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Free Daily Bible notes by Rev Stephen Thompson

Month

February 2017

Daily Bible thoughts 1357: Tuesday 28th February 2017: Acts 8: 4-8: Ripple effect

Ripple effect, Acts 8: 4-8: 

‘4 Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there. When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said. For with shrieks, impure spirits came out of many, and many who were paralysed or lame were healed. So there was great joy in that city.’NIV

The ‘persecution was overruled to scatter the Church, which had grown too prosperous and secure, and needed to be reminded of the Lord’s injunction to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. The light must be diffused; the salt must be scattered. How often God has to drive us by trouble to do what we ought to have done gladly and spontaneously!…Here we enter upon the second circle of Acts 1:8.’ F.B. Meyer: ‘Devotional Commentary’, p.488.  Meyer also makes the interesting point that John was sent with Peter to bring the fire of Pentecost to the very area that he and his brother had earlier suggested should be destroyed by fire (Luke 9:54). But that is getting ahead of ourselves.

As we see this rippling out effect note:

  1. The extent of their ministry (4): ‘’…wherever they went.’’ The ripples went far and wide;

  2. The content of their ministry (5): Philip’s focus was on Jesus. We have no reason to think that it was any different with the other preachers. In fact, it’s the pattern of preaching throughout ‘Acts’;

  3. The accompaniment of their ministry (6, 7): Signs followed, and there was a healthy partnership between the Word preached and the miracles accompanying, resulting in ‘’close attention’’ being paid to the message;

  4. The result of their ministry (8): You get the sense that the character of the city was affected for good. This is something to desire for the places where we live. We can dare to believe it is possible because the same Holy Spirit is with us. If there is one thing our nation surely needs it is true ‘’joy’’.

PRAYER: Lord God, we pray for the transformation of the cities, towns and villages where we live. We pray, believing this is possible.

Daily Bible thoughts 1356: Monday 27th February 2017: Acts 8:1-2: Out of the salt shaker.

Acts 8:1-2: Out of the salt shaker.

On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. 2 Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him.”NIV

‘’On that day…’’ the salt pot that was the Jerusalem church got turned upside down and shaken over a wider area. The scattering was not a random thing. There was pattern and purpose, as we shall see. Jesus had said to his followers: ‘’But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth’’ (1:8). It was now time for the next stage of their mission, but this further ‘outreach’ did not arise from a strategic planning meeting. God was in control, and He took hold of the salt cellar, up-ended it and shook it to great effect (Acts 11:19ff). There are happenings which look bad in our eyes, but God uses them for good. The church is ultimately unstoppable because the Lord Himself is. Stephen was killed, but the church spread; Saul threw his weight about, yet still the church grew. What men mean for evil God means for good. Take heart. God is in control. There is irony in the words: ‘’But Saul began to destroy the church…’’ because, clearly, he wasn’t doing. It was his intention, but the Lord had other intentions to remove him from his high horse. He may have started this enterprise, but he didn’t get to finish it!

There is something profoundly touching about the words of verse 2. The Christian faith gives us a glorious hope in the face of death, but it doesn’t ask us to stifle our grief, or to deny what we really feel. Stephen had gone to be with the Jesus he saw in his dying moments, but he was missed. His place was empty. He was a good and godly man, and a great leader. The apostle Paul, writing to the church at Thessalonica at a later date, says: ‘’Brothers, we do not want you…to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope’’ (1 Thessalonians 4:13). However, he doesn’t say, ‘We don’t want you to grieve.’There is a legitimate place for mourning those who have left us for heaven. But because they have left for that ‘better land’ the mourning is transformed. It’s there, but it’s different. The parting is real and painful, but it is temporary. We will see them ‘in the morning.’

PRAYER: Risen Lord Jesus, I am so thankful that a brilliant light shines out of your empty tomb onto every ‘Good Friday’ experience we face.

Daily Bible thoughts 1355: Friday 24th February 2017: Acts 7:54-8:1a: Eyes only for Him.

Acts 7:54-8:1a: Eyes only for Him.

54 When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. 55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”  57 At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, 58 dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.  59 While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.       8 And Saul approved of their killing him. 

In this final section of the Stephen story we see:

▪ Focused eyes (55, 56): Stephen was surrounded by a pack of wolves, baring their teeth and out for his blood. ‘’But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, hardly noticed – he only had eyes for God, whom he saw in all his glory with Jesus standing at his side. He said, ‘’Oh! I see heaven wide open and the Son of man standing at God’s side!’’ ‘’ The Message. F.B. Meyer writes about how Spirit-filled people are given an overwhelming consciousness of Christ: ‘It is the special work of the Holy Spirit to direct the gaze to Jesus. Those who are full of the Spirit may hardly be aware of his gracious presence, but they are keenly alive to their Lord’s.’ Great verses through the Bible, p.405.
▪ Deaf ears (57): ‘’At this they covered their ears…’’ Have you ever seen a child do this when they just don’t like the message you’re transmitting and they don’t want to obey? There are none so deaf as those who will not hear. I heard Francis Chan say that he has made a decision that whenever he finds himself in disagreement with the Bible, it is right and he is wrong!
▪ Praying heart (59, 60). Can there be, I wonder, a better way to die, than to be praying at the time of your departure from earth? Then the conversation can just continue in a richer, fuller way. I remember reading about a missionary who set himself to pray through the night, and on the morning he was found on his knees by his bed. Yet he was not there. He had gone. Even as he prayed he was taken to heaven.
▪ Forgiving spirit (60): Stephen died, like his Master, Jesus, releasing his enemies; not holding on to even a particle of bitterness. ‘’Then he knelt down, praying loud enough for everyone to hear, ‘’Master, don’t blame them for this sin’’ – his last words. Then he died.’’ The Message.
▪ Preparatory statement (8:1a): ‘’Saul was right there, congratulating the killers.’’ The Message.

To be continued!

Daily Bible thoughts 1354: Thursday 23rd February 2017: Acts 7:51-53: The unvarnished truth.

Acts 7:51-53: The unvarnished truth.

51 “You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit! 52 Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him— 53 you who have received the law that was given through angels but have not obeyed it.”NIV

As I read about Stephen, I get the impression of a wise, godly, intelligent, gracious and radiant Christian. But he was all that he was by the Holy Spirit (6:5, 10) and the Holy Spirit makes the most gracious person brave when such bravery is required. He turns him or her into a roaring lion (Amos 3:8). Note:

• It takes bravery to live the Christian life;
• It takes bravery to speak the unpopular truth, and at times a faithful witness to Christ will have to say what people don’t want to hear. It’s been pointed out that no-one is going to persecute for serving the poor, digging wells and feeding the hungry. But if you state that Jesus is the only way to God, and that all who reject Him will find themselves rejected by God and face His judgment, then it will be another story entirely. On this day, Stephen gave his listeners the unvarnished truth: ‘’Your ancestors killed anyone who dared talk about the coming of the Just One. And you’ve kept up the family tradition – traitors and murderers all of you. You had God’s Law handed to you by angels – gift-wrapped!- and you squandered it!’’ The Message. That kind of talk could get a pastor kicked out of his pulpit with great speed. It cost Stephen his life. ‘My fellow Jews,’ he said in effect, ‘you stand in the inglorious line of those who rejected God’s prophets and Word.You have now rejected the Messiah Himself – the One long prophesied!’ ‘’You always resist the Holy Spirit!’ (31b). To resist God’s Word is to resist His Spirit. Stephen used direct speech, and paid dearly.
• It takes bravery to love your persecutors; to forgive them and pray for them. How like the Lord He loved was Stephen!
• It takes bravery to die well. A believer who was dying wrote to his friends and said, ‘Come and see how a Christian dies!’ The presence and power of the Holy Spirit makes a difference to all life, including its ending.

Prayer: Lord make me brave! If there are things I need to say, help me to say them. And if the words don’t need to be spoken, give me the wisdom to know it. I need both the courage to open my mouth and the wisdom to close it. Help me to know when it’s time to speak and when it’s the time for silence.

Daily Bible thoughts 1353: Wednesday 22nd February 2017: Acts 7:48-50: Where does God live?

Acts 7:48-50: Where does God live?

48 “However, the Most High does not live in houses made by human hands. As the prophet says:  49 “‘Heaven is my throne,
and the earth is my footstool.
What kind of house will you build for me?
says the Lord.
Or where will my resting place be?
50 Has not my hand made all these things?’”NIV

Perhaps verse 48 should be inscribed over the doorway of every church building: ‘’However, the Most High does not live in houses made by human hands.’’

‘’Yet that doesn’t mean that Most High God lives in a building made by carpenters and masons.’’ The Message.

It’s important to understand that the building where we meet for Christian worship is not ‘the church’. Rather, the church is ‘’God’s building’’ (1 Corinthians 3;9), composed of people who are ‘’like living stones’’ (1 Peter 2:5). God’s presence cannot be contained in any one building. He fills the universe, and yet at the same time He transcends it. Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the temple reflects this understanding (1 Kings 8:27).

God does not live in buildings made of brick, but He does live among His people (Corinthians 3:16, 17)), and in their bodies individually (1 Corinthians 6:19, 20), by His Spirit.

For hundreds of years there were no formal church buildings. This should help to free up our thinking to see that local churches can meet in homes, halls, community centres etc. There are so many possibilities, and we should not let the lack of a church building stifle our desire to plant churches. It didn’t seem to be a hindrance to the early church!

Daily Bible thoughts 1352: Tuesday 21st February 2017: Acts 7:44-47: Unanswered answered prayer.

Acts 7:44-47: Unanswered answered prayer.

“44 “Our ancestors had the tabernacle of the covenant law with them in the wilderness. It had been made as God directed Moses, according to the pattern he had seen. 45 After receiving the tabernacle, our ancestors under Joshua brought it with them when they took the land from the nations God drove out before them. It remained in the land until the time of David, 46 who enjoyed God’s favor and asked that he might provide a dwelling place for the God of Jacob.[a] 47 But it was Solomon who built a house for him. “NIV

Here’s a question: was David’s prayer answered or unanswered? Both, paradoxically.

David desired to build God’s house, but it was not for him to do so – even though it was a good longing to have in his heart. So his prayer went unanswered. At least, that part of it did.  However, God’s house was built in the next generation by his son, Solomon. So his prayer was answered.

This is the paradox of unanswered answered prayer. It’s one of the mysteries of prayer that we can ask for God for some things that we may not receive in their exact specifics, yet the prayer gets answered all the same – and we know it is. God sees the sincerity of the heart that asks, but sometimes, it seems, He has to slightly remodel the prayer, and, as someone said, gives us what we would have asked if we knew everything as perfectly as He does. It is always best to await God’s way and time.

Ronald Dunn wrote that ‘God sometimes answers later in order to answer better.’

Daily Bible thoughts 1351: Monday 20th February 2017: Acts 7:39-43: Don’t even think about it.

Don’t even think about it, Acts 7:39-43

39 “But our ancestors refused to obey him. Instead, they rejected him and in their hearts turned back to Egypt. 40 They told Aaron, ‘Make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who led us out of Egypt—we don’t know what has happened to him!’  41 That was the time they made an idol in the form of a calf. They brought sacrifices to it and reveled in what their own hands had made. 42 But God turned away from them and gave them over to the worship of the sun, moon and stars. This agrees with what is written in the book of the prophets:  “‘Did you bring me sacrifices and offerings
forty years in the wilderness, people of Israel?
43 You have taken up the tabernacle of Molek
and the star of your god Rephan,
the idols you made to worship.
Therefore I will send you into exile’ beyond Babylon.” NIV

Keith Green made a gospel album entitled ‘So you wanna go back to Egypt?’

There is a telling phrase in verse 39: ‘’…in their hearts…’’ they ‘’turned back to Egypt.’’ Probably many of us will relate to this, even if we’ve only fondly looked back for a moment. Sooner or later we will discover that we were wrong. Remember what happened to Lot’s wife when she turned her gaze back towards Sodom. And consider the words of Jesus that anyone who puts his hand to the plough, and looks back, is not fit for the Kingdom.

Although it was obvious that God was with Moses; when he was up the mountain receiving the law, the people asked Aaron to make them an idol, and they worshiped it! There is a warning in these words to anyone who even momentarily fondles the idea of backsliding – of returning to ‘Egypt’. Here it is: if you give God up for idols, He will give you up to the fruits of your choice (see also Romans 1:18ff) When you turn away from God to other gods there is always a ‘’Therefore…’’ (43b).

So if you find yourself similarly tempted, don’t even think about it!

Prayer: Help me Lord to keep my eyes looking forward, fixed on you. You have brought me out of the land of slavery. Enable me to firmly set my eyes on the prize. ‘I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back.’

Daily Bible thoughts 1350: Friday 17th February 2017: Acts 7:37: The prophet like Moses

The prophet like Moses, Acts 7:37

“37 “This is the Moses who told the Israelites, ‘God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your own people.” NIV

Centuries before Christ, Moses delivered a remarkable prophecy about the Lord Jesus (Deuteronomy 18:15). How do we know Moses was speaking about our Lord? Because Peter has already made this specific connection in (3:22). In fact, in his sermon, Peter added other words from Deuteronomy 18:15 and 19, which are not quoted by Stephen, but maybe they are inferred. The prophet like Moses is to be listened to. It is a very serious matter indeed to disregard His words.

Stephen’s sermon shows how again and again, in the history of Israel, God’s messengers were rejected – right through to Christ Himself (51-53).

Today, we face the same challenge. What is our attitude towards Jesus? Will we listen to Him?

PRAYER: Lord, I can be so self-willed; far too quick to speak, and way too slow to listen. Help me, please, to give you my full attention.

Daily Bible thoughts 1349: Thursday 16th February 2017: Acts 7:35- 38: Things can change!

Acts 7:35- 38: Things can change!

“35 “This is the same Moses they had rejected with the words, ‘Who made you ruler and judge?’ He was sent to be their ruler and deliverer by God himself, through the angel who appeared to him in the bush. 36 He led them out of Egypt and performed wonders and signs in Egypt, at the Red Sea and for forty years in the wilderness.  37 “This is the Moses who told the Israelites, ‘God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your own people.’ 38 He was in the assembly in the wilderness, with the angel who spoke to him on Mount Sinai, and with our ancestors; and he received living words to pass on to us. “NIV

Things can change!

Given time and space, things can change (35). Just wait for God. He can turn things around in remarkable ways. This ‘’same Moses’’ who had been rejected as a leadership candidate forty years earlier, suddenly found himself leader anyway. It was always God’s purpose; but now it was also God’s way and time. Earlier, Moses had attempted to lead in his own way and time, and it had proved disastrous, as when Abraham attempted to produce the child of promise by his own efforts. But the hour struck. Moses returned to Egypt with a definitive answer to their question: ‘’Who made you ruler and judge? He was sent…by God himself…’’ (35)

The reading goes on to say: ‘’He led them out of Egypt…’’(36). At one time his leadership was in question. But now, authorised and empowered by God, he did it. If God calls you, he will equip you, and although people may question your ability, or whether they actually want you, you will ‘deliver the goods’ because the Lord will cause it to happen.

Don’t lose heart. Things can change! Give God time.

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