31. The New City

“Cutting to the Chase” Meditations 31: The New City

Heb 11:16c he has prepared a city for them.”

As we conclude this series of basics or fundamentals of the Faith, we have to ask ourselves, where is it all leading us, where is God going with us, what is His end goal for us? Most of us – me included – rarely, I believe, live with this perspective, we tend to live more for today, what is happening to me this day, but perhaps that is our loss, for once we truly capture this picture I believe it will establish a new solidity in who we are, and where we are going.

So this does finally take us into eternity, this is what the end of the passage we have been considering these past few days in Hebrews 11 is all about, this is where it takes us. Perhaps we need to have the whole verse before us: Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.” This, remember, refers to all these people who have been living by faith, sensing they were aliens in this present world, destined for a better world, one to come.

This IS our ultimate goal, our final resting place, a place of wonder, peace, healing, and unity with the Lord. But a city, the new Jerusalem He will bring (Rev 21:2), is a place of community, of sharing together. Whatever the reality of the life on ‘the other side’ it is a place of communication, of community, of coming together in a harmony unknown this side of death. Don’t fear “death swallowed by triumphant Life” (1 Cor 15:55 Msg) for this life is merely the entrance hall to the great experience that He has planned for us from before time, His ultimate wonderful, glorious goal. Hallelujah!

Let’s focus this some more. In the 2020/21 years of the Covid Pandemic, there was an interesting illustration for us. If we were fortunate enough to live in the West we probably received two vaccine shots, if not an additional booster one. Now if we travel abroad one of the things asked of us – when borders did eventually open – was, “Are you Covid vaccinated?” The immigration authorities wanted to know, “Are you a different person, a person with immunity?” What an amazing picture when it comes to heaven. Imagine arriving at the gates of heaven to be greeted by an angel. “Excuse me, do you have the Holy Spirit?”  That is the key, for we received Him when we confessed, repented, and were justified by the blood of Jesus and were born again of the Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance,” (Eph 1:14) So yes, we are, at ‘immigration’, a different person, a person with immunity (from judgement). Live in that reality, know that as the truth; we have a destiny guaranteed by the work of Jesus and the presence of his Holy Spirit! Hallelujah! 

30. A New Longing

“Cutting to the Chase” Meditations 30: A New Longing

Heb 11:16a “Instead, they were longing for a better country”

Yesterday we said don’t be content with your present ‘country’ but you’ll only do that when you realize the imperfections of the present one. Ask the Lord to show you them and then pray and work for ‘a better country’.

I have touched on this previously, but it is very easy to grow comfortable with the present world and, yes, we did say we are to enjoy the earth and be thankful to God for it (Rom 1:20,21) but we may have come to take for granted the bad aspects of modern Western society.

It is not being negative but realistic to face these things and when we really allow them to catch our hearts they will inspire us to pray. Did you know, for example, that the greatest cause of death in the under thirties is suicide? Have you caught anything of the angst of many young people who have never grown up with a good, safe, biological father? Have you picked up on the culture wars that are raging in our modern societies that feed on division, feed on identity loss and bitterness, and so on?

There is possibly more under-the-surface pain, worry, anxiety, bitterness, hostility, resentment, and antagonism in our societies in the West than ever before, partly fermented by social AND mainline media and partly because we have become godless societies with Christians in the minority, and all restraints are being cast off. If for no other reason these are the causes we should be looking for another ‘country’, I don’t know what is. 

It may be that we feel powerless. Church leaders often don’t lead the way, don’t preach and teach on these subjects, showing us the awfulness of these things but the wonderful alternative possibilities when the church stands out like a beacon in this dark work. We need individually to stand strong before the Lord, informed, equipped, and energized to be salt and light to those around us. But we shouldn’t just focus on the here and now. The country these saints were looking for was in eternity but the kingdom of God is here with Jesus (Mk 1:15). The perfect will come the other side of death but that should not stop us praying and working NOW to create something better here today.

If you have garden (back yard) make it a little example of ‘a better country’. If you have unsaved family or friends or businesses, pray and work that they too may receive the new inheritance in a better country! Long for these things, pray for these things, work for these things, let them grab your heart and fuel your desire to knock on the doors of heaven until the Lord comes in either revival or renewal. The Lord Himself is clearly dissatisfied with the present regime otherwise He would not consider a new heaven and new earth necessary (Rev 21:1) to His future plans. Let’s agree with Him.

29. Keep Looking

“Cutting to the Chase” Meditations 29: Keep Looking

Heb 11:14“People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own.”

As we continue with these thoughts in the Heb 11 ‘Gallery of Faith’, our present verse speaks of these people of faith who lived out their lives in faith, responding to what God said, or what the Spirit witnessed to them, and emphasizes what has already gone before, that they caught something in their spirit that showed a better way, another way of living to what they saw around them, and they felt like they were strangers in this world, aliens who really didn’t belong there, and that helped them live out their lives in the way the writer to the Hebrews spells out.

Now I am sure that few of us consciously feel like this, at least in the terms we have seen in Hebrews 11, and I suspect there are various reasons for this.

The first may be that we’ve simply never thought about it like that before, but I suspect there will be many who, when they do start to think down these paths, realize that the dissatisfaction they feel with themselves, feel with the church, or feel with the world, is exactly what this has been saying. But mere dissatisfaction is not enough, there needs to be a positive goal or desire that we are yearning for to replace the inadequacies of the present. Don’t just be a critic, be a changer!

The second, and less comfortable thought, may be that we are so at home with the world around us, and the spiritual side of our lives so in the background, that all of this talk feels utterly foreign to us. Should that be so, it may be because the things of the world – ambition, desires, hopes etc. have built up over the years to such an unhealthy level they have squashed, or even eased out, the spiritual dimension you might have once had. If that is so, some adjustment is needed.

The third reason is that some of us may have become activists in such a measure that our vision has been so taken up with just one particular area of change you are working for, that you’ve lost the bigger vision that says we need to change people as well as structures, hence the gospel. Changes of structure etc. are needed but the biggest change needs to be in people. Now there is, I believe, always to be a dichotomy, a divine division within us. On one hand we are to enjoy the ‘world’ (the earth) as God’s gift (Gen 1:28). On the other hand we are to be distinct from the ‘world’ (attitudes of godless humanity 1 Jn 2:16). Whether it be what we do to the earth or do in respect of others, we are to be looking for a new ‘country’, a restored earth. Don’t be content with this present ‘country’ but pray and work for a new country we can make our own where peace and blessings reign. 

28. Visionaries

“Cutting to the Chase” Meditations 28: Visionaries

Heb 11:13d “they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance”

We are continuing to reflect on the gallery of faith in Hebrew 11 and we’ve noted that these people lived by faith their whole lives, often up to an unpleasant death, rarely seeing the complete fulfilment of the promises of God over their lives yet looking beyond this life to a future fulfilment.

They were able to do this because they saw themselves as different from the godless, self-centred people or cultures around them, and sensed God’s call on their lives to something better. Yet these lives, we are now told, “they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance”. That suggests they realized that what they saw around them of this fallen world was just how it was, for now, but they lived for something better and that helped keep them true to God.

In other words, whether they were conscious of it or not, these people had vision that took their hearts beyond what they saw in front of them. God had spoken something into them and now they were ruined for this world, for their eyes were constantly looking for something more. They caught a sense of what could be, they saw it at a distance but welcomed it where they were. The future, if you like, was stamped on their hearts and made them different, made them people who qualified for this ‘gallery of faith’. Now isn’t all this, all these descriptions, exactly how God intends it to be for us? We look around us and see where the world falls short of God’s design and something in us yearns for it to be different. We sense the possibility of what could yet be, we are dissatisfied with what is, and we yearn for it to be different.

I was talking on the phone with an elderly friend who I hadn’t seen for some time, and he was asking about ‘church’ and I won’t say what my reply was, but he chuckled and said, “You’ll never be happy with church this side of heaven,” and I realized what he said was true. I see the many inadequacies of the modern church in the West becoming more obvious as the days pass, and I see the church portrayed in the New Testament, and although there are those who say it is shown with its inadequacies, I say, “Yes, but they are only showing us a better way!” The nuts and bolts of the Spirit-led church are there. Many leadership failures are scattered behind us in this century, and these things only go to stir me to say, we MUST reach forward to the thing on God’s heart for His church and stop all this play acting and celebrity culture. But if the church is showing its failings, so much more is the world around us. I don’t know whether you read or listen to what is going on in the western world but chaos and anguish reign. The world desperately needs to see Jesus revealed through us, you and me!

27. Aliens!

“Cutting to the Chase” Meditations 27: Aliens!

Heb 11:13c “admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.”

We are continuing, we said, to think about who we are and where we’re going and we’re doing in by reference to the gallery of faith found in Hebrews 11. We’ve considered that they lived faithfully right the way through their lives regardless, we saw yesterday, whether they were receiving in full the outcome of the promises of God to them.

But there were reasons for that ability to keep going and it starts with their attitude towards the world around them. They looked at that world and said, “No, that’s not for me.” Now we did that in some measure when we turned to Christ; we looked at ourselves and saw we fell short of what God wanted for us and we repented and turned away from it. But then we realized we have to live in a world that is increasingly hostile and negative towards the things of God, but when we take the time to look at the characteristics of this world we realize it was a good choice to ‘jump ship’, not only for getting right with God but by casting off the dubious values that the world around us espouse.

The apostle John wrote about ‘not loving the world’: “Practically everything that goes on in the world—wanting your own way, wanting everything for yourself, wanting to appear important—has nothing to do with the Father.”  (1 Jn 2:16 Msg version) That’s a quick summary of how ‘the world’ (unbelieving, godless society) works and the more our eyes are open to see that, the more we associate ourselves with this gallery of faith. Living in the West in the first quarter of the twenty-first century means there are many benefits, but there are also many negatives or draw-backs. Just to reflect on, ponder this: the more we seem to have, the more insecure we become. Panic buying is a feature of this time when there is even a glimmer of a threat to supplies

Or try this one: the greater freedom the modern world espouses, the greater the insecurities that rise up in people. Perhaps we’ll ponder that in detail in some other series.   For now though, we’re to consider ourselves as belonging to another country, ‘foreigners’! We are called to demonstrate another kingdom, the kingdom of the Son where redemption and forgiveness of sins abounds (Col 1:13,14) where power is available (1 Cor 4:20) and righteousness, peace and joy in the holy Spirit flow (Rom 14:17).  That is faith, as we live in the midst of this confused, often hurting, often anguishing, frequently upset generation, as we seek to be salt and light (Mt 5:13-16), a blessing to our communities (Jer 29:7). Yes, aliens within it but nevertheless a blessing to it, that is the balance that we are called to observe.

26. Unfulfilled

“Cutting to the Chase” Meditations 26: Unfulfilled

Heb 11:13b“They did not receive the things promised.”

We are focusing this subject of who we are and where we’re going, through the lens of the gallery of faith in Hebrews 11 and yesterday we distinguished faith from trust. The start of verse 13, we saw yesterday, challenged us to note that all these people in Hebrews 11 continued to live by faith right the way through their lives up to death, and some of the deaths we are later told were not pleasant, e.g. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword.” (v.37)

We’ll eventually see all that comes in this paragraph but for the moment the writer wants us to see something important and it is doubly important in the light of what we have just read: they remained faithful without seeing some of the promised outworkings of their faith right up to the end.

We’ll see why soon, but this level of faithfulness, that carries a person right the way through a difficult life to face what might be a difficult death, is seriously challenging.

Abraham, for example, had been promised a ‘sands-on-the-seashore’ family (Gen 22:17) but he never saw it – just two sons. The rest of the promise was fulfilled in later generations – but it DID come. We sometimes have to rest in the knowledge that my ‘today’ is just part of the bigger plan that will have fulfilment after I’m gone.  That is faith. We’re just called to live out ‘today’ faithfully. 

There is a particular danger that we face in this materialistic and often prosperous age in which we live, and it is to measure spiritual realities by outcomes. In the world around us we find emphasis on ‘success’ which is usually measured by the race you win, the business you build, the cars you own, the size of your house, and so on, but that isn’t for everyone. There is only one winner of the race, only one owner of the business that employs dozens if not thousands of ‘not-owners’ and because of that we don’t all have big houses, fancy cars and so on, but in the kingdom of God those things are only very shallow forms of measurement. Many of those ‘success’ things we just listed are good, but they are a) not the whole story for the individual and b) are not an essential measurement.

We need to remember this. These people of faith lived a) in the moment and b) with an eye on eternity. ‘Today’ is the day of the Lord, we’re often told, today is the day the Lord wants to provide for you so you can remain faithful and true to Him and to your calling. How you handle today is a key factor for your life. But today is only one small part of the big picture that goes on into eternity with Him which means eyes on the horizon. Yes? 

25. Faith or Trust

“Cutting to the Chase” Meditations 25: Faith or Trust

Heb 11:13a“All these people were still living by faith when they died.”

This is only the second time we’ve mentioned faith in this series but it is such an important element of who we are and who we are becoming that it will be at the heart of the remaining studies. We are in the Hebrew 11 ‘Gallery of Faith’ and the writer points out that all those he had written about held on to that faith until death.

Remember we are still pondering on who we are and what we can become, and the word ‘faith’ must surely be one of the most significant in working this out. As a starter, we might ask ourselves, is faith so important to us that we will keep checking that we are living by faith – hearing God and responding to Him – and determine that we will do that right up to the end? A worthy and wise goal.

Now we are going to focus on faith for the remainder of this series but before we do that, we should distinguish faith from its cousin, trust. Faith comes from hearing (Rom 10:17), i.e. it is our response to what God says, whether it be in His word, in preaching or prophecy, or generally through His Spirit. Trust is what we exercise when heaven seems silent, i.e. when we are not hearing from God. Trust is about holding on and remaining faithful in the silence, faith is about stepping out in response to a word from heaven.

Now I believe sometimes in the past at least there has been a certain awe in respect of ‘special’ people in the Christian community who ‘live by faith’, i.e. they trust God for their income. The Schaeffer family of ‘Labri’ fame, who lived in Switzerland in the middle of the last century, were good illustrations of this. They simply prayed for money and the Lord prompted some of His children to send them money, often at the most opportune moments. This, I believe, is very different from the so-called TV evangelists who seems to be constantly asking for money.

But the writer to the Hebrews says all these people in his hall of fame were living by faith, yet when you examine the records, it is rarely about money, it is about attitude and outlook in respect of God.

Now the apostle Paul reminds us of Habakkuk’s words when he declares, “the righteous will live by faith,” (Rom 1:17, Gal 3:11) and he goes on, “we live by faith, not by sight.” (2 Cor 5:7). Now that applies to all of us, not just a special group who have been called to step out in some special way. Every time you pray, you are exercising faith because the Scriptures told you to and now you do it. Every time you read the Bible or worship or share your faith or pray over a friend or family member, you ARE exercising faith. So all these words we are meditating upon now apply to YOU, child of God, man or woman of God – faith person! 

24. Partnership

“Cutting to the Chase” Meditations 24: Partnership

Phil 2:12,13 “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.”

We continue to pursue who we are and what we can become. We have just considered the fact of God being our provider and we concluded by warning that Satan puts the emphasis on the first part of our verse above, but neglects to remind us of the later part, but it is the latter part that is all important. But let’s finish with the first part first.

The Amplified Bible enlarges on the “work out” part with [that is, cultivate it, bring it to full effect, actively pursue spiritual maturity]” while the Living Bible paraphrase expresses it, “do the good things that result from being saved, obeying God with deep reverence, shrinking back from all that might displease him.” Perhaps the important words there are “that result from”. Our ACTIVITY, unlike Martha who was motivated by self-concern, is simply an expression of the urging and enabling of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

Very early on in my Christian life, a very senior prophet brought me a word that revealed my course in life but in it came the strong words, “when I have indicated my will to you, before the words have scarcely been out of my mouth, you were running off here and there, you were quicker to fight than I was. My son, this shall cease, you shall abide very close to me and you shall pause and consider and digest my words before you ever venture to act upon them.” And so it went on. If I am honest that has been the greatest ongoing struggle and lesson to be learned that I am still having to learn.

As Paul said, it is GOD who works in you, HE is the initiator of our lives. Throughout the Bible this truth comes through. He called Abram, He called Moses, He called David, He called the disciples to Jesus, He called you and me! This is, I suspect one of the toughest lessons to really and truly take on board. Everything in us is ‘material’ – we see, we taste, we smell, we hear, we touch – and now we’ve been called to operate in a spiritual dimension where we cannot ‘see’ God and it takes effort and sensitivity to ‘hear’ Him. Yes, we’re working in a new dimension, the kingdom of God is being expressed in a new dimension which then impacts this material dimension. How God who is Spirit (Jn 4:24) created a material world is a mystery to us. How He was going to invade this material world in a material human baby body remained a mystery until it happened, a mystery only comprehended by revelation (Eph 3:3,4) but now he has been made known and we have received him into our lives, Jesus, Lord and Saviour. Now he leads, we follow. Simple.

23. Over Active?

“Cutting to the Chase” Meditations 23: Over Active?

Lk 10:39,40 Mary … sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.”

We’re still checking out who we are and can become. We have considered this month the fact that we were known before we were born by God, that He sees us and knows our potential and weaves the circumstances of life so that our potential can be drawn out, fulfilled, and that we have joy. I suspect there are many Christians for whom that thought comes as a surprise, that God wants us to have joy and yet Jesus, speaking to his disciples, declared, I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” (Jn 15:11) When the word ‘complete’ is used it means there is nothing further needed or to be added. It is sufficient. That is the sort of life that Jesus calls us to.

However, there are things in life that would mitigate against that and that is why we’re briefly looking at Mary and Martha to illustrate this. We’re all different but one of the greatest temptations today is to be a Martha. One modern writer wrote of a modern restlessness, of ‘not enough yet’ and ‘greater effort required’. These, he said are everywhere. One might add, especially in the church where the enemy seeks to con us into believing we can impress God by activity. We impress Jesus by sitting at his feet, hearing his directions, and only then going with his power and anointing. Another lesson to be learned?

Let’s think on this some more as we seek to cut to the chase, to go deeper in our understanding of the life we are called to. We often refer to God as Jehovah Jireh, the God who provides. When we first turned to Christ is was with the awareness of our need. It was linked with a need to repent which means, as is often said, recognizing a need for a one hundred and eighty degree turn about. It means to leave our old life and put ourselves in Jesus hands for him to be our Saviour – to save us from the self that had been pulling us down, to save us from Satan who had led us astray and away from God’s design from us, and save us from the world and it’s godless, self-centred ideas and lifestyles.

As we turned away from all that and turned to God, we came to One who was going to also be Lord and lead us into a new way of living and he would teach us and provide His Holy Spirit to indwell us. In these ways He has provided for us and continues to provide for us. The enemy would seek to whisper unbelief into our minds so that we think we need to be ACTIVE in “working out our own salvation” (Phil 2:12) but he doesn’t speak about what follows – “for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” we’ll think about that some more tomorrow but for the moment, let God provide for you – wisdom, grace, guidance, direction, and so be blessed, full of joy.

22. People Potential

“Cutting to the Chase” Meditations 22: People Potential

Lk 19:5Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” 

We’re checking out who we are and can become. Zacchaeus is almost certainly a rogue, not merely a despised tax collector for the Romans but a chief tax collector, which meant he oversaw a big area and probably took handouts from all the others. Not a candidate for the Gospel one might think, but Jesus sees past the outward bravado and sees the heart yearning and invites himself for a meal. The response of this crook is amazing: “So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.” Acceptance of others opens doors for love to flow. My life has been transformed more by love and acceptance than by all the years of preaching I’ve heard. From one who loves the Bible, that’s an amazing testimony!

Now when we come across a story such as this one about Zacchaeus there can always be two possible outworkings of it. First, if this was God interacting with a human being – and it was – what does it say about how He wants to interact with us and, second, how might that shine light on the sort of people we are and how He wants us to interact with one another.

So, first of all how Jesus interacted with Zacchaeus, to which we’ve already given some initial thought. Put most simply Jesus accepted this rogue exactly as he was. He didn’t start by saying, “Zacchaeus, put your life right before God, stop being a cheat and thief, repent and change your life,” as perhaps the Pharisees would have liked to have said if they had the courage to confront this associate of the Romans. No, instead he simply invites himself to lunch. You don’t do that with someone to whom you feel hostile. The fact that he used Zacchaeus’s name suggests he already knew who he was. Perhaps it was a divine word of knowledge or perhaps as he had eaten with other tax collectors, the subject of Zacchaeus had come up and the Father had prompted him to watch out for Zacchaeus because He saw he was ready to respond. So, second, does this provide a pattern or example for us to follow? Well if my last comment is correct, are we open to be prompted by the Father via His Spirit, to watch out for people who are seeking and ready to respond. 

This is what the Spirit-led life is all about (see Jn 5:17,19). We might also ask ourselves, are we open to the Zacchaeus’s of this world, those to whom the legalistic side of us would like to demand, “Repent!” but whom the Father would like us to befriend? Now these, I would suggest, are fundamental issues to do with our lives, about how Jesus wants us to live out our lives of faith, not demanding, ‘This is what you must do’, but ‘this is what you could be’.