Food for Friday

July 20th, 2018

Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed thereto according to Thy word. Psalm 119:9

My brother and I used to occasionally make a hike through two miles of forest to reach the community of Millbrook, emerging into one of Ed Cain’s back fields. For almost a third of the distance, there was a woods road that we could follow. Then, we would follow traces of an old woods road that had overgrown with bushes for another third of the distance. The last third of the way had no road of any kind, and we simply travelled due north. One of the interesting aspects of the middle third of that hike was the way in which the road was filled in by bushes. One long stretch crossed a boggy ground filled with alders. The alders didn’t actually grow in the old road, they leaned over into it from the sides. They leaned so tightly that it was impossible to walk through, even if we had boots for the bog, which we didn’t. We found we could actually walk on the trunks of those leaning alders, all the way across the bog, turning an obstacle into an opportunity. The psalmist in today’s text also speaks of turning obstacles into opportunities in making progress for God.

The word ‘cleanse’ is a bit misleading. The thought is actually to prepare or to establish a way, so the person travelling will be able to move ahead in the right direction. And that is what the Word of God does for us, whether we are young or old. But this lesson is especially important for the young. If we are to move in the direction that God wants us to, it is better if we start early, because if we move aimlessly for much of our lives, our progress for God will be small. But if we prepare our way by using the light of Scripture, and the guidance of Scripture, we will make progress. We will be using something that the world doesn’t have, even with all its self-help systems and support groups; we will be tapping into divine wisdom that can never fail or misdirect.

My brother and I didn’t enjoy using the alders to cross the bog because they were awkward. But we did it because it kept us near the old road, on track for our destination. If we had gone around, we might have become disoriented or lost, and, at the very least, we would waste a lot of time. That is why we need to stick close to the instructions in the Bible, even when it makes us uncomfortable or if it’s inconvenient for our own little plans. Obedience to the Word of God is the best way to make sure we stay on the path to progress for our Lord.

God has given us an excellent Guide for obedience and service for Him. Following that Guide will always give us the best in this like and the next. – Jim MacIntosh

Thought for Thursday

July 19th, 2018

Make me to understand the way of Thy precepts, so shall I talk of Thy wondrous works. Psalm 119:27

Great telescopes such as the Hubble are bringing into visibility some of the most amazing sights in all creation. Stars, galaxies, space clouds of a million kinds are causing those who study the night sky to gasp in amazement. No less amazing are the many great waterfalls of the world, great mountains, and other natural wonders. People who go to visit those wonders often return and talk of little else for weeks. Powerful microscopes examine the other end of dimension and bring to view those tiny particles that display the incredibly intricate patterns God uses to assemble all of matter. Some of these wonders have existed for a long time, and yet generation after generation of people stop and allow themselves to be amazed at the grandeur of God’s creation. And yet, even more wondrous are those things that are unfolded, not in creation, but in the Word of God.

Our text reminds us that it is in God’s precepts that we find those wonders worth talking about. Vast libraries are filled with autobiographies, stories of the great men and women of the earth, great in knowledge and wisdom, military cunning, humanitarian endeavours, and other fields. But none of these compares to the God Who is revealed in His Word. Scripture describes a God of infinite wisdom, love, and power. We have already considered the magnificence of His creation, the works of His fingers. All of these we might study, and after a lifetime obtain a fair grasp of them. But there is one aspect of God that will require the unending ages of eternity to unfold, and still fall short. I refer to the riches of His grace in His lovingkindness in Christ Jesus. God’s great plan of salvation, recovering fallen mankind to a right relationship with his Maker, is that which we will wonder at forever.

My Bible has 1530 pages in it, plus a few maps. In size, it is substantial, and yet, there are larger books. All of the variety of Scripture is amazingly condensed into one volume that we can carry in a pocket. And yet, its truths cannot be contained in all of creation. Although the Bible we have is enough for our little minds to work on here, the Bible unfolded in eternity will portray our God as we are unable to understand Him now. Even in eternity, with forever and forever to spend in examination, it is the Word of God that will be sufficient to present the wonders of our God.

The most exciting things we can discuss today are the wondrous works of our God. Especially His working in us to bring us to Himself. – Jim MacIntosh

Word for Wednesday

July 18th, 2018

For I am become like a bottle in the smoke, yet do I not forget thy statutes. Psalm 119:83

Our text draws from an image of ancient days, in the humble dwellings of the poor of the middle east. Smoke from the cooking fires rose to the upper parts of the tents or crude huts where these people lived. Without a proper chimney, the smoke must find its way out through cracks or through a vent provided. But on its way upward, it deposited its soot on any surface that it contacted. That included the various articles hanging from the ceilings and upper walls. Bottles often hung there, not the glass bottles that we know, but vessels made from kid or other leather. If left hanging for days, or months, these bottles would blacken and shrivel in the smoky heat. Many a Christian feels like one of these bottles, defiled by our constant need to associate with things of the world, and shrivelled by the trials and struggles that accompany our mortality. We are not alone, the psalmist felt the same.

To be a bottle in the smoke is to sometimes feel unused and purposeless. A bottle is intended to contain liquids for various purposes, most often water for travellers. A bottle in the smoke meant other bottles were being used. We don’t like to be neglected, do we? We need to feel useful and we need to be involved. But sometimes, God needs to leave us, like a bottle in the smoke, to reflect on His word, as our text says, to remember His statutes. A smoky, shrivelled bottle would have nothing attractive about it, and a Christian enduring struggles and trials is not a pretty sight, either, as far as the world is concerned. But there is something very important about a bottle in the smoke: it is available. Regardless of its appearance, it is there for whatever purpose its owner desires. That is how our Lord wants each of us, empty of pride and ready for any of His purposes.

To be like a bottle in the smoke is to feel forgotten and neglected. And yet, the psalmist who feels like this does not forget where his responsibilities lie. He maintains his interest in and meditation upon the Word of God. Regardless of the attitudes of those around him, and regardless of whether he feels set aside and purposeless before God, this man does not forget the Lord’s statutes.

If a bottle in the smoke is a humble, available Christian, is it a role you would be willing to play for your Lord? – Jim MacIntosh

Tidings for Tuesday

July 17th, 2018

The entrance of Thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding to the simple. Psalm 119:129

Did you ever read the account in Genesis 10? That chapter explains what happened to the descendents of Noah after the flood, listing the various lines of humanity from their origins in Shem, Ham, and Japeth. This chapter makes for rather dry reading for most of us, but for the ethnologists, those who study the origin of the earth’s peoples, this chapter is a gold mine. Firstly, it is an ancient record that is wonderfully complete, providing the student with a complete starting point and breakdown of history. Second, it is absolutely accurate, and the details contained in that chapter have proven themselves to be trustworthy. None of the information in that chapter has ever been successfully challenged. If the Bible is so perfect in its reliability for the ethnologist, it is surely reliable for everyone else who studies it. Including you and me.

The Bible is ridiculed today as being a collection of fables, myths, and traditions. But none of those who make that accusation have ever fairly examined the Book. They criticize the Bible because it condemns their sin, so they seek to discredit it. Their criticizm ends at the Great White Throne, where the Word of God will forever condemn them. But today, that same Word of God illuminates the soul of the believer, and gives to us a measure of understanding. First, the light of the glorious gospel of Christ shone into our souls, and we were saved. Then, the Word became the lamp unto our feet and light unto our path, guiding us safely through the dangers of this world. Then, the One Who is the Light of the world provides to us His illumination so that our testimony might provide the light to draw sinners to the Saviour. The lampstand of His name stands and provides light to each company of believers who gather to that Name. In so many ways we find that the entrance of God’s Word gives light to the Lord’s people.

Nothing but darkness resides where the Word of God is shut out. Nothing but light resides where the Word of God is welcomed in. – Jim MacIntosh

Meditation for Monday

July 16th, 2018

Great peace have they which love Thy law, and nothing shall offend them. Psalm 119:165

Students from a junior high school were taking part in a day-long hike, and were plodding wearily along the highway as our media van met them. Noticing our cameras, they flashed the two-finger peace sign that was so popular back then, in the early 70s. I thought of how even the young people were mindlessly caught up in the peace movement of that time, talking about peace, urging world peace and disarmament, and emblazoning everything with the so-called peace emblem, the broken cross in a circle, which was actually an anti-Christianity emblem that was pressed into service for the cause. In most cases, peace movement people had not a clue what they were protesting and demonstrating about. All they thought was peace would be wonderful to have so let’s proclaim it. Most of the world is like that, wanting peace but not knowing what it even is. But the Lord’s people know peace, and have it available in abundance.

Our text speaks of great peace, available to those who love God’s law. The world has known some periods and events marked by peace. For example, the Pax Romana marked a 200 year period in which the Roman empire had no wars. And the armistice marking the end of the first World War is still commemmorated each November 11th, almost a century later. But wars, strife, and turmoil have marked this planet’s history and continue to do so. Most of the bloodiest wars of history have involved religion. Most importantly, those who know not God are at enmity with Him, despite His offer of peace. We who have accepted the offer today appreciate the blessing of being at peace with God and with each other. And that appreciation can grow as we learn more of Him.

The Lord Jesus is called the Prince of Peace. This great title reminds us that only through Him can peace enter our hearts and become real. This is the great peace of which our text speaks. To be saved is to know this peace. To grow in our knowledge of our Lord and His word is to know great peace. It is no coincidence that the Christians who know God’s word the best know the most about the peace that passeth all understanding. This peace cannot be described or defined, it can only be known by those who have attained to a full knowledge of and appreciation for the Word of God.

To know God’s Word is to know peace. To obey God’s Word is to enjoy peace. To love God’s word is to experience great peace. – Jim MacIntosh

Lesson for the Lord’s Day

July 15th, 2018

And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14

My old friend Harry was an honest man, and everybody knew it. Harry was so truthful he was known for withholding a compliment when he knew an insult would be more appropriate. One summer day, while leaning on his picket fence, we became engaged in a discussion about the lies that were told by people all around us. Harry shook his head and declared, ‘We’re all liars, every one of us.’ He was willing to admit that, as truthful as he strove to be, he was a liar just like everybody else. How different we are from the One whom our text describes, the One Who is full of grace and truth.

The Lord Jesus could proclaim Himself to be the Way and the Life, but He could also declare Himself to be the Truth (John 14:6). Our text says He is full of truth. And He is the only One in all of human history to be able to make such a claim. Can you imagine how different life would be if everyone was like Him in this respect? What if everything that anybody told you was always the truth, if everything you read or heard in the media was 100 percent accurate, and if lies, misrepresentations, and exaggerations were all purged from every aspect of life? No, I can’t imagine such a world, either. But there was One Who was so full of truth that no lie or hint of anything false or devious could appear. And that One was made flesh and dwelt among us.

What was going through the mind of the malefactor who declared of the Lord Jesus, ‘This man hath done nothing amiss’? (Luke 23:41) A thief, whose whole life was based on dishonesty, recognized that he was hanging beside One who was not and could not be dishonest. Like that thief, we draw near today to consider such honesty, and such grace. We review the scenes of the cross and find ourselves amazed that the Truth personified was crucified for liars like us. Every lie we ever told deserved eternal damnation, and the Lord Jesus paid the penalty for all of our lies.

The cross displays to us today that the One Who was full of truth was also full of grace. It is only His grace that brings us within the shelter of His truth. – Jim MacIntosh

Sermon for Saturday

July 14th, 2018

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem; they shall prosper that love thee. Psalm 122:7

The e-mail told the sad story of a little boy who was very sick. After describing the lad’s condition and the difficulty the doctors were having to correct the problems, the e-mail urged everyone who received the e-mail to pray for the boy. And it urged everyone to pass the e-mail along to everyone they knew. That last part made me suspicious, because I have never seen such a request turn out to be anything but a hoax. I checked into the story, and found there was only a tiny scrap of truth to it. There was a little boy who had been very sick, and a call went out for prayer for him. But the problem was quickly cleared up in a matter of hours, and more than six years had passed. The little boy was now a healthy and active teenager. But the e-mail with the prayer request kept circulating over and over through the months and years since, and through those months and years, many people kept responding to an old prayer request that had already been answered. Our text today also contains an old prayer request, but it is not outdated yet.

Occasionally, in an Assembly prayer meeting, someone will pray for the peace of Jerusalem. That’s good! Perhaps we should hear that prayer more often. But why is this particular ancient prayer still valid? It is, because the peace of Jerusalem has not yet arrived. Throughout the centuries since David penned this psalm, Jerusalem has known relatively little peace. Throughout the many struggles, wars, battles, turmoil, and terrorist attacks, Jerusalem has remained a troubled town. Her peace has not yet arrived, although the peace will come when the Prince of Peace arrives to set up His kingdom. This prayer for the peace of Jerusalem is the equivalent of the line in the so-called Lord’s Prayer: ‘Thy kingdom come’.

To pray for the peace of Jerusalem is to pray for a blessing on God’s earthly people. These dear folks, who as a nation have rejected their Messiah, need to return to their God, and they need salvation. It is our responsibility to at least pray for them. We should also witness to them when we can, and appreciate that God has great and precious promises to unfold to the children of Jacob. Ours is not to be a hollow interest either. Our text reminds us that our prosperity depends on whether we are deeply concerned for the Israelites, and are eagerly anticipating the return of the Lord and the fulfillment of His purposes.

We are not as isolated from the nation of Israel and God’s purposes for the future as we often think. Our heightened interest in those purposes can begin by praying for the peace of Jerusalem. – Jim MacIntosh

Food for Friday

July 13th, 2018

Our soul is escaped as a bird out of the snare of the fowlers; the snare is broken, and we are escaped. Psalm 124:7

One of the best illustrations of today’s text is from the book of Esther. The book is the account of a cruel and dangerous enemy who plotted for the destruction of the Jews. The vengeful Haman was opposed by a wise and resourceful Mordecai, who refused to bow to one who was evil. But Mordecai’s resourcefulness relied on his beautiful and brave niece, who had become the king’s bride. Esther understood her role in the plan to destroy Haman’s evil scheme, and carried out her responsibilities perfectly, despite the very real danger to her own life. Although God is not specifically mentioned in the book, His presence and His power fill the book. Like birds caught in the fowler’s trap, the Jews were helpless. But the breaking of the enemy’s trap released them from their peril and doom. In this, we see God’s deliverance for us today.

The fowler’s snare, or trap, did two things. First, it imprisoned the birds so they were unable to fly. Second, it ensured their destruction at the hands of the fowler. This is what the enemy has done to the poor residents of earth. Satan’s trap of sin robbed us of our ability to soar into the air of service and devotion to God. That same trap prevented our escape, and doomed us to the punishment for which our sinfulness condemned us. Like little birds in a trap, we had no way to escape, no power to break the trap or to elude its terrible clutches. If we were ever to be restored to the purpose for which God created us, it must be at the hands of One stronger than the enemy and his trap. For every Christian, the reality of the broken trap and the wonderful love of the Breaker are cause for thanksgiving and praise.

One of the most delightful aspects of the text is that it refers to a broken snare. A snare that had been simply lifted to allow the birds to escape would have been temporary, because the snare could be reused and the birds revictimized. But The Lord Jesus didn’t simply lift or overturn the snare of sin. He destroyed sin and its power forever. Yes, we still reside in a sinful body, but our souls have been forever freed from the trap. And our bodies will one day be freed as well. Our salvation is based on the truth that the trap of sin is powerless and the Lord Jesus has forever defeated the fowler.

As little birds forever freed from the fowler’s snare, let us today soar high in our praise to the One Who has rescued us. Let us serve Him with hearts thankful for our liberty. – Jim MacIntosh

Thought for Thursday

July 12th, 2018

He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him. Psalm 126:6

The scene that is pictured in our text is that of a poor farmer at planting time. His family is hungry because the previous growing season was not good. As his children plead for bread, the poor farmer takes some of the grain, almost from their very mouths, to sow the seed. Weeping that he must deprive his children, the poor farmer moves slowly and methodically across the field, drawing out handsful of grain and broadcasting it in great sweeping arcs around him. Even in his heaviness at taking that grain from his children, he sows with care, making sure the grain is evenly spread and that no ground is missed. He sows in sorrow and yet in hope, knowing that only by sowing the precious seed can there be any future for his little family. Does this poor farmer’s sacrifice have any parallel in our day?

I heard of a Christian who gave up a well-paying job because it prevented him from getting his children out to the Gospel meetings. Things were a bit lean at his place in terms of extras and comforts, but they got by. And he had the joy of seeing all his children saved and in Assembly fellowship. This man experienced both halves of our text, including the wonderful blessing of the second half. Many of us don’t know anything about the first half, so we will never experience the second half. There is a price to pay for receiving a blessing from the Lord, and sometimes it is a great price and involves sorrow and hardship. But the word ‘doubtless’ in our text tells us that precious seed sown for the Lord cannot help but bring forth a harvest.

If you ever watch the stock market index, you will see it rise and fall from day to day, depending on many things. People who have money invested are always hoping the value of their stocks will rise, but they have no guarantee that it will. God’s investment plan has no such uncertainty. If we sow the precious seed faithfully, the return is certain. If it costs us in time, money, effort, health, or peace of mind, God knows the value of each sacrifice, and guarantees a just recompense. Sometimes we receive rich blessings now, and sometimes we have to wait for a day in which all the accounts will be balanced, but God has never shorted any of His children yet. In God’s own time, in God’s own way, who does God’s work will get God’s pay.

If the sowing of the precious seed results in tears, let us not write those tears off as a loss. They represent a joyful bounty at harvest time. – Jim MacIntosh

Word for Wednesday

July 11th, 2018

When the Lord turned again the captivity of Zion, we were like them that dream. Psalm 126:1

On November 9, 1989, an official of the new government in East Germany was speaking with reporters about the laws that were to come into effect with the departure of communist hardline leader Erich Honecker, who had ruled with a brutal iron fist until the collapse of communist rule. The official was asked by reporters when the new travel laws were to come into effect. Caught by surprise, he answered, ‘Well, as far as I can see, … straightaway, immediately’. The people of East Germany took him at his word, and within a few hours flooded the border gates to West Germany, demanding to be allowed to cross. The gates opened, and thousands of noisy, smoky little Trabant cars filled with jubilant East Germans flowed into West Germany. Most simply drove around and had a good look before returning to their homes. But they were celebrating the reopening of a border that had been closed for decades and that many people had died attempting to cross. Like the Israelites in today’s text, they were no longer captives.

Although there were many differences, the repression of East Germany was similar to that of the Israelites held captive by Babylon. People in East Germany suffered the lack of liberty and chafed under the repressive rule of the communist dictator. We can understand why they rejoiced when the border was opened and eventually removed. But their oppression was not as bad as the poor sinner who is held captive by his fallen nature and faces a hard life here and a tragic eternity. Those of us who are liberated into God’s salvation have greater cause to rejoice than the freed captives in Babylon and the released population of East Germany. We have been delivered from a much greater oppression, brought into a much greater freedom, and enjoy much greater blessings.

The psalmist speaks of being like those that dream. Today, we would say ‘I can’t believe it!’ And truly, that is the response that we must feel when we consider our deliverance. If you should ever encounter a Christian who is not rejoicing in his salvation, you know that Christian has forgotten the slavery into which he was once immersed, and the delivery that he experienced at conversion. The more we dwell on what God has done for us, the more we rejoice and celebrate. Never will we tire of telling of it, not even in the Glory, where we will understand in fullest measure the wonder of God’s plan of salvation.

Do you feel like celebrating today because God has saved you? How can you feel otherwise? – Jim MacIntosh