5. Fanciful Forgiveness

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 5. Fanciful Forgiveness

Mt 6:14,15   For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

A Difficult Relational Aspect: In the previous study we started to consider how we have in the past viewed people and struggled with them, and how it is so easily transferred into the Christian life, and so it is another of those things  where ‘death to self’ has to apply if we are to grow. But we concluded that there is another really big area to do with personal relationships that can be a hindrance to growth that we need to consider and it is that oft-raised subject of forgiveness. Now don’t shy away because I may have something different to say than you’ve heard before.

Abuse = Hurt = Injustice: The subject arises when someone offends you or abuses you or worse, and when some well-meaning preacher, with little thought, preaches, “You must forgive them!” everything in you screams out, “But it isn’t fair! It is unjust! They hurt me, they harmed me and that is wrong!” and I have to completely agree with you. So how do we handle it?

Traditional but Inaccurate Approach: The traditional and, I suggest, somewhat thoughtless and cheap approach, is to simply say, “Yes, they hurt you but the Bible teaches that you are to forgive them.” I immediately think of two examples, one of a Christian girl who was raped in her home by an intruder, and the other a family who lost loved ones in a terrorist attack.  Both ‘hurt’ parties declared their simple forgiveness for the offenders. This then becomes a guilt laden area for the rest of us who struggle. (I also suggest their actions are unbiblical and diminish sin)

A Different Approach: The only trouble is that that is not what the Bible teaches. May I present an alternative to traditional thinking and simply ask that you check it out and see if it is reasonable. Put aside all emotions and consider what the Bible teaches. For instance at one point the apostle Paul wrote, Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Col 3:13) then there is apparently contradictory teaching: “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mk 2:7) and, “he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” (Jn 20:22,23). I have done a major study on this in the past, so may I present it as brief conclusions:

  • The harm done to you was sin, and God is not casual about it. It need punishing.
  • So important in God’s eyes is sin, that Jesus had to die on the Cross to take the punishment.
  • God only forgives when we have repented.
  • The forgiveness is available the moment we repent because Jesus died for those sins.
  • Where the sinner never repents and never comes to Christ, the forgiveness may have been there waiting for them when they repented, but in the absence of that repentance, they still go to hell.
  • Only God can in fact forgive, and it is a legal transaction based on the Cross, and so when we forgive it is simply ratifying what has already happened in heaven.
  • (It is the same as blessing and loosing or releasing or binding in prayer; it is only real and effective when we are led by the Spirit to declare the will of heaven).
  • True forgiveness can only be given when there has been repentance BUT while we are waiting for it – and it may take a long time to come or never come – we are to have a good attitude towards that person or persons, that desires the best for them
  • This means we pray for them and do all we can to help them to come to a place of repentance, because at the moment they are living with an issue with God which will hinder blessing in their life (unconfessed and unacknowledged sin) and only their repentance can change that.

An Offender? Now it may be that you suddenly realise that you are in reality an ‘offender’ and you have unconfessed sin which will stop you growing, a sin against another, and you need to ask their forgiveness. Well, the way is open, unless you have completely lost contact with them, and you simply need to seek God’s grace to be able to say sorry to them.

Offended: But I am more aware, at the moment, of those of us who struggle with the remaining pain and the scream against ‘forgiving’. This is going to sound hard, I’m sorry, but put all that aside for the moment. The bigger question is can you get God’s grace to desire God’s best for that person? Yes, it will be them coming to repentance but why is that so important? It is because without it they are in a place where  they are not receiving God’s best, they are not in a place of receiving His blessing and changing and feeling really good about life – because they still have an issue before Him that needs dealing with. Do you see this? In some ways this is harder that almost casually saying, ‘I forgive them,’ because we are dealing with spiritual realities here and the future of another person’s life.

Love for Enemies? Do you remember yesterday we considered Jesus’ teaching: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Mt 5:44)  It is probable that you still consider your ‘offender’ an enemy. Now on the Cross, Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Lk 23:34) Now so often I have heard that applied as ‘forgive everyone’ but the truth is that so often, if not mostly, your offender knew exactly what they were doing to you. In the Old Testament sacrificial law, in respect of sin or guilt offerings you read, “When anyone sins unintentionally and does what is forbidden in any of the LORD’s commands….” (Lev 4:1 – also 4:13,22,27, 5:15,18 etc.) Intentional sin was much worse.  So yes, Jesus’ words fitted the occasion but most occasions don’t match! But it still brings us back to praying for our offender, wanting the best of them, because God wants the best for them and will do all He can to bring them back to a right place – which includes their repentance. Can we have the same attitude?

A Seeker of Forgiveness: But then there is the equally big issue of forgiving another when they come saying sorry. For some of us this will be just as big a struggle. “It’s all very well for you to say sorry, but do you know the effect what you did (said) had on me that I’ve had to live with all this time?” Yes, it is natural to feel like that but we aren’t called to be natural but supernatural, for we have the enabling of the Holy Spirit. Having been through this from all angles in the past, I have concluded that if I had been the offender and I had come to repentance, how would I desire others to respond to me?

Do unto others…. Many years ago it happened to me and I repented of an outburst (provoked, but that is not the issue) and two close ‘colleagues’ said, “We can’t work with you,” and utterly rejected me. What I wished they had done – and it would have saved so much anguish all round later – would have been to say, “Old friend, we’re so sorry, what has happened to you to get you to come out with that? How can we help you? How can we help you get back into a good and right place?” but they didn’t, they knifed me. A learning exercise, which is why, whatever your sin, whatever your failure, I want to put my arms around your sobbing shoulders and say, “How can I help, how can I stand with you. I am here for you.” Jesus collected the sinners around him because he had care and compassion and forgiveness. Dare we be anything less?


4. Problems with People

Lessons in Growth  Meditations: 4. Problems with People

Jn 13:34,35   A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

To Love is not Natural: Jesus’ instruction to his disciples to love one another is not a natural one and if it were among the list of verses that are spoken about but struggled with, I suspect this rates near the top of the list. We may say we do it and think we do it, but I wonder how real it is?. I would suggest that it is a real struggle to love sometimes and it really does require the grace of God.

Now we are in a Part where we are considering the call to die to the past and die to the things of the past, and especially die to self, and this command is, I would suggest, one that so often hinders Christian growth or rather, to be more accurate, it is the struggle with this command that hinders growth. You think I am exaggerating? Let’s check it out.

Pre-Christ Relationships: Before we came to Christ our life was focused on what I wanted to do, what I felt, what I thought and, often, what I thought about other people. There were probably people we loved (our close family) and people who were good friends. Then there were the people near us that we tolerated (probably neighbours and people at work), and then there were people we positively disliked and probably spoke against.

Change & Realisation: And then we came to Christ and all was well until we either read the above verses or we heard a preacher speaking about them, and then there was a shadow cast over our life. “Love,” he said, “means thinking the best of people and desiring the best for people, all people,” and that made us feel uncomfortable. And then it got worse. Our preacher started talking about gossip, speaking about others behind their backs in an unloving way, and again we felt uncomfortable.

The Difficulty: Then we looked around the church and we realised there were people we’re not particularly fond of and, if we were honest, we found a real pain. To love them? And then there were people at work who were really trying. Love them? We realised we had a whole pile of negatives about people – because they deserved them! And we were being called to give up all these negatives – but they still deserve them! That’s a good excuse and I’ve got another – I can’t cope with these people, let alone love them! So I might as well not try. And growth comes to a halt.

The Reality: Yes, this is the problem: people are imperfect, people are difficult, people can be a drain upon us, people can be speaking against us and, even worse, people can be harming us, physically or emotionally. And Jesus says love them? Yes, this is one of those areas where the ‘death to self’ thing rings loud and true and is uncomfortable, and it can be a real source of hindrance to spiritual growth.

But How? Let’s think about some of the issues. What is love for others? As I said above, thinking the best of people and desiring the best for people, all people. How can you think the best of someone who speaks against you, actively seeks to harm you or puts difficulties into your life? How can you feel good about those closest to you who don’t show care and concern and love for you and appear utterly self-centred? Well start at the hard end. Jesus taught, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Mt 5:44) How can you do that? One or two suggestions.

Pray that the Lord will show you what they are really like. That bully who upsets you is really a lonely little inadequate boy inside. Jesus would love to change him but he’s looking for someone who will stand in the gap to intercede for him. Pray for grace to bless this person and maybe say something nice to them. Realise you are not perfect and are not the best one to cast the first stone (Jn 8:7). Pray for grace to a) see yourself as child of God who has an all-powerful loving heavenly Father on their side and b) the ability to smile, laugh and praise while you wait for changes to take place.

Sons? Jesus followed up that 5:44 verse with, “that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.” (v.45). The idea of ‘sons’ in the Old Testament carried with it the idea of the young person growing up to understand the heart of the father and his work, and getting ready to join his father in his work and one day take it over. That was all about growth and so the way we see ourselves in this sort of situation, rather than be a heavy negative thing, can be part of the growth process.

Me, Difficult? Another thought: this is a two-way street. There may be people in church who find you or me difficult.  The only way I can overcome this is to work on the following strategy: every Sunday morning when I go into church, I go praying, “Lord help me to be a blessing to at least two or three people this morning,” and I look around when I get there and ask, “Lord, who can I bless?” It’s surprising how he answers that prayer sometimes. But the big thing is be proactive about loving others. Whenever we pray for difficult people or difficult situations I believe part of our prayer, when we ask Him to bless them or it, should be, “and Lord, show me what you might want me to do to be part of the answer to this prayer.”

If we can do the “dying to self of the past” thing, and put others before ourselves, I believe we will not only be overcoming the obstacles to growth, but we will be growing. We can’t do it without Him, but if we are willing to face the problem, He will enable.  Now I am aware there is one other really big area to do with personal relationships that can be a hindrance to growth and so I will deal with that tomorrow as a separate subject.

3. A Question of Sovereignty

Lessons in Growth  Meditations: 3. A Question of Sovereignty

Mark 2:14  As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him.

An Imaginary Conversation: I have more than a few times, as I have written these studies, thought how easily we either read or hear words without taking in the reality of what is being conveyed. I mean, take the verse above. Here is Levi a tax collector and Jesus walks up and says “Follow me,” and so he leaves his booth and goes. Too easy! If I was writing a novel I would want to enlarge what happened:

“Hullo, I’m Jesus.”

“Yes, I know I’ve heard all about you.”

“OK, well I’m looking for a band of men to train up to take over my work when I’m gone so I want you to come with me.”

“But I’ve got a job.”

“This will be a better one. Come with me.”

“Where are you going?”

“You’ll find out as you follow me.”

“What are we going to do?

“You’ll find out as you follow me.”

“When will I be fit enough to take over your job?”

“You’ll find out when you follow me.”

Varied Experiences: Maybe it was like that, maybe it was just as simple as the text shows. I find that people’s experiences of coming to Christ are like that. I had a friend who argued his way into a corner over several months before he surrendered to Christ. I have come across others who just seemed to hear the call and in all simplicity said yes. We’re all different but whether we realise it or not, we all respond to the same call.

Simplicity of Experience: If my own experience is anything to go by, it frequently isn’t a neat, concise experience but one that may have a dramatic moment, lacking by some, but even then the realities of it take a while to sink in. I had heard the gospel from the mouth of the greatest evangelist of the twentieth century and had gone home to make a decision. The extent, the depth, or the shallowness of my prayer that night is not, I believe, a measure of what was coming, but then perhaps it was. I simply prayed, never having prayed before and not knowing what one should say, “Well, God, I’ve heard it tonight and although I suspect I don’t understand half of it, all I know is if you want my life, I will say I believe in Jesus, and here is my life if you want it. Please take it. Amen.”  Or words very much like that – it is now fifty years ago! With that I climbed into bed and fell asleep.

All I can tell you is that when I woke next morning I was a totally different person. That day I was visiting a cousin and spent the day trying to convert him – with almost zero knowledge! I started going to church each Sunday, I bought a Bible and started reading it, I became involved with a youth outreach team which necessitated me moving. Within two years, somehow or other I was leading seven Bible studies a week, my desire was to share what happened with whoever would listen, and along the way I found a wonderful Christian girl who became my wife. A transformed life and it has carried on changing, as I say, for fifty years. Later this morning, I am going out for the first time to help set up a soup kitchen for the homeless. What tomorrow holds, I don’t know.

When I look back on that first prayer, the words that I do remember clearly were, “here is my life if you want it.” It was a radical surrender and, regardless of the words, we use, I believe that is at the heart of every conversion, that willingness to say, I believe, I surrender to you, please save me and take and lead my life, for all of that was in that little part of the prayer I’ve just recounted.

Who Rules? Now you may wonder where this fits in with this series. Well, in the two starting ‘studies’ I suggested that the first phase of the Christian life destined to grow, is death. We die to our old lives and at the heart of that, as my heading today indicates, it is all a matter of sovereignty – who rules, me or Him?  Now I wish it was as simple as that – and don’t believe any preacher who says it is! But it isn’t. On that night, all those years ago, my commitment was real. I had been moved, I had been convicted and all I knew was that I had to surrender – whatever that meant? – and give God my life and put my life in His hands – whatever that meant? We can only act and respond in the measure of the knowledge we have at the time. So, yes, I believe there will be this one-off initiating surrender and God knows the reality of it and impart His Holy Spirit and we are ‘born again’, but that is just the start.

I suspect there are countless times when we come to a fresh place of surrender where, one way or another, we say, “All right Lord, you win, I give in,” and that may be on a requirement to forgive, a need to give, a need to let go, or a whole range of other possibilities.  Each time we face a new challenge from the Lord or from His word, this same thing will take place; we will face the confrontation: “Follow me.” “But what will happen?” “Leave it with me.” “How will I be able to do it?” “I will enable you.”

My Need to Die: It is indeed a case of dying to my self-sovereignty. If I am to grow, it has to die, again and again and again. Now again, if my experience is anything to go by, don’t think that such decisions are split second, momentary things. I think the reality is that sometimes the Lord works on us for weeks or even years to bring changes about, and the amazing thing is that He is patient and loving – and persevering! He will get His way, because He IS sovereign. Whether it is arguing at a burning bush with a Moses, or wrestling with a Jacob through the night or re-equipping a fallen Peter, He will persevere when He sees the potential that you and I cannot see in ourselves.

More than Shallow Emotion: I’ve lost count of the number of times I have sat listening to preachers calling for “surrender” or “commitment” and I find it frustrating because unless the Holy Spirit is convicting us, it will just be an emotional response to please the preacher.  In general terms, I don’t know what it means to ‘surrender’ or ‘be committed’ (don’t be shocked). All I know is that there are times when He confronts me with a “Follow me,” and it becomes an issue, and somehow, with His grace even, I have to come to a point of conviction and saying, “OK,” and that’s it. We move on. I change. He relentlessly pursues His purposes for me and blessing follows.

You see, it took a lot of years, but I have become convinced (why did it take so long, it’s clearly there in His word???) that He has plans and purposes that perfectly fit me and they are for good – mine and for people around me – because He’s like that. When He says, “Follow me,” my intellect says, yes, that’s a good thing, but I know the truth – it’s often through a struggle and ultimately that truth is summed up in, “Will I die to my desire to be lord of my life, and let Him be instead, because He’s so much better at it than I am?” Enough!

2. Death, a vital need

PART ONE: Lifted up – for Death

Lessons in Growth  Meditations: 2. Death, a vital need

Jn 12:24,25  I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

In the first study of this new series I referred to Jesus who said: “when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” (Jn 12:32), and I suggested there are three applications that go with that verse and those applications reveal three phases of Christ’s life and ministry, and can also be seen to be three phases of the Christian life that goes on to mature and bear fruit.

Lifted for Death: Now in fact, John added to this ‘lifted-up verse’ “He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die,” (v.33) so the first application of it, at least, is to do with Jesus’ death on the Cross. So what parallel is there in the Christian life?

The Wheat Example: Well, look at the two verses at the top again. It is the teaching of Jesus, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies and it clearly homes in on this very same application. Now I confess I have always disliked those two verses because whenever I have heard someone preaching on them, it has always been in a cold, harsh, judgmental and legalistic manner. However, the truth is that Jesus is not using them as a teaching with which to slap us, but instead he is simply laying down a very obvious principle. As with much of Jesus’ teaching it is very graphic and almost overstates the situation.

What happens: You have a grain of wheat and you are a farmer. You drop that grain into a hole in the ground and cover it up. To all intents and purposes it is dead and buried. If we didn’t know any better, we would consider this grain dead, utterly inert. In fact if you left it in a sealed jar in the dark, that is exactly what it would remain, but put it in the ground where – yes, it still looks ‘dead’ – it get moisture and nourishment from the soil, it will germinate and sprout and grow and produce more wheat. Now in the verses that follow, Jesus applies this to other people but, the fact that the ‘lifted-up verse’ follows so soon after, suggests he also had in mind what was about to happen to him. He had to die before the kingdom could be fully born with lots of believers. We’ll see what this means in respect of the individual believer later on and in subsequent studies.

Paul’s Teaching: Now the apostle Paul also used death as an analogy of what happens in the life of the person who becomes a Christian; it is very much a direct parallel: “Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” (Rom 6:1-4) There is the picture: when we came to Christ we ‘died’ in respect of our ‘old life’ and that is how we are to view it. But this also has practical implications for living out our day by day lives: “In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (v.11)

The Conversion Process: We sometimes make this very complex but in reality it is very simple. When you came to Christ, the process of conviction that the Holy Spirit took you through, included you becoming aware of a need you had. You were dissatisfied with the life you had and, as the Gospel was shared with you, you realised that what was required of you was complete surrender to God so that Jesus could be both your Saviour and Lord. He could be your Saviour to deliver you from your past life with its failures and weaknesses because of all he had achieved on the Cross. He also needed to be our Lord if we were to live out new lives, guided and directed, taught and empowered by him. For both those two things to happen, it required our complete surrender – to let go of the past and receive the salvation he offered.

Now only this morning I happened to be browsing through some short meditations I wrote years ago, and I came across the following statement about the new life we receive at the time of conversion: “Our new way of thinking must not only realise truth for our new lives but also be aware of and reject the ways of our old lives.” That ties in with Paul’s, “count yourselves dead to sin.” 

Differing Experiences: If we are to understand some of the basic lessons about growth, we cannot emphasise this first phase strongly enough. I have heard the expressions a ‘good conversion’  or ‘they were well born’ used of new Christians and what the speaker is referring to is the depth of the conviction and our salvation experience that some New Testament translations refer to as ‘conversion’ and which John 3 calls being ‘born again’.

‘Past Life’ Effect: Now there are without doubt at least two reasons why this experience is different for different people. The first tends to do with nature of the life the person previously had. I have heard those who came to Christ as young children complain that their experience was shallow because they had never known real sin. Well, they had (selfish godlessness is seen in a child as well as an adult) but they hadn’t recognised it and, yes, it hadn’t had time to really develop and be seen in obvious acts of unrighteousness (except disobedience?). The person who has been saved out of a life of unadulterated unrighteousness is often more grateful for what God has done, although the depth of godly life in the childhood Christian is often a lot deeper. Jesus said, he who has been forgiven little loves little.” (Lk 7:47)

The Mystery of the Heart: The second reason is more mysterious. It is a mystery why the human heart responds as it does. For some, conversion is a major changing point, almost a crisis point of life, while for others it is much less dramatic. Some people seem to be able to ‘see’ the truth so clearly that conviction is deep; for others it seems they almost struggle with the truth, although they do accept it, and so the depth of their experience is not so dramatic. The truth is that the Lord knows and the Lord loves each of us regardless of the depth of our experience. It may be that it is something in our past life that hinders clarity and it may be that the Lord will take a long time bringing that thing to the surface because He knows its potential to cause upheaval if dealt with too quickly.

And Us: Summarising where our starting point is, it is to face the things from our past lives which hopefully have been left, dead and buried, and should not be impacting us today – but do! Some of these things we are probably not aware of, and others we just take for granted as normal, but should not be. In this first Part we are going to consider a whole variety of things that should have been covered when we were born again and dealt with by Christ’s work on the Cross, and yet they are still there present in our lives today, and as such, may be hindering our growth. We are about to step on to holy ground.

1. Introduction to Growth

Lessons in Growth  Meditations: 1. Introduction to Growth

Luke 8:14,15 The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.

Two Goals: A little while ago, in another set of studies, I came across these two verses that stuck with me because Luke, in his version of the parable of the sower, adds a few significant words that grabbed my attention and I have highlighted them above. There is an implication here that we are to grow and develop and mature but it is possible that things in life can hinder or frustrate us and we fail to do those things. It is only by ‘persevering’, by pressing on despite the hindrances, that we are able to go on and mature and be fruitful.

Do you see the two goals there? To mature or come to a greater sense of completion or development, and to bear fruit.  Gardeners know that when growing vegetables you have to wait for a plant to grow and mature before fruit occurs. Fortunately in the kingdom of God, we can start bearing fruit immediately, but nevertheless maturity and fruit bearing do go together.

Vineyard Fruit: In the Old Testament Isaiah composed a song about the Lord’s vineyard as a prophecy: He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines. He built a watchtower in it and cut out a winepress as well. Then he looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit.” (Isa 5:2) It was clear that the Lord expected His vineyard (Israel) to bear fruit  and was disappointed that it failed to do so, so much so that He was going to remove it. In the New Testament, Jesus taught his disciples, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” (Jn 15:1,2) Again it is clear that he expects fruit from us and in the same way, any branch (believer) that does not bear fruit will be cut off from him.

Jesus Parallels: Now those are strong warnings but the parable of the Sower indicates that there are specific things or specific reasons why we may not mature and why we may not bear fruit in our Christian lives. As I have started to ponder on this and pray about it, I have found myself seeing these things in the context of something Jesus said: “when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” (Jn 12:32). Now Jesus speaks about being lifted up three times in John’s Gospel but as I have pondered on this, I believe there are, three applications that correspond with different phases of Jesus’ life.

Three Phases: As I have thought on that, it seems to me that those three phases can also be seen to be three phases of the Christian life or, I should add, three phases of the Christian life that goes on to mature and bear fruit. We should acknowledge that according to Jesus’ teaching in the Parable of the Sower, not everyone hearing God’s word, goes on to mature and bear fruit. So, as we ponder those three phases, I hope to also face up to the things that we can fail to deal with or the things we can fail to appropriate in each phase and thus fail to reach maturity and bear fruit. I have not been down this path before, and so some of the areas seem presently cloudy but I am sure that as we meditate on these things they will become clear.

We all grow: Now it is possible that some of us may feel either fearful or perhaps wary about talk of growth, so let me put your mind at rest. Growth is something that takes place in some measure in every Christian life, even though we may not be very aware of it. When we came to Christ, we knew very little, we understood few spiritual realities and we perhaps were wondering what we had done. As the days pass we are taught – we hear sermons, we go to Bible Studies, or we perhaps have a mentor – and our knowledge of the Bible and of what has happened to us increases. We grow in understanding. But then there can be two problems.

Limited by Environment: The first is that our ‘teaching environment’ is limited and so the extent of out teaching is limited. I have grown up in a period of church history and in a country where the teaching that was available was extensive. I am grateful that through the circumstances I found myself in as a young Christian, I encountered the Brethren, the Pentecostals, the Baptists, the early charismatics and even the Restoration Movement, as well as the occasional teacher from the Anglican Church or from other ‘free’ streams. It was a very wide spectrum of teaching for which I am very grateful. One of my grown up sons said to me some time back, “You know Dad, your generation received so much more teaching than mine is receiving.” That was his perception at least. But I also had opportunities to teach and to evangelize and go on missions, both at home and abroad, and all these things work for growth, which I must admit, sitting in one church in one denomination rarely does.

Personal Blockages: That is what I meant when I referred to our ‘teaching environment’ above.  But there is also a second problem and that can be a personal and individual one. It is the fact of the circumstances of our lives, the pressures we encounter, the problems that beset us and the crises that drop on us – and the way we respond to them! All of these things have the potential for bringing our spiritual development to a halt, and the trouble is, we don’t just come to a halt at a high, we plummet.

When Jesus spoke to the church at Ephesus, he said, “You have forsaken your first love.” (Rev 2:4) They had reached great spiritual heights, but now they had fallen. They had done great things in their early years but now they had given up on them. He had been very positive about them: “I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance.” (v.2) but nevertheless, despite that, they were not what they had been once. Jesus doesn’t say what it was that had caused their fall, and perhaps we need to think about such things.

Deal with Past Issues: There is, in fact, a third problem that can arise, and it is that, for a variety of reasons, we failed to deal with issues in our lives that were there before we came to Christ, and so we perhaps also need to ponder those things as well, for each of these thing can be the things that stop us growing.

Maybe if we can eyeball such things, becoming aware of them may be the first step in dealing with them. These are the sorts of areas I believe we  need to consider, the barren areas we need to wander in to see their reality and their effect. I hope by walking these paths we may find this series not only helpful, but also a means of enabling our growth to proceed and our fruit-bearing to increase. May it be so.

47. Confused

Short Meditations in John 5:  47. Confused

Jn 5:47  But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?”

There were times in Jesus’ teaching when he basically said, “Well you’ve been given enough here. If you won’t believe this, then there is little point in spelling it out even more to you because the hardness of your hearts is what stops you seeing the truth.”

A good example of this is in Matt 11 when Jesus talks to the crowds (v.7) about John the Baptist and after saying a lot about him, he concluded, “And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come. Whoever has ears, let them hear.” (v.14,15)  i.e. it was clear who John was, but if you have doubts, think about it and make up your minds. If you can, you’ll see he was God’s fulfilment of His word about an ‘Elijah’ who was to come before me.

In the previous brief meditation we considered Jesus’ teaching in the midst of the story of the Parable of the Sower, but he ended that parable with, Whoever has ears, let them hear.” (Mt 13:9), a expression he often used that had behind it the implication, if you have a seeking heart you will have ears that hear these words and understand what I am getting at, but if your heart is not seeking after God you will merely hear the words and the understanding will elude you. It is a basic principle in respect of Jesus.

So when you take all this and apply it to what he is just saying about Moses, we find him saying – without spelling it out so it is ultra-obvious – Moses was one of the ‘sign posts’ of the past who pointed towards me, but if you won’t believe the sign post, it’s no wonder you can’t arrive at the destination, me!

Yes, it isn’t patently clear but when you stop and think about it – and thinking is required – it does speak the message Jesus is conveying. Now one of the things that worries me in the present age is that within the church there are so often people who say things like, “Oh well, the Bible is difficult to understand so that’s why I don’t read it,” or, “The preacher doesn’t make his sermons clear enough, so I don’t go to church.”

Each of these sort of comments reveal a self-centred and NON-seeking heart, a complacent heart, a heart that will receive the censure of Jesus.  The people in Jesus’ day witnessed the incredible ministry that he had, not only his marvelously sharp teaching, but also his healings and deliverances and miracles and there really was no excuse for their inability to see – except hard-heartedness. When we have access to the Bible and free access to churches of every shape and kind, we might suggest that people today, similarly, have no excuse – except hard-heartedness!

46. Believing Moses

Short Meditations in John 5:  46. Believing Moses

Jn 5:46  If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me.

Jesus draws this conversation to an end with a challenge to these religious Jews in respect of Moses. We have already considered the challenge that they did not obey the Law of Moses and thus needed a Saviour (implied) but now the challenge becomes more personal. We did briefly refer to this before but now we need to note what Moses had written: I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites, and I will put my words in his mouth. He will tell them everything I command him.” (Deut 28:18)

Over the years the scholars searched the Old Testament scrolls finding these references to a ‘Coming One’, a Messiah who would come from God to deliver His people, an ‘anointed one’. More often those references were found in the Prophets, but of course Moses was also seen as a prophet and this verse (which is repeated a short while later) became part of that collection of prophecies in respect of the ‘Coming One’.

So why, we might ask, did Jesus not give a full teaching of the many prophecies from the Old Testament, as we now call it, and show that they clearly spoke about him when you considered the things he did? The answer is that Jesus almost went out of his way NOT to be ultra-clear about who he was and only spoke about himself very clearly on rare occasions. Why, again we might ask? Jesus knew that belief in him was a heart issue (and we have considered that previously) and therefore it was only seekers who would find him and realise who he truly was.

However, what we do also find about Jesus in the Gospels is that he was not averse to dropping hints for those who might be looking. Much of his teaching about himself was somewhat oblique – such as the ‘I am’ sayings of John’s Gospel, and in particular throughout the Gospels, his teaching using parables.

When Jesus’ disciples asked him, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?” he replied, Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them,” and then went on, “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.” (Mt 13:10-12) i.e. those who remain close to Jesus will get answers, and once they realise who he is, more will be given them.

So the reference to Moses is one of these ‘nudges’, these hints, given for the seeker but remaining an obscurity for those who criticised him and who were against him.