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Free Daily Bible notes by Rev Stephen Thompson


January 2023

Psalm 119:129-136: ‘Let there be light’

Your statutes are wonderful;

    therefore I obey them.

130 The unfolding of your words gives light;

    it gives understanding to the simple.

131 I open my mouth and pant,

    longing for your commands.

132 Turn to me and have mercy on me,

    as you always do to those who love your name.

133 Direct my footsteps according to your word;

    let no sin rule over me.

134 Redeem me from human oppression,

    that I may obey your precepts.

135 Make your face shine on your servant

    and teach me your decrees.

136 Streams of tears flow from my eyes,

    for your law is not obeyed.

We noticed that a good friend of ours was in some discomfort, and asked him about it. He answered that he had been trying to move around in a darkened room and had fallen over an object he did not realise was there! He had landed rather heavily.

How thankful we should be for the gift of light.

In God’s Word there is always sufficient light to at least show us the next step. It will also reveal to us potential stumbling blocks; areas where we might trip up (133).Why would we fail to use the light that is so readily available?

Warren Wiersbe observes: ‘His light shines within you (v.130) and His face shines upon you (v.135), so that you become a light in a dark world (Phil.2:14-16).’ ‘With the Word’, p.302.

We might well consider Jim Packer’s words also:

‘The way to benefit fully from the Spirit’s ministry of illumination is by serious Bible study, serious prayer, and serious response in obedience to whatever truths one has been shown already. This corresponds to Luther’s dictum that three things make a theologian: oratio (prayer), meditatio (thinking in God’s presence about the text), and tentatio (trial, the struggle for biblical fidelity in the face of pressure to disregard what Scripture says).’

Lamentations 5: A note of hope

Remember, Lord, what has happened to us;

    look, and see our disgrace.

2 Our inheritance has been turned over to strangers,

    our homes to foreigners.

3 We have become fatherless,

    our mothers are widows.

4 We must buy the water we drink;

    our wood can be had only at a price.

5 Those who pursue us are at our heels;

    we are weary and find no rest.

6 We submitted to Egypt and Assyria

    to get enough bread.

7 Our ancestors sinned and are no more,

    and we bear their punishment.

8 Slaves rule over us,

    and there is no one to free us from their hands.

9 We get our bread at the risk of our lives

    because of the sword in the desert.

10 Our skin is hot as an oven,

    feverish from hunger.

11 Women have been violated in Zion,

    and virgins in the towns of Judah.

12 Princes have been hung up by their hands;

    elders are shown no respect.

13 Young men toil at the millstones;

    boys stagger under loads of wood.

14 The elders are gone from the city gate;

    the young men have stopped their music.

15 Joy is gone from our hearts;

    our dancing has turned to mourning.

16 The crown has fallen from our head.

    Woe to us, for we have sinned!

17 Because of this our hearts are faint;

    because of these things our eyes grow dim

18 for Mount Zion, which lies desolate,

    with jackals prowling over it.

19 You, Lord, reign for ever;

    your throne endures from generation to generation.

20 Why do you always forget us?

    Why do you forsake us so long?

21 Restore us to yourself, Lord, that we may return;

    renew our days as of old

22 unless you have utterly rejected us

    and are angry with us beyond measure.

So, after a pause, we return to Lamentations for the final chapter. Here we find a note of hope, even though it is in the midst of grievous suffering. It comes in the form of this prayer:

“Restore us to yourself, Lord, that we may return; renew our days as of old” (21).

I first came across this request in the language of the ‘King James Version’ of the Bible, where it says:

“Turn thou us unto thee, O Lord, and we shall be turned…”

Just as no-one can turn to the Lord without His gracious, Sovereign initiative, so no-one can turn back to Him without His Help. It seems to me that this is a hopeful conclusion to the book, because the people of God are humbling themselves. They recognise they are incapable of authentic repentance in their own strength, and so they confess their need to God. In desperation they are thrown back on Him, and they know that if He comes to their aid, they will make moves in the right direction.

“Restore us, O Lord, and bring us back to you again!

    Give us back the joys we once had!” New Living Translation.

Do you need to personalise this prayer today?

Ecclesiastes 4:10: Handiwork

“The human hand – this bundle of bones, flesh, and nerves – think of all it can do. It can bless or curse. It can draw blood or bind a wound. It is gentle, agitated, vicious; supplicating, ardent, tender. It can weld an iron bridge or caress a child’s head. It possesses the power to both harm and heal.” Karl Joseph Friedrich.

Reading this a Bible verse came to mind:

“Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the realm of the dead, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.” Ecclesiastes 4:10.

I also thought about a line in a famous hymn:

“Take my hands and let them move, at the impulse of thy love.”

Growing up in a Christian home, I often heard my parents speak about the heroic missionary, Gladys Aylward. I think they had heard her speak and she made quite an impression. But I only knew a little of her story, until recently when kind friends gave us a copy of her biography for Christmas. We were fascinated to learn that, although she was well liked in the missionary training home here in the UK, they did not take her on as a missionary because she struggled with her studies – including getting to grips with learning a most difficult language. But the sense of calling would not leave her, and eventually she went out to China under her own steam. Despite her lack of academic ability, she became fluent in the local dialects, and how those hands were used to serve, to bless, to help and heal in the midst of war, terror and terrible suffering

“Do not let sin control the way you live; do not give in to sinful desires. 13 Do not let any part of your body become an instrument of evil to serve sin. Instead, give yourselves completely to God, for you were dead, but now you have new life. So use your whole body as an instrument to do what is right for the glory of God.” Romans 6:12,13 ‘New Living Translation.’

That was Gladys Aylward’s story. She gave herself “completely” to God – and this included her hands.

It can be our story too. Loving hands are needed not only across the seas, but right here in our neighbourhoods. What might your hand find to do this day?

Romans 1:18-23: No excuses

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.

“Can it be right to reject all aspects of a culture that has shaped our souls for tens of thousands of years? God is present even without Christianity; he doesn’t need churchgoers in order to work. Whether or not a country is Christian, God reigns. He has ruled the universe for countless ages. The missionaries think that God depends on them and their preaching – that he trails after them, staying only where they have been. But long before Christianity was preached, God watched over the whole world. People may not have known him with their minds, but their hearts could feel him.” Kwon Jeong-Saeng.

I heard a preacher say, ‘We don’t go and proclaim the gospel to people in other lands and cultures because they don’t know about God. It is because they do – and they reject what they know!

Colossians 3:1-12: Drinking poison?!

3 1-2 So if you’re serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that’s where the action is. See things from his perspective.

3-4 Your old life is dead. Your new life, which is your real life—even though invisible to spectators—is with Christ in God. He is your life. When Christ (your real life, remember) shows up again on this earth, you’ll show up, too—the real you, the glorious you. Meanwhile, be content with obscurity, like Christ.

5-8 And that means killing off everything connected with that way of death: sexual promiscuity, impurity, lust, doing whatever you feel like whenever you feel like it, and grabbing whatever attracts your fancy. That’s a life shaped by things and feelings instead of by God. It’s because of this kind of thing that God is about to explode in anger. It wasn’t long ago that you were doing all that stuff and not knowing any better. But you know better now, so make sure it’s all gone for good: bad temper, irritability, meanness, profanity, dirty talk.

9-11 Don’t lie to one another. You’re done with that old life. It’s like a filthy set of ill-fitting clothes you’ve stripped off and put in the fire. Now you’re dressed in a new wardrobe. Every item of your new way of life is custom-made by the Creator, with his label on it. All the old fashions are now obsolete. Words like Jewish and non-Jewish, religious and irreligious, insider and outsider, uncivilised and uncouth, slave and free, mean nothing. From now on everyone is defined by Christ, everyone is included in Christ.

12-14 So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offence. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.

15-17 Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness. Let the Word of Christ—the Message—have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives. Instruct and direct one another using good common sense. And sing, sing your hearts out to God! Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way. (The Message).

I had the privilege to read this extract from Steven McDonald, who died six years ago yesterday, but while he was alive he got to tell his story to thousands of teens.

“Survival by Choice

I was on patrol in Central Park and stopped to question three teenagers. While I was questioning them, the oldest, a fifteen-year-old, took out a gun and shot me in the head and neck. . . .

I often tell people that the only thing worse than a bullet in my spine would have been to nurture revenge in my heart. Such an attitude would have extended my tragic injury into my soul, hurting my wife, son, and others even more. It is bad enough that the physical effects are permanent, but at least I can choose to prevent spiritual injury.”

That is powerful because I (and I think I can also say ‘we’) don’t find forgiveness easy. Some hurts do not heal easily or quickly. But although we may not feel like forgiving those who hurt us, we can choose to. We have to give it a go: Jesus commands it; He did it – forgiving way more than we will ever have to; and His grace will enable it.

If I am honest, some days I don’t want to forgive. But I often think about the words: ‘Holding a grudge is like drinking poison and hoping the other person will die!’

Then when I consider the Cross, and God’s great mercy in my life, He has me in ‘checkmate.’ I know that if I am willing to try, He is more than willing to help me to do what He asks. When it comes to forgiving trespasses, He is the Expert!

Prayer: Help,Lord, help! Please help me. You know my wounds and how weak I am, but before your Cross all my excuses are burned to ashes.

Thought: forgiveness is the only way to set your heart free, otherwise you remain imprisoned in a dark, bitter cell.

John 7:37-39: The outflowing life

On the final and climactic day of the Feast, Jesus took his stand. He cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Rivers of living water will brim and spill out of the depths of anyone who believes in me this way, just as the Scripture says.” (He said this in regard to the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were about to receive. The Spirit had not yet been given because Jesus had not yet been glorified.) The Message.

N.T. Wright writes:

“The great vision of the New Jerusalem at the end of the Book of Revelation is a vision of ultimate beauty. The word beauty doesn’t occur much in the Bible, but the celebration of creation all the way from Genesis, through the Psalms and prophets, on into the Gospels and here in Revelation, should alert us to the fact that, though the ancient Jewish people did not theorize about beauty like the Greeks did (that’s another story, and a fascinating one, though not for today), they knew a great deal about it and poured their rich aesthetic sensibility not only into poetry but also into one building in particular: the temple in Jerusalem, whose legendary beauty inspired poets, musicians, and dancers alike. This is the temple where YHWH’s glory is glimpsed, not as a retreat from the world but as a foretaste of what is promised for the whole world. In the great vision of John, the temple has disappeared because the whole city has become a temple; the point of the city is not that it is a place of retreat from a wicked world but that its new life is poured out into the whole world, to refresh and heal it.”

I have italicised that last part of the extract, because it reminds me that even now, however imperfectly, Jesus has arranged for there to be an outflow of life, from the believer (and the church) into the world – an outflow of light into darkness, of life into the land of death, of vitality affecting barrenness. No-one can properly defend themselves against this Holy Spirit reality. The abundant ‘living water’ wets (even soaks) them, whether they like it or not; believe in it or not; want it or not.

In Ezekiel 47:1-12, the prophet has a vision of water gushing out from the temple. Verses 8-10 read like this in ‘The Message’:

He told me, “This water flows east, descends to the Arabah and then into the sea, the sea of stagnant waters. When it empties into those waters, the sea will become fresh. Wherever the river flows, life will flourish—great schools of fish—because the river is turning the salt sea into fresh water. Where the river flows, life abounds. Fishermen will stand shoulder to shoulder along the shore from En Gedi all the way north to En-eglaim, casting their nets. The sea will teem with fish of all kinds, like the fish of the Great Mediterranean.

It remains forever true that “Wherever the river flows, life will flourish…Where the river flows, life abounds.”

I am reminded of a young man, raised in a Christian home, who had lived, for a time, as a ‘prodigal.’ He said, ‘In all the years of my rebellion I could not get away from the reality of Jesus Christ in my father.’

‘Living water!’

Luke 10:38-42: The better part

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, ‘Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!’

41 ‘Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed – or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.’

Teresa of Avila commented:

“Believe me, Martha and Mary must join together in order to show hospitality to the Lord and have him always present and not host him badly by failing to give him something to eat. How would Mary, always seated at his feet, provide him with food if her sister did not help her? His food is that in every way possible we draw souls that they may be saved and praise him always”

Really, Mary and Martha belong together in the service of the Lord.

We are regularly tempted to ‘put asunder’ things ‘God has joined together.’

The above quote resonates with this other, longer quotation from Michael Martin on the most effective people in the world.:

“To really get things done in the world, we’re told, we need men and women of action. Modern Christianity has bought into this idea. Much of medieval Christianity, too, affirmed the dichotomy between “contemplation” and “service”; it just valued the former over the latter. Religious orders that had a charism of “contemplation” were thought to be following the example of Mary over Martha, choosing “the better part” (Luke 10:38–42).

But there are clues that this polarised way of understanding the Christian life is wrong. Some of those clues lie in the text of the New Testament itself. The Lord withdrew to pray before his great works: before the calling of the disciples and the Sermon on the Mount, before walking on the sea, before his Passion. Other clues lie in the lives of those who took Christ as their template, who sought to follow him with their whole selves.”

All effective Christian service flows from being at the feet of Jesus; from being with the Father in intimate, prayerful fellowship. Martha’s activism is needed, but frenetic work which does not flow from Union with Jesus, the Living Vine, is ultimately futile. Andrew Murray put this so well:

‘Do not confound work and fruit. There may be a good deal of work for Christ that is not the fruit of the Heavenly Vine.’

Philemon:22-25: Believing is seeing

And one thing more: prepare a guest room for me, because I hope to be restored to you in answer to your prayers.

23 Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends you greetings. 24 And so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke, my fellow workers.

25 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

Just one more small, but important, detail before we move away from this wonderful letter:

It seems to me that verse 22 epitomises faith. ‘Believing is seeing’, and Paul saw himself as a guest in Philemon’s home, even as he was still a prisoner. He knew he was being prayed for and he believed in the efficacy of these prayers.

“Now faith is the assurance of what we hope for and the certainty of what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1: Berean Standard Bible).

Prayer: Lord increase my faith.

Philemon:17-21: Christ-like

So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. 18 If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. 19 I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back – not to mention that you owe me your very self. 20 I do wish, brother, that I may have some benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ. 21 Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I ask.

I have to say I doubt Paul ever had to put his hand in his pocket to make reparations for Onesimus. At least, I can’t imagine it. But we don’t know for certain. That he was sincere in offering to pay his bill, however, we do not doubt.

‘How Christ-like of him,’ though, is what I think when I read these words. Because it seems to me that when Jesus saw the enormity of my sin, there is a sense in which He said to the Father:

“If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me.”

The Cross is the price Jesus was prepared to pay for the liberation of slaves. It is our loving path to where the home fires burn.

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