31. Appreciating the Whole

‘Appreciation’ Meditations No.31: Appreciating the Whole

Psa 92:14 They will still bear fruit in old age.”

I wonder, do we appreciate this? The past builds into the present which leads into the future, a seamless flow, even though we sometimes think the changes were bumpy? There’s a word in that verse above that speaks volumes – ‘still’.  That implies they bore fruit in the past and will continue to bear it in the present and will keep on bearing it in the future, the fruits of righteousness, of goodness, of love, the DNA of their Father. That also speaks of purpose, direction, meaning, achievement, fulfilment. Wow! What a life – and it’s all because of Him. Hallelujah!

Very well, let’s unpack all that before we finish this series. Perhaps we should start by seeing the context of the above quote: “The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, “The Lord is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.” (v.12-15) Although I know my tendency is to use these verses as encouragement for those moving on in years, there is a sense whereby the package of verses apply to all of us, regardless of age. So now let’s unpack it, bit by bit.

“The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon:  This is a general declaration for all of us who call ourselves believers, Christians, the righteous. We are that because in our past we were called and convicted by the Holy Spirit and surrendered to Jesus as both Saviour and Lord. His goal for us is that we will flourish, be spiritually healthy and grow as we live out our lives in the presence of the Lord – “in the courts of our God” – with His Holy Spirit indwelling us. That is the nature of our ongoing life throughout our time on this earth, the base line, if you like, for how we live, with the Spirit producing His fruit in us (Gal 5:22,23) in all its forms. (How many of us appreciate that I wonder?)

Now that is the ‘present’ aspect of it but the clear inference or implication of it is that we will keep on and on living like that and it doesn’t matter how old we are. We may age and become more infirm but that shouldn’t change that ‘fruit-bearing’ we’ve just referred to. This is the ongoing goodness of God, that it is by His enabling that this keeps on happening in us and will keep on happening until our hearts and minds come to a standstill, and that which is the real ‘me’ (soul and spirit) continues on into eternity. All that we have been referring to, what goes on in us and through us, is God’s goodness, His blessing on us so that we more and more enjoy this life and feel fulfilled in it. Can we appreciate that ongoing plan and goal and rejoice in it? May it be so. Amen.

30. Appreciating the Future

‘Appreciation’ Meditations No.30: Appreciating the Future

Jer 29:11 I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

So we have been considering the goodness of God and, as I said a couple of studies back, seeking to put it into the context of our lives by considering the past, the present and the future. If we will but pause up and reflect on all our yesterdays, I have come to realise we can see a thread of His activity, even if at the time we weren’t aware of it. Similarly, I believe we can squander the present by failing to listen to the leading and prompting of His Spirit as He desires to enhance our ‘todays’ and give us a sense of purpose, achievement, and fulfilment. So much for the past and the present, but what about the future?

Our starter verse presents us with words spoken to a people in exile who felt they had no future. Not true, they have a future, not just the one they thought they had. They thought they simply had a life of gradually disappearing in oblivion in the culture of the Babylonians, but God had other ideas when He said through Jeremiah, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” (Jer 29:7) He wanted them to flourish in exile because one day, in some decades to come, He was going to return them to their own land. Reading the prophets we see He has plans to bless them in the last days – but that is yet still in the future.

God has a way of readjusting this world so that the future is not what we thought it was going to be (allowing the Pandemic?). The future starts in a minute, continues until death and then, for His children at least, turns into eternity – and He’s there the whole time purposing and working good for us (Rom 8:28), whatever it holds.

But there, in that paragraph there are two aspects of ‘the future’ we need to take hold of. The first is the period of life we still yet have to live out on this earth. Depending how Jesus rolls out the end-times scroll (Rev 5) that may be short or long. We have a part to play in this. It is to be open, obedient, and available to the Lord, to receive whatever direction, equipping, empowering, and envisioning He gives us – and to run with it. Yes, it will involve us being changed by Him but it will also involve us being there as His resource to bless others, both near us in our own local sphere, and maybe, either directly or indirectly by supporting others, to bless those in other parts of the world. The second aspect of the future which I said continues until death and then, for His children at least, turns into eternity. That part is all down to Him, at least as far as our very limited perspective at the moment is concerned. Eternity is His surprise party just waiting for us. Wow!

29. Appreciating the Present

‘Appreciation’ Meditations No.29: Appreciating the Present

Psa 118:24 This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

I am aware I’ve covered this ground in the past, but it bears repeating again and again in the present I believe. As I keep on reminding myself (and maybe you), these things are so obvious that we tend to take them for granted, ignore, or forget them, and thus miss being blessed by them. The present is as significant as the past.

So, do we perhaps take ‘today’ for granted? I hope not for it is a gift from God, it only exists because Jesus says so. (Heb 1:3) As I wake in the morning, I realise this is another opportunity to ‘live’, to experience, to have awareness, to encounter, to bless others, to enjoy, to think, to speak, and to act.

My wife and I were discussing choices the other day, aware that we live in a part of the world and with a history, that means we live in the most affluent time of history, in a part of the world that enables us to be in the top percentages of those who ‘have’ in the world. But that reminds us that there are very large numbers who don’t have the easy access to food in abundance, water on tap, health services on tap, and that challenges us to be two things: grateful and thankful, AND those who in some small way at least can contribute to reaching out to meet the needs of that large percentage of the world who are not so well off.

Jesus may have said, “The poor you will always have with you,” (Mt 26:11) but the Father still has a heart for them (e.g. Ex 23:6,11, Lev 19:10, 23:22, 25:35) The intent of the Law was very clearly to help the poor and needy and perhaps, in addition to things like providing food banks, in these days when more and more people are struggling financially, we the church should perhaps be looking more and more for the Lord’s wisdom to help those not so well off as ourselves. The negative side of prosperous, affluent materialism is that we become self-concerned and fail to be concerned for others. The apostle John was very strong on this issue (1 Jn 3:17).

So ‘today’ is the gift of God. I don’t know what the day holds, I have ideas, I know of routines, but who knows what might break in. But one thing I have realised is that whatever takes place in THIS day, I am not alone, HE is here with me. Jesus enjoyed making it (Prov 8:30,31). I believe he enjoys it with me. He is here with us in whatever we are doing. I suspect some things give him pleasure, some things bring him sadness as he sees we sometimes fail to appreciate what we have, sometimes fail to bless others with it, when all the time he is standing there, even as he did in the Gospels, desiring to bring the love of his Father to bear and lift and bless others. May we be like that.

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!