6. False Pleasure Goal

The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 6. False Pleasure Goal

Gen 3:6 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.   

Misconceptions: Yesterday we considered the misconception that off-loading absolves from blame. Now we move on to the misconception that this temptation before me will create pleasure in me. It is a misconception that falls down on at least three levels: i) it fails to realize that such self-gratification is very transient and ii) it forgets that such a wrong approach also carries with it various negative consequences, and iii) it does nothing to assuage guilt. Let’s look at this, first of all, in the example of Adam and Eve.

The Folly of the Fall: Satan’s approach was to question what God had said: Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” (Gen 3:1) Let’s not get into his motivation or approach but simply note the clarity of Eve’s response: “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’” (v.2,3) She knows intellectually, at least, the truth. Satan then challenges that: “You will not certainly die, for God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (v.4,5) He denies the consequence and makes her forget it by focusing on the apparently ‘good’ outworking so, “When the woman saw (i) that the fruit of the tree was good for food and (ii) pleasing to the eye, and also (iii) desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.” (v.6) None of these three things in this verse are of any importance, the big issue is that you will die if you eat of it! The other big issue is that this is disobeying God and your relationship with Him that you have at the moment will never be the same again.

The Illustration: People argue over whether that chapter is literal history or allegorical teaching story. You can argue that before God but the truth is that whichever it is it conveys the same essential truths:

i) God knows best, God knows how He designed you to live, He designed life to be good for you,

ii) Within that design the truth is that you can go beyond it so it becomes harmful, e.g.1. food is good and there is an incredible range of genuinely nice food but eating too much food causes obesity and obesity kills, e.g.2. sex within the marriage context is designed to be beautiful, but outside it, it has a whole range of harmful effects, physical and emotional and relational.

iii) Looking only to short-term immediate gratification, walking the forbidden path appears pleasurable, but in the longer term is harmful, as the two examples above show.

The Dilemmas of the Twenty-First Century: We are living in an age that is prosperous and affluent in a measure never before dreamed of. We have achieved amazing things in science and technology and yet as one modern writer has put it, “On the face of it, we could not be in a better place. Yet there are signs that this is far from the case. In the United States, more than 70,200 Americans died from drug overdose in 2017, a doubling of the figure in a decade…. Alcoholism is killing more people and more younger people. Suicide rates are up 33% in less than twenty years.” And so he documents from all walks of life, falling levels of life-satisfaction, growing depression and many other negative effects that our consumer society is experiencing.

Seeking Pleasure: Eve thought ‘pleasure’ came through accumulating wisdom and being like God. So do modern people seeking after more and more knowledge, training and skills. Modern man, woman and child are taught by ever more persuasive advertising and marketing that pleasure – and more pleasure – is to be sought. Pleasure may be achievement or simply immediate gratification, but all the surveys, all the statistics of life in the West today say that more and more and more people are feeling bad about themselves and bad about life, especially in the younger generations. Is this why in the summer of 2020 we see a surge in campaigning for a cause among the young, a desperate attempt at meaning and achieving something purposeful, in a world that says there is nothing except seeking personal pleasure and achievement.

Two Types of Pleasure: May I suggest two types of pleasure. First, what I will call object pleasure – focuses on things, experiences – needs repeating to be maintained – seen in constantly remodeling the home, more food, more drink, more drugs, greater experience with greater buzz. Then there is what I would call attitude pleasure – knowing who I am and being contented in that.

Us Today: So many younger people (but old also) today lack contentment. The things they have bought, the social media they use, the experiences they have had, have proved bankrupt. They are left, to quote the words of one survey, ‘tired, listless, bored and worn out’. And then there are those who have rejected these ‘ways of the world’ as their motivating energy and have received it instead from their knowledge of God. They are the ones who experience deep-seated peace, a sure sense of fulfillment, a certain confidence and contentment of living in the midst of this frenetic world while not being tainted by it. Sounds like Jesus among the tax-collectors and sinners, I suggest. Let’s copy him.

5. Off-loading Blame

The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 5. Off-Loading Guilt by Off-loading Blame

Gen 3:12 (Msg) “The woman you gave me as a companion, she gave me fruit from the tree, and, yes, I ate it.”

Misconceptions: There is perhaps no subject like guilt to create misconceptions, wrong ways of thinking, and so in this and the next few studies we are going to eyeball some of these. The first misconception we need to consider is that off-loading absolves from blame – it doesn’t!

Wrong Belief: We have touched on this before but we do need to slowly consider this because it is something that is so common in modern life and Christians are not immune from it. It is the belief that if I can give a reason for my perceived wrongdoing, especially one that off-loads the cause of it onto other people, then is absolves or clear me from the guilt of it. We see this so clearly in the case of the Fall. Adam has been told not to eat of this particular tree, we assume Eve knew about the prohibition, but she went against it and then got him to go against it. They both did what God had said not to do. They were guilty.

Confrontation: But then God confronts them with their changed state, they have become self-aware in a new way: “Who told you that you were naked?” (Gen 3:11a) Guilt always changes our state. However we appear, we all know, deep down at least, that what we do is wrong, which is why we move into a defensive, self-justifying mode.  There can only be one reason for this and so God makes them face it: Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” (v.11b) If we are to prosper in life and in eternity, we need to be confronted with the things we’ve got wrong; we can’t take them to heaven!

Justifying: Then we get Adam’s excuse: The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” (v.12) I can’t help feeling if I had been God I would have laughed at Adam and retorted, “Adam, you’ve got to be joking! Are you saying it’s my fault because I gave you the woman, that if I hadn’t given her to you, she wouldn’t have been there to lead you astray?” But it continues with the women when the Lord questions her: “The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” (v.13b) There is almost behind her offloading, the objection, ‘well this is your world God, you made the snake, he was the one who led me astray.’

Sources of Excuse: I don’t know if you see it yet, but there are the things that go to the heart of all our offloading of guilt – to blame someone else. When things go wrong, very often people blame God: ‘how could a God of love allow this to happen, why didn’t He step in and stop me doing this?’ Because He respects you too much to take away your free will. But often that is too blatant a call so we focus our bad attitudes, our bad behaviour, on other people.

Marriage Breakdown: Whether it is cohabitation or marriage, when one partner commits adultery and enters into an illicit sexual relationship with someone outside the partnership, it becomes The most fertile ground for self-deception, half-truths, and self-justification by offloading blame. My wife stopped loving me, she was no longer physically attractive, we just couldn’t get on any longer, she was taken up with her women’s groups, her clubs, her hobbies etc. etc., and never had time for me so when my assistant showed concern and care, it was just natural to find love with her.

Teenage Rebellion: My parents don’t love me, and they clearly don’t love each other, they don’t understand what I’m feeling, the struggles I have with life, so why shouldn’t I go off and try and find peace and pleasure in drugs and sex with my friends.

The Lie: There is an untruth that each person in this sort of situation (and with time and space we could find many more) cons themselves into believing: “I can’t do anything about this weak marriage relationship, this bad relationship with my parents,” and so on. Adam and Eve made choices – wrong choices. You and I have the capability of making choices. That’s how God has made us and He expects us to make good decisions – I will work on my marriage, we will take time and effort to start communicating again, listening to one another, responding in love again to one another, I will not look outside my marriage for comfort. Or perhaps – I will wait for an opportune time to talk honestly with my parents, to ask them about where they are at with me and become the catalyst for change in our family. Yes, of course we cannot do these things without God and maybe without the help of someone outside my situation – that’s why I’m here.

The Starting Point: If we are going to start taking back control and bringing change then the starting point has to be to confess to the Lord you’ve got it wrong and you need His forgiveness and His help to put things right. Whatever steps you need to take, you need His grace and His wisdom, but please stop believing the lie. The truth is that with God’s help you can bring change, you can step back from your bad attitude, words and behaviour, you can restore the relationship. Ask Him.

4. It’s an Issue with God

The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 4. It’s an Issue with God

Lk 15:18  I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.

Unbelief: The biggest thing about unbelief is that you think you are alone in the world and thus you can do what you like so, behind closed doors no one knows what you do, behind a closed mind no one knows what you are thinking or planning or scheming; there is no one to hold you accountable. You are a free agent who can do what you like, go where you like and, as long as there is no one to retrain you, say what you like. But that is a world of complete deception for the truth is that God is here, God sees and God knows and, even more scarily, God acts into this world.

All the Same: Reality, as we see it in our mind at least, on one hand says we are all the same and so the attitude is expressed, “Don’t tell me I’m a sinner, we’re all just the same so who are you to say that?”  The answer of course is just another sinner but one who has learned there is more to life than this isolated bubble approach that so many have. Because, yes, there’s the other side of the coin, we may be all the same but we also have this sense of isolation; I am different, what happens to me doesn’t happen to you, you don’t know what I’m going through, no one else has experienced this. Within both outlooks there are partial truths. Yes, we are all sinners, yes we are all unique. But neither of these perspectives should be used as an excuse. The fact that we are all sinners doesn’t let me off the hook. I am still guilty. My uniqueness with my personal inadequacies that I appear to have been born with, or brought up to accept as normal, can never be used to justify my bad behaviour, wrong thinking or wrong speaking. However you look at it, I am guilty. That is why the Biblical answer we considered in Study no.1 is so important, and we will need to unpack it some more in the days ahead.

Before God: The view from the outlook point of unbelief simply scans the horizon and creates in me (the unbeliever) complacency, a contentment with my own little world (which I’m working to improve for my own benefit). But that is purely a materialistic panorama, a view seen only through physical eyes, yet a wider scan of the affairs of the world, present and past, reveals things that cannot be understood in purely material terms. Religious outlooks, that may or may not be rooted in fearful superstition, reveal mankind that thinks there must be something more than just the physical. This is backed up by holy preachers who called crowds to follow a different outlook. And then there is the phenomenon of the people of Israel, a people whose very existence is predicated on the belief in a God, the only God, Creator of heaven and earth. And then comes Jesus Christ who, for the open-hearted scholar-researcher cannot be written off as simply a holy preacher, with his three-year ministry life filled with impossibilities, things that challenge to the very core that obstinate self-preserving belief that there can be nothing beyond the material world. The claim to be the unique Son of God, come down from heaven to reveal something of the God who is, rocks us and we either hastily turn our backs and harden our Pharaoh-like hearts even more, or we bow the knee, surrender and worship.

Standing before God: Yes, this is the truth that the sinful mind struggles with: God IS, God is here, God sees me and knows me and everything I think say or do is known by Him. This is God who designed the world to work perfectly and yet, giving us free will, knew that it wouldn’t and planned accordingly. This is His world, His design and His to act into as He sees fit. In the previous study we observed a ‘boundary’ not to be crossed as designated by the Law: “Say to the Israelites: ‘Any man or woman who wrongs another in any way and so is unfaithful to the Lord is guilty,” (Num 5:6) noting the all-embracing nature of the command, but now note this failure is seen as a sign of being unfaithful to God. Years later, when Jesus stood on the earth he told the famous story of the Prodigal Son and he puts these words into the mouth of the prodigal in his story: “I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.”  His prodigal recognized he hadn’t merely abused his father; he had also sinned against God. That is the truth about every wrong, every sin, every transgression, every failure. It is against the One who designed us and brought this world into being and is still here holding each one of us accountable. It’s not just those we hurt we have to be concerned about (though it is important), it is about God who doesn’t just ‘clear the guilty’ but confronts them with how their guilt is to be dealt with. Is it by self-effort or cover up, or by open confession, repentance and belief in the finished work of Christ on the Cross? Those are the only options. One produces death, the other life.

And Us?  Guilt towards others AND God? The apostle Paul’s instruction that “Everyone ought to examine themselves,” (1 Cor 11:28) is used by the wise on a much wider base. Recognition of these things drives one to the foot of the Cross. Not only can I do nothing (Jn 15:5) but I am nothing without Christ, merely fuel for the fire of destruction. With Christ I am a child of God with a destiny, guilty yes, redeemed yes, forgiven and cleansed yes. Hallelujah!

3. All about Boundaries

The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 3. All about Boundaries

Num 5:6 “Say to the Israelites: ‘Any man or woman who wrongs another in any way and so is unfaithful to the Lord is guilty

Deut 24:15 Pay them their wages each day before sunset, because they are poor and are counting on it. Otherwise they may cry to the Lord against you, and you will be guilty of sin.

Deut 25:1   When people have a dispute, they are to take it to court and the judges will decide the case, acquitting the innocent and condemning the guilty.

Recap: We have made, in the first study, some introductory comments about the meaning of guilt, recognized it as one element of all human experience and noted the biblical processes of diagnosis and recognition of our guilt and then the process of response to that diagnosis of confession AND repentance. In the second study we noted that God does not pretend that the cause of the guilt didn’t happen, He doesn’t just clear the guilty, but holds each individual accountable for their own behaviour. Although, in a family context, wrong behaviour can act as an example to the next generation and lead them astray, the next generation is responsible for the way they respond, to go down a similar wrong path or reject that path and determine to live righteously. Now we need to bring into focus another aspect of this whole subject.

 

Boundaries: A boundary is a line of demarcation, that separates one piece of land, say, from another. Owners of property are always conscious of the boundaries to their property. Now when we come to the Bible we find that God lays down many boundaries of behaviour. When it comes to talk about the kingdom of God, the apostle Paul clearly expressed this: the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves.” (Col 1:12,13) He uses the language of two countries, one a kingdom full of light, ruled over by a king (Jesus), the other a land of darkness with a temporary governor. There are distinct differences between them. The boundaries that we find in the Bible are simply God’s instructions for us, how to live in accordance with His design.

First Boundary Crossed: The first boundary not to be crossed involved the tree of life: God commanded the Man, “You can eat from any tree in the garden, except from the Tree-of-Knowledge-of-Good-and-Evil. Don’t eat from it. The moment you eat from that tree, you’re dead.” (Gen 2:16,17 Message version) ‘Life’, as given by God, flowed in Adam and Eve out of their relationship with God, an eternal life that was pure and holy and thus sin-free. That one instruction was quite specific and the reason given, even if God didn’t spell it out as I have just done. The moment they disobeyed they felt guilt, were ashamed, and were afraid. The guilt was the natural built-in reaction to having done what they knew was wrong, the shame was the sense of self-realization of failure that made them self-conscious and aware they were naked, and the fear was the wondering what might happen to them when God turned up and found out. We also see a fourth outworking: a tendency to blame others, i.e. off-load the guilt.

We see this fourfold outworking in modern life again and again. Infidelity in relationships, unfaithfulness and betrayal, that is so often at the heart of family breakups, are characterized by the first three that seek to be assuaged by excuse-making, blaming others, and thus refusing to accept responsibility. We see it in big business as CEO’s and board members pay themselves massive bonuses while their workers are paid a pittance by comparison. The word they use to cover up the wrong is ‘self-justification’. It is how sinful men and women seek to cover up their nakedness but God still sees the truth and will hold them accountable.

Design Boundaries:  When we look at the Law of Moses, we find example after example of these ‘boundaries’ that are not to be crossed. For instance, “Say to the Israelites: ‘Any man or woman who wrongs another in any way and so is unfaithful to the Lord is guilty.” (Num 5:6) That is quite remarkable. Doing wrong to any other person is crossing a boundary and takes you into the land of guilt and accountability! Similarly in employment situations, Pay them their wages each day before sunset, because they are poor and are counting on it. Otherwise they may cry to the Lord against you, and you will be guilty of sin.” (Deut 24:15) i.e. don’t withhold proper payment of your employees otherwise you are in trouble with God. One wonders how may big employers today can stand the scrutiny of God when they make excuses for taking large dividends while keeping their employees at or near minimum wage.

And Us? The lessons are clear: wrong behaviour, treating others badly, whether in domestic relationships (and sexual and physical abusers are high on God’s Final Judgment agenda) in business, or anywhere for that matter, means you are guilty before God and will be accountable to Him either here in this life or in the Final Judgment. These are sobering truths in scripture but they are truths that need to be heeded.

2. Understanding God

The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 2. Understanding God

Ex 34:6,7  The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”

Recap: In the first study we faced the words ‘guilt’ and ‘guilty’ and sought to show that although they are words we prefer to keep in the background of our lives, and hope preachers won’t talk about, nevertheless they are essential to help us face our shortcomings or our blind spots. In this study we are going to confront two verses from the Old Testament that are regularly mis-translated and which, therefore cause many people difficulties and in the midst of them is this subject of guilt.

Not Clearing the Guilty: Our starter two verses are key verses for understanding God. They start out by extolling God as the God who is, “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin,” words that are repeated in whole or part again and again throughout the Old Testament. That part we like but then it starts getting uncomfortable: “but who will by no means clear the guilty.”  This needs thinking about because most Christian teaching seems to suggest a God who, as we considered previously, forgives and cleanses us of our sin, our guilt. But that forgets the word ‘confess’ we’ve already considered. The work of the death of Christ on the cross is not applied to the unrepentant. The guilty remain the guilty and their guilt stands before justice which demands action. God isn’t going to ‘clear the guilty’, pretend the guilt isn’t there. The Cross is about forgiving and cleansing the guilty – those who acknowledge their guilt. The unrepentant are still in trouble.

Confusion over Ongoing Sin: But our verses get worse: “visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”  This again needs thinking about. “visiting the iniquity”? Now most translations impose on this passage a sense of guilt and blame but, I suggest, this is more the translators’ poor appreciation of God’s grace than of accurate conveying of the meaning. For example, the Message version (which I like and use a lot) very badly puts it, He holds sons and grandsons responsible for a father’s sins to the third and even fourth generation.”

Now the Israelites so misunderstood this that the Lord had to correct them through Ezekiel. Read Ezek 18 which challenges a proverb they used, “The parents eat sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’” (18:2b) i.e. the kids suffer because of their parents’ wrongdoing. No, says the Lord, “The one who sins is the one who will die.” (v.4b) He then cites a righteous man (v.5-9) who then has an unrighteous son (v.10-13) and only that son will die. The other way round, suppose there is an unrighteous man (v.14) but the son refuses to follow his father’s path, the son will not die: “He will not die for his father’s sin; he will surely live.” (v.17b)

Resolution: Now I don’t believe the Bible is full of contradictions, so how do we resolve this? Back to “visiting the iniquity”. We need to distinguish between the meanings of practical expression, guilt or blame, and freedom of opportunity. I believe a better way to put part of these verses would be to speak of the ongoing expression of sin and their effects as seen in a father which the sons can (or may not!) follow. Because of the closeness of family life, and we see this so often we perhaps miss or forget it, it is almost usual for children to follow in the footsteps of their parents and that includes copying or continuing their iniquities. Visiting the iniquities of the father on the following generations simply means that father’s example is there confronting the children who may or may not follow it. IF they do follow that bad example, it is probable that they follow the description that comes up in a similar passage in the Ten Commandments: I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me.” (see Ex 20:4-6 & Deut 5:9,10) Following a bad example indicates a wrong heart towards God. That son or grandson has a problem with God, they carry their own guilt. There is an interdependence of father and child which includes the moral or ethical dimension, and thus a bad father is simply leading his child down a similar bad path, if he is unwise enough to follow it and not go his own better way. Love of God restrains sinful behaviour and if that is seen in the father it will reflect into the life of the son.

And Us? There are very strong lessons about family life here. First that each individual, father or child, is accountable to God for their own life. Where there is guilt (i.e. wrongdoing) the individual is responsible for their own life. Second, the older generation can provide a good or bad example and subsequent generations, although vulnerable to bad examples, are responsible for the way they react to those examples, good or bad. Guilt is uniquely individual but behaviour can be transmitted down the generations if the younger ones do not recognize and reject bad. Don’t blame your parents. God will do that. Yet learn from them. If they provided good examples, follow them, if bad examples, reject them. These are vital words for the very mixed up and confused world of family life we have in the West today.

1. Introducing Guilt

PART ONE: General Considerations  (Parts 1-19)

The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 1. Introducing Guilt

1 Jn 1:9 (Living Bible) if we confess our sins to him, he can be depended on to forgive us and to cleanse us from every wrong. And it is perfectly proper for God to do this for us because Christ died to wash away our sins.” (1 Jn 1:9 Living Bible)

Why? Why this series? Well, I had a dream, a remarkably clear dream and one that, unusually, stayed with me when I woke. In it a friend asked me to speak at college  on ‘Guilt’, and I ended up before a class of teens with a very clear idea of what to say to them. When I was praying later, this dream came back clearly with a bigger sense of where it should go.

The Approach: My sense is that this series should have two parts, the first thinking about guilt and then seeing what the Bible says about it, and then the second considering the guilt of the modern world. I am aware that thinking about ‘guilt’ sounds heavy and not very enlightening as a daily study, but I believe it is essential ingredient for seeking to understand the days in which we live and what the Lord might be saying to the Church in these Days.  In the Second Part we will seek to confront a number of aspects of today’s world that from time to time seem to permeate the life of the Church. I thus hope it won’t be heavy but enlightening and will motivate us to pray for the Church and for our nations in these days. I am fairly sure these is not going to be studies condemning and laying guilt; in fact the exact opposite.

Definition & Importance: A simple dictionary search tells us that

“guilt = the fact of having committed a specified or implied offence or crime” while

“guilty = the state of having committed, or responsible for, a specified wrongdoing.”

We don’t like thinking about guilt – at least when it applies to ourselves – and that may be because we don’t realize that guilt is a symptom of something that needs confronting and addressing. Often it is only when the symptom appears that we realize we have the problem. One approach says that thoughts lead to emotions and feelings of guilt, the emotion of guilt, and is because we think we have done wrong. If the thoughts we have accurately record the truth of what happened – a wrong for which we are responsible – then the feelings of guilt accurately convey the truth – we ARE guilty. If the thoughts only pick up part of what happened, then it is easy to allow them to convey the emotion of guilt but the reality may be that we did not do wrong, we are not guilty, as we’ll see in the following studies.

The Process: From these simple starting thoughts we see a progression that is in fact very obvious: first there is the act of wrong, second there is the recognition that we did wrong, the thoughts that put the act into a context and realize it was wrong, and then there is the emotion or feeling. Sometimes we talk about our ‘conscience’ or, in the spiritual realm, our conviction. Now the feelings help us identify the thoughts and the thoughts help us pin down the act, and all of these things for us as Christians highlight a need for further action.

The Way Through: From the outset let’s remind ourselves of the most basic of New Testament teaching: if we confess our sins to him, he can be depended on to forgive us and to cleanse us from every wrong. And it is perfectly proper for God to do this for us because Christ died to wash away our sins.” (1 Jn 1:9 Living Bible) So we have seen two processes. First the process of diagnosis: the act, the thinking, the emotion, the conclusion (I am guilty!). Second there is the process of response: first our part, the act of will that confesses and acknowledges and repents of the wrong, then God’s action that forgives and cleanses and restores us.

John is seeking to be remarkably simple in this verse and just uses the word ‘confess’ but as we go on we will see that actually it means what I wrote above – also acknowledges the sin and repents of the sin. Simply to say, Oh yes, I did wrong, and leave it at that isn’t enough; it needs to be accompanied by a determination to repent – which means utterly change – and be done with that sin, and let God deal with me. We will need to think about these things more fully in the studies ahead I suspect.

And Us? John in his pastoral role in that first letter is extremely helpful because in the second chapter he says, “I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.” (1 Jn 2:1) His goal is to reinforce the teaching that Christians have been set free from the power of sin and yet there will be times where we will get it wrong. I would suggest that this should take away any defensiveness we may feel about considering guilt. Guilt is merely the signpost that needs to be observed, or an additional motivator to recognize, that guides us along the path of sanctification, our lives being cleaned up and changed by God.  I would hope that I am dealing with any issues that arise in my life at the present time, but I would be foolish to think that before I go to be in heaven, there will not be further issues of which at the present time I am not aware. Perhaps these studies will help us face what we have seen in the past as an uncomfortable subject and come see it as a useful tool that God can use the enable us to be more open to His moving in these times. May it be so.

Snapshots: Day 157

Snapshots: Day 157

The Snapshot: “Just then Boaz arrived.”  (Ruth 2:4) He sees her, inquires about her, and then goes over and reassures her about working there and encourages her to keep on. Her heart, her openness to this new people, this willingness to work and provide for Naomi, have brought her to this field that just happens to belong to Boaz and he just happens to turn up to reassure her and confirm her security. There is a beautiful combination of the good heart of a woman and the working of God that is working together to bring a good conclusion. We always have our part to play in the drama of life in the kingdom but it is always in partnership with the One who rules over it. Be aware of both things, play your part and praise and worship Him as He does His.

Further Consideration: We have to continue to pursue this chain of thought about chance, coincidences, call them what you will, for this story is filled with them. But the more we look into the chain of events that seem to flow in this story, the more we come to realize that, if God’s hand was subtly moving in the background, it was because He knew the heart of the people concerned and knew how He could edge them along to a really amazing outcome.

We will overcome the temptation to jump ahead and see how this works out in this way, but let’s just note the chain of events and the people involved that we’ve seen so far.

First there is Naomi, swept along in not good circumstances, by the will of her husband. She has nothing (to our knowledge) to do with her husband dying, her sons getting wives, them not having children and then dying, but we see her grace and concern for the two younger women as she tried to get them to establish new lives back in their country. Yet somehow something of her grace rubs off on Ruth who will not stay and thus returns to Israel with Naomi. Back in the Land Naomi confesses her misfortunes but it is Ruth who makes the first move, when they realize it is harvest time and clearly Naomi has explained the custom, to go out into the fields to collect leftover grain to feed them. Her willingness to work takes her to a field that just happens to belong to a slightly older but kind-hearted relative.

So what do we have? Grace, love, concern that evokes loyalty in response, followed by a willingness to learn the new ways of Naomi’s people, together with a willingness to ‘go out to work’ to provide for them as she understands those cultural ways, and finally the good heart of Boaz. Add to this the timing element of harvest, plus the ‘chance’ of choosing Boaz’s field, plus another timing element of Boaz turning up, and you have a beautiful mix of ingredients, human and divine, that work together to produce a beautiful outcome. Lovely! Awesome!

Snapshots: Day 156

Snapshots: Day 156

The Snapshot: “As it turned out, she was working in a field belonging to Boaz” (Ruth 2:3) Ruth goes out and randomly chooses the first field she comes across. It just happens to belong to a relative!!!There is this strange thing that unwise unbelievers struggle with and wise believers come to learn, that when you are under the watchful eye of God, ‘coincidences’ start popping up all over the place and although we cannot explain how He does it, somehow the mysterious hand of God seems to behind it. Had the Spirit whispered into her mind, “Hey this looks a good field,” and she just went with it? Let’s not worry about how He does it, but let’s remember the Lord promises to be there working for our good (Rom 8:28). Let’s live with that joy.

Further Consideration: “As it turned out.” Oh my goodness, how simple those words are but they cover up the world of ‘coincidences’ which, when you are a Christian, perhaps turns out not to be ‘luck’ or ‘chance’ but something far more meaningful, either simply foreseen by God or even maneuvered by God.

Was it just ‘chance’ that there was a Samaritan woman of dubious background who came to a well outside town at midday shortly after Jesus had arrived and opened up the Samaritan population to him? (Jn 4:6,7) Was it chance that Rachel turned up just when Jacob had arrived and was inquiring about her family of the shepherds at a well? (Gen 29:6) Was it ‘chance’ that Rebekah turned up at the well where Abraham’s servant was praying about a wife for his master’s son? (Gen 24:12,15) Interesting, three ‘well experiences’ where people gather.

Were they ‘coincidences’ the things that happened to Saul that Samuel had predicted? (1 Sam 10) Clearly some of these things are the foreknowledge of God, God who knows what is going to happen before it does happen, but when these things turn out to be pivotal in bringing about a chain of highly significant outworkings, you realize it is far more than just ‘foreknowledge’. Somehow there is within it somehow the working of God.

My own belief – although we are not told this – is that so often God sees the possibilities and simply whispers into the mind of individuals, “It would be good to go there,” or something similar, and as they respond to His prompting (without realizing it) the chain of events that lead to blessing starts getting rolled out, as I suggested in the Snapshot. When I look back over the years of my life, even though I was rarely aware of it at the time, there are too many ‘coincidences’ for it to just be ‘luck’ or ‘chance’, ‘coincidences’ that opened up a chain of events that meant blessing. This is it; we can’t take pride in any of these things because so often we’re not aware of being led, but it was God!

Snapshots: Day 155

Snapshots: Day 155

The Snapshot: “Let me go to the fields and pick up the leftover grain behind anyone in whose eyes I find favour.” (Ruth 2:2) There are two very simple but profound thoughts that flow from this verse. First, Ruth had learnt the ways of her mother-in-law’s people. She knew it was harvest time and she knew there was this practice of the needy being allowed to go out and follow the harvesters and collect grain from the left-overs in the field. (Lev 23:22). Second, she was clearly a worker. The epitome of such a worker has surely got to be seen in Prov 31:10-31. Industrious is not the word for it!  But it was this understanding the godly culture of God’s people and a willingness to work into it that opened the door for all the good that was to follow. Do these two things speak to us today?

Further Consideration: Let’s pick up these two threads: learning the culture and a willingness to work, two things we see in Ruth. First, learning the culture. Culture is about ways of life and when we come to Christ we leave behind the old life that was sin-and-self dominated and move into a completely new lifestyle (at least that is how it is supposed to be).  Read Eph 2:1-10 and study the contrasts between the two lives. Now the new believer finds this all very strange and different and so learning and teaching become two of the basic and fundamental goals for them, to find out about Christ more fully, to find out “the incomparable riches of his grace,” (Eph 2:7) what he has achieved for us and what we can expect now as children of God. It is a long-term learning project and does not come quickly. It is why we encourage new believers to start reading a Bible, especially the New Testament in the early days, to learn these things. It is why we encourage new believers to be part of the congregation and learn from the teachers or the Church who can help us along the way. ‘Learning the Culture’.

But then there is this willingness to work. This learning the culture takes time and effort, learning what Christ wants of me takes time and effort, learning what giftings I have that he wants to put to use in the kingdom of God takes time and effort. Being available to be there for, and to love and bless, the people of God takes effort. Learning to be there for the family, for friends, for the world round about me, takes time and effort and that effort is work. We are called disciples, followers of a Master, Jesus, and we are called to follow him as he continues to serve His Father, working to draw men and women to himself. That requires time and effort, that is work. Now work is sometimes tiring and we need sustenance (His word and His Spirit and encouragement of others) and work can get tiring and we need to learn perseverance, patience, and endurance, things that keep us going. May it be so.

Snapshots: Day 154

Snapshots: Day 154

The Snapshot: “Naomi had a relative…. a man of standing….  Boaz.” (Ruth 2:1) I like the way this story is told. Here’s a single man, a wealthy man, and a man who had been related to Naomi’s dead husband. All these three things are significant and will become more so as the story unfolds, but for the moment, he’s just a mention at the start of it. Things have got to happen first, then the significance of these three things will come to light. This is going to be a beautiful story of redemption and adoption into the people of God but for the moment that is not clear. So often in life, it just carries on (with God moving in the background without our knowledge) and it is only later that the various threads of life come together. Until it becomes clear, rest in the present, trusting that God is there in it all.

Further Consideration: People are important, family are important, friends are important, employers or employees are important, teachers, tutors and students are important. All of these people I have just listed play different roles in our lives. Often we take them for granted but the way we interact with them means that our futures can be changed, the acts of these people impinge on our lives and it may be for good or bad, and how we respond and the sort of relationship we have had with them previously may determine the outcome now.

‘Dating’ among young people appears a nightmare, so often a self-centred calculation. Dating websites call forth characteristics of two people and we assume this is all that is needed to form a meaningful lasting relationship. Ruth is going to show us another way, a way that is gentle and allows both sides to show something of the reality of who they are to each other, two people who don’t force the circumstances but allow them to proceed and open up slowly in learning about each other, understanding each other, and going with that

It is not based upon sex but upon seeing how they both ‘fit’ together, and that is not physical. Today’s dating has completely lost the divine pattern – make friends first, let the friendship deepen to love, let love be expressed by desire for lifelong commitment and only after that the physical union. No wonder ‘Friends’, and ‘Big Bang Theory’ portrayed such difficulties that love could not be spoken about while a full-blown physical relationship was carried on. Relationship is about the coming together of minds first of all, emotions and feelings subsequently, and only physically later on. What a mess today’s relationships are and no wonder cohabitation breaks up so easily and marriages so often last such a short time.  It is sadder when it is seen inside of the Church, which is a sign of lack of teaching and lack of pastoral care. May we be able to demonstrate a better way to the onlooking and hurting world.