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coming of Jesus

Daily Bible thoughts 944: Thursday 13th August 2015: 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13: According to your faith.

 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13: According to your faith.(please click here for todays passage)

Ronald Dunn, in his excellent book, ‘’Don’t just stand there, pray something!’’ tells a story about a certain group of Sunday School children who were praying for a missionary. In one letter they wrote to him something along these lines: ‘’Dear Mister Smith, we are praying for you. We are not expecting an answer!!’’

It is interesting to see how many times Paul prayed for the Christians under his care, and how frequently he asked for their prayers for him and his ministry. It is clear that he was convinced about the efficacy of prayer. He believed that certain things would happen if believers prayed that would not take place if they didn’t. He was expecting answers.

So, for example, he prayed that the roadblock preventing his return to Thessalonica (2:18) would be removed (3:10, 11), and he and his colleagues evidently poured a lot of time and energy into this praying. They were ‘’most earnestly’’ looking for divine intervention.

But also, and this is typical of Paul, he prayed for spiritual growth (12, 13). His letters are sprinkled with such prayers. He believed that love would ‘’increase’’, that hearts would be ‘strengthened’ and that holiness would be cultivated as a result of prayer. There seems to be an implication in these two verses that growth in holiness is essentially about growth in love. ‘’And may the Master pour on the love so it fills your lives and splashes over on everyone around you, just as it does from us to you.’’ The Message.

The more we love God and the more we love people the more we will experience the essence of holiness. As Augustine reputedly said: ‘’Love God, and do as you like.’’ This brings us back to the great command enunciated by Jesus (e.g. Mark 29-31). When you boil it all down it’s about loving God and loving people. That is the essence of holiness, and it is something to be prayed for regarding ourselves and others.

Prayer: Help me, Lord, to grow in love. Please pour on the love so that it splashes and overflows and touches many people.

 

Daily Bible thoughts 943: Wednesday 12th August 2015: 1 Thessalonians 3: ‘There may be trouble ahead…’

1 Thessalonians 3: ‘There may be trouble ahead…’(click here for todays passage)

Recently, my wife and I spent a restful few days at Idbury in the Cotswolds. One morning, I was looking out of the window, watching the birds playing ‘chase’, and I had a sudden thought that if a budgie were to be released into the wild, these seemingly gentle birds would probably reject and kill it. I believe it is a fact that birds will often turn on other birds of a different plumage.

One preacher said that when a person becomes a Christian they make at least two discoveries. The first one is good; the second not so good. First of all, they find they’ve got a whole lot of new friends, and that’s great. But they also come to realise that they now have a number of new enemies, and that, of course, is less welcome. A new convert asked his pastor, ‘Now that I am a Christian, how much of the world must I give up?’ ‘Don’t worry,’ his minister replied. ‘The world will give you up!’

Paul taught the Thessalonians the inevitability of suffering for Christ in some form (3, 4; John 16:33; 2 Tim.3:12). The spirit that crucified Jesus is still abroad in this world, and it is pervasive, and while we live in the world we can expect trouble. It is extremely important that new Christians should be thoroughly prepared for this in the discipling process, so that no-one is taken by surprise or feels mis-led. There is no ‘easy-believism’ in the New Testament. ‘’We did not want any of you to lose heart at the troubles you were going through, but to realise that we Christians must expect such things.’’ J.B. Phillips (3) Suffering in some way is the common experience of the majority of Christians across the world. Satan, like the savage beast he is, seeks to ‘’devour’’ believers through persecution (1 Peter 5:8, 9).There is the very real danger that some may fall away through fear or discouragement etc. This was Paul’s concern for the Thessalonians, and why he sent Timothy to them (5). He was fearful that they might have been ‘savaged’ in the early stages of their Christian experience. ‘’You will understand that, when the suspense became unbearable I sent someone to find out how your faith was standing the strain, and to make sure that the tempter’s activities had not destroyed our work.’’ J.B. Phillips.

Because it’s ‘a jungle’ out there, it is essential that new believers should have a family around them who will stick close to them. That’s what Paul, Silas and Timothy did with the new Christians in Thessalonica for as long as they could (Chapter 2). But when they could not be there in person, God’s keeping power was nonetheless in evidence. Thank God, we can trust His ‘amazing grace.’

Prayer: Lord, help me to be willing to be hit by any of the ‘missiles’ this fallen world hurls at you.

Daily Bible thoughts 940: Friday 7th August 2015: Jeremiah 12:7-17: Tough love

 Jeremiah 12:7-17: Tough love(please click here for todays passage)

In yesterday’s reading we saw how Jeremiah asked God the age-old question: ‘’Why does the way of the wicked prosper?’’ (1).The answer he received was that things were going to get worse in the short term (5, 6), although long term, as today’s passage shows (15, 16) they would become much better. There was the hope of a more golden future, even for those who attacked and overran and uprooted Judah, because God is good. ‘’…I will relent and take them tenderly to my heart and put them back where they belong, put each of them back in their home country, on their family farms. Then if they will get serious about living my way and pray to me as well as they taught my people to pray to that god Baal, everything will go well for them.’’ The Message. Of course it is true to say that another more terrible possibility was on the horizon if they would not turn to the Lord (17), but that wasn’t what He wanted. His desire was to bless them. He wants to draw to Himself a people from all the nations

But all that was still in the future. Jeremiah was told that the persecution and suffering would become worse for him in the days ahead. There was a lot of heavy rain in the forecast, before the appearance of sunshine.

‘’It was the answer Jeremiah needed. He needed to be braced, not pampered.’’ Hugh Black

‘’The easy life is ultimately the hard life, because the easy life stifles maturity, but the difficult life challenges us to develop our ‘’spiritual muscles’’ and accomplish more for the Lord. Phillips Brooks said the purpose of life is the building of character through truth, and you don’t build character by being a spectator.’’ Warren W. Wiersbe: ‘The Wiersbe Bible Commentary (OT), p.1222.

So, Jeremiah was told that there was worse to come. But he was also assured that the wicked in Judah would be punished (7-13). God’s ‘’inheritance’’ (7) included both the land of Israel/Judah and the people themselves (Exodus 19:5, 6; Deut.4:20; 32:9; Ex.15:17; Ps.78:55). As they had forsaken Him, according to the terms of the covenant He would forsake them. His own people were roaring at Him ‘’like a lion’’ (8), so He had come to ‘’hate’’ them. What that means is that He had withdrawn the expression of His love towards them and would now treat them as if He hated them, handing them over to their enemies. While it is true to say that God’s love is unconditional, the enjoyment of His love is conditional. ‘’She’s been, this one I hold dear, like a snarling lion in the jungle, Growling and baring her teeth at me – and I can’t take it anymore.’’ The Message. The people are ‘’like a speckled bird of prey’’ about to be preyed upon (9). The Lord goes on to say that ‘’shepherds’’ (i.e. enemy rulers) will trample His ‘’vineyard’’ (Judah), and turn it into a ‘’desolate wasteland’’ (10). The Babylonians and their allies were going to swarm all over the land (see 2 Kings 24:1, 2) wielding the ‘’sword of the LORD’’ (i.e. His sword of judgment). The land will produce nothing (13) and the farmers will work in vain, bearing the shame of their poor harvest. All this was going to happen because God’s people had broken His covenant (see Lev.26:20, 25, and 33).

God’s Word is true. Do not doubt that it will come to pass. We ignore and reject it at our peril. May these excruciatingly painful lessons from Biblical history not be lost on us.

Prayer: Help me Lord to hold fast to all your Word.

Daily Bible thoughts 939: Thursday 6th August 2015: Jeremiah 12:1-6: Take it to the Lord in prayer

Jeremiah 12:1-6: Take it to the Lord in prayer (please click here for todays passage)

This is an age old question, often repeated in the Bible (see for example Job 21:4-21; Habakkuk 1:1-4).

If something troubles you, take it to the Lord in prayer. But when He answers it may not always be what you want to hear. When we begin to seriously pray about an issue it frequently seems to get worse before it gets better. In response to his prayer, Jeremiah was specifically told that the situation would deteriorate in the short to mid-term.

‘’Jeremiah knew that God’s justice would ultimately come, but he was impatient because he wanted justice to come quickly. God didn’t give a doctrinal answer, instead he gave a challenge. If Jeremiah couldn’t handle this, how would he handle the injustices ahead? It is natural for us to demand fair play and cry for justice against those who take advantage of others. But when we call for justice, we must realise that we ourselves would be in big trouble if God gave each of us what we truly deserve…Life was extremely difficult for Jeremiah despite his love and obedience to God. When he called to God for relief, God’s reply in effect was, ‘If you think this is bad, how are you going to cope when it gets really tough?’ Not all of God’s answers to prayer are nice or easy to handle. Any Christian who has experienced war, bereavement, or a serious illness knows this. But we are to be committed to God even when the going gets tough and when his answers to our prayers don’t bring immediate relief.’’ ‘The Life Application Bible’, pp.1304, 1305.

The life of Christian discipleship is not an inoculation against trouble. Anyone who thinks it is will be likely to become seriously disillusioned somewhere along the way. Jeremiah says to us that the more faithful we are the more trouble we will face. But we are never alone; we can always pray.

Just one other thought for today. It is terribly possible for us to become like the people described in (2b; see also Isaiah 29:13; Jeremiah 3:10; Matthew 15:8, 9; Titus 1:16). True religion is a matter of the heart. Above all else we must guard our hearts for out of them flow all the issues of life.

Prayer: God be in my heart and in my loving.

 

Daily Bible thoughts 938: Wednesday 5th August 2015: Psalm 119:9-16

 Psalm 119:9-16 (please click here for todays passage)

God’s Word is mentioned in almost every verse of this longest psalm, and longest chapter, in the Bible. In the days when it was written, people did not have personal copies of Scripture as we do now, so they memorised it (or parts of it) and passed it on orally. The acrostic structure of this psalm, with each section beginning with the successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet, made for easy memorisation. Here are some thoughts to consider from the psalm’s second stanza:

  • Purity and the Word (9): By the way, this applies to every age group and both sexes. It’s not just for ‘young men’ (see also 11; John 15:3): ‘’the best book, in the best place, for the best reason.’’ C. Morgan. ‘’I’ve banked your promises in the vault of my heart so I won’t sin myself bankrupt.’’ The Message. Whatever the eleventh verse exactly means, it points to a deep and meaningful relationship with the Scriptures. There is nothing superficial going on here.
  • Prayer and the Word (10): These two belong together. They were ‘made for each other.’ We must talk to the Author about His Book, and allow Him to speak back to us about His Book. We need to ask for help to do what it says. There is something incredibly powerful about turning what you read into prayer.
  • Praise and the Word (12): Approach the Bible with thanks for it, and gratitude that the Author (and His assistance) is available to you.
  • Proclamation and the Word (13):’’I’ll transfer to my lips all the counsel that comes from your mouth’’ The Message. Derek Prince and his wife, Ruth, spoke about the importance of declaring the Bible out loud; saying what it says, and saying what is in keeping with what it says. We need to speak it to ourselves, to others, to the powers of darkness, and before God in prayer.
  • The preciousness of the Word (14): Do you consider your Bible to be your most valuable possession? ‘’I delight far more in what you’re telling me about living than in gathering a pile of riches.’’ The Message.
  • Pondering the Word (15): I believe this links to (11). Meditation is one of the ways we ‘hide’ God’s Word in our hearts and experience its nourishment and power.
  • A promise regarding the Word (16): It is a commitment to ‘’not neglect’’ This is a joyful dedication. Your life will not change by wishing for things to be different, but by definite decisions.

Prayer: Lord, help me to see the Bible for the precious jewel it is and to value it above all my earthly possessions.

Daily Bible thoughts 937: Tuesday 4th August 2015:1 Thessalonians 2:14-16: Backlash!

1 Thessalonians 2:14-16: Backlash!(click here for todays passage)

‘’In this world you will have trouble. But take heart. I have overcome the world.’’ (John 16:33).

As followers of Jesus we can expect opposition and difficulty. He told us to. As someone said, ‘’Jesus sets you free from your problems so you can have His; and His are a lot worse than yours!’’ Amidst evangelistic success and people responding well to God’s Word, we can anticipate a backlash. The fledgling church at Thessalonica suffered from the beginning (see Acts 17:1-8; 1 Thess.1:6; 2 Thess.1:4). The gentile Christians in that city were persecuted by fellow- Gentiles, just as the Jewish Christians in Judea had been mistreated by their fellow-Jews.

Recently the Liberal Democrats appointed a new leader, Tim Farron, who is a believer in Jesus. I understand that early media interviews with him have homed in on his faith, and have been intent on ridiculing him for it. What is it with people? What are they so afraid of that they have to pour scorn on belief in Christ? In a way, it’s encouraging. There is blessing in persecution (Matthew 5:12). For me, this response underlines the reality of the Christian faith and the truth that there is a devil who hates it and wants to bring it down. Why does the name of Jesus, and belief in Him provoke such a violent reaction? Ask yourself that question.

‘’When you take a stand for Christ you may face opposition, disapproval and ridicule from your neighbours, friends, and even family members.’’ ‘The Life Application Study Bible, p.2162.)

Among the Jewish people there was a history of persecuting faithful preachers of God’s Word, culminating in the crucifixion of Jesus (Acts 2:23; see also Matthew 5:11, 12; Luke 11:47-51; Acts 13:45, 50; Luke 11:47-51).This was not true of all of them, obviously. There were Jewish Christians. Paul was one of them. But there were those Jews who wanted to prevent the good news about Jesus from going to the Gentiles. However, you may as well attempt to do a ‘King Canute’ and set yourself to hold back the tide. God’s purposes will prevail. The ‘’gates of Hades’’ (Matthew 16:18) will not.

‘’They’ve made a career of opposing God, and have gotten mighty good at it. But God is fed up, ready to put an end to it.’’ The Message.

We’ve read the final chapter, and we know how it all turns out. It’s a good ending. We’re on the winning team, even though it doesn’t always feel like it.

Prayer: Thank you Lord that in the end Jesus wins! Thank you for how this news affects us now.

Daily Bible thoughts 935: Friday 31st July 2015: 1 Thessalonians 2:6b-12: Wanted: Spiritual Parents!

1 Thessalonians 2:6b-12: Wanted: Spiritual Parents!(please click here for todays passage)

On the Sunday I returned to work after two weeks of paternity leave, I made the comment that, ‘It’s nice to be back to normal, or at least as normal as life is going to be for the next 21 years.’ An elderly gentleman leaving church that morning shook my hand warmly and said with a knowing smile, ‘It lasts a lot longer than 21 years!’ The truth is I don’t think anything can prepare you for the bombshell of parenthood; not really. You may have got the nursery ready, bought the pram, been to the classes and read the books, but the truth is most of us feel hopelessly out of our depth as we come to terms with the immense changes that the joyful entrance of a new life brings. In an article I read, somebody described parenthood as ‘welcoming a stranger’ into your home and heart. Furthermore, it’s a lifelong commitment.

Yesterday we discovered that when Paul and his team visited Thessalonica they were ‘successful’. But this success was not measured by numbers or anything like that. It had to do with character. As we saw: a.) they refused to be intimidated, and b.) they worked with integrity. Here’s a third thing in today’s passage: c.) they loved with intensity. Like Jesus, they laid aside their rights (6b, 9): ‘’Day and night we worked so that our preaching of the Gospel to you might not cost you a penny.’’ J.B. Phillips. Like Jesus, they served. They thought of others before themselves (see Philippians 2:1-11). Like Jesus, they gave their lives; they laid them down (see Mark 10:45). ‘’Our attitude among you was one of tenderness, rather like that of a devoted nurse among her babies.’’ J.B. Phillips. A nursing mother imparts her own life to the child. That baby is in her arms and next to her heart. She keeps him close. Also, like Jesus, they endured hardship (9a). I was talking with an older brother in the wonderful family of God recently. As we drank coffee and chatted about many varied things, he expressed to me a conviction (and he did not exempt himself from these comments) that the majority in the church are far too comfortable.

It’s interesting to note that both feminine (7) and masculine (11) characteristics were combined in their spiritual parenting. This, I believe, is the sort of nurturing that is most likely to bring up spiritual children with the family likeness, but it costs in terms of time and effort, whilst being deeply rewarding. Are we prepared for it? Are we willing for the personal inconvenience and disruption of our plans? Are we prepared to be put out; to welcome the stranger? More than courses and programmes (which admittedly have their place), we need Christian people who are willing to share their lives (and homes) with new converts. And bringing up baby may last a lot longer than 21 years!

Rob Parsons spoke about the significant role played in his life by an older man who was not a preacher as such, but he took Rob under his wing when he was younger. He said something like this: ‘’Every week i went round to his house, and we played table tennis, ate chips out of paper, and he taught me the Bible as best he could.’’ One day in later years Rob was able to say to him, ‘’Today I am speaking to large crowds in great venues, and it’s because of you.’’

Prayer: Lord I thank you for those who have poured time and effort into me. Help me to also invest in others.

Thought: ‘’What is it you are doing with the singular gift of your life?’’

Daily Bible thoughts 934: Thursday 30th July 2015: 1 Thessalonians 2:1-6: Back on the bike!

 1 Thessalonians 2:1-6: Back on the bike!(please click here for todays passage)

In the ‘Sacred Year’, Michael Yankoski writes movingly about the ‘carnival’ of the celebrity Christian circuit, and how it can lead to a disconnect between a life lived on the stage, in the spotlight, and the other existence lived out in private. He gradually became disillusioned with his own involvement in it: ‘’…I couldn’t help but wonder if I was just another pawn in the brightly lit song-and-dance called ‘’American Christianity.’’ Leading a life offstage that didn’t actually warrant what I was saying on stage. Was my life deeply grounded in God…or were the edges of my life cracked and fraying?’’ (p.7).

Paul’s visit to Thessalonica was a success. But this success was not measured in terms of numbers, or a building programme, or in many other ways the Christian ‘carnival’ assesses how well we’re doing. Essentially, this was about character. We will look at a couple of key measurements today, and refer to some more tomorrow:

  • They refused to be intimidated (1, 2). In spite of their injuries, they quickly got back on the bike! Many of us might have asked for some time off to heal and recover, but they just got on with the job. They showed immense courage, but it wasn’t worked up; it was worked in, by God Himself. The story of what happened in Philippi is told in Acts 16: 11-40. Paul and Silas were badly beaten and unjustly imprisoned. There was a lot of mental, emotional and physical pain involved in these incidents. They carried wounds. They were scarred. But they also saw a church planted in and around what they went through. So there was encouragement too. After the events at Philippi they picked themselves up, brushed themselves off and started all over again ‘’with the help of…God’’ (2). The message of Jesus is so hated and so unwanted by so many in our culture (and we are increasingly aware of this) that only with ‘outside help’ will we ‘’dare’’ to carry on. The words ‘’strong opposition’’ are, in the original language, an athletic term meaning ‘’a contest, a struggle’’. We are acutely aware that we are in a war zone. As a book from a few decades ago correctly expressed it, being a Christian is ‘’Risky Living’’. ‘’We were sure of ourselves in God, and went right ahead and said our piece, presenting God’s Message to you, defiant of the opposition.’’ The Message.
  • They worked with integrity. Reading between the lines you can see that Pau and his team were being maligned. When mud is thrown some of it inevitably sticks. Even though untrue, some lies can carry weight. On two occasions Paul writes ‘’You know’’ (1, 5). He could appeal to their knowledge of them, and God’s knowledge. He had ‘’a conscience void of offence, toward God, and toward men.’’ (Acts 24:16). Paul and his colleagues did not use their ‘pulpit’ to manipulate people and make a fast buck. They spoke the truth, even though it would not always be popular. Paul, knowing that God sees the inside of the cup and not just the outside, could declare that their motives were pure. They wanted to please God, not people. ‘’Be assured that when we speak to you we’re not after crowd approval – only God approval.’’ The Message. One of the ways Satan tries to destroy the message is by defaming the messengers. Somebody estimated that nine times Paul defends his integrity against lies in this letter. But Paul was not defending himself for the sake of his own reputation; it was so that the cause of the gospel would not suffer.

‘’Paul’s method was as pure as his motive: he presented the Word of God in the power of the Spirit, and trusted God to work.’’ Warren W. Wiersbe: The Wiersbe Bible Commentary (NT),p.709

 

Daily Bible thoughts 933: Wednesday 29th July 2015: Jeremiah 11:18-23

 Jeremiah 11:18-23(please click here for todays notes)

Many years ago I was in a youth meeting in Leeds. The speaker, a former Scottish communist, was talking about the days just after his conversion when he and some friends regularly prayed into the night. He said something like this, ‘When you pray through the night, God shows you things about people.’ Well, experiencing revelation isn’t contingent on praying in the night, but God can show His people stuff they would not naturally know. He can drip drops of His infinite knowledge into human minds and hearts when required.

  • The plot revealed (18). God showed Jeremiah what his enemies were up to. It’s ironic to think that their plan was to erase the memory of his name (19). Even today there are people who are not Christians who know the name of Jeremiah. Sometimes someone will be described as a ‘Jeremiah’. Jeremiah was like Jesus (19; Isaiah 53:7; 1 Peter 2:23). He was plotted against but committed himself into the Hands of God who turned things around.
  • The plot resisted (21). People intent on having their own way will often resort to threats. These threats may not be as dire as the ones hurled at the prophet, but they are designed to induce fear in the recipients and win the day for the protagonists. We know, however, that although Jeremiah’s life was in danger he would not cave in. God made his heart strong and brave.
  • The prayer answered (20-23). Jeremiah prayed specifically and God specifically answered. Those who attack God’s people should realise that sooner or later He will deal with them, if they do not repent of their wrongdoing.
  • The downfall revealed (21-23). Just as God showed Jeremiah what they were plotting, He also opened his eyes to see what the outcome would be. People will reap what they sow.

God’s people in God’s world are not guaranteed an easy ride, for this is a fallen world, cracked and marred by sin. But we are in the Hands of God, and He will work everything out for His glory and our good. He is not taken by surprise by evil men. He knows what they are plotting. If you think God doesn’t know how to turn bad into good think about the cross of Jesus.

Prayer: Thank you Lord that the cross makes sense of everything.

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