Archives for November 2017

Friday, November 17

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

The day of the Lord will come when many are caught unaware. In Christ, however, we are aware, like people who have woken up in the daylight, and we can choose faith, love and the hope of salvation rather than judgment.

1 Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you,
2 for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.

  • The Book of Amos is essentially a warning about the Day of the Lord, a day of judgment. At any time – no one can know the day or time – Christ will return and there will be both joy and judgment – joy as He claims His own, and judgment on others.

3 While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labour pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.

4 But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief.

  • At a time of year when days are short and nights long, we adapt to driving and walking in the dark, not seeing much around us. We don’t expect to see beyond where we are. That’s the danger in view here: not so much the not seeing, but the not expecting to see.

5 You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness.

  • Children of the light, therefore born into the light. This only comes by a new spiritual birth.

6 So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober.

  • It is sometimes said, we are either walking towards Christ, or walking away from Him. It is one or the other – there isn’t a fence to sit on. Choosing to walk towards Him is looking to Him, awake and sober and belonging to the light. 

7 For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night.
8 But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.

  • Paul uses this expression in writing to the church in Ephesus about holy attitudes which are our spiritual protection – including our awareness of choosing to think in a positive way as those who are receiving salvation Ephesians 6:17

9 For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.

  • It is worth noting that in the much-debated matter of how we understand the tribulation, or the Day of the Lord, this is neverin Scripture associated with the church. There is a wide diversity of views about what how tribulation will play out and its direction. However, from this verse (v.9) it is safe to conclude that we who belong to Jesus, part of His body on earth, are appointed to salvation, not tribulation.
  • The early church were aware of two things with great clarity: God’s wrath is real and deserved, but at the same time those who are in Christ Jesus are receiving His grace, not awaiting His wrath. They were truly thankful for salvation! Our culture tends to play down God’s wrath – and therefore reduces the high value of God’s gracious action in giving us a salvation we could not earn. To empty God’s wrath of its content is to rob the Christian life of much of its joy and purpose.

10 He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with Him.
11 Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

Application

This teaching for the Thessalonian church reinforces for us the choice we are given if we are truly the Lord’s. We have been given free will, to respond to God’s love or not; to do what pleases Him or to do what pleases us. That choice is gently guided by the Holy Spirit. We need to be awake and alert to follow His leading and be aware of His prompting.

The Old Testament passages paint a stark picture of God’s holiness contrasted with man’s selfish and willful nature. Here, in Paul writing to a church of Spirit-filled, Spirit-led believers the emphasis is on choosing what we know to be right in God’s sight.

In our world we face constant temptations to worship things that should not take our attention away from God, and our flesh nature will try to pull us off track. However, we have the Holy Spirit, depicted in Scripture as a dove, and needing some alertness on our part to discern and to follow on the right path.

Jesus may return at any time. Will He find us in faith, building His kingdom, and aware of our responsibility to make good choices for Him? We don’t have to look for the effects of His wrath and judgment – but we are strongly reminded, we always have the choice, to find our own way: or to make the choice to ‘follow the dove’ and walk toward Jesus.

Thursday, November 16

Matthew 25:14-30

Judgment of the worthless servant who hid what had been given to him instead of investing and growing it.

14 “Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them.

  • Wealthy people in the ancient world often went on long journeys, leaving their property and business interests in the hands of trusted bond-servants or stewards who were free men. Travelling was unpredictable and the servants would not have known when the master might return.

15 To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey.

  • The individual bag of gold weighed a talent, like a really heavy ‘extra-charges’ suitcase – as much as anyone would want to carry. So this is considerable investment and responsibility that is being assigned.

16 The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more.
17 So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more.

  1. To us, this seems an exaggeration – such a high rate of return. And Jewish people were forbidden to participate in usury, lending at high rates of interest. However, there was no prohibition on lending to Gentiles, and rich people tended to be more influenced by Greek practices. Added to this, few people of this time had spare capital, so someone needing to borrow for land or a grand building or to pay a militia would have to pay the asking rate, which without competition could be high. A doubling of the sum in, say, a year was not an unrealistic expectation on the part of the master.

18 But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

  • Hiding money in the ground was not uncommon; it was considered a safe place. Archaeologists and others have often discovered forgotten hordes of earlier times.

19 “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them.
20 The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’
21 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

22 “The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’
23 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

4 “Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed.

  • We should not assume that the servant’s allegation was true – there is no hint that the master was harsh, apart from this.
  • The servant is hardly loving to his master in his remarks. Perhaps he was resentful that he was not trusted with a greater amount.

25 So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’

26 “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed?
27 Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.

  • Rather than the greater risk and greater return of arranging a direct loan or investment, the lazy and disobedient servant could have put the money on deposit with a banker or money-changer, and still earned useful interest.

28 “ ‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags.
29 For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.

  • Being ready for Christ’s coming – the unknown time of return, and the main point of the parable – requires active service rather than passivity. Taking the risk (faith) of being found doing what is right, not just avoiding what is wrong, is the expectation.
  • Jesus states this principle in the context of telling the parable of the soils, Matt. 13:12. He is quoting Isaiah 6:9-10. From a worldly perspective, “whoever has will be given more” seems to be a hard saying. From a heavenly or faith perspective, it is not difficult. The ways of God do not follow man’s logic or expectation. A person whose response lacks the dimension of faith will “lose” what is imparted, because understanding is not just intellectual but revealed through faith. A person who “has” even a little faith will understand through faith, and “will be given more”. Jesus asks elsewhere, following the parable of the widow and the unjust judge Luke 18:1-8 “When the Son of Man returns will He find faith on the earth?”

30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Application

Choose to honour God in all He gives us, investing to grow His kingdom rather than playing for safety.

The word ‘talents’ used by some translators can take us away from the central meaning of this parable, which is about faith and readiness.

Everyone who has accepted the lordship of Jesus has a measure of faith (Romans 12:3,6), and this grows (2 Cor. 10:15) with maturity. The Lord expects us to put to work the faith that we have; the effect of this is to gain more.

Like the subject of the story who went away, and might return unannounced at any time, we are charged with being ready for Christ’s return at any time and being found faithful and active and working with what He has given us – investing ourselves and our gifts, by faith, in making a better world.

Wednesday, November 15

Psalm 90:1-12 (NIV)

Entitled: A prayer of Moses, the man of God.

People’s lives are like grass that withers and their days quickly pass under Your wrath; yet we pray You will relent, teach us Your wisdom and give us Your favour.

1 Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations.

  • Psalm 90 to Psalm 100 fit together and are framed by the beginning statement of praise, “Lord, You have been our dwelling place throughout all generations” and the similar language of the ending statement of praise “His faithfulness continues through all generations”.

2 Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
3 You turn people back to dust, saying, “Return to dust, you mortals.”

  • The psalmist praises God as the Creator and recalls the creation of man, Genesis 2:7.

4 A thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night.
5 Yet you sweep people away in the sleep of death — they are like the new grass of the morning:

  • Contrast this grim reality with the much more comforting words of Psalm 91:1-6 especially. Psalm 90 and 91 read together become a more balanced expression.

6 In the morning it springs up new, but by evening it is dry and withered.

7 We are consumed by your anger and terrified by your indignation.
8 You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence.
9 All our days pass away under your wrath; we finish our years with a moan.
10 Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures; yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away.

  • The psalmist’s focus here is man’s depravity, the word used to describe our being born sinful, selfish and independent. With this starting point, we cannot avoid angering God with sins that are both plain “iniquities” and the hidden thoughts and attitudes, or actions unknown to others which are the “secret sins” which of course are all observed by God. The psalmist explains that this is the root of man’s insecurity and anxiety, which are the expression of God’s ever-present wrath. So, too, is the brevity of life.

11 If only we knew the power of your anger! Your wrath is as great as the fear that is your due.

  • God’s righteous wrath is contrasted with the fear, or loving awe, which is what is due to Him.

12 Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

(Lectionary reading ends here)

13 Relent, Lord! How long will it be? Have compassion on your servants.
14 Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.
15 Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, for as many years as we have seen trouble.
16 May your deeds be shown to your servants, your splendour to their children
17 May the favour of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us— yes, establish the work of our hands.

  • The last word of the psalm is about God’s enduring and merciful love (hesed) in language which reflects the covenant relationship between God and His people. It ends with a supplication for God’s favour.

Application

Choose the eternal purposes of God rather than living for the present in what cannot endure.

Part of the key to this prayer to God to have compassion on His servants is to see the timescale measured against eternity as in verse 4. This is hard for us to grasp. So is the reality of God’s wrath, and our experience of it in trials of life, resulting from man’s sin and sentence of death that is the starting point for all of us.

On its own, it is a grim picture of the human state, but the compilers of the Psalter have followed it with a psalm that speaks eloquently of the happiness of those who “dwell in the shelter of the Most High” and “make the Most High their dwelling” (Psalm 91:1,9). See also Psalm 103.

Another key to how Psalm 90 speaks to us is to think about the contrast between a holy, pure, all-loving God, and man’s natural selfish and independent state. For a New Testament perspective of man’s unredeemed depravity, and God’s response to it, read Romans 1:18-32. Of course there is a choice, a way out for those who turn to God, but God’s mercy (like wrath, a big word with deep meaning) would become less arresting, less immense, less of a focus of our unstinting praise, apart from the context of our sin and its consequences.

Tuesday, November 14: Zephaniah 1:7-18

The Day of the Lord: judgment and anguish for the complacent

Choose to heed the voice of the Lord – or remain complacent and face judgment

7 Be silent before the Sovereign Lord, for the day of the Lord is near. The Lord has prepared a sacrifice; He has consecrated those He has invited.

  • The prophets (e.g. Amos 6:10; 8:3; Hab. 2:20; Zech. 2:13) would at times call people to silence: this is the mark of a particularly solemn announcement on behalf of the Lord.
  • The irony of the sacrifice the Lord has prepared is that He is ‘setting apart’ and ‘inviting’ those who will be the sacrifice.

(Lectionary omits vv. 8-11)
8 “On the day of the Lord’s sacrifice I will punish the officials and the king’s son and all those clad in foreign clothes.

  • The princes and senior leaders at court should have been the ones to lead the people in righteousness, not the unrighteousness of mixed allegiance (syncretism). A contemporary example of syncretism would be Christian church attendance combined with Freemasonry, whose rituals and declarations make it a different religion.
  • “Foreign clothes” would be Babylonian or Egyptian dress influences which pointed towards those spiritual influences.

9 On that day I will punish all who avoid stepping on the threshold, who fill the temple of their gods with violence and deceit.

  • “All who avoid stepping on the threshold…” refers to an obscure practice by pagan priests. It is the pagan practices that are in view here.

10 “On that day,” declares the Lord, “a cry will go up from the Fish Gate, wailing from the New Quarter, and a loud crash from the hills.
11 Wail, you who live in the market district; all your merchants will be wiped out, all who trade with silver will be destroyed.

  • Not ‘business as usual’

12 At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps and punish those who are complacent, who are like wine left on its dregs, who think, ‘The Lord will do nothing, either good or bad.’

  • The key verse. In a grim forecast of wrath and economic collapse, with particular judgment on those in positions of responsibility, it is the complacent who the Lord seeks out for punishment. To turn from complacency, or remain in complacency, is a choice.

13 Their wealth will be plundered, their houses demolished. Though they build houses, they will not live in them; though they plant vineyards, they will not drink the wine.”
14 The great day of the Lord is near— near and coming quickly. The cry on the day of the Lord is bitter; the Mighty Warrior shouts his battle cry.
15 That day will be a day of wrath— a day of distress and anguish, a day of trouble and ruin, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness—
16 a day of trumpet and battle cry against the fortified cities and against the corner towers.
17 “I will bring such distress on all people that they will grope about like those who are blind, because they have sinned against the Lord. Their blood will be poured out like dust and their entrails like dung.
18 Neither their silver nor their gold will be able to save them on the day of the Lord’s wrath.”

In the fire of His jealousy the whole earth will be consumed, for He will make a sudden end of all who live on the earth.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Second reading leading up to Sunday, November 19

Zephaniah 1:7-18

The Day of the Lord: judgment and anguish for the complacent

7 Be silent before the Sovereign Lord, for the day of the Lord is near. The Lord has prepared a sacrifice; He has consecrated those He has invited.

  • The prophets (e.g. Amos 6:10; 8:3; Hab. 2:20; Zech. 2:13) would at times call people to silence: this is the mark of a particularly solemn announcement on behalf of the Lord.
  • The irony of the sacrifice the Lord has prepared is that He is ‘setting apart’ and ‘inviting’ those who will be the sacrifice.

(Lectionary omits vv. 8-11)
8 “On the day of the Lord’s sacrifice I will punish the officials and the king’s son and all those clad in foreign clothes.

  • The princes and senior leaders at court should have been the ones to lead the people in righteousness, not the unrighteousness of mixed allegiance (syncretism). A contemporary example of syncretism would be Christian church attendance combined with Freemasonry, whose rituals and declarations make it a different religion.
  • “Foreign clothes” would be Babylonian or Egyptian dress influences which pointed towards those spiritual influences.

9 On that day I will punish all who avoid stepping on the threshold, who fill the temple of their gods with violence and deceit.

  • “All who avoid stepping on the threshold…” refers to a practice by pagan priests 1 Samuel 5:4-5. Like the “foreign clothes” it is the incorporation of pagan practices that are in view here.

10 “On that day,” declares the Lord, “a cry will go up from the Fish Gate, wailing from the New Quarter, and a loud crash from the hills.
11 “Wail, you who live in the market district; all your merchants will be wiped out, all who trade with silver will be destroyed.

  • Not ‘business as usual’

12 “At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps and punish those who are complacent, who are like wine left on its dregs, who think, ‘The Lord will do nothing, either good or bad.’

  • The key verse. In a grim forecast of wrath and economic collapse, with particular judgment on those in positions of responsibility, it is the complacent who the Lord seeks out for punishment. To turn from complacency, or remain in complacency, is a choice.

13 “Their wealth will be plundered, their houses demolished. Though they build houses, they will not live in them; though they plant vineyards, they will not drink the wine.”
14 The great day of the Lord is near – near and coming quickly. The cry on the day of the Lord is bitter; the Mighty Warrior shouts his battle cry.
15 That day will be a day of wrath…

  • The wrath of God is frequently and widely mentioned throughout Scripture, and is clearly not confined to the final judgment. God’s wrath is also mentioned in the New Testament, but the emphasis is on the choice we have in Jesus to escape that wrath e.g.
    I Thessalonians 9-10  “They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead – Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.”
    God is holy, and cannot countenance sin and rebellion and selfishness, hence the strong word wrath which is applied to those attitudes. For further study read around John 3:36, Colossians 3:5-6 and 1 Thess. 5:9.

…a day of distress and anguish, a day of trouble and ruin, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness –
16 a day of trumpet and battle cry against the fortified cities and against the corner towers.
17 “I will bring such distress on all people that they will grope about like those who are blind, because they have sinned against the Lord. Their blood will be poured out like dust and their entrails like dung.
18 Neither their silver nor their gold will be able to save them on the day of the Lord’s wrath…

  • Material riches provide a sense of security, here shown to be a false security and part of the complacency which deceives us into refusing to take seriously the holiness of God (v.12 above).

In the fire of His jealousy the whole earth will be consumed, for He will make a sudden end of all who live on the earth.”

Application

Choose to heed the voice of the Lord – or remain complacent and face judgment

The challenge moves from “choose life” through pledging obedience to God, to choosing salvation through a change of heart.

In the time of the law and the prophets, this was a change of heart from complacency to response. Whether listening to God speak through Moses setting out the law, or God speaking through prophetic voices at different points in history, who repeatedly recalled people to the law, there was always a tension between those who heard and listened and responded, and those who heard but remained complacent.

The phrase we pray frequently “Your kingdom come” Luke 11:2 is our way of calling down God’s order into our lives and world, with the realisation that we are responsible for our hearts and attitudes. We are greatly helped in this by being able to choose new life in Jesus, and to receive the revelation of the Holy Spirit who convicts the world “of sin and righteousness and judgment” John 16:8. In other words, He sensitises us to what inevitably leads to God’s wrath, and reveals to us what by contrast is the path of righteousness and ongoing salvation through submitting to the lordship of Jesus.

God in His mercy always provides a way out from His judgment. What keeps us from receiving God’s grace and peace, in a world which apart from two billion Christians, seems to be inviting His wrath? It is usually our pride and self-sufficiency – and complacency, the point of the passage.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Introduction from the collect or special prayer for the week: We worship a Heavenly Father, whose blessed Son was revealed to destroy the works of the devil which lead us into God’s wrath, but rather to make us children of God and heirs of eternal life.

First of the readings for the week leading up to Sunday, November 19.

Deuteronomy 30:11-19

(an additional reading)

Choose life and prosperity in covenant with God, or the death and destruction that results from independence.

11 Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach.
12 It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, “Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?”
13 Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, “Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?”
14 No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.

  • ‘Not too difficult” v.11 and “very near you” v.14 are different expressions of the same thing. This is a word “in your mouth” i.e. one that can be memorised and spoken out, and “in your heart” i.e. one that you can feel and respond to. We would say colloquially that it’s not too big a stretch for us to ‘get it’.

15 See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction.

  • As they get ready to move out and enter the Promised Land, there is a clear choice to be made.

16 For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to Him, and to keep His commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.

  • Not just a choice: obedience to what is commanded is a pre-requisite.

17 But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them,
18 I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.

  • The danger of being attracted to other gods would be greater as they approached Canaan and found themselves surrounded by pagan practices.

19 This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live
20 and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and He will give you many years in the land He swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Application

Choose life by following God’s word and God’s ways

The nation of Israel at the time of Moses didn’t have what we take for granted; in particular, they didn’t have the salvation history of Israel to refer to. However, Moses impressed upon them that the word was “near”, in other words, by no means out of reach. They had heard it and it was in their oral tradition.

We have a lot more points of reference and education, not to mention a personal relationship with God. They related to Yahweh through priests and sacrifices and the Law. We have a choice not available to them – knowing God through Jesus and by revelation from the Holy Spirit.

But we “choose life” through the same fundamental commitment: to walk in His ways and not our own.

Jump to page with the posts for the week together

The Living Word for Saturday, November 11

Readings for Sunday, November 12

Amos 5:18-24  

Isaiah 58:1-12

Psalm 70:1-6

Matthew 25:1-13

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

Finding the message and applying it

Intentional about meeting with God… in the right frame of mind

The word through Amos sets a scene in which God Almighty, who is also God all-holy, has an expectation that we will seek Him as He is. But we start by expecting God to meet us as we are. The starting points are different.

The Father wants our worship in close relationship. He has no need of anything, no need of us, but he desires our response to His love.

We, however, come to Him with needs. We don’t feel good about ourselves, so we seek affirmation. We even delude ourselves that we deserve it!

To read that God may despise our carefully prepared Sunday worship is a shock. But what has He told us to attend to? If there are relationships which are not right, or we are in competition with the other churches, or we are sitting on reserves on deposit when the missions we have been given are crying out for support, He might rather we made that prayer of confession real and hold a meeting to decide to do something about it. Otherwise we’ll be continuing to come to church to encounter God and His Spirit will be withdrawn. How long will our complacency last until we notice?

Intention or pretension? Meeting God without pretence

Isaiah seems to be saying much the same as Amos a couple of generations earlier. “Going without” choice food or Facebook or television for a time as a way of drawing closer to God is still something we practice (it’s behind the ‘fish on Friday’ and ‘Lent lunch’ traditions) but if we only seem eager for God to draw near and leave attitudes abhorrent to Him unconfessed, we make things worse than ever because of the hypocrisy we are showing. God, of course, knows our hearts.

We may hear Him gently reminding us: You cannot ‘fast’ or worship, or intercede as you do today, insincerely, with the wrong intention, and still expect your voice to be heard in heaven.

Too much in church, in the nation, in our everyday lives is judgmental and oppressive of others, when we are called to show our love for God by loving others. A more compassionate society starts where I am in my pew, and then God will be listening and empowering because we are of the same heart and on the same mission as Him.

Intentional about needing God’s day by day help and deliverance

We can’t do it ourselves, the psalmist reminds us. There are difficulties, there is opposition – the enemy is always prowling round, seeing who he can devour – and we not only need help but need to know to ask for help. Pride always wants to be self-sufficient, but God wants a relationship with us that lets Him in, that asks Him to be involved, that looks to His provision.

Deism is a philosophy that arose in the Age of Enlightenment in the 1700s when modern science and discovery (from Isaac Newton onwards) and ideas such as Thomas Paine’s ‘The Age of Reason’ elevated discovery and reason above mystery and revelation from God, which was criticised as the control of ‘priestcraft’. Newton’s mathematics explained the universe as a perfectly balanced gravitational system. It was not a big leap from this to seeing the world as created by God and left to run, without need of His intervention. Deists view God as detached and distant, not wanting to be involved in our world; you may not hear the term used much today, but that thinking still affects our relationship with God today and has robbed much of the church of an effective prayer ministry.

This mature prayer by David towards the end of his life teaches us the exact opposite. God knows what we need, but out of relationship He loves us to ask, and to share our lives with Him.

Intentional about being ready for the Lord’s coming – or just His timing

A key doctrine that the Bible teaches is that the Lord, the Messiah who came, will at a time unknown to any but the Father, come again. This will be a time of glorious celebration, but also judgment, echoing the message of Amos and that of Isaiah which we read earlier. It depends whether we are expectant and prepared, or complacent (even arrogant) about how we are spiritually, in the Lord’s sight. The story of the bridesmaids teaches us that we all have to be ready for Christ to come again. “Ready” must mean looking to Him, not to other values – it means we have to take responsibility for our own spiritual condition. That will involve healthy self-examination – is my lamp burning bright and well-supplied?

Oil is a familiar metaphor for the Holy Spirit; anointing was done with oil and the outward action with the oil had (and still has) a spiritual counterpart. Jesus Himself needed this anointing at the start of His ministry, which He announced following His baptism: quoting the start of Isaiah 61, he said “The Spirit of the Lord is on Me, because He has anointed Me, to preach good news…proclaim freedom…sight for the blind…release for the oppressed…and the Lord’s favour” Luke 4:18-19. So is it too much of a stretch, in this parable about readiness and bridesmaids having enough oil, to see our responsibility to ask day by day for a fresh infilling of the Holy Spirit, so we are found to be living in the light and giving light to others, whenever or however Jesus comes?

Without taking anything away from the promise we live with, that one day Jesus Christ will come again in glory, there are situations day by day which call for an encounter with Jesus. We ask that someone might know a touch from Him, that a person in spiritual blindness may have the ability to see Him, for freedom for a person spiritually captive to be able to turn to Him, and so on. And He will often say to us to minister, so that our mouth conveys His words, our hands His touch. “Fill me afresh, Lord, as I submit to You.”

Intentional about expecting an encounter with the Lord – personal or world-changing

In Thessaloniki the church of relatively new believers were getting hold of the expectation that Jesus, who died and rose again, would come again. In fact, they were concerned that their older saints might come to the end of their earthly lives before it happened!

Too much has been made of the precise way this will happen, when we are not told. Too many have attempted to predict when it will happen, when we are told that no one knows (and no one should be concerned to know). There are better concerns.

Jeremiah tells us in another place that “the heart is deceitful above all things” [Jeremiah 17:9](https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Jer+17%3A9&version=NIVUK). So we carry on thinking we are the most spiritual people on earth, when in reality there are things God has told us and shown us, which we are not attending to. Then our worship is less than true.

Because we are human, there will always be things we need to put right with God. Many church traditions start worship with a confession of sin and that’s a good priority. But we should do this for ourselves anyway, before attempting to draw close to God in worship, aware of the displeasure of God to hear expressions of adoration when our hearts and actions deny them. This is all part of our ongoing spiritual renewal, recognising that in ourselves we are poor and needy – we need God to step in and help us, and He is waiting to hear that! Then we’re in the right place to live for the Lord, looking to Him – and ready for whatever He might say or do. Or indeed His return.

***

To reflect on or as discussion starters

1. Do we long for a kind of “Day of the Lord” with wistful memories of full churches and spiritual impacts in past years?
2. In what ways have we fallen into the trap of divided hearts where we are “seeming eager to know God’s way, seeming eager for Him to draw near” (Isaiah 58:2, Amos 5:22) but in reality guarding our comfort zone and what is familiar to us?
3. From the Scriptures this week, it appears that a lot of what we ‘do’ for God, may not actually please Him. What would happen if we focused more on “being” before God and let go of our attempts to please God in what we do?
4. From time to time it is reported that there has been a move of God, with communities impacted and many lives transformed. Do we dare to ask for such a thing, and what might be the barriers that God is showing us?
5. The Scriptures teach us to live in constant readiness. How ready are we? What would help us to be more prepared, more ready for whatever God will do next?

 

The Living Word for Friday, November 10

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

*Intentional about expecting an encounter with the Lord – personal or world-changing*

 

– *The promise that the Lord will come again, and how it will happen.*

13 Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed…

– *Paul’s phrase to emphasise something particularly important e.g. gifts of the Spirit, the apostles’ experience of extreme difficulties [1 Cor. 12:1, 2 Cor. 1:8](https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Cor.+12%3A1%2C+2+Cor.+1%3A8&version=NIVUK)*

…about those who sleep in death,

– *An apt metaphor for death for Christians. Death is not final;
resurrection is promised ([1 Cor.
15:12-18](https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1%20Cor.%2015:12-18&version=NIVUK))
Paul clarifies resurrection and the Lord’s return, to the church in
Thessaloniki and beyond. Some were apparently confused – thinking
that all believers would live until Christ returned; when some then
died, would they miss out on that great day?*

…so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.

– *Grieving for the loss of a loved relative or friend is one thing; grieving without hope (confident expectation of God’s goodness) is another. Tomb inscriptions from Bible times indicate that pagans viewed death with horror at its finality.*

14 For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in Him.
15 According to the Lord’s word,

– *Not recorded in the Gospels but perhaps passed on orally*

…we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep.

– *Paul often identifies with his readers. He is not saying that he expects to be alive at the Lord’s return (also v.17 below).*

16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven,

– *Promised in [Acts 1:11](https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Acts+1%3A11&version=NIVUK), by angels who manifested as visible being on the occasion of the Ascension.*

… with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.

– *The only named archangel in the Bible is Michael [Jude 9, Daniel 10:13](https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Jude+9%2C+Daniel+10%3A13&version=NIVUK). Gabriel, clearly a high-ranking angel messenger, is not given that title when he appears to Mary [Luke 1:19, 26](https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke+1%3A19%2C+26&version=NIVUK).*

17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.

– *This is the only place where a “rapture” is mentioned (from the Vulgate rendering of the Latin word ‘rapio’, which translates the Greek ‘harpazo’, ‘snatch’). Mainline denominations generally hold the view that the triumphant gathering will occur for everyone together in heaven, without some being ‘snatched’ up to heaven and others left on earth for a tribulation period, the ‘pre-tribulation’ view of the end times based on this verse and popularised by John Nelson Darby and the Plymouth Brethren in the 1830s, and the Scofield Reference Bible. Neither view amounts to a primary Christian doctrine, so it should not be a divisive matter.*

18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.

– *Paul is drawing attention in more formal language, to a central doctrine of Christian belief, that Christ will come again. He says (v.14 and elsewhere e.g Romans 14:9) that Jesus died, not slept. Jesus experienced death for us before His resurrection.*

***

#### Intentional about expecting an encounter with the Lord – personal or world-changing
In Thessaloniki the church of relatively new believers were getting hold of the expectation that Jesus, who died and rose again, would come again. In fact, they were concerned that their older saints might come to the end of their earthly lives before it happened!

Too much has been made of the precise way this will happen, when we are not told. Too many have attempted to predict when it will happen, when we are told that no one knows (and no one should be concerned to know). There are better concerns.

Jeremiah tells us in another place that “the heart is deceitful above all things” [Jeremiah 17:9](https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Jer+17%3A9&version=NIVUK). So we carry on thinking we are the most spiritual people on earth, when in reality there are things God has told us and shown us, which we are not attending to. Then our worship is less than true.

Because we are human, there will always be things we need to put right with God. Many church traditions start worship with a confession of sin and that’s a good priority. But we should do this for ourselves anyway, before attempting to draw close to God in worship, aware of the displeasure of God to hear expressions of adoration when our hearts and actions deny them. This is all part of our ongoing spiritual renewal, recognising that in ourselves we are poor and needy – we need God to step in and help us, and He is waiting to hear that! Then we’re in the right place to live for the Lord, looking to Him – and ready for whatever He might say or do. Or indeed His return.

The Living Word for Thursday, November 9

###Matthew 25:1-13
*Intentional about being ready for the Lord’s coming, or for any aspect of His timing*.

*This parable sits in the middle of a series of six which all speak about being prepared for what may happen suddenly and unannounced – specifically the return of the Lord [Matt. 24:42](https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matt.+24%3A42&version=NIVUK). No one, not even Jesus, knows the day or the hour of that [Matt. 24:36](https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matt.+24%3A36&version=NIVUK).
In the days of Noah, people were living their lives in carefree abandon – and then the flood came [Matt. 24:38-41](https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matt.+24%3A38-41&version=NIVUK). A thief operates by surprise, so we are watchful and take precautions [Matt. 24:42-44](https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matt.+24%3A42-44&version=NIVUK). The head servant of a grand household (think Downton) needs to keep the house prepared and the other servants at readiness, because the master of the house might arrive back at any time and will expect honesty and diligence [Matt. 24:45-51](https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matt.+24%3A45-51&version=NIVUK).
So it is for the bridesmaids lined up for a wedding procession – their most important discipline is to be ready at all times.
The Parable of the Talents [Matt. 25:14-30](https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matt.+25%3A14-30&version=NIVUK) and the Sheep and the Goats [Matt. 25:31-46](https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matt.+25%3A31-46&version=NIVUK) reinforce the principle.
Six stories is a lot of emphasis; this is a particularly important teaching.*

1 “At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.
2 Five of them were foolish and five were wise.

3 The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them.
4 The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps.
5 The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.

– *Middle Eastern culture of that time was not so time-dominated as ours. Weddings took place in the evening and on into the night and part of the fun of the ceremonial was the the bridegroom’s retinue arriving unannounced to claim the bride and process to the wedding celebration. Apart from all the preparations, there was often some Middle Eastern haggling over the value of the gifts offered for the bride – so delay was all part of the suspense.*

6 “At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’
7 “Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’

– *Earthenware lamps and open torches were both used; both needed frequent attention. A bridesmaid who wasn’t prepared for this was silly indeed.*

9 “ ‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’
10 “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.

– *Once everyone was gathered, the door would be shut, the celebration would start and often continue for days.*

11 “Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’
12 “But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’

– *It was not just careless but insulting to miss the procession through being unprepared.*

13 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.”

– *How much more important for us to be ready and prepared for the Lord’s return at any time. We can broaden this out into a challenge to be ready and expectant for what the Lord will say or do, in an encounter with the Holy Spirit – not the lower expectation of worship that is predictable and follows a well-familiar pattern with little thought given to how the Lord might want to break in to our lives.*

***

#### Intentional about being ready for the Lord’s coming – or just His timing

A key doctrine that the Bible teaches is that the Lord, the Messiah who came, will at a time unknown to any but the Father, come again. This will be a time of glorious celebration, but also judgment, echoing the message of Amos and that of Isaiah which we read earlier. It depends whether we are expectant and prepared, or complacent (even arrogant) about how we are spiritually, in the Lord’s sight. The story of the bridesmaids teaches us that we all have to be ready for Christ to come again. “Ready” must mean looking to Him, not to other values – it means we have to take responsibility for our own spiritual condition. That will involve healthy self-examination – is my lamp burning bright and well-supplied?

Oil is a familiar metaphor for the Holy Spirit; anointing was done with oil and the outward action with the oil had (and still has) a spiritual counterpart. Jesus Himself needed this anointing at the start of His ministry, which He announced following His baptism: quoting the start of Isaiah 61, he said “The Spirit of the Lord is on Me, because He has anointed Me, to preach good news…proclaim freedom…sight for the blind…release for the oppressed…and the Lord’s favour” Luke 4:18-19. So is it too much of a stretch, in this parable about readiness and bridesmaids having enough oil, to see our responsibility to ask day by day for a fresh infilling of the Holy Spirit, so we are found to be living in the light and giving light to others, whenever or however Jesus comes?

Without taking anything away from the promise we live with, that one day Jesus Christ will come again in glory, there are situations day by day which call for an encounter with Jesus. We ask that someone might know a touch from Him, that a person in spiritual blindness may have the ability to see Him, for freedom for a person spiritually captive to be able to turn to Him, and so on. And He will often say to us to minister, so that our mouth conveys His words, our hands His touch. “Fill me afresh, Lord, as I submit to You.”

The Living Word for Wednesday, November 8

### Psalm 70:1-6
*Intentional about needing God’s day by day help and deliverance*

*This is essentially the same as Psalm 40:13-18.*

1 Hasten, O God, to save me;
come quickly, Lord, to help me.
2 May those who want to take my life be put to shame and confusion;
may all who desire my ruin be turned back in disgrace.

– *This is not vindictive, as it might at first appear. David is calling on God to act by recalling the covenant relationship between the Lord and His people, between the Lord and David.*

3 May those who say to me, “Aha! Aha!”
turn back because of their shame.

– *The enemies of surrounding nations liked to take opportunity to “Aha” and mock God’s people. David is calling on God to honour the principle of Genesis 12:3 i.e let God bless or curse those who blessed or cursed him.*

4 But may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you;
may those who long for your saving help always say, “The Lord is great!”
5 But as for me, I am poor and needy; come quickly to me, O God.
You are my help and my deliverer; Lord, do not delay.

– *The sense of “come quickly to deliver me” is always predicated on an attitude of dependence and reliance of God. This is an easy principle to grasp; throughout history it has proved to be a difficult one for God’s people of every era to embrace.*

***

#### Intentional about needing God’s day by day help and deliverance

We can’t do it ourselves, the psalmist reminds us. There are difficulties, there is opposition – the enemy is always prowling round, seeing who he can devour – and we not only need help but need to know to ask for help. Pride always wants to be self-sufficient, but God wants a relationship with us that lets Him in, that asks Him to be involved, that looks to His provision.

Deism is a philosophy that arose in the Age of Enlightenment in the 1700s when modern science and discovery (from Isaac Newton onwards) and ideas such as Thomas Paine’s ‘The Age of Reason’ elevated discovery and reason above mystery and revelation from God, which was criticised as the control of ‘priestcraft’. Newton’s mathematics explained the universe as a perfectly balanced gravitational system. It was not a big leap from this to seeing the world as created by God and left to run, without need of His intervention. Deists view God as detached and distant, not wanting to be involved in our world; you may not hear the term used much today, but that thinking still affects our relationship with God today and has robbed much of the church of an effective prayer ministry.

This mature prayer by David towards the end of his life teaches us the exact opposite. God knows what we need, but out of relationship He loves us to ask, and to share our lives with Him.