Archives for November 2017

The Living Word for Monday November 6

Readings for November 12, 2017 – Third Sunday before Advent and Remembrance Sunday

Monday, November 6: Amos 5:18-24 (NIV)

Intentional about meeting God – but on His terms, not ours

Looking towards the day of the Lord is a reality check for us. The prophetic word asks, where is the desire for justice, for righteousness, to flow again?

18 Woe to you who long for the day of the Lord!
Why do you long for the day of the Lord?
That day will be darkness, not light.

  • The Israelites in their arrogance looked for the Lord’s encounter as their affirmation. The Day of the Lord in the OT was an encounter with God in which He would intervene, either to praise or to bring judgment. The thought of possible judgment for sin was not in their thinking.

19 It will be as though a man fled from a lion only to meet a bear,
as though he entered his house and rested his hand on the wall
only to have a snake bite him.

  • Illustrations of the dangers of false security.

20 Will not the day of the Lord be darkness, not light –
pitch-dark, without a ray of brightness?

  • Amos begins to confront the over-confident attitude of the Israelites.
    The Day of the Lord is first mentioned in Amos, although the idea was much older. It looked back to Gideon’s victories over the Midianites Judges 7 or David’s over the Philistines 2 Sam. 5:17–25. Israel was looking for Yahweh to deliver them from their surrounding enemies and establish them securely as His holy people – forever. They were His chosen people; this, they thought, was sufficient as a guarantee of His favour. They celebrated these past victories in public celebrations and feasts and this built up an expectation of what God would do for them in the future. 
  • But the flaw was their double-mindedness. They celebrated the NAME of Yahweh, but paid no attention to the NATURE of Yahweh and following His precepts. The worship was therefore insincere and unacceptable. So the Day of the Lord, the visitation of the Lord, was going to be for them judgment, darkness not light, unless they changed their ways to “hate evil, love good, maintain justice in the courts” and humbly ask for the mercy of the Lord God Almighty Amos 5:15.

21 “I hate, I despise your religious festivals;
your assemblies are a stench to Me.
22 Even though you bring Me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
I will have no regard for them.
23 Away with the noise of your songs!
I will not listen to the music of your harps.
24 But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream!”

  • We put the headline first but psalms sometimes use a poetic form (called chiasmic) like tree rings which circle the ‘headline’ in the middle – here at v.24.
  • Those who long for the ‘Day of the Lord’ seem to be saying “Come, Lord” as we might in church, expecting a good encounter. But the psalmist says, beware of making a false assumption. ‘The Day’ could be a painful encounter.

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 where 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?

Go to this page for the complete week’s readings and discussion starters

Friday, November 3

Steadfast in living and proclaiming the Gospel

1 Thessalonians 2:9-13

Paul and Silas fled from Thessalonica under persecution, to Berea where the same happened, then to Athens and Corinth where Paul wrote this letter. Against this backdrop, he is urging the church to imitate their example of being steadfast in proclaiming and living the Gospel and flawless and transparent in character.

9 You remember our labour and toil, brothers and sisters; we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.

10 You are witnesses, and God also, how pure, upright, and blameless our conduct was towards you believers.

  • This recalls the original apostolic band and their character. There was no question of them exploiting the Thessalonians or profiting from the gospel. A common attack on the message is to mount a character attack on the messenger or the messenger’s character, and we know from other letters that this happened. The genuineness of the message is affirmed by the genuine character of those bringing it.

11 As you know, we dealt with each one of you like a father with his children, 12 urging and encouraging you and pleading that you should lead a life worthy of God, who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.

  • “His own kingdom” is where God’s rule and order prevails. If you had been living in a country where there is civil war and terrorism, or an oppressive regime such as Nazi Germany in the 1930s, you would say that the rule that prevailed was unjust, unsafe and unwelcome. Arriving back in the UK, you would say that the rule was very much better and fairer, even if you didn’t get to meet the Queen or her Prime Minister. The kingdom of God is like that and more – where God’s unmitigated justice, love and good purposes for His people are His rule.
  • Of course that experience of God’s peace and good provision is under attack all the time – we were reminded of this in Psalm 43:1, Psalm 107:6. It is up to us to exercise faith in the victory of Jesus and in the Person of Jesus. Praise directed to God (also in Psalms 43 and 106) is a way we assert the kingdom of God over the kingdom of darkness.

13 We also constantly give thanks to God for this, that when you received the word of God that you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word but as what it really is, God’s word, which is also at work in you believers.

  • There is an assumption made that this letter is being heard and circulated among empowered believers. 1 Thess. 1:5
    “… our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction.”. This is the difference between accepting, or being influenced by, a human word – logical, persuasive, understandable (like a good political speech or motivational talk or lecture) and God’s word at work in us as the Holy Spirit gives His understanding and encouragement. God’s word at work is not principally about information we understand, but revelation where we ‘get it’ and find ourselves doing it.

 

Applying it

Imitate the saints – who were transparently honest as well as courageous (1 Thess. 2:9-13)

Paul and Silas and their travelling companions did not look polished or successful to the class-conscious Greeks. Having suffered imprisonment, beatings, and stone-throwing mobs forcing them to leave one place after another, they probably had scars and mended clothes. Who were they to bring righteous direction to the church? And they almost admitted it.

The human temptation is always to make ourselves look good. In craving significance, we want to ‘big ourselves up’. However, putting ourselves forward, obscures what is truly good, which is God’s nature in us. Once we get hold of who we are in Christ, our standing with God as His children and being counted righteous because Jesus declares us so– then what is the need to prove anything? This was the unassuming way of the saints who walked with God before us. Their way is what we imitate, so that people may begin to glimpse Jesus in us, and that supports the message about Jesus which we bring.

See page with the week’s posts together

 

Thursday, November 2

True worship in the true Saviour

Matthew 24:1-14

After the exposing the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and religious teachers in the teaching on the Seven Woes, and denouncing them as snakes poised to attack any righteous people sent by God, Jesus leaves the Temple and leaves the disciples to work out where the worship of God was centred – the Temple, as they had always known, or the Lord, as they were coming to know.

  • This reading makes better sense if we start with the end verses of the preceding chapter: Matt. 23:37 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. 38 Look, your house is left to you desolate. 39 For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.”

As Jesus came out of the temple and was going away, His disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple.

  • The Temple was structurally complete but with additional development going on. It was hard for the Jewish-culture disciples, brought up with such a high view of the Temple as the dwelling place of God and centre of true worship, to see that the symbol of the building was now to give place to the Person of the Messiah. We have hindsight; they were having to see forward into change, like us trying to work out what happens after Brexit.

2 Then He asked them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly I tell you, not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”

  • Recalls Micah’s prophecy, Micah 3:12 (Monday).

3 When He was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”

  • The ‘last days’ is a long time period beginning with Jesus’ birth and ending with His coming again. No one knows how long, and the Early Church lived as those understanding it to be imminent. Perhaps this is the point. Later in the chapter Matt 24:36-42 the description of the end times is given as an extended warning for us to be ready and prepared, unlike those of Noah’s time.

4 Jesus answered them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. 5 For many will come in my name, saying, “I am the Messiah!” and they will lead many astray.

6 And you will hear of wars and rumours of wars; see that you are not alarmed; for this must take place, but the end is not yet. 7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places: 8 all this is but the beginning of the birth pangs.

  • Dangerous, oppressive cults and unhealthy leaders have arisen and we have become more aware of these in recent years. Similarly, we are more aware of famines and earthquakes. How much of this is because of visual, global reporting and how much is a result of more frequent incidences?

9 “Then they will hand you over to be tortured and will put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of my name. 10 Then many will fall away, and they will betray one another and hate one another.

11 And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. 12 And because of the increase of lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold. 13 But anyone who endures to the end will be saved.

  • In other words, people say what they like, do what they like and behave as selfishly and harshly as they like. This is in society, but increasingly in the church also.

14 And this good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the world, as a testimony to all the nations; and then the end will come.

  • Against this grim picture is the grasping and proclaiming of a kingdom-of-God-centred message, some would say as never before. We see numerical decline in the UK Christian church but there are plenty of examples of very rapid growth, spiritual and numerical. These are in the UK as well as across the world. There are places we can go where there is a rising expectation of meeting with God in a life-changing way, praying prayers that are answered and seeing Him bring His good order in ways we cannot explain.

Applying it

Imitate the saints – who recognised the kingdom of God in Jesus (Matt. 24:1-14)

There is church and there is the kingdom of God.

The church is intended to uphold God’s kingdom order, to demonstrate it and to contend for it in a harsh and unjust world. However, being made up of humans, human faults often cause the agency of the kingdom of God to be less than caring and loving and truth-seeking.

Jesus, no less, had this problem with the bet religious leaders of His time, the Pharisee group who were paradoxically the group who knew and sought to live by the Scriptures more than any other. But they were proud of this, and took a superior stance to the Galilean rabbi with His unfashionable northern accent and builder’s hands. And so the enemy found them easy to turn to hatred and evil.

As you and I seek the kingdom of God – seek what God is truly doing, what His way and what His order of things is – we will find opposition. Often it comes from those quite close to us, believing many of the same things – and convinced that they are right.

Imitate the true saints throughout church history who were the humble ones, seeking to bring what God was bringing: His Word in their language, acceptance as His church whether in working clothes or fine, hope for those trapped in destructive lifestyles. Of course opposition comes to us, as it did to Jesus. The eyes of faith see above and beyond opposition, to discern God’s purpose and God’s order.

See page with the week’s posts together

Wednesday, November 1

Saints who knew God’s steadfastness

Psalm 107:1-8

The holy people of the psalmist’s era had their share of difficulty, but they knew that they could absolutely count on the steadfastness of God’s love.

1 O give thanks to the Lord, for He is gracious,
for His steadfast love endures for ever.

  • This powerful ‘soundbite of truth’ about God’s nature occurs more than 40 times, in the Books of Chronicles and Jeremiah as well as the psalms.
  • Steadfast love translates a Hebrew word roughly pronounced ‘heseed’. It combines the sense of God’s love and care with the obligation of covenant (“let the redeemed”, v2 is another statement of covenant) because we are His. Our worldview emphasises individuality. The Jewish worldview emphasised covenant, ‘being in it together’ and the protection of ‘belonging’ to God as one of His redeemed, set-apart children.

2 Let the redeemed of the Lord say this,

  • Like yesterday’s Psalm 43 reading, this is an encouragement to praise God for His goodness, whatever the circumstances may be saying to us. The situation of difficulty says one thing; we choose to say something different, which is objective truth.

those He redeemed from the hand of the enemy,
3 And gathered out of the lands
from the east and from the west,
from the north and from the south.
4 Some went astray in desert wastes
and found no path to a city to dwell in.
5 Hungry and thirsty,
their soul was fainting within them.
6 So they cried to the Lord in their trouble
and He delivered them from their distress.

  • The result of choosing and relying on God, who is entirely truthful and and merciful.

7 He set their feet on the right way
till they came to a city to dwell in.
8 Let them give thanks to the Lord for his goodness
and the wonders He does for his children.

  • The psalmist recalls those who have gone before us, who walked a difficult ‘desert path’ at times but kept their trust in God and His faithfulness to bring them through. What they learned, we can benefit from.

Applying it: Imitate the saints – who praised God in all circumstances (Psalm 107:1-8)

Faith in God is faith from knowing God, and knowing God is knowing His nature – faithful, unchanging, merciful and loving without scoring us on what we deserve.

The expression of this gives rise to this refrain we find repeated again and again in the psalms: “O give thanks to the Lord, whose hesēd – covenant love – endures for ever. True faith praises God for who He is, not just for what we may perceive as answered prayers or other blessings. When the answer appears top come slowly, is God’s nature any different? Faith knows that God is the same, just as merciful, just as attentive to us and therefore worthy of praise and adoration, however we may be feeling or whatever we may be experiencing at any one moment.

The enemy will sow thoughts in our minds of how God has abandoned us, because we are undeserving, because God is fickle and sometimes harsh, because we are powerless. All of these are lies, of course – it is how he works. Satan never speaks the truth, but he makes what he says sound like truth.  And we defeat those lies, the doubts and the enemy’s scheme by telling God that we KNOW His nature and hold fast to our covenant with Him in Jesus. Very different from a religious remedy of finding what we need to do, this is imitating the saints of the ages and joining them in choosing an attitude of faith and praise.

See page with all the week’s posts together