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Free Daily Bible notes by Rev Stephen Thompson

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December 2016

Daily Bible thoughts 1306:Monday 19th December 2016: Acts 1:6-8: ‘’It is not for you to know…’’

Acts 1:6-8: ‘’It is not for you to know…’’(click here for todays passage)

In this life there will inevitably be some mysteries. Not every ‘I’ will be dotted, or ‘t’ crossed; not every question will be answered; not every puzzle will be solved. It may even be that there will be mysteries in the next life too. But when we are with God in heaven, what we do know will be enough. ‘’The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.’’ Deuteronomy 29:29.  In the ‘New Living Translation’’ this reads: ‘’The LORD our God has secrets known to no one. We are not accountable for them, but we and our children are accountable forever for all that he has revealed to us, so that we may obey all the terms of these instructions.’’

As in our reading today, we have to say that there are certain things kept from our knowledge. (God in His Sovereignty knows why.) But let’s get on with doing something about the revealed knowledge we do possess. God will always empower us to do His will. We can’t legitimately claim that we are unable. Truth comes to us with accountability built in. We are expected to live it; to do it. Fulfilling the ‘Great Commission’ will keep our hands occupied until Jesus returns. As someone said, ‘’It’s not the parts of the Bible I don’t understand that bother me; it’s the bits I do understand.’’ There’s enough in these pages to be getting on with.

PRAYER: Lord, whenever I read your Word, help me to see what you want me to do, and then put it into practice. May I never allow truth to lie fallow in my mind.

Daily Bible thoughts 1305: Friday 16th December, 2016: Acts 1:1-11: A meal with Jesus.

Acts 1:1-11: A meal with Jesus.(please click for todays passage)

After Jesus rose from the dead, He ‘’showed himself’’ to his apostles and ‘’gave many convincing proofs that he was alive’’ (3). One of these compelling evidences lay in the fact that He ate with them (4; see Luke 24:36-43). Ghosts don’t join you for a meal.

  • Consider the place of table fellowship in the ministry of Jesus. It would be a profitable exercise, I believe, to read all four gospels, noting everything Jesus said and did around the meal table. Following His resurrection, Jesus continued ‘’to do and to teach’’ (1). That included eating with the disciples and saying important things to them in the context of food. A central ordinance of the church: the Lord’s Supper, was initiated around a meal table;
  • Consider what we might still profitably do around our tables – giving the gift of ourselves, our food and our time; and all done from love of Jesus and with the awareness of His presence. In some ways it can cost, but it is such a blessing to share leisurely time with others. People will often open up in this more intimate setting; barriers can come down, and meaningful conversation be shared. Not every Christian has the gift of hospitality; but we can all give We can choose to be hospitable, rather than dig a moat around our lives and pull up the drawbridge. I think we should all keep under prayerful review who we should be inviting to share meals with us. The basis should never be, by the way, whether or not they will invite you back! When I was a young, single pastor in Lancaster, a couple in the church, Nic and Jean, had me over for a meal twice a week. It was about more than food. They shared love. They wanted fellowship. Whenever I thanked them, their reply was, ‘’We do it for the Lord.’’ I will always bless them for their kindness to me in otherwise lonely days. You do not forget that kind of strategic ministry. They took their young pastor under their wing, and did what they could;
  • Consider the spirit in which we ought to eat all our meals. Saying ‘grace’ should not be cursory. It’s a time to pause and thank the Lord for His wonderful provision of ‘’our daily bread’’. As we turn our hearts towards Him in thankfulness, may we also be asking Him to speak to us at this meal time, around this As I read the gospels, I see that Jesus ‘does’ and ‘teaches’ at meals – before and after His resurrection. May we know His presence here today, over this good food; let us hear His voice. Eat thankfully; prayerfully
  • Consider the ‘meal’ Luke prepared for ‘’Theophilus’’ (1). Luke wrote his gospel and the ‘Acts’ for this one man. It seems he may have been a high ranking Gentile official. Luke spread a ‘feast’ for him, telling him about the life and ministry of Jesus; His death and resurrection; and then the unfolding of the story of the early church. Still today we are invited to Luke’s ‘banquet’. Let’s eat heartily, for we do not live ‘’on bread alone.’’

PRAYER: Lord Jesus, as you are so generous to me, help me to consider prayerfully and carefully who I may serve at my table.

Daily Bible thoughts 1304: Thursday 15th December 2016: John 21:18-25: Tailor-made.

John 21:18-25: Tailor-made.(please click for todays passage)

God has a plan for your life, and it is tailor-made for you. If you try to ‘wear’ someone else’s destiny, it just won’t fit. It will be too big for you, or possibly too small.

When Jesus re-commissioned Peter, he not only spoke to him about his life’s work, but also indicated ‘’the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God’’ (19). (According to tradition, Peter was crucified in Rome. His hands were ‘stretched out’ in death. But he asked to be crucified upside down, because he didn’t feel worthy to die in exactly the same way as his Lord.) But then, Peter looked round from this conversation and saw John. Perhaps knowing that there was a special bond between Jesus and John, he wanted to know what was the blueprint for the ‘beloved disciple’. Effectively, Jesus told him to mind his own business. It was Peter’s job to keep his eyes on Christ. ‘’…what is that to you? You must follow me’’ (22).  A song by Marilyn Baker says: ‘’God has a plan for you; it’s something only you can do. You are so valuable to Him.’’

 I sometimes shake my head in wonder when I consider my life’s journey so far. It is not a script I could have written. But that has never been my job. I’m just here to act it out and not fluff my lines. I need to pay attention what the play’s Author has written and is writing, and play my part. The point is not to compare yourself with anyone else. Keep your eyes on the Lord. Follow Him.

Daily Bible thoughts 1303: Wednesday 14th December 2016: John 21:15-17: The indispensable qualification.

John 21:15-17: The indispensable qualification.(please click for passage)

Love for the Shepherd matters much more than love for the sheep.                                        Loving the Shepherd is so much more important than loving shepherding.

All our ministry must flow from love for Jesus. Without this we are nothing. We have nothing (1 Corinthians 13). When you boil it all down, Christianity is about loving God and loving people. But we are to love God first, and love Him most. It is possible to love preaching and teaching – feeding ‘’sheep’’ and ‘’lambs’’ – and other aspects of Christian ministry, more than we love Christ Himself. It’s a danger to be aware of and to try and avoid.  A friend went to visit a very sick person in intensive care. He realised, as he walked towards the man’s bed, that it was the very spot where he had watched one of his own relatives die. In this case, several years had intervened, but it was like the recreation of scene he’d ‘acted’ in previously. It triggered sad memories and strong emotions.           Peter must have vividly remembered being around a charcoal fire in the recent past.          At that fireside he had denied knowing Jesus three times. Now it was like the Lord had deliberately recreated the situation to graciously help Peter move on. Three times Jesus quizzed His frail disciple about his love for Him. Three times Peter confessed his love. Three times Jesus commissioned him.It was as if, with each charge to feed His flock, Jesus was wiping out the denials; wiping the slate clean. How we should take encouragement from this. How merciful our Lord is.

Tom Wright tells a story of how one night, after a dinner party, a guest was eager to help with the washing up. He and his wife kept encouraging the man to go and sit down, but he was insistent about helping. In his excitement, a crystal glass got broken. He was upset; Tom Wright and his wife were pretty devastated. Afterwards they talked about what forgiving this man might look like. The next time he came for dinner, they gave him a tea towel!  To my mind, that smells of grace.

PRAYER: Thank you Lord Jesus for your grace and mercy expressed towards me.

Daily Bible thoughts 1302: Tuesday 13th December 2016: John 21:15-17: The greatest is love.

John 21:15-17: The greatest is love.(please click for passage)

As you read the first half of John 21, you can’t miss Peter’s love for Jesus. He had many faults and failings, as do we all, but his great heart for Christ burst out of his chest. That plunge into the water, once he realised the stranger on the shore was Jesus (7) ,was powered by love. It’s sheer love you see eagerly splashing towards the shore. It reminds me a little of the breaking of the alabaster box of ointment. I see a reckless, extravagant devotion.                                                                                                                                                     Later on, however, around the fire, Jesus questioned Peter about his love. He didn’t deny that Peter loved him, but he did challenge him about his love. He probed his heart. His first question was, ‘’Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?’’ (15). ‘More than what?’ This question inevitably comes to mind. Maybe it was, ‘’Do you love me more than the fishing equipment?’’ It symbolised an entire way of life. Having been called out of it, he had recently gone back to it. Or it might be, ‘’Do you love me more than these your fellow disciples?’’ He had implied a greater love, and had boldly said that if everyone else denied the Lord he wouldn’t. But what did he think now, after the cockerel’s crow? Then again, Jesus could have been asking, ‘’Do you love me more than you love your           fellow-disciples-this band of brothers?’’                                                                                                             It remains a valid question for us: ‘’Do you truly love me more than…?’’ Fill in the gap. What do you love most? Jesus calls us to love Him more. But you can never out-give God. So often, people who give sacrificially find their ‘silver’ back in their ‘sack’. More comes back than they ever give. This is the testimony of many. The truth is also that the more you love Jesus, the more every other love is enhanced and lifted to a higher plane. So you end up loving your family (for example) more richly than ever you would if Jesus were not first in your life. You don’t lose by putting God first.

PRAYER: ‘’Lord it is my chief complaint, that my love is weak and faint. Yet I love thee and adore, O for grace to love thee more.’’

Daily Bible thoughts 1301: Monday 12th December 2016: John 21:1-14: Danger! Leader at work!!

 John 21:1-14: Danger! Leader at work!! (please click here for todays passage)

Here is a leader in full swing. He decides to do something (3), and others say, ‘’We’ll go with you.’’ They take their inspiration from him. (See again 7, 8 where the rest of the group follow Peter).  Now the text does not criticise Peter for his decision to go fishing, but I note that there is no record of his praying about it. You may say, ‘’Well why would he? It was probably just an obvious thing to do.’’ But he returned to what was his old occupation, before Jesus called him to a whole new life. When he pushed the boat out onto Galilee, he was acting on his own initiative. And the result? ‘’…but that night they caught nothing’’ (3b).  It was only when they heard the voice of Jesus, and were obedient to Him, that they caught fish (6). In fact, it was a miraculous haul, as on a previous occasion (Luke 5:1-10). For me, the lesson is clear: a church wanting to be fruitful in evangelism must pay close attention to Jesus.

Bill Hybels, the senior pastor of Willow Creek Community church, Chicago, has a mantra: ‘’Speed of the leader, speed of the team.’’ Because leadership is so important; because so much in the church rises and falls with leadership; because leaders create waves for good or ill, with their words and actions, brothers and sisters, I urge you, PRAY FOR YOUR LEADERS! Make them the object of sincere, believing and fervent intercession. You many never know on earth the good you will do for the church by your prayers, but if you are content to be invisible to man, but known to God, what a ministry you can carry out on your knees, and in the secret place. Because Simon Peter’s are going to be followed by Thomas’s, Nathanael’s etc, pray that these Simon Peter’s will not just act, but act on the word of Christ. There are many good ideas in the church that did not have their origin in heaven. We may be impressed by them. They make perfect sense to us. There’s just one problem – they are not of God.                                                                                                          Here’s one final thought, Jesus is there in our moments of failure (4), but we may not recognise Him. But once we do see Him, and respond to His voice, we are on our way to real success. Your failure can be the doorway into a more fruitful life.

 

 

Daily Bible thoughts 1300: Friday 9th December 2016: John 20:24-21: Thomas, my twin!

John 20:24-21: Thomas, my twin!(please click for passage)

I remember one Bible commentator saying ‘’Didymus’’ (24) means ‘’twin’’. He admitted that we don’t know who Thomas’ twin was, but, he said, ‘’We sometimes think we are!” He has a point.  It may be a bit of a cliché, and yet I think it is a valid point, that you never know what you might miss when you skip a meeting. Of course, it’s true that everyone misses church at times. We go away on holidays; illness can intervene; we may have family to visit. So many valid reasons can keep us away. Nevertheless we are living in an age, in the West at least, where many Christians seem to have higher priorities than regular fellowship. I sometimes wonder what church membership means for people who are haphazard and irregular in their church attendance. When Thomas ‘’missed church’’ his fellow-believers let him know what he’d missed (25a).

The sight of Jesus’ wounded body must have made a profound impression on the disciples (20), and it seems that they spoke about this to Thomas (25b) But he replied like a true rationalist. Some have tried to explain away the resurrection appearances of Christ as hallucinations. But Thomas was not about to have one!

One week later, the scene was replicated (26; see 19). The only difference was that Thomas had made it to church! When Jesus graciously gave this personal invitation to Thomas (27), the sceptical disciple must have realised that Christ was in the room earlier when he spoke his unbelieving words (25b). Certainly He had heard them. Earlier this year, while Jilly and I were visiting a church of many thousands in Singapore, something was said in the sermon that made us realise that Jesus knew all about a conversation we’d had earlier that morning. The detail doesn’t matter here. But Jesus has ways of letting you know that He knows you through and through, and He knows precisely where you are.                ‘’Lord’’(28) can be a polite courtesy, like ‘’Sir’’. Or it can mean ‘divine’. Here it must have the fullest content. Thomas did not need to apply his ‘tests’. He was humbly convinced. In (29), the Lord pronounces a blessing on all who believe without seeing. That embraces the majority of Christians. The world says, ‘’Seeing is believing’’, but we say, ‘’Believing is seeing’’ (Hebrews 11:1, 6).  The chapter closes on the note of informing the reader that Jesus did many more ‘’miraculous signs’’ than those recorded in this gospel (30). But those which have been written down are intended to lead to faith.

PRAYER: Lord Jesus, I find myself with Thomas – wanting to worship you as ‘’My Lord and my God!’’

 

 

Daily Bible thoughts: Thursday 8th December 2016: John 20:19-23: The secret of peace.

John 20:19-23: The secret of peace.(please click for passage)

Fear keeps many a door locked. Think about the damage done in relationships; the ways we lock people out – often through fear. We have already seen that Jesus is not limited by our locked doors.

As I prayed though this section earlier today, I thought, ‘’When people come to church they are wanting to see Jesus (12:21). This is the longing in their hearts. So may my preaching answer that deep need.’’ The vision of Jesus is indissolubly linked to the experience of profound joy (20).Someone described joy as ‘’the serious business of heaven’’. But it begins even now as Jesus walks into your room (19) and shows Himself to you; when He breathes His Spirit into you and speaks peace upon your life. What a glorious, life-changing thing it is to meet Jesus. You don’t have to literally see Him with your eyes, or ear Him with your ears to know that you have encountered Him. However, I remember hearing the story of a prisoner, lying in his cell one night, and Jesus came through the walls and spoke to him.He’s not the only person, by any means, to have had such a vision. It’s an interesting thought that after the Lord ‘’showed them his hands and side’’ the next thing it says is that ‘’they saw the Lord.’’ If you see Jesus – really see Him – you will see His cross; see that His wounds were for you. To truly see Jesus means that you will see that He died for you. To see the Lord is to see that the heart of what He came to do centres on the work of Calvary.

Twice in this short section Jesus says, ‘’Peace be with you!’’ (19b, 21). In between those statements, what did Jesus do? ‘’…he showed them his hands and side’’ (20a). The cross is central to peace. There can be no experience of ‘shalom’ without ‘’Christ crucified’’ (Ephesians 2:14, 17). We need Jesus, today, to breathe His Spirit on us if we are to know His Presence, hear His voice, see His sacrifice and go out on His mission. The words in verse 23 do not mean that we can bestow forgiveness, but we can announce it. We can say to people who repent of their sins and trust in Jesus that they are forgiven.

PRAYER: ‘’O Breath of God breathe on us now, and move within us as we pray.’’

Daily Bible thoughts 1298: Wednesday 7th December 2016: John 20:19-20: No locked doors!

John 20:19-20: No locked doors! (Please click for todays passage)

There are no locked doors to Jesus!

It appears that there was something different about the Lord after His resurrection. He was not always instantly recognised. It also seems He could just appear and disappear without warning. He could enter a room without needing to bother with the door. A lock and a bolt could not stop Him.

There are locked doors to us; but there are no locked doors to Jesus. He can get into seemingly impregnable situations. Look how Bibles have found there way into ‘closed’ countries. See how the persecuted church has thrived in nation after nation where the ruling elite were desperately trying to keep Christ out. Jesus is unstoppable. He gets to where He wants to be. The ‘iron curtain’; the ‘bamboo curtain’ – they just have not stopped Him, and they can’t.

I was thinking recently that Jesus can get behind the ‘locked doors’ of people’s illnesses and problems. What seems intractable, insoluble, incurable is a specialism for our Lord. An old chorus says it well: ‘’Got any rivers you think are uncrossable? Got any mountains you can’t tunnel through? God specialises in things thought impossible. He can do just what no other can do.’’

So have hope and pray on. Pray for open doors (Colossians 4:3;1 Corinthians 16:9).     ‘’Faith, mighty faith, the promise sees, and looks to that alone. Laughs at impossibilities and cries, ‘It shall be done!’ “

But, and it’s an important point, wouldn’t you want the Lord Jesus to keep every door tightly shut that He doesn’t want you to go through? We may need protecting from ourselves and our desires.  ‘’What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open’’ (Isaiah 22:22; Revelation 3:7). There is safety in that.

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