you are speaking plainly and not using figurative speech!  Now we know that you know all things and do not need anyone to question you; this is why we believe that you came from God." [ch.16 v.29,30]
            They are feeling positive now - after being perplexed by his words "saying, 'What does he mean by 'a little while'? We do not know what he is talking about." [v.18]  He tells them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy." [v.20]
            Can we see some parallels with our world today?  Many in our world seek a 'froth and bubble' kind of joy, passing pleasures that need constant 'chasing.'  It should be of real concern to us if we feel attracted to this to any degree at all - for we are in danger of going out into the night as Judas did.
            However, in response to their claim to “believe” – Jesus asks, “Do you now believe?”  The disciples then, in a physical sense went out into the night, but Jesus was with them – but he tells them, "also  you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.' [v.22]
            The "night" is coming on our world - and it maybe soon - even very soon - how essential that we possess and develop to the full that 'inner joy' that, as Paul told the Corinthians, we are able to "let light shine out of darkness," and, as a result, it "has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." [2nd. Ch 4 v.6]   This is not normal “knowledge” at all!
So our thoughts today is for each of us to most seriously ask ourselves, "Do I now believe?" Do I have a genuine conviction of mind that is ‘alive’ in my thinking?   Our minds go back to the words of Jesus just before he told his disciples, 'Lazarus is dead" – when he said, "if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him." [11 v.10]  We only really believe, in the sense Jesus is talking about, when the light is in us.  In these last days, we are going to need that "light" more than ever.

"BELIEVE IN GOD" Thoughts from Today's Bible Readings - Oct 20th


            In what circumstances did Jesus say, “Believe in God”?  What is it to believe in something?   When we or someone says. “I believe” there can obviously be varying intensities of meaning depending on the circumstances!  If someone rushes in and says, “I believe the house is on fire” everyone who hears immediately acts to verify its truth and to then take whatever action they can without delay.
            In our John readings we have the final message of Jesus before his arrest, a personal message to strengthen the disciples spiritually after Judas the betrayer has left.  Ch. 14 starts, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.”  They will need the deepest convictions of belief in their minds when, in a very short space of time he is arrested and they are overwhelmed with anxieties, only one of them was faithful to Jesus up until the end. When we come to ch. 19 where the frightful crucifixion scene is described our eyes light on v. 25-27, “… standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas and Mary Magdalene.  When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby … he said to the disciple, ‘Behold your mother!’ And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.”  
            In times of total stress acts of supporting one another will be essential.  Are not such times now more plainly on the horizon of our  world than ever!  The way we cope will show – to ourselves whether we really “believe in God.”  The hearts of the disciples were “troubled” – but after the resurrection they acted with heart-felt belief.  What dramas do we read about in Acts!  These excite and challenge us!  Ch. 4 tells us how the disciples were arrested for “proclaiming Jesus and the resurrection of the dead …  but many of those who heard the word believed …”  [v.2 - 4]  With what conviction the disciples believed now – and showed that conviction of belief by their actions.  
            Recall that after Jesus told the disciples to “believe in God” – he then said “Let not your hearts be troubled”  Surely he is saying that to believers now.  Notice how he says this again later in the chapter – it is so important.  Verse 27 – memorise it. “Peace I leave with you: my peace I give to you.  Not as the world gives do I give to you.  Let not your heart be troubled, neither let them be afraid”  Heartfelt prayer and meditation on God’s word provide the foundation for possessing his “peace.”

"I DID NOT COME TO JUDGE" Bible Reading Thoughts for Oct. 19th

“I DID NOT COME TO JUDGE”                                                                                                  

John’s Gospel begins [1 v.4-9] by saying Jesus is “the true light which enlightens everyone” and John the Baptist was “bearing witness to that light”   It is not too difficult to understand that. 
Now, in today’s reading [Ch.12] as our Lord’s ministry is reaching its climax, he speaks some more about light and darkness; “I have come into the world as light” he says, “so that whoever believes in me may not walk in darkness” [v.46].  The light had been shining with increasing brilliance through his words and works, climaxing in yesterday’s account of the resurrection of Lazarus.
Yet, such is the tragedy of blindness of this nature and the extremes this can provoke in their actions, we now read of some who are even more determined to get rid of Jesus. He is a threat to their prestige and authority. [11 v.47-48] In today’s chapter those with this spirit of mind even “made plans to put Lazarus to death as well, because on account of him many of the Jews were believing …” [v.11]  Their blindness, despite the brilliance of the “light” had become extreme.
There is no half way position in God’s eyes, either you believe or you don’t!  Those who genuinely believe live and act in ways which make this obvious. God expects this.  Some of those choosing darkness certainly did something to show this – and persuaded others to support them and to cry, “Crucify him.”
What did Jesus mean when he said,, “I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world” [v.47] Because Jesus did not come as a condemning judge,  those persuaded to support those in darkness and cry ‘Crucify him’ -  were later able to repent [Acts 2 v.37-38], it is the outstanding example of Divine grace!  
Notice the very significant words with which this chapter finishes; “the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day”   The basis of the judgement “on the last day”  will be the reaction each has made to “the word that I have spoken” and “which enlightens everyone.”   We ignore “the word” to our own destruction, as those who stay “blind” will discover to their utter dismay “on the last day.” 

"666 TALENTS OF GOLD" Bible Readings Thoughts for Oct 18th


            We read 3 remarkable chapters today, all had different but meaningful lessons.  Ezekiel has a vision of the future Temple in action and the holiness of those who enter and minister there.  John records the heart-warming but challenging account of the raising of Lazarus after being dead for 4 days – and such is the stubbornness and blindness of human nature that the news of this makes the religious leaders even more determined to put him to death. And in 2nd Chronicles (ch.9) we read of the visit of the Queen of Sheba to see the glory surrounding Solomon and to hear his wisdom.
            The Queen brings him many presents. She sees him surrounded by golden objects and gives him even more! The record says that “the weight of gold that came to Solomon in one year was 666 talents of gold”   [v.13. It has always intrigued us that this is the only place the number 666 occurs apart from in Revelation where it is “the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666.” [13 v18] and “that no one can buy or sell unless he has … the number of his name.” [v.17]
            This has caused many speculative interpretations over the years but the simple fact from the divine perspective is, as Jesus bluntly put it, "No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money." [Matt 6:24]  There are just two options in life, there is no middle path, money gives power; the Pharisees were "lovers of money" [Luke 16 v.14] The great majority in our world love money and the 'blessings' (?) in can bring to their lives.  Solomon was, in the end [1 Kings 11], destroyed by the blessings it brought after beginning so well.
            Jesus taught the principle "Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more." [Luke 12 v.48] Whether we have been given or acquired much or little, let us make sure we effectively serve our Lord with the talents we have.

"...AND FIND PASTURE" Bible Readings Thoughts for Oct. 17th


            Today John carefully details for us the teaching of Jesus about the shepherd and the sheep.  How rewarding it is to meditate on his words.  Jesus is both “the good shepherd” and “the door” by which the sheep enter.  He says, “I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and go in and out and find pasture.” [10 v.9]  His teaching is simple, yet profound at the same time; “I know my own and my own know me.” [v.14]
How does this happen?  Do our minds properly grasp what he next says?   “Just as the Father knows me and I know the Father …” For us to know in this sense is to be aware of the need to develop a relationship that leads to an increasingly intimate understanding of divine thoughts and ways.
            Jesus says the sheep “follow him, because they know his voice.” [v.4]  John and others were inspired [see ch 14 v.25,26] to remember and write down what they heard and their writings have been preserved for us, it is the place where we can “find pasture” today in a world that surrounds us with virulent harmful weeds that corrupt our minds if we give these weeds opportunity to take root and grow.  We must make sure we “find pasture” every day that will nourish our thinking and build up our spiritual wisdom.
            In finding pasture let us also find “rest.”  We live in days like Jeremiah who lamented, “I am weary … and I find no rest” and the LORD says, “I am bringing disaster upon all flesh …. But I will give you your life …” [45 v. 3,5]  We may feel like Jeremiah, if not now, then soon – so we need to treasure in our minds the words of our Lord, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” [Matt 11 v.29] Let us make sure we do that today – and every day – “and find pasture” of the very best kind.  

Thursday 16 October 2014

"THE TRUTH WILL SET YOU FREE" Bible Reading Thoughts for Oct. 16th

"THE TRUTH WILL SET YOU FREE"                                                                                                                  

            Today’s long chapter (8) in John’s Gospel is most challenging.  Jesus said, “Whoever is of God knows the words of God, the reason you do not hear them is that you are not of God” [v.47].  But of course they were hearing what he said, the point was that they could not make sense of his words. They could not “hear” what he meant because their minds were so fixed in their own way of thinking.  The same problem exists today!
            There were some listening who wanted to believe and understand what Jesus     was talking about and to them he says, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free” [v.32]  This confuses them!  Free from what?  As descendants of Abraham, they say, we are not “enslaved to anyone, how is it that you say, ‘you will become free?’ ” [v.33]
            Jesus then makes the point, “everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin … if the Son sets you free. You will be free indeed.” [v.36]   Most of his listeners fail to get the point – and in the end the essential point is whether they are “of God” – or not. If they are “of God” they will listen and seek to understand the words of God.  It maybe that some or many of his listeners would later hear Peter’s message on the day of Pentecost being among those who “were cut to the heart” [Acts 2 v.37] and were ready to receive the truth and be made free.
            Their freedom was accomplished the day they accepted “the truth” – and ‘saw’ his meaning and were baptised!  They had heard Peter quote from the Psalms, “You have made known to me the paths of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence” [v.28]  What will it be like to be in the divine presence? We sought to “see” this yesterday!  Remember Solomon’s attempts at a vision of the eternal and eternity!
There are the two paths – of life – or of death.  All begin by walking on the path of death, but all have the opportunity to be set free from that path by seeing “the truth” that is revealed in God’s word, first through the men of God, the prophets of old – and later by Jesus and the apostles.  And today? Well, all can read God’s word and search out what Jesus really meant and then decide whether to walk on the path of life with the wonder of eternal life in the kingdom awaiting them. .

"THE HIGHEST HEAVEN CANNOT CONTAIN YOU" Bible Reading Thoughts for Oct. 15th


            Solomon's prayer in dedicating the completed Temple is detailed in today's 6th chapter of 2nd Chronicles.  What particularly caught our attention was that Solomon, after he "spread out his hands toward heaven”, and said, “O LORD, God of Israel ... keeping covenant and showing steadfast love to your servants who walk before you with all their heart" [v.13,14] and the  need for "sons to pay close attention to their way" [v.16] that Solomon then attempted a wider vision and asks, "But will God indeed dwell with man on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, how much less this house that I have built!"[v.18]
            Can we in any way share Solomon's perception of the immeasurable greatness of God? - Our perception of the Creator grows as a result of man's increasing discoveries and awareness of both the endlessness of space - and the infinite smallness of things that can now be 'seen' with instruments that have been invented.  There are now no limits it seems to the way "knowledge shall increase" at "the time of the end" as Daniel was told and we will shortly read in the 4th verse of his 12th chapter..
            The Temple that Jesus went into "and began teaching", that we read about today in John ch. 6 was the one built by Herod, centuries after Solomon's was destroyed by the Babylonians. The "disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple" [Matt 24 v.1,2] but Jesus shocked them by saying it would all be "thrown down." For about 1945 years there has been no Temple in Jerusalem - the area sits vacant - apart from the Moslem 'Dome of the Rock' - above what the Jews significantly call 'the wailing wall'.
            In Ezekiel (ch. 40-48) we are reading the detail of the vision he was given of a future and ultimate city-temple.  The vision ends with the statement, "And the name of the city from that time on shall be, the LORD is there."
 When "the highest heaven cannot contain" the Creator of all there is, can a city in the ultimate future do so?  Next month the book of Revelation will challenge our thinking and our ability to "imagine' an ultimate time when "the dwelling place of God is with man." [21 v.3]
            Finally, let us consider what should “dwell” here and now!  Paul told the Ephesians to “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” [3 v.16] and told the Colossians to let “Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith” [3 v,16] May that be happening with all who read these words.

"THIS IS THE WORK OF GOD" Bible Readings Thoughts for Oct. 14th


            How fascinating – in the sense of being utterly meaningful to the spiritual mind is the teaching of Jesus that John records in today’s 6th chapter of his gospel.  Jesus made a tremendous impact in feeding the multitude in the wilderness and this caused more and more to seek him.  We can imagine the way stories would spread. They finally found him on the other side of the lake; we can envisage how quickly a crowd gathered and what they were hoping to experience.
            Jesus says to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves... " [v.26]   He then makes a vital point, "Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life ..."  Is it clear to us what he means?  Of this food he says, "which the Son of Man will give to you." What "food" is this?
            They are not really listening, as we would say today, their minds are on the wrong wavelength: they ask, "What must we do, to be doing the works of God?"[v.28]  They want to be able to do such miracles, and multiplying food themselves was probably on top of their agenda!   We see a modern equivalent with claims of healings, etc.; we have attended such - and found them most unconvincing, as do all those who have really soaked their minds in God's word.
            The next thing Jesus says is very significant.  He talks about "the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you." But his words are not what they want to hear: do we only listen to or read what we want to know about?  Jesus then tells them, ""This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent." [v.28] Ponder those words.  We must ask ourselves a simple, yet vital question.  What is it to believe in something, someone?
Jesus obviously.   means total belief - no reservations.  
            We show whether we really believe something by what we then do - what our minds then focus upon.  We are convinced that God then responds to such a committed focus of mind and a wondrous pathway of life opens up before such - those who really believe.   We use the word "focus" - when we were young cameras did not have an 'automatic' focus - you had to very carefully adjust the lens to get a perfect picture.  It is the same with the 'focus' of our minds what they properly "look" at!         
Finally but most challenging of all, we  read and meditated deeply on v.40 "For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day."  Let us all do "the work of God" with all our hearts.

"... HAS ETERNAL LIFE" Bible Reading Thoughts for Oct. 13th


            Our readings are now moving into the heart of the Gospel of John and we ponder deeply the profound sayings of our Lord that John was caused to remember and write down. Jesus speaks in the ‘present tense’ because, in a sense, there is no passage of time with him and his Father.  We saw this in the first chapter, Jesus “the word” that “was in the beginning with God” [1 v.2] That “word (of promise) became flesh” and now we ponder deeply on the words which John brought to his remembrance [see ch. 16 v.4] and wrote down – for us!  How much do we value them?
            The more we read and then meditate and carefully fit the pieces together, as with a very large jigsaw, the clearer the meaning of the more profound parts become in our minds.  God has created words for the world which are a lifelong study for those who truly seek him.  Jesus tells them, ”For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will.” [5 v.21]  What and when is this “life” the Son gives?   Verse 24 challenges our understanding, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life”    We may at first be inclined to think he means the time of the resurrection, but the next verse tells us, “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live”
            Paul’s words, telling the Ephesians “you were dead in trespasses and sins” [2 v.1], aid us in slotting this piece of the jigsaw into place.  It is the spiritually dead who hear and who live – so everyone has the need to hear – and then respond!  Jesus taught this lesson to Nicodemus, we saw this in John 3 v.3-12.  A spiritual rebirth is essential, not just being “born of water” [v.5], Jesus told him.
 Today’s chapter reveals how God sees the overall picture: following genuine rebirth, names are entered in “the book of life” and as long as they remain there, then he or she “has eternal life” from God’s way of seeing the situation.  But names can be blotted out of “the book of life”(see Rev 3 v.5], as happened to Judas Iscariot.
            We read on in today’s chapter (v.25-29) and see the wondrous picture of the resurrection!, How close are we now to that time when,  “all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life …”  May we all “hear his voice” – but we need to “hear” it now and, in our lives today, show that we have heard it.

Sunday 12 October 2014

"DIRECT THEIR HEARTS TOWARD ..." Bible Reading Thoughts for Oct. 12th

“DIRECT THEIR HEARTS TOWARD …”                                                                                      
            We tend to give only passing attention to our Chronicles reading because our other readings in Ezekiel 38 and John 4 provoke so much thought.  But in Chronicles we have the climax at the end of David’s life.  Consider the scene: he had made great provision for building the Temple, others had followed his example and “the people rejoiced because they had given willingly, for with a whole heart they had offered freely to the Lord” [1 Chron.29 v.9].
            Now consider carefully how David offers the final public prayer of his life. “Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and the earth is yours.  Yours is the kingdom, O LORD, and you are exalted as head above all.  And now we thank you, our God, and praise your glorious name.” [v.11-13]
            We should take special note of the sudden change of thought in the prayer!  David’s mind, his vision of life and all that life really is, causes him to say, “But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able thus to offer willingly?  For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you.  For we are strangers before you and sojourners as all our fathers were.  Our days on the earth are like a shadow, and there is no abiding.” [v.14,15] Put his thoughts alongside his 17th Psalm, especially noting his last verse.
            David was totally honest and faced the true reality of the human position.  Next he becomes very personal about his relationship with God. “I know, my God, that you test the heart and have pleasure in uprightness.  In the uprightness of my heart I have freely offered all these things, and now I have seen your people, who are present here, offering freely and joyously to you … direct their hearts toward you.” [v.17,18] 
May we, in our prayers, plead with our Lord to direct the hearts of our brethren and sisters more and more toward him.  As the storm clouds of God’s anger with our ever more evil world increase – may our prayers grow even more urgent – bearing in mind the last 2 verses of the momentous 38th chapter we read today in Ezekiel.: “With pestilence and bloodshed I will enter into judgement … So I will show my greatness and my holiness and make myself known in the eyes of many nations.  Then they will know that I am the LORD.”  

"UNLESS ONE IS BORN OF ... Thoughts from the Bible readings for today Oct 11th

"UNLESS ONE IS BORN OF …"                                                                           

            Nicodemus was the Jewish teacher, not an ordinary teacher and he came to Jesus by night for a private audience. The conversation that took place, we read in today’s ch, 3 in John’s gospel, challenges our thinking and understanding.  Jesus said, “…unless one is born of water and the spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”  We need to understand this within the context of the unfolding words of Jesus.  Many Christians like to say they are “born again,”  but what did Jesus mean?
            Nicodemus admitted. “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him” [John 3 v.2]  His words lead Jesus to respond, “unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” [v.3].  This rebirth, we believe, involves the action of God in responding to what he sees in the heart of the one seeking to be re-born.   We recall God’s words through Isaiah, “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him (or her) who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.” [57 v.15]  See also ch. 66 v.2
            Thus there is a ‘rebirth’ in the heart of one who is genuinely “born again” because of divine action from above. A relationship is established, that is ongoing from the time the person themselves in ‘born of water.’  Jesus makes the comment, “Whoever receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true” [3 v.33.] This reaction to Jesus’ teaching is the evidence that one is also born of the spirit and has a real personal relationship with God..  The opposite to this is, “He who is of the earth, belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way” [v.31].  There is no middle path! 
We must ask ourselves – in what way do we speak? Is God’s word daily ‘feeding’ our minds?  This is the ‘food’ that alone can create evidence that we have been truly born of both water and of the spirit.  Those who have not taken and digested this ‘food’ - “cannot see the kingdom of God?” [v3]  Surely the kingdom is now near – what a final heart-wrenching experience it will be for those who fail to “see” it.  May that not happen to you or me.

Friday 10 October 2014

"THE WORD BECAME FLESH" Biblre Readings Thoughts for Oct. 10th


            Today we began reading the Gospel of John, the most remarkable and thought challenging of the four gospels.  John portrays in far more detail the picture of the person of our Lord and His Father’s purpose in him.  On the day of Pentecost, Peter told the crowd that Jesus was “delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God”  [Acts 2 v.23]
John begins his gospel by telling us of this foreknowledge.  Before our Lord was born, he was "the word". How are we to understand "In the beginning was the Word"?  The LORD caused Isaiah to write [55 v.10,12], "as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,  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, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it."  So the word “word” is personified – God planning to provide spiritual food through His Son – a parallel to causing natural food to grow.
            We understand Jesus as "the word" that was in the mind of God from the beginning.  God spoke - and events followed.  When Jesus was born, as we read today, "the Word became flesh."   The Greek word for 'word' is logos, it has the foundation meaning of a 'spoken word' and is sometimes translated as "sayings" in the Gospels, especially in the A. V. [see Matt. 7 v.24,26,28] Take special note when you come to it in John 4 v.37,39. Recall how in Genesis 1 we read, “And God said” again and again.
            The translators confuse us by using the pronoun 'he' for 'the word' in John's opening verses. It is most helpful to read from v. 2 that "The word was in the beginning ... All things were made through a word ... in the word was life and the life was the light of men ..."  In ch. 3 we will read, “the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God."[ v.19-21]
            Jesus often uses phraseology that has a symbolic meaning, as is obvious in the foregoing.  What is also obvious today – is that people love darkness more than ever – and God’s Bible has become a forgotten book. We must do the opposite and love God’s word more than ever; may his word become flesh in us more and more - so our Lord will recognise us when he returns – and how soon will that be?.  

Thursday 9 October 2014

"THE PEACE OF GOD" Thoughts from Today's Bible Readings - Oct. 9th


            “The peace of God” is of a totally different character to human concepts of peace.  Paul tells the Philippians, “do not be anxious about anything.”  Feeling anxious gets in the way of the kind of “peace” God alone can give.  Instead, Paul tells us to “rejoice in the Lord always ... 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.   [4 v.4-7]
 Let us be particularly conscious of the need for “thanksgiving” for all our blessings.  Moses’ challenge to the nation of Israel was to remember the blessings of the LORD and how he had “led” them through the wilderness. [Deut. 8 v.2] We are travelling through the wilderness of this world.  Does it seem like a wilderness?  It does if we are really spiritually minded.
            Paul’s wonderful words should be absorbed into our minds - and then we will have the essential strength to do, as Paul told the Philippians, to "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." [2 v,12]  But how can that give us the kind of peace Paul is writing about?  We take special note of his next words, "for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure." [v.13]  We gain an ever greater sense of "peace" the more we sense "we are God's fellow workers" and have become part of "God's building," [1 Cor. 3 v.9]
            The wonderful experience then will be, as Paul told the Ephesians and we read 3 days ago, we will have " the whole armour of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm." [6 v.13]
            Returning to our chapter in Philippians, let us read and memorise verses 8,9, "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.  What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you."

Wednesday 8 October 2014

"... THEY MAY DWELL SECURELY" Bible Readings Thoughts for today - Oct. 8th


            Today we read how “the word of the LORD came to me” (Ezekiel – ch. 34 ) with prophecies for him about the near and far destiny of his nation – Israel.  First, it is a condemnation of the leaders, the “shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves” [v.2].  How often, in these days too, does that continue to happen with those who claim to be in the service of God – and of Christ!   
            God tells Ezekiel, “My sheep were scattered over the face of the earth …” [v.6]  God sees all time as one – and “declares the end from the beginning” [Isa. 46 v.10; Rev. 21 v.6]  And so the scattering of God’s flock over all the earth has happened, but then, “says the Lord GOD (to Ezekiel) " will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness.   And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land..." [v.12,13]
            We have seen this miraculous regathering since the Holy Land was delivered from the control of the Turks in 1917. From v.25 we read God's declaration, "I will make with them a covenant ... so that they may dwell securely ... And I will make them and the places around my hill (Mt Zion?) a blessing ... and they shall be secure in their land."  This is in the process of happening.  The next statement is, "And they shall know that I am the LORD."  Does this need the return of the Lord, and their recognition of him?  That seems almost certain.
            In the New Testament the 1st chapter of Paul's letter to the Philippians has words that are wonderfully appropriate for us today "It is my prayer" he writes,  "that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment,  so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ,  filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God."[v.9-11]  May that be our prayer for all our fellow believers as we wait together "for the day of Christ" and watch the unfolding events in and around the Holy Land, seeing more and more clearly their significance in the light of what God revealed to prophets such as Ezekiel. 

"COME AND HEAR WHAT THE WORD IS..." Bible Readings Thoughts for Oct. 7th


            We have a conscience challenging chapter (33) in Ezekiel today.  We learn that the prophet has been in captivity among the other Jews for 12 years and 10 months when the hopes of those there are finally extinguished, by news coming from “a fugitive from Jerusalem (who) came “and said, ‘The city has been struck down.’” [v.21] 
           The LORD then makes Ezekiel aware of the reaction of the people to the messages he has been giving them, “…  your people who talk together about you by the walls and at the doors of the houses, say to one another, each to his brother, 'Come, and hear what the word is that comes from the LORD.'   And they come to you as people come, and they sit before you as my people, and they hear what you say but they will not do it; for with lustful talk in their mouths they act; their heart is set on their gain.    And behold, you are to them like one who sings lustful songs with a beautiful voice and plays well on an instrument, for they hear what you say, but they will not do it.”[v.30-32]
Clearly the LORD knew all their hearts, as he does now – and we can see strong comparisons – and warnings for ourselves.  Are our “hearts set” more on this world and the “gain” we can get?  It does not necessarily mean money!  But we must each ask ourselves – examine our hearts – what are the things that fill our time – what things mainly occupy our minds.  How much do we have in mind the words of our Lord, “do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.  But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." [Matt 6 v.31-33]  What wondrous things will then be added in the kingdom!
Is there any point in witnessing today?  Ezekiel may have thought that!  After being told by the Lord, “I will make … her proud might … come to an end” the Lord then makes a significant point to him, “Then they will know that a prophet has been among them.” [v.28,33]  What will they “know” of you and I? A significant point for us to bear in mind are the powerful words of Paul we read today as he brought his letter to the Ephesians to a climax, “… take up the whole armour of God that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm … praying at all times”  [6 v.13] Let us read and hear what God’s word reveals - with our hearts absorbing its message so that we gain essential strength and so “stand firm” in these final godless days. 

"BUT GOD WAS DISPLEASED" Belated Thoughts from yesterday - Oct 5th

BUT GOD WAS DISPLEASED”                                                                                                               

       Our Chronicles reading today highlights David’s folly in getting Joab, the commander of the army, to total the number of men in Israel’s armies.  “But God”, we read, “was displeased with this thing and he struck Israel” [1 Chron.21:7]   Why was God displeased?  What motivated David to number the strength of his army?  The text does not specifically say, but does the strength of an army, from God’s point of view, depend on its size? 
         Had David forgotten the lessons of the past, such as how God restricted Gideon to only 300 fighting men to defeat the Midianites.  The close friend of his youth, Saul’s son Jonathan had, with his armour bearer set out to fight a large band of Philistines, saying, “It maybe the LORD will work for us, for nothing can hinder the LORD from saving by many or by few.” [1 Samuel 14:6]
       David’s conscience later smote him as he realized he had done wrong.  After all his faith strengthening experiences his vision of the ways of God momentarily lapsed. He was getting older and it is a lesson for us, whatever our age, not to let slip our vision of Godly ways as we plot the way ahead in our lives. We must never forget that – we do not walk alone – if we have committed our lives to God through baptism into Christ.
         The other lesson is that we are not fighting with literal swords!  When we are committed to the service of Christ, we have spiritual battles to fight.   Let us never think that the “enemy” – whatever form that enemy may take, is too strong for us, for we do not fight alone.  
           Another point we to note [2 Sam.24:1] is  that God was angry with Israel, so he used the occasion of David’s pride getting the better of him, to teach David a lesson as well as to bring judgement on Israel who may well have become too humanly elated and proud because of their battle successes in conquering their enemies.
         As we read God’s word we will, again and again, see situations where God uses human mistakes and follies.  He weaves these situations into his overall plan and purpose.  We will see that more clearly if we try to step back and see “the big picture.”

"SPEAKING THE TRUTH IN LOVE" Bible Readings Thoughts for Oct. 9th


             How wonderful to know what is true – the Truth that the Bible alone reveals. Yet how often do we see examples in history of such knowledge causing people to be “puffed up” and pleased with themselves – an attitude which undermines their privilege in understanding the real truth in a world full of burgeoning human knowledge and self-centredness.  Paul counselled Timothy (whom he left in Ephesus) to be on his guard against believers who were “puffed up with conceit.” [1 Tim 3 v.6 and 6 v.4]
            All believers have to be on their guard against this danger, created by the nature of the human mind, “until” writes Paul, as we read today, “we … attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ," [Eph.4 v.13]   “Fullness” is not a word we use these days.   Paul used it in ch. 3 when he challenged the Ephesians (and us!) “to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” [v.19]
When this “fullness” is achieved, says Paul, in ch. 4, we will "no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning ... Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love."[v.14,15]
            Then, and only then, are we able to "grow up in every way ... into Christ."             Let us each make sure that our part is "working properly."   The foundation for doing that is to be "speaking the truth in love." May we all have that “foundation” in place – and daily make at least a little progress in growing – realizing that our meditative daily readings are an essential ingredient in doing that.

"... ONLY FAITH WORKING THROUGH LOVE" Bible Reading Thoughts for Oct. 4th


            The word “faith” is special to the New Testament.  Where it occurs in the Old Testament, it is most often about breaches of trust. The contrast between the Old and the New, is the need, under the Mosaic Law to observe the rules of the Law in the right spirit, and this they largely failed to do except when they had a righteous king, especially under David and Solomon.
            In the time of Jesus, the Pharisees had turned the precepts of the Law into rituals to be observed.  When Paul, after his conversion went out preaching he started his message in the local synagogue when there was one  which there usually was. Most of the converted Jews, although accepting Christ as the Messiah  were putting a lot of emphasis on still keeping the Law and observing circumcision.  In counteracting this, as we read today in Galatians Paul challenges them, “You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.   For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness" [5 v.4,5].   
            The Law keepers, and they included the observance of circumcision, knew nothing about “grace” – they ‘earned’ salvation through their observances.  The next verse (6] is, in a sense, Paul’s ‘punch line.’  - “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.”   This reminds us of the words in Isaiah, “If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all.'" [Isa 7 v.9]  That is, about anything in life, you will be driven here and there by the winds of opinion, which is what is happening in our world today – and there is a kind of parallel in a lot of Christianity.
            Christ’s followers are ‘free’ from the need to observe the ritual of the Law.  Paul tells them, “for you were called to freedom brothers” and then makes a vital point, “do not use that freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” [v.13] Let us all do that today. Our Lord set the example in doing that, may our lives constantly demonstrate our “faith working through love.”

Friday 3 October 2014

"WHO AM I LORD?" Thoughts from Today's Bible readings - Oct 3rd


            We have 3 thought challenging readings today. Our thoughts primarily dwelt on David’s reaction to being told of a special son and that “the throne of his kingdom … I will establish forever.  I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son  … his throne shall be established forever” [1 Chron.  17 v.12-14  ]  David is overwhelmed by God’s reaction to his desire to build a Temple, especially his reference to a “son” for God! 
            The message Nathan the prophet conveyed to him – that God would “build a house” for David – meaning a royal line of descent – like those on the throne of England are of ‘the house of Windsor’-  and this house  “shall be established forever” - completely humbles David.   How many times Jesus is called, by those seeing his miracles, “Son of David” [Matt. 21 v.9,15; 22 v.42, &c] This in particular upset the religious leaders.
            It is the reaction of David that particularly attracts, nay, more than that, demands our attention!   “King David went in and sat before the LORD and said, "Who am I, O LORD God, and what is my house, that you have brought me thus far?   And this was a small thing in your eyes, O God. You have also spoken of your servant's house for a great while to come, and have shown me future generations, O LORD God!   And what more can David say to you for honouring your servant? For you know your servant." [v.16-18]    
            We specially notice that final observation, “for you know your servant”  That is a special sense of “know” – of having an intimate relationship – and this is wonderfully illustrated in some of David’s Psalms, Psalm 139 being a heart-moving example. We parallel this with the primary point Paul is striving to make in writing to the Galatians.  He tells them, “in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith” [3 v.26] and “heirs according to the promise” [v.29]
            Is our reaction to “the promise” in any way like Davids’ ? Do we “sit” or even kneel or lay down “before the Lord”?  If our faith is genuine there surely can be at least one or two special occasions when we will. Paul tells them, they “have come to know God, or rather to be known by God …” [4 v.9] What sense of wonder and resultant commitment this should cause us! Does it?  Is it in any way parallel to David’s reaction, “Who am I LORD?”  

"WHEN I GATHER ... ISRAEL" Bible Reading Thoughts for Oct. 2nd


            The finally two verses of our reading of ch. 28 in Ezekiel today fit the scene in and around Israel fairly accurately so that we are inclined to dogmatically apply it to the circumstances we have witnessed in the Middle East in recent years.  Yet such is the nature of many parts of the prophecies that appear to relate to the latter days, some specifically stating they do, that we hesitate to be too dogmatic here.
            We read,   "And for the house of Israel there shall be no more a brier to prick or a thorn to hurt them among all their neighbours who have treated them with contempt. Then they will know that I am the Lord GOD.   Thus says the Lord GOD: When I gather the house of Israel from the peoples among whom they are scattered, and manifest my holiness in them in the sight of the nations, then they shall dwell in their own land that I gave to my servant Jacob.   And they shall dwell securely in it, and they shall build houses and plant vineyards. They shall dwell securely, when I execute judgments upon all their neighbours who have treated them with contempt.” 
And then the chapter ends with,  “ Then they will know that I am the LORD their God." How close are we to that happening?  It surely needs the return of Christ!   How soon?  “No one knows the hour or the day” [Mark 13 v.32] Jesus did not even know – at least – did not know during his first coming.
Looking back at that v. 25, we see today how all the neighbouring countries, for nearly 70 years, have tried to treat regathered Israel with contempt – and have failed. In a sense judgments have been executed upon their neighbours, all, except Jordan have experienced civil wars, and to some extent, still do, within their borders. Even Jordan is perplexed by the avalanche of refugees from Syria and the endless existence of Palestinian Camps.
The song/prayer of Psalm 83 seems so appropriate.  May the day soon come when God acts to “fill their faces with shame, that they may seek your name O LORD … that they may know that you alone, whose name is the LORD, are the Most High over all the earth” [v.16,18]  
 But what of ourselves, we are not just spectators of the behaviour of today’s godless nations!  May we all make v.20 of our reading today in Galatians ch. 2 the focus of thought for the rest of our lives, for truly, we can say with Paul, if we are committed to Christ, “It is no longer I who live …”

"WHY DO DOUBTS ARISE ..." Thoughts from Today's Bible readings - Oct 1st


            Today we completed reading the Gospel of Luke and what a remarkable, heart stirring reading we experienced in the last chapter.  Luke proved, in the compilation of his book, what a thorough historian he was. 
            The women were the most dedicated of the followers of Jesus and they were the first to become aware of his resurrection.  The account of the two who travelled to Emmaus with an unrecognised Jesus joining them – is heart stirring – as is their later reminiscence - “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked with us on the road, while he opened to us the scriptures?”  [v.32] This should cause us to search those scriptures, especially the Psalms and Isaiah – these are now proved beyond all doubt to have existed before Christ with the discovery of the hundreds of ancient scrolls in caves by the Dead Sea.
What a rapid return to Jerusalem those two must have made in the gathering gloom, in the darkness of the evening; but being Passover time with a full moon, they may well have had the blessing of ample moonlight. How they would have discussed the conversation, when they were largely listeners, during their journey to Emmaus! Thinking of moonlight – in another week, at the time of the ‘Feast of Tabernacles’ we will have another ‘full moon’ – and remarkably, another ‘Blood Moon’ is predicted, the second this year, with two more next year – and then none for 100+ years – according to NASA. A ‘Blood Moon’ is where the earth briefly gets in the way of the full moon – blocking its light, creating a dull red glow.
Back in Jerusalem, “as they were talking” [v.36]: no doubt with great intensity, probably highlighting the appearance of the Lord to Peter, suddenly, “Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, ‘Peace to you!’  But they were startled and frightened…” [v.37] He asks, “… why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet …” He invites them to handle him to remove any doubts.
We imagine the scene – but what is far beyond  our present imagination is the fulfilment of what the angels said to the disciples 40 days later as they watched him physically ascending out of their sight..  Luke records this in Acts 1 v.11, “… why do you stand looking into heaven?  This Jesus who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”  
Are there any doubts in our hearts that this will occur?  No – but the actual nature of the occurrence is far beyond our ability to visualize. However, our daily reading and meditation on God’s word is an invaluable help
We have a great contrast in 1 Chron 15 compared to ch 13. Ch 15 is a chapter of the details of careful preparation according to Gods ways, infact the word "preparation" is repeated x3 times.
We also have a contrast when ch13 starts with David consulting the captains and the leader, and the people, whereas David acknowledges the error in ch15:13
"For because ye did it not at the first, the Lord our God made a breach upon us, for that we SOUGHT HIM NOT after the due order."

There is huge exhortation for us in these x2 chapters and the bringing up of the Ark. We live in an age of if it feels right to me, it's what i think, the worship and what was being done in "the service of the LORD" in chapter 13 looked very good, but ended in death. Why? Because the spiritual leaders of Israel had not done it in accordance with Gods ways, they had not guided the people. We must remember that for worship and service to be acceptable to our Heavenly Father it has to be done according to His ways.

It's easy to get carried along by others, but in all things we must first seek and enquire after the LORD through His word:
"To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them." (Isaiah 8:20)