28. Appreciating the Past

‘Appreciation’ Meditations No.28: Appreciating the Past

Deut 8:22Remember how the Lord your God led you.”

As we draw nearer to the end of this series, I’m not going to keep on making ‘the goodness of God’ the continual focus but it is going to be there in the background and instead I want to try to paint the backdrop in which the goodness of God is revealed – the past, present and future.

The word ‘remember’ occurs 231 times in the Bible. That nudges us to realise afresh we have a past. It may sound very obvious because, in many ways, we are what we are in the present – today – because of all that has gone on in the past, but as with all these things they can be so obvious we take them for granted and need, from time to time, to pause up and reflect on them slowly.

Our starter verse is a reminder that Israel were constantly told to remember their past, a past with God. THAT was what made them what they were. They came from a man originally named Abram who had come from that area associated with the Garden of Eden. He had had a son who had two sons, one of whom had twelve sons (and a daughter) who became a famous nation, Israel. They had history so when God apprehended Moses at the burning bush, He was able to identify Himself as, the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” (Ex 3:6) Their history included an amazing Exodus and centuries later, an amazing Exile, but they were still there when the Son of God came, then went off into another exile, this time for millennia not just four hundred years, but they are still there today, still waiting for their (returning) Messiah. Oh yes, the past is important.

We remember birthdays and they remind us of who we are, where we’ve come from. In addition we remember our spiritual birthdays, the day when we first met Jesus. It was a turning point; we were never the same again. The past may have bad elements and those we just have to give over to the Lord, but much of it has been good and recounting it reaffirms who we are. When others have hurt us – and that simple word can cover a multitude of sins from simple criticism, physical or emotional abuse, through to rape – our memories replay over and over again that event that caused us such anguish. When we ourselves have failed in some way – and that word can include simple rash, hasty and unkind, hurtful words, or even acts of violence – memory can hold the guilt up before you continually. Then we take solace in, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness,” (1 Jn 1:9) Yes, the past is a mix of good and bad but perhaps the important thing is how we have allowed it to bring us to the present. With God’s help it can all be worked to good (Rom 8:28). Let’s let Him do that.

27. Good provision

‘Appreciation’ Meditations No.27: Good provision

1 Tim 4:4For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving.”

The starter verse above is in the same vein as the one we used as we started this part on the goodness of God: “Every good and perfect gift is from above,” (Jas 1:17) but unfortunately we often focus on the bad things of the world and thus forget this truth, which is why I often encourage us to take time to sit down and write a list of all the good things that God has given us and done for us. When my wife and I sit and pray together each morning, we frequently start off with a litany of all the good things He’s given us and done for us, so we start with thanks and praise. But let’s be real and face the world head on. 

Did God create wasps? I’m not sure. There is a difference between what God created as perfect and what has mutated or evolved as a result of sin in the world. Human perceptions and human behaviour are mutations (yes!!!) from what we were originally, and it is clear from scripture that wrong thinking leads to wrong behaviour which has wrong consequences. It’s what we see all round us.

An example? Fidelity in marriage. Infidelity, adultery, promiscuity, lead to…. well you do the maths as they say! Seriously, think of the consequences in the world around us. NOT of God’s making, NOT good. “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil” (Isa 5:20)

So yes, I do want us to dwell on our starter verse and it’s encouragement to be blessed by all the good things that God has given us, but goodness also means using what He provides within the limitations of what He provides. Again the examples should be obvious. Marriage was God’s design, as is often said, for pleasure and procreation: “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh…. and they felt no shame.” (Gen 2:24,25) His design, His GOOD design. But sin messes it up, so we almost casually say, ‘the relationship broke down’ when what we mean is that one or other or both became so self-absorbed that the other felt rejected and isolated. Or perhaps one finds pleasure in the body of another person outside the existing marriage. God calls that adultery. You know the rest.

Then there is food and drink. Incredible variety of provision – good provision, wonderful provision. We may have different tastes, but there is plenty to choose from. It’s when we choose too much and become obese from over-eating (not thyroid problems) when, if we can be honest, we’ve stepped over God’s boundary of good provision. Ah, we’ve missed something. the closing words, “with thanksgiving.” That adds a God-awareness to our taking and using that provision that should put a check on us to avoid the over-use abuse.

26. Light & Goodness

‘Appreciation’ Meditations No.26: Light & Goodness

Eph 5:8,9 “you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord…. the fruit of the light consists in all goodness.”

We have been pursuing the path called the goodness of God over this past week and we concluded yesterday by briefly considering Jesus leading the disciples across the lake to the region of the Gadarenes to do some deliverance ministry which sometimes can be slightly scary business, even when you know the power and authority of God. Before they arrived there, this area must have been blighted by the presence of these two men who were described as being so violent that no one could pass that way.” (Mt 8:28) It was a no-go area dominated by darkness, by evil, by violence, an area where Satan clearly reigned.

Now we perhaps fail to realize that when Jesus said, “I am the Light of the World,” (Jn 8:12) he was also inferring, “I am the bringer of all goodness into the world.’ The episode we have just been referring to is a classic example of Jesus bringing his light and goodness into a dark and evil place.

Now intriguingly Galilee had been known as a place of darkness. Isaiah had prophesied, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations,” (Isa 9:1) or as another version puts it, “The people living in darkness have seen a great light.” It was probably called that because so often, when there was an invasion, it mostly came from the north and so Galilee always took the brunt of such invasions. Not a happy place to live. Now Jesus probably chose Galilee in which to minister partly because it was sufficiently far from the religious authorities based in Jerusalem so he could minister for three years without being overly disturbed. But it may be that he was also there to confront the darkness over that area by bringing his light to bear on it. With his light, his Holy Spirit, living in us, he now calls us light. Although he declared of himself that he was the light of the world he also declared to us, “You are the light of the world.” (Mt 5:14) So when times seem dark, let the Holy Spirit bring recollection to you of the many good things God HAS brought into your life. Darkness – that brings fear, doubt, depression – comes when we fail to let Him bring this light, this awareness of His goodness to you. Sit and make a list of the good things He has done and He has provided for you and declare them out loud praising His name. Darkness flees when the light comes and as bad as the darkness sometimes seems, remember, The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has NOT overcome it.” (Jn 1:5) Let his goodness shine forth and watch the darkness flee. 

25. It’s all He does

‘Appreciation’ Meditations No.25: It’s all He does!

Gal 5:22the fruit of the Spirit is … goodness.”

The more I think about ‘the goodness of God’ the more I think we take it for granted and perhaps, even worse, just DON’T appreciate it. Our starting point (in Study no.21) was simply to observe that all good gifts come from God. We went on to note that it is even manifest in the midst of bad things happening, but then went on to observe that whenever we observe it, it is God-initiated. Yesterday we reflected briefly on how it must have been observed by the disciples travelling with Jesus with the strong lesson that HE was the initiator of all the good he was doing and the disciples just ‘tagged along behind’ him.

But then there is the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit who only tends to get an ‘above the fold’ press from us when we are considering gifts of the Spirit and divinely supernatural happening as we find in the Acts of the Apostles. But ponder with me for a moment on that other area of Spirit interest if you will, fruit.

Now we normally teach and think about ‘the fruit of the Spirit’ here in our Gal 5 starter verse as characteristics of God that He will work into us by the Spirit, which is good, for we need to know that He is seeking to bring love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control into our lives. However there is something more about this list. Although goodness is one specific fruit mentioned, I would suggest that ALL of them are expressions of God’s goodness.

I have come to see that this is not only about this fruit of goodness being in me, but it is all around me, it is everything that God is working to bring into this fallen world. He does it because it is natural to Him because He is love (1 Jn 4:8,16) and He is good (Mk 10:18), so the fruit or outworking of the Spirit is always good, and He does it because He wants to bless you and me. Have we ever lost sight of that, or never fully appreciated it, I wonder? Consider an artist working in water colours. They lay down a backwash on the paper before they start bringing up the picture. I would suggest that God brings goodness to the entire backscreen (to use yet another metaphor) of our lives. Whatever is happening it happens before this backdrop. God is there and every expression of His is an expression of goodness. So, for example, the disciples were led across the Sea of Galilee to encounter two demoniacs in the area known as the Gadarenes (Mt 8:28). For the disciples it must have been a seriously unnerving experience, but here’s the point: the all-powerful bringer of goodness is with them and he is there for the express purpose of deliverance. Goodness is about to be break out in this otherwise hostile situation. Wherever you are, so is this all-powerful bringer of goodness! 

24. Tagging along with Jesus

‘Appreciation’ Meditations No.24: Tagging along with Jesus

Mt 4:19 Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will…..”

In this present context of considering the goodness of God, I need to take up back to something I wrote a couple of months ago: “New 2022 slogan: Tag along with Jesus and be changed.” For some days we have been pondering on the fact of God initiating goodness in our lives and I feel I have to try to drive home the point I started yesterday, that our receiving and experiencing the goodness of God is always initiated by him. Yesterday I finished with thinking about the disciples being invited to follow Jesus that resulted in them experiencing close up the most incredible, miraculous series of events that have ever been packed into three years of church history, no, of the history of the world.

The ‘tag along’ idea may come when a group of older kids allow a younger brother or sisters to ‘tag along with us’. Dictionaries tend to add “when you’ve not been asked” but that isn’t true in our present context which is the vastly greater ‘older brother’ inviting us ‘younger kids’ to tag along. He’s the initiator of whatever ‘games’ we’re going to play but – and this is the important thing – they all will express the goodness of God! When Jesus is, and this is so vitally important and not understood by many – and it is so obvious – it is he who is leading us. I’ve commented before on my appreciation of how, in the second series of ‘The Chosen’ the disciples are seen to be those trying to organise Jesus, and I think it is clear in the Gospels that Peter did that, and so did James and John whenever they made bright (but wrong) suggestions.

We are talking about the incarnate, living Son of God here, the expression of God in the flesh. He ‘knew all men’, he knew what was going on around him, he knew the plan of God for his life and death, and he knew the timing of this. Every now and then he takes a diversion up country or over to trans-Jordan, to meet with specific individuals, all we understand inspired by the Spirit and as the Father led.

If his life had been a boat at sea, you wouldn’t need to tell him how to sail it or where to go. Our role on such a boat would be more like us being a new cabin boy and him being the mature captain. It would be daft for us to tell him how to sail the ship or suggest good places to go – he’s the captain for goodness sake! So why do we do it in daily life, think we know better at what will be good for us, what would be a good way to lead the church, a good way to reach out to others?  When will we wake up and realise we’re just ‘tagging along with Jesus’ as he does the stuff, as he determines where to go next, what to do and focus on next? Our role is just to tag along behind him and take on whatever tasks he gives us, go where he leads, talk to those he puts there. Are we starting to get it?

23. Goodness initiated

‘Appreciation’ Meditations No.23: Goodness initiated

Ex 3:3Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”

We have been considering ‘the goodness of God’ something that is always there and yet something we can so often take for granted, that we fail to be daily thankful for it. It is there in Creation, it is there in the church, it is there in and through other people, it is there in experiences in life. Indeed everything we experience in life is a mix of the fruit of the fallen world and the wonder of the goodness of God. The fallen world is all around us – but so it the goodness of God, and every expression of it is His provision for us that comes in all the ways I just listed.

Now the Lord has caused me recently to ponder on the many experiences I have had in my life, the opportunities I’ve been given, the things I’ve been enabled to do, the places I’ve been able to go, the people I’ve been able to meet. I could easily talk for several hours on them, but here’s the big thing: as I have looked back over my Christian life I realise that they were ALL God-initiated; He opened doors, He prompted, He led, He inspired, He equipped, He envisioned. I was experiencing it but He was initiating it.

As Moses, minding his own business with his sheep in the desert, found out, God is the Initiator and everything He initiates, we can eventually see is ‘the goodness of God’. When God started speaking to him, saying, I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt…I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them…. so now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh,” (Ex 3:7-10) I am sure Moses didn’t see that as something good, but he was about to witness ten incredible miracle-plagues, see the destruction of Pharaoh, and go on to lead his stubborn people to their new land. I sure he could never guess how famous he would become and how his name would be esteemed by his people in the millennia to come. The goodness of God can come in disguise!

Similarly, four centuries before that, Abram would never have guessed how he would be called the ‘father of faith’, indeed the father of the nation, equally famous. The goodness of God for Abram was long and drawn out but certainly there. When Jesus started calling his disciples they didn’t have a clue of the incredible things they were going to witness in the next three years and the ongoing lives they were going to live out, the goodness of God in super abundance and so great was it that, apart from the one who committed suicide out of shame, ten of the remaining eleven gave their lives as willing martyrs. The goodness of God can be the most powerful motivating force in the world!   

22. More on God’s Goodness

‘Appreciation’ Meditations No.22: More on God’s Goodness

Jas 1:17 And the Lord said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence.”

We continue to ponder on the ‘goodness of God’. We perhaps lose sight of it when bad things happen, but in the midst of them, He’s still there, having said, Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you,” (Heb 13:5) and, even more, His grace is available to us in it to help us cope and even rise up and be above the worries and concerns as we realise His ever watchful eye on us – he who watches over you will not slumber” (Psa 121:3) and His strength is there to be appropriated, taken hold of. If the path is sometimes difficult (Mk 14:36), the end will be glorious (Heb 12:2).

Just recently I had a strange experience. Cutting down on a very long story, I ended up in our local hospital A&E (ER to Americans) with chronic lower abdomen pain. No, this wasn’t a mere stomach ache! With my wife beside me we went through the first two stages of triage and was told I needed to be assessed by a surgeon on the surgery ward. For a variety of very good reasons, having checked in at 9.45am, I eventually checked out (and the pain had completely disappeared, and yes we had both prayed during the day) and was discharged at 11.45pm! So I sat for five hours in excruciating pain until pain killers kicked in, and then for a further seven hours waiting to see a surgeon (they had three major emergencies pour in that day on top of their usual load). Next morning I sat quietly before the Lord, and asked, “Lord, what was all that about? At the end of the day neither we nor the surgeon had any idea what it was and we just sat there for an entire day, when I could have been doing something useful?” Silence and then, “Grace. What actually happened?”

I reflected on the day and realized something amazing: during the pain and then in the hours following both my wife and I found ourselves at complete peace and even from time to time smiled or laughed at what was not happening! It was a day of pain and shear boring nuisance – but not a stress in any way! I suddenly realised the grace of God had been there for us, we were bathed in throughout the day. So let’s emphasise the point of this particular study. We so often only think about the ‘goodness of God’ as all the good that comes into our lives in a variety of ways, but perhaps, as we did the other day, miss the fact that the grace of God was there in the midst of crisis whether that was the extremes of pain or boredom. Somehow in those times (and we don’t realise it until afterwards) there is this enabling that brings with it peace etc., provision IN the midst of the problem, the crisis, the hurt, the pain. Amazing!

21. Appreciating God’s Goodness

‘Appreciation’ Meditations No.21: Appreciating God’s Goodness

Jas 1:17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

I want to develop what I was saying in the previous study by developing it into the general subject of the goodness of God. I think most of us as believers – if we have ever thought about it – would agree with the idea that God is good. Jesus declared it of his Father (Mk 10:18) so perhaps we’d better go with it. But the fact is that in the world around us – and we’ll see that in more detail in the days to come – not everything is good. Even more than that we find there are often challenges to that, so let’s check it out, even if we have to go over the same ground several times, because it is so important.

The snide cry of the cynical unbeliever often comes as, “If your God is a God of love, how come he allows…..” and a variety of bad things can then be put forward to show that clearly God is not good. Doubting or questioning comes, of course, in the earliest pages of the Bible: Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” (Gen 3:10) carrying the implication, “Surely this God of loving provision isn’t going to be so spiteful as to make provision and then stop you using it?”

Exactly the same inference was spoken in the words to Jesus by Satan, If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread,” (Mt 4:3) as well as the further implication, “Surely if you have the power, God wouldn’t begrudge you using it when you are clearly hungry.” The second one challenged Jesus to prove the Father’s love by creating a situation that needed the Father to step up and show His love (Mt 4:5,6). In the third temptation, in the face of the fact of a fallen world where fallen mankind are under Satan’s sway (1 Jn 5:9), there is the hidden implication that, “If you love this world and want it out of my hands and in yours, if you really love it, you’ll just do this one simple thing.” (Mt 4:8,9).

But as Jesus said, Satan is the father of lies (Jn 8:44), a deceiver (Gen 3:13). The truth is always there to be seen by those with hearts open to God and eyes to see what is fake. Bizarrely ‘fake news!’ has been the champion cry of deceivers in the world today, heard in two of the biggest nations of the world – Russia and the United States. The truth is being widely distorted and we hope to cover that in detail sometime soon in a new series entitled ‘Facing Fallenness”. The enemy will always seek to claim that God is not good and His world and His design needs changing, and he is working ferociously to bring that belief to the fore. I will suggest this more than once but sit and write a list of all the good that God has done in your life – and then worship

20. Appreciating around me

‘Appreciation’ Meditations No.20: Appreciating around me

Rom 1:20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made.”

I concluded yesterday’s study about appreciating and appropriating the work of Christ on the Cross for us, and then the outworking of the freedom that the Spirit brings in and through us because of that, with the words, “that is what now enables the Spirit to lead us out into this new, wonderful life, with new vision, new horizons, new purpose, new ability – new FREEDOM!”

Now I don’t know if you have ever had a life-threatening crisis, but one of the outcomes is an awareness or a sense of almost overwhelming thankfulness and gratitude, not only of still being alive, but an appreciation of all the people in your life.

Some ten years or so back, I had what is called a torn retina. The surgeon eventually told me I could have lost my sight in that eye for leaving it three days before going to the hospital; I should have been there within three hours, he said! But I suspect God was on my case and so within a couple of hours of checking in to the eye clinic, I was flat on my back, awake but bored (because you can’t see anything with the bright light and you can’t feel anything with the anesthetic they put in your eye) while the surgeon operated for an hour presumably sewing up the torn retina (the tissue at the back of the eye). Afterwards he commented this sort of operation often causes a cataract to develop but we’ll deal with that. To cut a long story short within a couple of months I have both eyes treated for removing cataracts and lenses implanted within the eyes. Now here’s the thing: I had worn glasses since age eleven and suffered from bad short-sightedness and astigmatism. Now I could see virtually perfectly without glasses. When I first realised this I nearly cried out loud, “Oh my goodness, I can see!!!!” My appreciation of the world around me exploded.

I accept that we’re all different but I am saddened by Christians who are either too heavenly minded or too busy to appreciate God through His Creation. Fallen it may be – red in tooth and claw as Alfred Tennyson put it – but nature, plants and animals are incredible and if they fail to create a sense of appreciation, of wonder in us, we’ve lost contact somehow. The seasons are each glorious revelries proclaiming the glory of God. Appreciate Him and His works? We only don’t if we have become shortsighted, partially blind or haver distorted vision – and there is something to ponder more on, why have we never seen the shear wonder of God’s Creation, God’s world, God’s provision, have we perhaps grown so used to it that familiarity has almost bred contempt?   

19. Appreciating Liberation

‘Appreciation’ Meditations No.19: Appreciating Liberation

Eph 5:18 Do not get drunk on wine…. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.”

Recap: Appreciation = ‘recognition and enjoyment of the good qualities of someone or something’. I observe in recent decades Christians appreciating wine more and more. It may be coincidence but I also note a growing lack of appreciation, teaching and talking about, and experiencing, the power of the Holy Spirit. RT Kendall was very strong on Word AND Spirit. Are we?  And not merely words. The kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.” (1 Cor 4:20) Dare we wait silently in His presence, to appreciate Him, and receive Him, or are we too busy to be blessed?

I think that is enough said about receiving the Spirit for I sense our focus should be on the freedom or liberation that a) Jesus has earned for us on the Cross and which b) the Spirit now administers, enables, and oversees in us. Drunkenness produces removal of inhibitions it is said and similarly being filled with the Holy Spirit removes inhibitions and thus releases faith in us. But this is, in fact, only us living out the freedom that Jesus has earned for us. Jesus opened the door of the prison and the Spirit empowered us to get up and walk out. Now we are out of the prison He empowers us to live and serve.

But those who have failed to appreciate the freedom that Jesus has bought for us, fail to appropriate the freedom that that Spirit wishes to bring in us; we will always be inhibited or limited if we don’t see what Jesus has earned for us.

First, he has freed me from guilt and shame – because he has carried my sins and forgiven me for them. He has freed me from fear – because I no longer need to look over my shoulder to see if the Law is pursuing me to hold me to account. He has freed me from feeling lost – because he has enabled me to be identified as a child of God. He has freed me from a life of purposelessness and striving – because I am accepted as I am AND have been given a fresh purpose in life, to receive and live out the will of God as it is revealed to me. And as I enter into these things, appropriate, take hold of them as mine, I realise that other amazing truth, he has freed me from sin. It no longer has a place in my life, it is no longer the focus in my life. Do you see in these things we have been freed FROM something to be freed TO something? Freed to live in the kingdom of confidence, assurance, purpose, direction. As Paul wrote, we are to, count yourselves dead to sin but alive TO God in Christ Jesus,” (Rom 6:11) and that is what now enables the Spirit to lead us out into this new, wonderful life, with new vision, new horizons, new purpose, new ability – new FREEDOM! Let’s appreciate it.