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Daily Bible thoughts 1026: Friday 4th December 2015: Luke 3:23-4:13: Resistance movement.

 Luke 3:23-4:13: Resistance movement.(please click here for todays passage)

Again, Jesus is seen to be rooted in history (23-28).

The Holy Spirit, who came upon Jesus at His baptism, led Him into ‘’the desert’’ (1). We must understand that God’s Spirit will sometimes guide us into challenging and difficult circumstances. We can expect this, and should not be surprised when it happens. He is the One who will also enable us to come out victorious at the other end of the ‘tunnel’ (4:14).

Times of physical need and weakness are also times of vulnerability, and we should not be surprised if Satan tries to capitalise (2). Every day in the wilderness Jesus was tempted. In (3) you can observe the same tactic employed by the serpent in the Garden of Eden, trying to cast doubt on God’s Word. God had clearly said that Jesus is His Son (3:22).

Note that Jesus did not dispute the devil’s claim to be able to do what he offered in (5-7). Satan is the god of this world; the prince of this world. But Jesus asked on another occasion what profit it was for someone to gain the whole world but lose their own soul. Our Lord would not capitulate in the face of Satan’s subtle wiles and advanced marketing techniques.

How did Jesus resist the devil so that he fled from him? Three times he wielded what Paul calls ‘’the sword of the Spirit’’ in Ephesians 6, i.e. the Word of God. There was so much Scripture in Him. He was steeped in it; immersed in God’s Book, and was able to draw on just the right verses at the critical time of need: ‘’It is written…It is written…For it is written…’’ They all came from the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy. This raises the question, ‘How much of the Bible is in us? ‘’Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly…’’ (Colossians 3:16).

No look at the temptation of Jesus can be complete without there also being reflection on Hebrews 4:14-16. Have a look at it now, if you can. Ask yourself, ‘What does Jesus’ success in temptation mean for me?’ I’m sure you will be encouraged.

Prayer: Thank you Almighty God for the revelation that Jesus, the Overcomer, lives in me, and in Him I never need be a slave to sin again.

Daily Bible thoughts 1025: Thursday 3rd December 2015: Luke 3:1-22: Plain speaking.

Luke 3:1-22: Plain speaking.(please click here for todays passage)

This chapter opens with another detailed historical note (1, 2). This is Luke, the careful historian, showing that the events surrounding the coming of Jesus were rooted in history. There is a theological as well as a historical point to be made however. It is that before ‘’the word of God’’ can come through you, it must first come ‘’to’’ you (2).

John the Baptist’s ministry was in fulfilment of prophecy (4-6). His speech was direct and plain, and potentially offensive (7-14). In the end he paid a high price for his honesty (19, 20). Darkness does not like to be exposed by light. Rich and powerful got caught in the headlights of his preaching, and they used (or abused) their power to remove him.

John called the people to not rely on any supposed spiritual pedigree (8, 9). You can’t get into heaven on your parents’ ticket (or that of any ancestor). He preached repentance and judgment; the need for repentance in the light of coming judgment. He said that people should show their repentance by changed lives, and he spelled out in concrete terms what repentance would like for different people in differing circumstances (10-14). He left nothing abstract and unclear.

Most important of all – and this was the pulse of his ministry – John glorified Jesus (15-17). He had come to prepare the way for Him and he pointed to Him. He was a witness; a signpost to Christ. What an example he is to us all. Charles Spurgeon, the great Victorian preacher, shared John’s heartbeat. He said: ‘’I have a great need for Christ; I have a great Christ for my need.’’

When Jesus was baptised (21, 22) there was a further declaration of His unique identity as God’s Son. As we work through this third gospel we will discover that two of Luke’s key themes are prayer and the Holy Spirit. Here they are inter-linked.

Prayer: Lord, by your Spirit, help me to glorify you.

Daily Bible thoughts 1022: Monday 30th November 2015: Luke 2:41-52: Holy habits.

 Luke 2:41-52: Holy habits.(please click here for todays passage)

Here are some further thoughts from my recent reading in Luke:

  • Consider phrases like ‘’used to go’’, ‘’as usual’’ and ‘’according to the custom’’ (42). This speaks of holy habits of public worship. Jesus grew up in that atmosphere, where there was a commitment to attend the recognised gatherings. Although we don’t have ‘laws’ about church worship, we could learn a thing or two from the Jews about the importance of regularly coming together before God. Furthermore, we know that we should not give up on meeting together. Hebrews 10:25 is surely a word for these times. For Joseph and Mary, going up to Jerusalem for the Passover meant a 60-70 mile journey. It took effort. It was also a step of faith for many of the worshippers, trusting God with their land and work while they were away from home. We can afford to take time out to praise God with others. While we are resting, He will keep the universe running. It does not rest on our shoulders. In one sense, ‘Sabbath’ time is a necessary and humbling reminder that we are not God.
  • We (as individuals and as churches) can ‘lose’ Jesus in a sense, and not realise it for a time (43b, 44). We can lag behind Him. We can also (as here) move on ahead of Him. The key is to keep in step with Him.
  • Jesus’ primary submission had to be to the Father (49; cf. John 14:31). Nevertheless, the passage emphasises that He was an obedient boy.
  • Sometimes, a good question can be more potent than a good answer (46). I often pray that God will help me to ask the right questions. We have thought recently about how God blesses and uses older people. It’s important to know that years on the clock don’t mean you are finished. But here we see how God’s Hand can be on young people. Jesus was just ‘’twelve years old’’ (42).
  • For a second time in this chapter we read about Mary ‘’treasuring’’ (51) these things in her heart (see 19). ‘’His mother held these things dearly, deep within herself.’’ The Message.
  • Finally, here are three great things to pray for your children, whatever their ages (52; see also 40 and 1:80).

Prayer: Let my heart be full to overflowing with thoughts of Jesus

Daily Bible thoughts 1018: Tuesday 24th November 2015: Luke 2:21-40: Word and Spirit.

Luke 2:21-40: Word and Spirit.(please click here for todays passage)

Someone said, ‘’If you just have the Word you will dry up; if you just have the Spirit you will blow up; but if you have the Word and the Spirit together you will grow up.’’

I am struck by the balance between the Word and the Spirit in today’s passage. Joseph and Mary were eager to perform what was prescribed in God’s Word. But we also encounter Simeon and Anna, who were truly ‘charismatic’ people. These two elderly individuals were living lives rooted in the Scriptures, but at the same time they were moving and speaking in the Holy Spirit. This is an important balance for all Christians to maintain. We must be obedient to the Bible and open to the Holy Spirit.

Here are some other thoughts from this part of Luke’s gospel:

  • Joseph and Mary were devout and godly parents who, from the beginning, wanted to raise their child according to God’s Word. That is such a blessing. Mary and Joseph were poor. They couldn’t even afford to bring a lamb (24). But Jesus was blessed to have such God-honouring parents. (I have to add, though, that Mary and Joseph were presenting ‘’the Lamb of God’’, presumably without realising the fact). He, who owns everything, came to nothing. What humility on the part of Jesus (2 Corinthians 8:9);
  • Consider the miracle of timing that the Holy Spirit moved Simeon and Anna to be in the right place at the right time. Here are two examples of ‘divine appointments’. A hidden life of worship and fasting may be preparing someone for one special moment (27, 38);
  • Jesus is the hope of the world (29-32): Luke the Gentile is communicating that Jesus has come to save the Gentiles, not only Jews. (In every encounter with Mary thus far in this gospel there have been repeated affirmations of how special her baby is);
  • Jesus is also a divider of people (34, 35; see also Matthew 10:34-36). The response to Jesus will split humanity in two. It will determine eternal destinies. It will also reveal hearts. Perhaps nothing exposes a person’s heart quite like how they react to Jesus;
  • God mightily uses older people. Don’t think you are finished because you have a few decades behind you. Stay soaked in the Word and immersed in the Spirit, and always be ready for action. After Alan Redpath turned 70 he commented that he was now in ‘extra time’. But he said he realised that a goal scored in injury time could turn the game.

Prayer: Thank you Lord that there is no retirement age in the Kingdom of God.

Daily Bible thoughts 1010: Thursday 12th November 2015: Luke 2:1-20: Ordinary people.

Luke 2:1-20: Ordinary people.(please click here for todays Bible passage)

This familiar chapter opens with a historical note. This is Luke the painstaking historian at work.

Through Joseph and Mary’s obedience to the law of the land (and believers should be good citizens) God’s purpose was worked out and prophecy fulfilled (Micah 5:2).

This is a story of humble people and humble circumstances. The greatest event in history, up to that point, was barely noticed by most. It happened in such obscurity. (‘’How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given…‘’). But God chose to make it known to certain people. Some of them were among the most poor and despised people of their times – the shepherds (8-21). They were just doing their duty that night (8). On any ordinary day God may unexpectedly appear in your work place and fill it with His glory.

The shepherds believed what they were told and eagerly went to see for themselves (15, 16); having seen, they then told (17). But they didn’t preach their experience, as vivid and as wonderful as it was: ‘’…they spread the word…’’ They told what they had been told; they passed on the revealed word about Jesus. That is reliable; it is solid rock beneath our feet. We will always find what God says to be true (20; see 12 & 16). The shepherds were, we might say, seekers, preachers and worshippers. All who seek Jesus and find Him are then called to go and make Him known. The question needs to be asked, ‘Are we ready to hear from God through the lips of unlikely people?’

The ‘’good news’’ about Jesus is ‘’for all the people’’ (10). It’s interesting to note that Luke was a Gentile writing for a Gentile readership

What a lovely picture of meditation is painted in (19; see 2:51). Job said: ‘’I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my daily bread.’’ (Job 23:12b).What thoughts are filling your heart today?

Daily Bible thoughts 1004: Wednesday 4th November 2015: Luke 1:57-80: ‘’His name is John’’.

Luke 1:57-80: ‘’His name is John’’. (please click here for todays Bible passage)

Jilly, my lovely wife pointed out to me the power of two in this story. To my mind it’s a great thought. You’ve got Zechariah and Elizabeth backing each other up as they take their stand on God’s truth (57-66). ‘’It’s better to have a partner than go it alone…And if one falls down, the other helps…’’ The Message (from Ecclesiastes 4).

When the Holy Spirit is active, doing a ‘new thing’, he may cut across cherished traditions. There was nothing inherently wrong with naming the son after the father (traditions aren’t necessarily sinful). But this new day required a new approach. God was doing something new and the ‘new wine’ required a ‘new wineskin’. At times, those who seek to keep in step with God’s Spirit will find that they have to be prepared to go against the norm, the accepted ways of doing things (61). People, almost by default, have a tendency to question change and even resist it. But if the Lord has given us insight into what He is doing we must be prepared to stand with Him against the tide of public opinion. There comes a time to say, as it were, ‘’His name is John’’. Here is something that is no longer up for grabs because God has revealed His mind on it. We know what He thinks, and though the entire world should be moving in the opposite direction, we will stick with God. For every believer, there comes a time to firmly take our stand and say, ‘I believe this is how it is because God says this is how it is!’ (I would add the point from verse 66, that people may well notice when ‘’the Lord’s hand’’ is with someone, but that won’t necessarily make them popular.)

Looking at (63, 64), you see something of the liberating power of obedience to God. It does not bring you into slavery. Well, in one sense it does; yet in slavery to Christ there is true freedom. The hymn writer, George Matheson, captured something of the paradox when he wrote, ‘’Make me a captive, Lord, and then I shall be free.’’ When Zechariah firmly took his stand on what God had revealed, he was ‘’Immediately’’ set free.

The ‘Magnificat’ of Mary (46-55) and the ‘Benedictus’ of Zechariah (68-79) share this feature in common that both express continuity with the Old Testament. Yes, God was doing something new; but He wasn’t going off at a tangent. Everything that was now about to happen in the ‘new’ was a fulfilment of the ‘old’. For a time, I went once a week to pray with the clergy at a local Anglican church. We shared some beautiful liturgical prayers, and these words of Zechariah were at the core of every prayer time. We always stood for this part. I couldn’t help but feel that there was something especially powerful about words that reminded us that Jesus came into the world in fulfilment of prophecy, and that He came for ‘’the forgiveness of…sins’’ (77).

Prayer: Thank you Lord for the amazing way the Bible hangs together.

Daily Bible thoughts 1001: Friday 30th October 2015: Luke 1:39-56: Host to a miracle.

 Luke 1:39-56: Host to a miracle.(please click here for todays Bible passage)

As we read these early chapters of Luke’s gospel it is good to remember that the doctor probably had the opportunity to interview Mary at some point, when he was on his travels with Paul.

Mary and Elizabeth’s lives were intertwined by blood; now they would be knitted even closer together through their sons, and the intersecting missions of these boys. When Mary and Elizabeth met, the older woman surely had prophetic insight (41-45). It must have been a thrilling confirmation for young Mary. This encounter between the two chosen women sort of reminds me of when you meet up with another Christian and your heart just leaps; you’ve got something so special in common.

We see so many wonderful qualities in Mary:

  • Belief in God’s promises (45; compare with 20). This is how we are to live the Christian life; trusting in every promise of His Word.
  • A worshipful spirit (46, 47). The whole song of Mary (46-55) has the focus on ‘’Him’’/ ‘’He’’. This is surely a mark of the Holy Spirit’s fullness. David Pawson told a story about hearing a young ‘Salvation Army’ girl give her testimony in an open air service. He said that she never once spoke about herself; all that she said was about Jesus. He added that he did not believe that this was a conscious decision; she was just so full of the Holy Spirit that she overflowed with Jesus.
  • Humility (48). She knew that she would be famous, but probably had little idea of how well known she would become. However there was nothing boastful about her. I’m grateful to my wife, Jilly, for the insight that Mary was willing to serve. Elizabeth needed Mary. In the last three months of her pregnancy she would benefit from the help of the younger woman. God showed His care for her through Mary. Mary was not full of pride, but full of wonder, love, service and meekness; full of Jesus. True greatness takes the form of a servant (John 13; Philippians 2:1-11). The central verses in this song illustrate the point that God’s Kingdom is the ‘Upside down Kingdom’. Mary and Elizabeth and Zechariah were illustrative of the truth that God reaches down into obscurity to lift up the ‘nobodies’.
  • Knowledge of God’s Word and purposes (54, 55). Again we see continuity with the Old Testament.

Mary knew that she was playing ‘host’ to a miracle. She would not be carrying this baby apart from the mysterious and wonderful work of God within her. Her response was one of humble, adoring thanks for this ‘surprise’. Today I feel the challenge of always thanking God for His surprising blessings; not taking them for granted or thinking I somehow deserve them. It is also important to remember that although God blesses us for our good; it is always for His glory.

Prayer: Thank you Lord for your goodness to me

Luke 1:26-38: Written into God’s story: Daily Bible thoughts 994: Wednesday 21st October 2015:

 Luke 1:26-38: Written into God’s story (please click here for todays Bible passage)

I want to be part of a story God is writing. I don’t want to be working at some man-made project, however grandiose, and be able to boast about what ‘we’ are doing, and how successful we are. I realise that men can build ‘Babel’s’ that look impressive to other men, and to themselves, but they cut no ice with God (Genesis 11:1-9).

So, no, I don’t want any part in that, but I do so want to have a place in God’s story. It regularly involves ordinary and unlikely people. It often has relatively obscure and hidden beginnings in humble places. But it is always a story of real Holy Spirit power at work to bring Jesus into the world, and to change it by glorifying Him.

This is the story I would like to find myself in. I don’t want to write it myself; my desire is to be written in.

If God can hear from me the same words He heard from Mary, I too can have a role in history’s greatest work of non-fiction: ‘’I belong to the Lord, body and soul, let it happen as you say.’’ (38; see Romans 12:1, 2). ‘’And at this the angel left her’’, it says. No wonder. He had heard what he needed to hear; or rather what the Lord needed to hear. That was the required response.

To my mind, the challenge of this familiar story is about submission. Am I willing to have my plans altered, my life changed, by a Word from God? Am I willing for Jesus to fill me, to grow in me, to dominate my life from this point on (if I haven’t come to that place as yet)?

There are obvious parallels between the first story in (5-25) and this one, but it is important to understand that Mary’s question in (34) was not about unbelief. It was a technicality: ‘’But how? I’ve never slept with a man.’’ The Message. However big the mountains are, they can be moved when the Holy Spirit is on the job (35-37). That is one reason why God’s stories are the best!

Prayer: Lord God, may it be that my life is all about you, and not about me.

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