35. God who is Creator

Getting to Know God Meditations:  35. God who is Creator

Gen 14:19   “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth.

Isa 40:28  Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.

Holding Back: I realize in this series I have been holding back on this particular topic because to deal with it properly means we have to not only look within Scripture but also stray outside to the worlds of science and philosophy and I felt we should do other groundwork first that we have done in the former part of the series. But it is not only that, for I am aware that in the atheistic materialistic world of science, the ‘big names’ scorn the thought of God and Him having ‘created’ this world, and so anything we say here stands in opposition to these people – or does it?

The Biblical Testimony: Well, let’s start off with the testimony of the Bible. It is strange that the first person in the Bible to declare this truth is an unknown Priest-King called Melchizedek (Gen 14:18) which is then picked up by Abraham (v.22) and is clearly believed by a number of other people in both Old and New Testaments. Of course the first two chapters of Genesis lay down the first challenges to us, being two records of God’s activity, Genesis 1 laying down the order of things coming into being (which evolutionists would not disagree with) and Genesis 2 giving a different slant on how man – and woman – came into being. Now it is fairly clear that these two accounts are not meant to be scientific accounts because they don’t have that sort of detail, they are more generalizations with focus, if I may put it like that.

The Conflict of Creation: There are at least two conflicts we need to consider. The first is about ‘the beginning’.  On a point of awareness, please note that actually Gen 1:1 does NOT start right back at the beginning; it starts with a formless earth, which science suggests is a long way down the line from ‘the beginning’. Current scientific thinking (and it could be different in twenty years’ time) has come around to thinking that indeed there was a beginning before which nothing existed. It didn’t used to, it used to believe that everything had always existed. Let me explain. The idea of the ‘Big Bang’ as a starting point first came in 1931 from a Belgian priest and astronomer, Georges Lemaitre – the universe expanded to its present state from an infinitely small, hot and dense particle. In the 1960s, scientists discovered ‘cosmic microwave background radiation’ – the leftover energy signals of the Big Bang. In 2003 a mathematician and two physicists were able to prove that any universe which has, on average, been expanding throughout its history cannot be infinite in the past but must have a past space-time boundary, i.e. a beginning.

Now philosophically this is jumping out of one frying pan into another. If the concept of a world that had always existed wasn’t bad enough, the thought of the world not existing and coming from absolutely nothing is even more mind-bending, because the one thing our intellects tell us is that it is impossible for ’something’ to come from absolutely nothing. Take away ‘energy’ and take away even an infinitely small particle so you have ‘nothing’ and there is no rational explanation that ‘something’ could come into being to then cause a ‘big bang’!  Unless there is what philosophers call the Uncaused First Cause – God!  This (He), they say, must transcend space and time, since it created space and time. Therefore it must be immaterial and non-physical. Finally it must be unimaginably powerful, since it created all matter and energy. Now are we  beginning to see something of the wonder of the God we have been talking about throughout this series?  The Bible doesn’t tell us how God created the world beyond the fact that He did, and because He is so powerful, when He says a word, it happens! Oh my goodness, Genesis 1 is completely in line with modern scientific philosophy!

The Conflict of Humanity: In “A History of the World,” the writer/TV presenter, Andrew Marr, is remarkably honest: “There are almost no historical arguments as complex and heated as those about modern man’s origins. The reason is straightforward: scientific advances in the study of human DNA and in the dating of bone fragments and other material keep challenging, and sometimes overturning, earlier theories.”  Renowned theologian Alister McGrath writes, “It is certainly true that the natural sciences aim to offer the best possible explanation of the world, and that they have had considerable successes in doing so. But there are limits to this. The scientist regularly has to propose certain ideas that certainly fit in with experimental evidence, but that cannot be proved, and are thus taken on trust.

May I suggest that Adam and Eve are certainly two historical characters who appear in a long, long line of human beings but they are mentioned, and their activities are mentioned (the Fall) in the Biblical record. Why? Because the primary purpose of the Old Testament is to reveal a family line through which God would reveal Himself to the rest of the world, that eventually became Israel. The goal was to show God’s unique dealings with a group of people in history.  The genealogy lines go back to Adam and follows a specific strand of his family tree, flowing through Abraham, through David and so on, simply showing a specific people who had dealings with God for a specific purpose. Hebrew writers, we are told, were not like modern historians and only included what names became obvious to simply show the direction of a family tree. From such Biblical genealogies, it is not possible, therefore, to work out time periods.

Mesopotamia, the obvious site of ‘Eden’, from the geographical descriptions given, is still frequently referred to as ‘the cradle of civilization’. Coincidence? The question of whether Adam and Eve were the first two human beings as we know them today or whether they were some way down the human chain, will not be resolved this side of heaven. However, read the accounts more carefully and different interpretations can be given that allow time periods or different ways this all worked out, ways that are quite reasonable and yet different from our traditional approaches. Consider chapter 2, in verse 7 we have ‘a man’ indicating a beginning but in verse 8 we find “in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed,” but ‘the man’ could mean simply ‘the mankind’, or even one branch or one individual from wider mankind.

Purpose: We must not lose sight of the overall purpose of Genesis, as we suggested above, to first of all show God’s involvement in bringing the world into being and then taking a particular strand of humanity to the fore to become a specific group (family, then nation) who related to Him. Ancient Hebrew writing does not seek to dot all the I’s and cross all the t’s but to lay down a general picture of the plans and purpose of God that was there overseeing it all. Evolution? No problem if it is God-directed evolution instead of the full-of-holes-random evolution. Your only problem is whether your starting place (and it does tend to be this with most people) is God or ‘nothing’. Nothing makes no sense and refuses any sense of meaning and purpose in life except what we conjure it up to be,  while the existence of the God we have been describing makes sense of it all and, strangely, everything conversely points back to the existence of God.

Eve? One last ‘anomaly’ to satisfy the critics, that of Eve. Coming out of Adam’s side? Refocus: we said neither chapters 1 nor 2 of Genesis seek to be scientific accounts and therefore (and remember what we said in Study No.5 about what is called ‘the doctrine of divine accommodation’ which can be expressed as ‘God’s communications with humans are always limited to their current capacity to comprehend’) it is not going against the grain to suggest that in the same way that prophets used picture language and Jesus used parables, the description of male and female origins is a mystery that only makes sense when you say, ‘God made us different’; how is irrelevant. It is interesting to note in passing that one of the areas of evolution that people steer clear of, is that of how gender came to be. Think about the male and female physical makeup that is seen across the spectrum of us and animals and try to reason how it could possibly have come about in evolutionary stages and you realize you are on a nonsense search. No one has come up with a credible solution. So let’s not be too hard on parable / personification  or whatever other linguistic device God used to convey, “I made them different.”

And So? One final thought. I find it fascinating watching people argue in this area. There are those who argue because they don’t want God to be the answer to all the questions and there are those who argue because they do want Him to be so. We have to ask, what is it in us that makes us want to disprove His existence and involvement in all these things? The only answer is the Bible’s answer, Sin – that propensity towards self-centred godlessness. We argue to a place of meaninglessness because “I want to rule my life”, not because we really want the truth. As someone once said, ‘the truth is out there’, but actually it is in here in the Bible. Some of it needs interpreting and that’s where we’ve often got in a twist, but most of it is simple and straight forward and the message is the same: God is, He is here for us, He loves and which is why He made us. Yes He IS the Creator of all things. Hallelujah!

34. God who is Perfect

Getting to Know God Meditations:  34. God who is Perfect

Mt 5:48   Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

A Challenging Concept: The thing about reading the Bible is that every now and then you come across statements that you can either skim over and pretend aren’t there, or you pause up and give them due consideration, and think deeply about that they might mean. That is true, I believe, of this instruction from Jesus. The instruction itself is bad enough – “Be perfect” but the claim it goes on to make is equally challenging: “as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  God is perfect? What does that mean?

Definition: I am simply going to use the incredibly basic definition of “complete and faultless, cannot be improved upon”.  Stop and think about that definition, what it implies. If God is perfect, and the Bible asserts that He is, then if that is right there is nothing about Him that can be improved upon. If God is perfect then NOTHING He thinkssays or does can be improved upon!

Aside: Assessment: In whatever ways or by whatever measuring sticks we might use to go about assessing Him, we must say that to match this definition, there is no way that we could improve on the things we assess, whether it be His Being, His Character, His words or His deeds. Let’s emphasize this by reference to His expressions.   But when we go to do that can we distinguish  between

  • The statements of witnesses in the Bible about God’s perfection, i.e. what they said and believed, and we have recorded in the text,
  • The apparent historical incidents that appear to involve God, e.g. judgments, what actually happened, as recorded in those texts,
  • Our understanding of those incidents, the reasons we assume that are behind them.

I make these comments because very often we are prone to misunderstandings because we do not assess correctly how we reached our end conclusion.

Definition (2): The Greek (original) word for ‘perfect’ means whole or complete, lacking nothing. That is God! Complete! This is vital to the teaching for it makes Him unique, as no other can make that claim (we will examine this more fully in a moment). According to the verse above, that is also His objective in working within us, to enable us to come to full-grown stature, living for the purpose for which we were designed, completely fulfilled – an expression of His loving design for us.

 ‘Incomplete’? Perhaps to understand ‘complete’ in respect of God as being complete, it would help to consider first ourselves as ‘incomplete’ beings. If I apply the word ‘incomplete’ to myself (and it is valid to do so), I may think of, for example:

a) my lack of knowledge:  I cannot hope to grasp the enormity of what I don’t know.

b) my lack of strength and energy – mental, physical and spiritual –  I need constant replenishing and refreshing and rest.

In these ways I indicate my incompleteness. But God is complete. He doesn’t lack and is not limited in the ways I have just considered.

God is ‘complete’? We have said in earlier studies that God is omnipotent (all-powerful) and omniscient (all-knowing) and all-wise. This is what Jesus means when he says God is ‘perfect’ or ‘complete’.

  • if God knows everything (to lack knowledge means He is not complete), then He will never be  caught on the hop, never surprised by anything that happens and
  • if His wisdom is perfect (because He lacks nothing – our definition above) then He will always know how to act or respond to whatever is happening, and
  • if His power is unlimited (because He lacks nothing – our definition above, again) then He will be able to respond however He wants in accordance with that wisdom.

Do you start to see how significant this definition of ‘perfect’ is? He has no need to act with hostility towards us because,

  • He knows everything there is to know about us, and
  • we are not a threat to Him and He can never feel defensive.

He is utterly capable of handling anything and everything that ever happens.

Further Testimonies: “He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he.”  (Deut 32:4)   This is the testimony of the Bible again and again. This verse was declared by Moses after 120 years of life and experience. Ethically, morally, however you want to put it, God is perfect, God is faultless. Then, “As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the LORD is flawless.”  (2 Sam 22:31) This is the testimony of king David after his years of experiences with the Lord. Then, “O LORD, you are my God; I will exalt you and praise your name, for in perfect faithfulness you have done marvellous things, things planned long ago.”  (Isa 25:1) This was Isaiah’s testimony, the testimony of a prophet who gets the inside knowledge form God.

Implication: I started out by suggesting that Jesus’ words really need thinking about. But why? Well, consider what we have said so far: God is perfect which means He is utterly complete in every way possible so He lacks nothing and everything about Him – whatever He thinks, says or does – cannot be improved upon!

Now here’s the crunch point: this means that when we read through the Bible and we see God speaking or acting, and these things seem questionable, we need to think again, why are these words, why are these actions perfect, why cannot they be improved upon? When we come to the Bible text with this approach, we will start seeing things, we will start learning things, we had never seen before. It will transform our understanding.

An Example: Let’s take a situation that sometimes confuses some people. Read Ex 32 which is the incident where Moses is up the mountain with God and, because he has been there some time, some of the people down below demand of Aaron, Moses’ brother and second-in-command, that he makes them a ‘god’ to worship. Idolatry raises its ugly head. Up on the mountain, “I have seen these people,” the Lord said to Moses, “and they are a stiff-necked people. Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.” (Ex 32:9,10) Now if we had been God, and we felt utterly frustrated with this foolish people who we have gone to great lengths to deliver from Egypt and bring here, we would probably not waste the words but just do it. But then we might think about it and wonder how that will go down for our image in the world. Now as we think a bit further, we hear the cynic saying, “But I thought your God was a God of love? How come He’s talking of destroying these people?”

Hold on! Think on. So you do nothing and the word gets out that God is a soft touch and you really never need to bother to obey Him. Disaster, anarchy will reign, and Israeli will fall apart and cease to be a light to the rest of the world. So why is God saying this, how does this fit the ‘perfect’ God picture? The answer has to be He is testing Moses, to see how His man will respond to this offer.   Moses responds brilliantly – you can read it yourself in the following verses of that chapter. Moses himself goes down and deals with the minority who had gone astray and intercedes for the rest. It’s a messy situation but when God deals with it, it is with control and restraint. At the end of it a purged nation, a nation still able to continue with its task. Whenever we come across one of these situations, ask yourself, if you were God, what would you do, what is the only thing you could do, to control the situation, preserve the nation and pursue the goals that we have considered in earlier studies. If we will do this, we will think more deeply and become wiser and be less likely to join the unthinking crowds who make shallow negative responses.

And So? So, if your circumstances are going pear-shaped, pause up and ponder: God is allowing this, why? Whatever He is doing here cannot be improved upon. What am I to learn here? What has caused this? Why is this happening? Where is God in all this? What does He want me to learn in all this? Have we not realized that God has allowed this fallen world to be as it is to act as a learning laboratory for us? It is as it is because of our Sin, our choices, and He has provided His salvation through Jesus that is now available to us, administered by His Holy Spirit, and within that, we will learn to grow up ‘in Christ’. So many facets of this to think about.  Dare we do that? Go for it.

33. God with Personality

Getting to Know God Meditations:  33. God with Personality

Mt 19:26    Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Num 23:19  God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind.

What a Mix! When we try to get a handle on just who God is, it is an impossible task. Yes, we can see the things – the many things – the Bible says about Him but even then so much of the time we are like people gazing in the jeweler’s window and perceiving lots of rings with little pieces of clear glass in, some sparkling, some not so much. To the uninitiated they are just that, colorless glass but to those in the know they are amazing diamonds. I once had the privilege of interviewing a jeweler who knew all about these things. He showed me a color grading kit, because diamonds have different colors varying from pure white (the most expensive ones) through a yellow-brown series. In his kit I could just distinguish the difference from one on the left to the tenth one on the right, but only just. He explained how jewelers like him have to go through a test where they are given 360 different colored diamonds and have to put them in order. He modestly acknowledged that at his last test he had got four wrong which is “considered quite good.”  I say all this because I believe it is sometimes like this with the Bible. One person looks and sees words, another sees and is deeply moved at the wonder.

God beyond us: Jesus, in our first verse above speaks of his Father in heaven for whom nothing is impossible.  In our scrabbling for understanding we are not sure what that means, but when we look at the context we grasp just a little.  In Numbers 23, the seer, Balaam, declares a truth about God. He’s not like us, He always speaks the truth and doesn’t randomly change His mind. (Whenever it appears that He does, it is always because the situation has changed, repentance has been seen.) No, God is very different from us and that is what makes Him scary. And yes, the marvel of the Bible is that in it we find human writers desperately trying to convey truth by the use of words and the use of many different word forms, that we referred to in an earlier study.

Personal Actions: We find again and again God is spoken of in terms of human actions. Let’s have some illustrations of this:

  • “the Lord said….. I will know.” (Gen. 18:21) A basic aspect of personality is knowing, of being aware. God knows, He is aware of every situation
  • “But God remembered Noah,” (Gen 8:1) Recollection, remembering, is an ability of the human mind and that comes from God whose knowledge includes looking back from the present and seeing what was – He ‘remembers’.
  • “God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham.” (Ex 2:24) Hearing is one of the five human senses, and so the writers seek to convey that sometimes God’s actions are prompted by His observation of us, what He ‘hears’ us doing. “I have heard them crying out.” (Ex 3:7b)
  • “And God saw that it was good.” (Gen 1:10) But it is not only hearing, this knowledge is also expressed as ‘seeing’.
  • “The Lord said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people.” (Ex 3:7a) It is this ‘seeing’ that sometimes seems to prompt Him into action, His awareness of the right time to act.
  • “The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma and said….” (Gen 8:21) All these things are expressions of living personality that is conscious and so when there is a smell, God ‘smells’ it.
  • “May God arise, may his enemies be scattered.” (Psa 68:1) God moves, God acts, He is not static.
  • “Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden.” (Gen 3:8) In the earliest phase of history, the closeness of God in the Garden meant that His movements in the material realm created sound that could be heard.
  • “I will walk among you and be your God.” (Lev 26:12) His close movement, suggesting intimacy, indicates His presence among His people.
  • “Enoch walked with God…” (Gen 5:24) A picture of two walking together suggests intimate ongoing fellowship.
  • “The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces.” (Isa 25:8) An action attributed to God to convey His activity or removing the need for tears.

Each of these ‘action’ descriptions seeks to convey the life that is the God that is there and interacting with us in this material world. When you read your Bible, watch out for more of these.

Personal Emotions: But the descriptions of God go beyond actions, they also include feelings, emotions, all indicators of personality. Here are a few:

  • “The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled.” (Gen 6:6) Instead of a hasty God of judgment as some would convey, we see God is moved and troubled and anguishes over our folly as a human race, and that has at times stirred regret in Him, but never such that He has wiped us out!
  • “How often they rebelled against him in the wilderness and grieved him in the wasteland.” (Psa 78:40) Again and again comes this sense of God grieving – which conveys being heart-stricken, if not heart broken by our folly. “Yet they rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit.” (Isa 63:10)
  • “They pour out drink offerings to other gods to arouse my anger.” (Jer 7:18) Negative behaviour creates negative responses, right responses. “He rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath.” (Psa 2:5) Wrath is anger stirred intro action
  • “do not erect a sacred stone, for these the Lord your God hates.” (Deut 16:22) Things that warp or twist us and make us less than we are designed to be, creates this strong negative response in God.
  • “as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you.” (Isa 62:5) On the other hand, there are times when good things happening create strong good responses in God.
  • the joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Neh 8:10) Delight or pleasure or happiness is often seen as an expression of God: “Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit.” (Lk 10:21)
  • “Enter into the joy of your lord.’” (Mt 25:21) In the parable, the lord is God. Jesus also spoke of his joy: “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” (Jn 15:11)
  • “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.” (Ex 34:6,7) Compassion gentle kindness, love, forgiveness all expressions of God’s emotions in respect of us.
  • “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (Jn 3:16) The motivating force, behind the coming of Jesus and his death on our behalf, was love.

Thus we have a variety of emotions that are expressions of personality, that we see in God.

And So?  Here is a storehouse of resources for meditation. Reflect on the wonder of these things, that we have dealings, not with an impersonal force, but a Being with personality (hence my earlier description of ‘spirit’ as ‘force with personality’.) You see it is very easy to read the Bible or talk about God in it, and for it to be mere words, words that convey little, impact even less, but the reality is that we have been given this book that records in the most incredibly uniform way that this Being that we refer to as God, is a being with personality who communicates with human beings who also have personality.  It is person to person that we find again and again throughout the pages of this book. Our actions, our feelings, are tainted by sin – this self-centred, godless propensity to get it wrong – but God’s actions and God’s emotions are never ‘wrong’, they are the perfect expression of a perfect being and perhaps that is something we ought to consider in more detail in the next study.

32. God of Hope – the practice (2)

Getting to Know God Meditations:  32. God of Hope – the practice (2)

Jn 5:6,7    “Do you want to get well?”  “Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”

Taking Stock: We need, I think, to pause and take stock of where we are. We have been considering the ways that hope is conveyed as something God brings to our confused states within the human race, to help us be more reassured in today as we face tomorrow. Hope is always about tomorrow – or maybe the next hour or the next few minutes, and the question arises, will God be there for me? To conclude this little section, I want to focus us on some illustrations from the Bible that say that, not only is God there, but He is there for us.

The Hopelessness of Bethesda: Our verses above come from an incident involving Jesus who had returned to Jerusalem to celebrate one of the Jewish feasts. He goes to a pool in the city, identified as having five covered alcoves (5:2). Now something happened to this pool every now and then, it bubbled up, and seemingly when you managed to get into the water when it bubbled up, you were healed. Now whether this was a natural occurrence or something else we don’t know, but the fact was that many people who were sick or disabled came to this pool and sheltered under the alcoves (keeping out of the sun or rain, no doubt). In a day when there was no health service or health insurance, the sick and disabled were pretty much helpless and their circumstances hopeless. Those who were able, stumbled into the water when it was stirred but perhaps there were so many of them, it was often impossible to get near it. Whether anyone was healed is open to speculation. Nevertheless they came with hope that it might happen. This one man had been an invalid for thirty eight years and he was just lying there, clearly with all hope gone: “‘I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.’” (v.7)

Then Jesus: Why Jesus chose this man and not others is unclear; perhaps he wanted to make the point that no one was beyond his help. He commands the man to get up and he is instantly healed. The cynic might suggest the man was just pretending to be sick, but to what purpose? Lying around, begging, in the midst of a sick crowd. It is bad enough sitting in a doctor’s waiting room, this must have been far worse. No, he was sick and now he has been healed. When we look carefully at the Gospels, we see that Jesus healed vast numbers of the sick, disabled and demon-possessed who either came to him or were brought to him – see Mt 4:24, 8:16, 12:15, 14:14,36, 15:30, 19:2, 21:14, as well as many individual healings. Jesus generated hope and when the people heard what was happening they flocked to him.

Only New Testament? Without doubt, this was a unique time that amongst other things verified that this was the Son of God, God incarnate on the earth, so was this three years a unique time when God healed? Well, no, because in Acts it is clear that the apostles continued Jesus’ healing ministry. In the teaching within the rest of the New Testament, there is reference to the gift of healing (1 Cor 12:9,30), and James specifically says that church elders should pray over the sick and heal them (Jas 5:14-16). So is healing restricted to the New Testament period? The categorical answer is no, healing is there in abundance in the Old Testament.  I think I will do what I don’t normally do and leave it to other writers. John Wimber’s ‘Power Healing’ is possibly one of the best known and very comprehensive books on healing. Dr. Jack Deere’s ‘Surprised by the Power of the Spirit’ is also worth a read, as is ‘The Kingdom and the Power’ by a compilation of writers. The point we need to be making is that the all-powerful God sometimes (but not always – and there are reasons – read the books) heals and bring hope to those who feel hopeless in their circumstances.

Naaman: There is one healing that stands out in the Old Testament that speaks volumes about God. Naaman was commander of the army of Aram (2 Kings 5:1), a nearby nation who came and every now and then raided Israel (5:2) i.e. they were enemies of Israel. The only trouble was that Naaman contracted leprosy (5:1c). However he had taken, on one of his raids, a young Israelite girl, who he made maid to his wife. This maid suggested to his wife that he go to visit a prophet in Israel named Elisha who might heal him. To cut a long story short (read 2 Kings 5:1-15) Naaman is healed. Now just consider this: the man is an enemy of Israel and has done harm to Israel – but God still heals him! What an act of grace and mercy! It screams at us, whoever will come and surrender themselves to God (or His representatives) will find God’s help.

Wider Issues: There are times when circumstances seem so confusing they defy us and yet James writes, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” (Jas 1:5) Wisdom is the knowledge of how to act, so what is James saying? Go to God in a believing state (see v.6) and He will tell you how to deal with your problem. So, the knowledge of ‘how to’ is available to believers.

But what about other physical or relational issues. I hate moving in this area because of never wanting to bring false hope, but twice I have been privileged to have a prophetic word for barren couples that they would conceive within a year (and they did) and once to a single girl who felt she would be single for the rest of her life, that she would be married within a year (and she was). Is there anything special about this? No, the Bible is full of couples who were childless and God turned up and enabled them to have a child. God is concerned about all areas of our lives and I believe no area is ‘off limits’ as far as God is concerned. There is nothing automatic here for, as we’ve sought to show before, it is all about relationship. And, seeking to be wholly honest, it is sometimes a mystery why God heals some and not others. The book writers suggest a variety of reasons but the simple instruction has to be – know He loves you, pray and keep on praying and be at peace. Easy to say, hard to do.

But hope: But this is the message of the whole Bible, that we live in a fallen world where we get it wrong often, things go wrong often, and a mess often ensues. Left like that it would be depressing but the bigger picture is that God is there for us and as we cooperate with Him, so He works to redeem every messy situation and bring good into it, as we allow Him. Those are the only limiting criteria – ‘as we cooperate with him’ and ‘as we allow Him’. He never forces His way into our circumstances, but always comes when we call with an open heart. That is the hope we have, that tomorrow can be better than today because of God. That is what hope is all about, a God of hope.  Without God it is all wishful thinking but thankfully the Bible and the testimony of millions down through the centuries says otherwise. Hallelujah! OK, it’s time to move on.

31. God of Hope – the practice (1)

Getting to Know God Meditations:  31. God of Hope – the practice (1)

Psa 73:2,3,16,17,22-24  But as for me, my feet had almost slipped;  I had nearly lost my foothold. For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked….. it troubled me deeply 17 till I entered the sanctuary of God; I was senseless and ignorant;….  I was a brute beast before you. 23 Yet I am always with you;  you hold me by my right hand. 24 You guide me with your counsel,  and afterward you will take me into glory.

Hope in who?   We can hope in people, that they will be there for us, and often we can be let down. We can hope in new organisations, new political parties, new approaches to life, we can hope in new self-help methods, but all of them have the fragility and propensity to failure that living in this world without God has. But I have this confidence – that when we cry to God He turns up for us. That is my hope, that is my assurance of the rest of today and tomorrow. But  I realize that it is more than that, for in reality it isn’t that ‘He turns up’, for He is here and He’s never left me: God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (Heb 13:5 quoting Deut 31:6) This has been my testimony of over fifty years. It has not been a pipe-dream or wishful thinking; it has been a reality. God is there, He is here and He’s here for me – and for anyone who turns to Him.

The wonder of this hope: Psa 73 is an amazing psalm and it really shines light on this subject about hoping in God, about being confident about our future when we know God. It is written by Asaph who, it is believed was a worship leader and he writes it for Israel, but we can learn much from it. He starts off, “Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart.(v.1) The Message paraphrase version puts it, “God is good— good to good people, good to the good-hearted.” Asaph is suggesting that God’s goodness flows to those who are good. Now that Jesus has come, the ‘good’ are simply those who have believed in him and have been accepted by God. So there is this limitation; if you ignore God, if you reject Him, then of course you will not be open to receive His goodness. Opening principles. God is good and desires express His goodness to whoever will come to Him.

Human Reality: But then Asaph confesses the state he had allowed himself to fall into: “But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold.  For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.” (v.2,3) He had lost his spiritual perspective for a while, he had seen what was going on in the world around him and he envied those who seem to have become prosperous and he felt, “They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong.” (v.4) Maybe we look at ‘celebrities’ and they seem to have it all, and we wish we had it. But then he goes on to describe the unrighteous attitudes, words and behaviour of those people (v.6-11) – it is often so easy to forget what they are really like – and then he concludes, “This is what the wicked are like – always free of care, they go on amassing wealth,” (v.12) and then adds, “Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure,” (v.13a) adding that it just seems like every day brings troubles (v.14). But then he realizes that (implied) as a national worship leader he has responsibilities (v.15) and as he struggled to understand all he was feeling he just felt upset (v.16). Then come some crucial words: “till I entered the sanctuary of God.” (v.17a) Suddenly he is reminded that God is there and these people will have to face Him, and their destiny is destruction, (v.18-20) and he realizes how stupid he had been to think that way (v.21.22).

Final Testimony: Here it comes, the truth: “Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory.” (v.23,24) This is why this is such an amazing psalm, because it shows that although we may sometimes fall off the rails, God is always there for us. This is why you and I can have confidence in the future – despite our occasional stupidity (call it what it is!). See what he says in these two verses – he has this assurance that despite his worldly way of thinking he sometimes falls into, God still holds his hand (sign of intimacy), God still guides him (sign of ongoing purpose) and his future is still assured (eternity awaits him eventually, an eternity with God, an eternity of blessing and goodness!)

Fresh Assessment: Listen to how he rounds it off. First, “ Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you.” (v.25) I’ve got my life in perspective again. Knowing God is the all-important thing, everything else is secondary. Then, second, “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (v.26) i.e. I may fall apart at the seams but God will always be there for me. Then, third,  Those who are far from you will perish; you destroy all who are unfaithful to you.” (v.27) i.e. I can leave the wicked up to God. Their day will come, they will have to answer to Him and that will be a terrible thing. So, finally, “But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge.” (v.28) That’s it, end of story, God is the centre of my life and that is how it will be. When life gets difficult I will turn to Him and He will be my refuge, so, “I will tell of all your deeds.” All that remains is for me to tell about this. It is too good to be kept to myself.

Living in today with an eye on tomorrow: Asaph speaks a profound set of truths to us. First, we may take our eye off God (and maybe have never known Him), and so second, when we do that we lose perspective and start envying the ungodly for their riches and their apparently painless lives. Third, that just brings us upset because nothing is going to change that in the short-term. Fourth, when we realize a) what they are really like and b) what their destiny is, we realize there is really nothing to envy! Fifth, when we come to our senses and realize the truth, it comes into focus because we catch sight of God in a fresh way, realizing He is here, He is here for us, and He is against the wicked, as smug, affluent and well set up as they may appear to be for this moment. That is deception, a delusion and temporary. So, Sixth, we realize that God has no contenders for our hearts, He alone is worthy of our affections, He alone is worthy of our love. Finally, seventh, this realization brings the spotlight on how we live today and the confidence we have for tomorrow, and tomorrow includes after we die.

And So? May these thoughts bring our hearts into a place of reassurance and confidence in tomorrow. I still have in my mind’s eye more of the evidence that Scripture brings us in this God of Hope, this God who is there for us, who turns up for us, who is with us, and so in the next study we will see some more of that evidence in the Bible to reassure us even more.

30. God of Hope – theory into practice

Getting to Know God Meditations:  30. God of Hope – theory into practice

Job 19:25-27   I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth.  And after my skin has been destroyed,  yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another.

Where next?   Often when I write a study/meditation, I come to the end of it with no idea where we will go next. Often it is only as I am praying next morning that the ideas flow. When I came to the end of the previous study I felt two things. First a sense of inadequacy and lack of completeness and, second, a sense of nowhere to go. I no longer write until I sense direction so two days have passed without writing a study. But this morning the answer came, so here it is. The previous study was the theory, here is the practice.

Living in the Fallen World: I often refer to living in this fallen world, a world that is no longer like God originally made it (perfect), a world where things go wrong, a world where all human beings in some measure or another are dysfunctional – we no longer work as we were originally designed to live – and so we get into trouble, things go wrong, illnesses strike, jobs are lost, loved ones die, and so on. But there is one thing I have observed over the years that is crucial for us to understand and that is the sense of hopelessness and helplessness that many feel.

OK, this isn’t always true. You lose a job but get up and go hunting for a new one, possibly get retrained and, with some serious endeavor, life goes on. Some people give up smoking. Sometimes it is with the help of a hypnotist, or therapy or nicotine patches but at the end of it, they are free of the addiction. Some people have cancer and receive treatment and are then in remission, which simply means the signs are gone but it could come back. Alcoholics similarly know they are never completely free, they are just able to say, “I haven’t had a drink since….” So yes, there are many ways in life where the hope that we have is of change, often by our own abilities, often by those of others. It is a better life today than it was two hundred years ago, say.

Helpless? So why do I speak of helplessness and hopelessness? Because as much as we live in a world were some prophesy lives will be going on and on and on, the human race evolving even more, these are the ramblings of the privileged few and even for them, I believe, it is deception. I have watched the lives of two people in particular, two men of capability, two successful men, two men who most of the time feel safe and secure in their business acumen and their affluence – how these things can deceive. But then I have watched in each case and changes in the world, changes outside their control have threatened their very existence and certainly their affluence. Suddenly life was not secure.

I have referred in the past to these sorts of changes that impose themselves on our lives, things out of our control, as the storms of life. I have also recently referred to Jesus’ parable of the two house builders (Mt 7) which specifically addresses how to cope in the face of the storms of life. But some people don’t heed his advice and follow him, and so when the storms come they are seen as disasters. Some don’t cope well and suicides sometimes follow, or marriage breakups occur, and so on. It can be really rough navigating the storms of life. Much of the time, life is fine, but then the storms come and it is very different, at those times, despite all our previous bravado, we suddenly find we are helpless (powerless to bring the change we need) and hopeless (unable to bring the change we need) and thus face a distinctly uncertain future.

The Lessons from Job: Job was possibly the greatest example of someone riding the storms of life having had everything stripped out of his life – family, friends, affluence, health – and death stared him in the face. In some ways it is a terrible book, this book of Job, especially when it seems it is God who allows it all to come about, but it is a book that has one or two powerful messages. First, and perhaps the most important, is that God is always in the background watching over and limiting what is going on. Second, it shows us that it is possible to weather these storms without letting them distort our beliefs, for Job refused to abuse the name of God and the testimony and challenge to his ‘friends’, from God, was, “You have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has,” (Job 42:7 & 8) and, “In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.” (Job 1:22) It may just be a parable or it may be history; we don’t really know, but the message at the end of it is that God is there and able to utterly restore Job and his circumstances to make them even better than they were before.

Out of the Darkness: Now it is in the midst of the darkness of his experience (and I have watched others have the same experience, and known it in small measure myself) that suddenly hope bursts forth within Job. It cannot be explained logically, for everything out our situation is black but in the blackness there is suddenly revelation and Job declares those amazing words, “I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth.  And after my skin has been destroyed,  yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another.”  Now you may not  think much of this but consider this: Job is staring death in the face, the abyss of the great unknown, the big question mark that hangs over every life, that it is destined that men die only once, and after that comes judgment.” (Heb 9:27) Many try to pretend it will never happen but we know it will. Many try to pretend that there is nothing after death, but the question mark is always there.

Two Aspects: Now we have been considering two aspects of being human: first, that life goes wrong and so can be painful and fearful and, second, that we all face death and whatever happens afterwards. We use a variety of techniques to push away these thoughts – especially when we are living healthy lives, affluent lives and there seems not a cloud in the sky. Indeed at such times we speak of such people as me at this moment, as ‘Jeremiahs, prophets of doom’, to which I respond with a smile, no, merely a realist who has watched life too many times to be conned by the good times. But, whatever the reason, whatever the cause of a particular storm, the Bible reaches out to us with hope – that God is there and He is there for us if we will but reach out for Him, rather like Michelangelo’s fresco painting in the Sistine chapel, the Creation of Adam, where God’s hand is reaching out to touch mans. This is always the hope that is there – that He is there and He is for us, always reaching out to us – to bring change!

But?…  When the storm is at its worst, when the time is at its darkest, we need more and more reassuring, and so in the next study we will lay out further, more detailed evidence of ‘hope in practice’.

29. God of Hope – the theory

Getting to Know God Meditations:  29. God of Hope – the theory

Rom 8:24    hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

Eph 1:18   I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people,

The Future?  As we concluded the previous study we mentioned the future and in a day when the future of this world seems increasingly uncertain, with ever new doomsday scenarios being presented to us, we find the future has a big place in the scriptures, not as a means of escaping the present but as a time (here) of potential blessing, and that going on into a glorious eternity with God where life continues in a dimension that, I suspect, defies our wildest dreams.  I feel sorry for atheists who seek to portray their wares, their philosophies, as something good, at times contorting their minds to overcome the picture of gloom that their ‘world by accident’ (“Well of course evolution is purposeful.”  Really???) comes up with, and the best that I have read that they can come up with when it comes to after this life, is us being turned into dust that joins the rest of the cosmos. Dust????

The ‘Recent Future’: I think many of us who are Christians tend to take this for granted but we have already considered in small measure the changes that take place when we turn to Christ. Let’s briefly recap them: we are forgiven, cleansed, justified, adopted and empowered. Be quite clear in your mind what each of these mean because they all impact tomorrow! The fact that I am forgiven (1 Jn 1:9) means I do not keep on having to go back over the past with regret. Yes, I got things wrong, yes I lived without the knowledge of God, but that is now all past history and I know differently today.  The fact that I am cleansed means the guilt and the shame and even the tainted memories have come under the cleansing hand of Christ, all dealt with on the Cross. He has done it; I am a new creation! (2 Cor 5:17) To be justified means that I have been morally put right in God’s sight; justice has been appeased because One has died for my sins and I have been released from the Court of Heaven to live a new life.  The fact that I am adopted means I have been taken into God’s family and remade (Jn 1:12,13) in the family likeness. I am family! The fact is that I am now empowered by the indwelling Holy Spirit who came to me and generated fresh life in me in an almost indescribable way when I turned to Christ. All of these truths impact the way I can face today and especially, tomorrow.

The Immediate Future: But how does a believer face tomorrow (literally tomorrow, not the distant future)? What are the things the Bible teaches me that will help tomorrow? They are things that come out of direct teaching lessons that are implied through the way God has interacted with people in the Bible.

  • The first thing is that He is there. That is what is behind the whole thesis of these studies. We are not alone in this universe, I am not alone in this universe, God is there.
  • Second, He is there for me. Everything about the teaching about Jesus and the salvation he brings, says God is for me. Everything that has happened to me all the years I have known Him tells me He is for me. When I pray, when I read the Bible, those experiences convey this to me – He is here for me!
  • Third, He is there with a plan for my life: “The fact is that what we are we owe to the hand of God upon us. We are born afresh in Christ and born to do those good deeds which God planned for us to do.” (Eph 2:10 JBP)
  • Fourth, that plan is all about redeeming my life. That simply means He is constantly working to save me from what I once was and from the messes I still manage, sometimes, to get myself into.
  • Fifth, that plan means He is there guiding me and leading me into better things.
  • Sixth, these things means He is in the process of changing me to be a more loving, more appreciative, more godly, more gracious, and a more Spirit-filled human being.
  • Seventh, His grace is there for me every day, the resource of His own Holy Spirit who provides me with everything I need to live a godly and righteous life.
  • Eighth, (and we could go on and on), finally let’s say, that grace enables me to overcome all the obstacles and temptations that the enemy would put in my way and enables me to triumph over these things.

Yes, all of these are truth that help me live out tomorrow and the next day here on this earth, and as many days as He allows me to have here. But that makes me add just one more:

  • Ninth, and this is the final one, He will keep on working in and through me every single day until I go to be with Him in heaven: “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Phil 1:6)

Hope of Eternity: Now we have entitled this study, the God of Hope, because all we are talking about is what I hope will happen in the time and eternity ahead of this day.  Non-Christians use the word hope casually but for Christians it means an assurance of the future. When we say we have hope in Him it means we have total assurance, total confidence in Him for our future. The apostle Paul wrote, “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people,” (Eph 1:18) and, “faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven,” (Col 1:5) and, “their knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness— in the hope of eternal life,” (Titus 1:2) and “having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:7) There it is, the hope to which he has called you, the hope stored up in heaven, the hope of eternal life (x2). This is the future after we die and cease our time here, a future with Christ in heaven, a future with no end.

When we are young, death is something distant and almost unreal. The older we get the stronger the reality becomes that death may be just around the corner. When I consider my present age, I realize there are many people who have already died who were much younger than I am now. Death comes when, much of the time, we are not expecting it.  But for those of us who know Christ, death and what follows is not something to be feared. At the beginning I referred to the atheist who, in his novels for young people, talks about us ending up as dust in the cosmos. Meaningless! But that is not for you and me. The limited pictures that we are given of the afterlife, suggests an eternity with purpose, an eternity with joy and pleasure and meaning, an eternity with God who we enjoy and who enjoys us. THAT is our destiny. Rest in it, be at peace in it.

And So: The big picture that the Bible conveys is that our time on this earth is not a meaningless blink of time but is a preparation for something to follow that is more glorious. At the risk of making this an over-long study, may I conclude it with something I wrote in a series called ‘Reaching into Redemption’, near the end of that series:

Imagine a cold, rough, harsh street in which you have lived, and in front of you is a great building and you hear a voice calling, inviting you to come in. As you peer in through the open doors you see an interior that is so different to this street outside. You realize you have tolerated this awful street for too long and you long to experience the wonder of what you glimpse inside. Yet you feel unworthy and so simply kneel on the steps, but a voice calls again and bids you enter. In humility you timidly pass through the entrance doors. Inside it is full of light and beauty. A servant comes up and offers you new clothing and you realize all you had worn previously was threadbare, torn and dirty. In a vestibule to the side you are able to change, and you emerge in splendor.

The area inside the entrance doors is enormous and glorious and splendid and there is so much to see. There are so many things to which your attention is drawn, and time passes rapidly as you enjoy and enter in to so much of what is before you. But then the voice comes yet again and invites you to ascend the stairs that lead out of this area, but you hesitate. There is so much here in this room that has become so familiar, there is so much that is good, and you feel there is still so much yet to explore, and so you hesitate. But the voice is persistent, and you know it is a command which you cannot refuse and so you ascend the stairs and pass through the door at the top. Suddenly your breath leaves you because what is before you cannot be described as a room, it is a world, and you gasp at its beauty, and as you glance back through the door behind you, all that you had been experiencing simply looked grey by comparison to the wonder, the color, the brightness before you and, suddenly, you realize that the room below where you had spent so much time, yes, so much more wonderful than the street outside, was but the entrance foyer to this new world.

It is but an illustration, but an accurate one I believe. The street outside was our old life. Entering the doors was our conversion. The time spent in the entrance foyer was simply to start to prepare us for the reality to come. Accurate? But incomplete, for it is but a parable, and parables never tell the whole story. So back to our experience of this ‘entrance foyer’, a place of promises where some are fulfilled and experienced, and some are simply glimpsed at a distance as we gaze up the staircase and catch just a glimmer of what is beyond.

Our past, our present – and our glorious future, if we will but receive it today.

28. God who watches

Getting to Know God Meditations:  28. God who watches

Psa 121:8   the Lord will watch over your coming and going  both now and forevermore.

Psa 139:3  You discern my going out and my lying down;  you are familiar with all my ways.

Ex 3:7  The Lord said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering.

Why:  Why, you might wonder, do I have us considering thoughts about God watching us? Well the series is about getting to know God and for a small child, the thought of their mother or father being in the background keeping an eye on them would generate various, possibly conflicting, feelings within them. So it can be with God, and thus it is worthwhile pondering on this fact. Back in the seventeenth century, Scottish minister Henry Scougal wrote a long letter, written to a friend who had lost the faith, a letter that became a book entitled  ‘The Life of God in the Soul of Man’. In it he wrote, ‘true religion is a union of the soul with God, a real participation of the divine nature, the very image of God drawn upon the soul, or, in the apostle’s phrase, “It is Christ formed within us.”  That, I suggest, comes about because God knows us and, in a small measure at least, allows us to know Him and become one with Him. We will return to this mystery later in the series but for the moment we will concentrate on the first part – God knows (me).

The Fact: The fact is that God knows – everything. The young man in Job who seems to speak with the voice of God yet is not God, speaking of God speaks, “of him who has perfect knowledge.” (Job 37:16) The apostle John in his first letter simply says of God, “he knows everything.” (1 Jn 3:20)  The writer to the Hebrews declared,  Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” (Heb 4:13) A seer in the days of King Asa of Judah declared of God, “the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.” (2 Chron 16:9) Again in the book of Job we find, “he views the ends of the earth  and sees everything under the heavens.” (Job 28:24) The point we make is that the testimony that arises here in these quotes, and in many more places throughout the Bible, declares the same thing – God knows everything and He sees everything.

Reassurance: For the little child aware of their parent in the background there is that reassurance that there is protection there watching over them. Ah, but this assumes something – the character of the parent. If the watcher is a drunk or drug addict or one suffering from some severe mental disorder, that reassurance is not there. Where the parent indicates they are more concerned with their own activities, constantly on their cell phone, they convey to the child that there is little concern for them. There needs to be love conveyed by actions for the child to feel that security we are referring to.

Watched Over: Our first quote above, from Psa 121, comes from a psalm that is all about reassurance. The words ‘watch’ or ‘watches’ appears five times in that short psalm so the psalmist seeks to convey this sense of being watched over, but that isn’t all there is to it, it is being watched over to guard and protect us: “My help comes from the Lord,” (v.2) and, He will not let your foot slip,” (v.3) and, “the sun will not harm you,” (v.6), and, “The Lord will keep you from all harm,” (v.7) hence the concluding comment that we have above: “the Lord will watch over your coming and going  both now and forevermore.” (v.8) This was the testimony of this particular unknown psalmist; this is what he had learned through life and wanted to convey now. He had this reassurance that God watches over us to guard and protect us.

Thought about: The second quote, from Psa 139, comes from a psalm of David that is all about God’s presence – everywhere – and His activity of watching over David. He had come to that total assurance that God saw everything he did (v.1-6), that there was nowhere he could go that God wasn’t there (v.7-12) and that God knew every intimate detail about him, from the moment he was conceived in his mother’s womb (v.13-16). I like the alternative rendering of verse 17: “How amazing are your thoughts concerning me,” and he then carries on, How vast is the sum of them!  Were I to count them,  they would outnumber the grains of sand.” (v.18) i.e. you don’t only watch over me, you are thinking about me all the time!  And because He is God, He can do that with every single one of us.

Now the unsure critic might say, “But these are just the things that various miscellaneous individuals have come up with. How can we know that they are true?” Well of course everything to do with God, the Bible and Jesus have to be accepted by faith – in fact nothing from history (and this does include all of historical records) has to be taken by faith, but faith is always built on evidence and as the evidence builds up we become more and more sure that it is true – but we can never be utterly certain. In fact one of the things that I observe, as someone who enjoys reading about history, is that modern historians are frequently upgrading our perspective of history as additional data becomes available, but of course when it comes to the Bible we have this fixed book, the canon of which was agreed by early Church leaders and scholars within the first three centuries AD. (‘canon’ = a collection judged by many criteria as genuine).

What they also said, and which a number of scholars since have said, is that there is a ring of truth about the texts that have been agreed as part of the canon, and that ‘ring of truth’ implies this is more than ordinary writing, it is writing inspired by God, that God prompted the writers to put down what we have before us. That doesn’t mean to say that every single word or idea is true or correct, for it is clear that the point of the book of Job, for instance, is to portray the different ways people might think (erroneously) about God. Ecclesiastes, as another example, has a jaded feeling about it, written by Solomon probably later in life when he has been led away from his earlier relationship with God by his many foreign wives. We also find many records of people who were behaving unrighteously and in a most ungodly manner, and so we need to learn to be discerning about what we are reading.

Known Before: When we come to our Exodus 3 quote, we find the Lord speaking to Moses and letting him know that the reason He has now come to call Moses, is that He has been watching over Israel for four centuries of this time in Egypt and so He knows exactly what they are going through and He has come to deliver them out of that. Furthermore we should remember that centuries before He told Abraham that this state of affairs would come about and it would take this length of time for it to happen. There are thus various lessons we can deduce from this, which are also supported elsewhere in scripture.

First, God knows where the world is going. Second, He sees the present state of it. Third, He knows what He wants to do about it in the days ahead.  When we come into the New Testament,  we see the inspired apostle Paul declaring about Christians, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10) In other words, as we have seen in earlier studies, through the work of Christ on the Cross, God has drawn us to Himself and we have been forgiven, cleansed, adopted, and empowered – we’re His handiwork!  But He knows us through and through and because of what He knows about us, He knows our potential, what He can help us achieve.

Purpose in Life: To the young man Jeremiah, He said, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” (Jer 1:5) When you put that beside Paul’s insight about us and Christ, where he said, “he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption,” (Eph 1:4,5), we find the sense that even before anything came into being, God looked into the future, saw who we would be, and saw our potential so that when we responded to Christ He could lead each of us in a unique path that ‘fits’ exactly who we are into His plans and purposes.

This perhaps is the peak of the significance we find in these words about God knowing. He knows the past (all that has gone so far), He knows the present, (what is going on in and around us,) and He knows the future (where it is all going and how and when His plans will reach fulfillment). When we let these words of scripture touch us, they bring a new sense of meaning, purpose and eventually fulfillment in our lives. This isn’t just God ‘out there’ or ‘God in the Bible’, this is God here and now, close up and personal, God who knew us before we came to Him, and knows all about us now. And He still sticks with us now! Amazing! Now in this last paragraph we have started to make references to the future, so our next study will be all about hope, which is all about the future, so stay with me if you can.

27. God of Relationship

Getting to Know God Meditations:  27. God of Relationship

Jn 15:4   Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

Jn 15:14,15   You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.

Ongoing:  There is something that is inherent in all that we have been saying throughout these studies and yet is so obvious that we are likely to have missed it. It is that God is personal and approaches each and every human being with the intent of forming a relationship with them; that is the message of the entire Bible. Now having used those words we need to ponder of just what that means for it is easy to have expectations that go beyond what the Bible shows us.  But bear in mind throughout, we are talking about something that can be the experience of me AND you.

In the Beginning: You may have already gathered from earlier on that I am comfortable both with those who say the early chapters of Genesis are pure history as well as those who say it is a story given to us by God to teach us crucial lessons. I hold to the former belief but if the latter is true that wouldn’t make my faith in God and His purposes any less real. Believing in either is an act of faith for we will not know the truth until we see Him face to face. My faith (and I hope yours) doesn’t hinge on whether Gen 1-4, say, is factual history or divine parable. The message conveyed is the same.

So here in Gen 2 & 3 we have a picture of Adam and Eve, the first two real people, defined as those who are interacting with God – for that is what all human beings do, whether they realize it or not. Initially it is a beautiful picture. God has given them a ‘garden’ somewhere in the land we refer to as Mesopotamia, to work and take care of it. (Gen 2:15) The have purpose – to reign over the earth (Gen 1:26). They are rulers (don’t confuse that with those who ‘dominate’), they are God’s agents to look after and care for His world, and He turns up, it seems, to check them out in the evening (Gen 3:8).

Until the Fall took place it was a picture of total peace and harmony, with each other, with the world, and with God. That is the first of God’s design criteria for us – enjoying the world, enjoying each other, and enjoying Him. Yes, the Fall ruined all three but God’s purpose ever since has been to restore them, to bring us into a place where all three things work together for our blessing – that we enjoy the world, enjoy each other and enjoy Him. Here’s the challenge: all we have talking about throughout the previous twenty six studies has been to lead us to a place where this trio of things can be restored to our lives and becomes the ultimate experience – here on this earth in the years left to us. Yet the reality is that until they are reversed in the order I have given them, they will never fully be appropriated. Until we come to a place where we have a relationship with God that is all the New Testament shows it can be, we will struggle to enjoy each other in the ways we are supposed to and we will not enjoy the world in the way we are supposed to.

God with Individuals: The fascinating thing about the early chapters of Genesis (fact or fable) is that they reveal to us God interacting with people. Adam and Eve He sets up in the Garden, Cain (Gen 4) he warns against getting in a mess and then preserves him when he does. In the midst of the names of chapter 5 we find, “Enoch walked faithfully with God; then he was no more, because God took him away.” (Gen 5:24) What an enigmatic little verse, a picture of a man who ‘walked’ with God. Walking implies friendship, communion, fellowship and so on. When it says, ‘God took him away’, the sense of not of judgment but removal from a world that we are shown was increasingly going wrong, to be with Him and continue that communion, that fellowship, in eternity. Just a hint of future promise. Chapter 6 shows it all going wrong: “The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.” (Gen 6:5) It was getting worse and worse, imploding on itself, it seems, with sin finding more and more ways to pervert the design of God and bring destruction upon itself.

This was not God’s desire for the world and so we have one of the rare ‘terminal judgments’ or ‘judgments of the last resort,’ God’s determination to stop it all and start again. Now again, until we see Him face to face, there will be arguments as to whether the flood was literally worldwide (and there are some geological signs of that) or whether it was just the area we call the Middle East, but the truth that comes out here is that God found one man, Noah, who had not gone the way of the rest, and so He saved him and his family and started the Hebrew ‘family’ tree again and multiple family trees as well.  At the end of this tree we find Abram (Gen 11:26-).

Talking with the Patriarchs: We have already glimpsed God speaking with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and Joseph, and then after a gap of some four hundred years, with a failed Prince of Egypt, now a shepherd, Moses. And so the history goes on and on, forming a nation, Israel, and following their ups and downs through the Old Testament. But all that we have looked at previously, the plan and purposes of God being gradually revealed, were reiterated again and again and again to the Patriarchs and those who followed them. Yes, we’ve considered that great plan, formulated in the mind of the Godhead even before the world came into being, to reveal God through Israel, to reveal the sinfulness of mankind through Israel, and to create a ‘God culture’  or ‘God environment’ into which the Son of God could come, but the danger is that we take for granted and thus miss this crucial thing – it was all coming to individuals. God deals with individuals, God loves individuals, God copes with individuals, and I say ‘cope’ because He finds failure in every single individual that we see in the Bible (except Jesus). Every single person, without exception, reveals at some time their dysfunctional nature, their propensity to get it wrong – and yet God keeps on and on with them.

And Us? Yes, this is as much true for us as it was for them. God desires friendship, fellowship and communion with each of us. He reaches out again and again in our lives but so often we fail to realize what is happening and so don’t ‘hear’ Him, don’t realise it is Him, and so don’t respond to Him.  But it is. And then one day His Spirit sees a chink in the hardness, the blindness, that we have, and His light penetrates and where there is a willing heart (and it is always a mystery why one person and not another) an interaction takes place to initiate a new dimension of relationship.  We refer to being convicted by the Holy Spirit, being shown the reality of our desperate state, the mess our life is in, the way it falls short of what could be, and how it grieves God, and repentance follows and He forgives us, cleanses us, adopts us into His family and empowers us by His Holy Spirit and gives us a new purpose in this life and a promise of the next.  But that is just the start.

From then on we enter into a life of learning. Initially we think it is a life of trying hard to change, because we see all the wrong attitudes etc. in our lives from which He will free us. There are new things to aim for as we rebuild new lives characterised by love and goodness. Yes we pray and we read the Bible and in so doing we come to realise He is there, yes really there with us, not only in us by His Holy Spirit, but all around us, there in the room with us. As we pray and as we wait on Him we sense His presence  and stillness, a peace, falls on us; it is Him. And then we read and we realise, not only is He love but He IS peace and where He is, there is peace. But then we read verses like Gal 5:22,23 and we realize that He, the Holy Spirit, IS love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, these things are all expressions of Him.

And then it dawns on us that we can strive to have patience, strive to be loving etc., but when we do it, it will always fall short of what can be and, indeed, we can appear to have these things and yet still not know God, still not know His presence, not have fellowship, not have communion with Him, and we realize the most terrible thing, all of our endeavors can putting on a good show – and yet we remain godless!  Being godly is communing with Him, fellowshipping with Him, knowing Him and being known by Him, it is intimacy.

“Is such a thing possible?” someone asks. Yes of course it is. “All the time?” they ask again. Well a famous man by the name of Brother Lawrence spoke of practicing the presence of God – at all times, but even that I suggest is a gift from God. To take the pressure off, read Abraham, the friend of God and note his encounters with God were few and far between, but He was still chosen by God and blessed by God. The difference between us and Abraham, is that we who are Christians are now indwelt by the Spirit and so access to God is that much closer, we might say. If we don’t know this, it is not a matter for guilt, but simply a goal of something perhaps to build into our lives, more and more. For many that raises questions, how can I find the time in my busy family and business life to spend time just being still with God? Each one of us is different. James said ask God for wisdom (how to) and He will always give it if we are sincere (see Jas 1:5,6). Whatever we do, will come from a place of weakness where we seek Him for His grace to enable us, to resource us. We are made to be friends with God. Friends talk, friends share, friends fellowship. Enjoy the learning process of how to be a friend of God.

26. God of Communication (5)

Getting to Know God Meditations:  26. God of Communication (5)

Prov 1:5   let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance

Mt 10:14  If anyone will not welcome you or listen (hear & accept) to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.

Jas 1:22: Do not merely listen (hear words) to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.

Jas 4:13 Now listen (& pay attention), you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.”

Differences:  There is a distinct difference between hearing and listening. We live fairly near the flight path of a relatively small airport. It deals with short-haul carriers especially going to holiday destinations. From 6.30am each morning, depending which direction they are taking off, we may have half a dozen noisy flights taking off in the next half hour – but we hardly hear them, we frequently don’t even notice them. (In fact this morning I was only aware of one flight when in fact Departures tell me there have been seven going over us!) Friends who come to stay are troubled by the sound of the outgoing flights; they are not used to the sound. People who live near busy railway lines tend to experience the same thing – they just don’t notice the passing trains. What we get used to, what becomes so familiar to us, fades into the background. That is the problem with ‘hearing’.

When we put on a piece of music, perhaps on the radio, it is easy for it to fade into the background and it just becomes enjoyable audible wallpaper, something there in the background we hardly notice. But then comes on a programme with contentious discussed material and suddenly we are caught by certain words and our attention is grabbed and suddenly we are listening.  Listening involves purpose or intent. The danger for the Christian, whether it is reading the written word, the Bible, or hearing it preached, is that repetition can so easily change listening into hearing and the import and impact is lost.

When it comes to the Bible, again and again we need to pray with the psalmist, Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law.” (Psa 119:18) What he means is show me the reality of what is here before me, let it come alive, speak to me through it, let me hear your voice through it. With that attitude we change hearing into listening.  In an earlier study we noted how God ‘speaks’ through Creation, through the Bible and through Jesus, and what we have just been saying applies equally to each of those: we can be so familiar with each of them we don’t listen and indeed ‘hearing’ simply fades into the background and loses its import and impact.

A Facet of Wisdom: In our starter verses above I have inserted the heart of the word in three of them to draw our attention to what it is saying.  Solomon, writing the Proverbs, comes as a teacher, a term he used when he wrote Ecclesiastes, another book he wrote with the intent of teaching us about life. So in our first verse we find him exhorting us, “let the wise listen and add to their learning.”  (Prov 1:5) That is interesting because he is addressing ‘the wise’. A wise person is usually considered to be someone who has experience and out of that has grown knowledge and understanding and good judgment.  A wise person has learnt and so he says ‘listen’ and you will add to your learning. This is why Jesus taught, “Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.” (Mt 13:12) A wise person never stops learning, they always have a teachable heart, they have an openness to taking in more – they are listening, hearing with purpose and intent.  It starts of course with knowing God, which is why, I believe, this series is so important: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,” (Prov 1:7) and, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” (Psa 11:10)

An Expression of Acceptance: Jesus, when sending out his disciples, instructed them, “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.“ (Mt 10:14). It is clear that he means if people hear what you say but refuse to accept it, then just leave them. We sometimes hear someone say, “They just wouldn’t listen to a word I said!” What they are meaning is that that person heard what they were saying but refused to accept it. And here is another of those problems with the God who communicates: many people hear – through observing Creation, observing the Bible, observing Jesus – but refuse to listen, refuse to accept what is before them, God seeking to communicate with them. I have often said that I believe that God speaks to every single person on the planet. It may not be through the Bible or through Jesus (if they don’t have the Bible or have not heard of Jesus) but they hear through Creation and through their conscience. I suspect He also prompts and prods people in their minds to think about the big issues of life.  (You will find the apostle Paul talking about this in Romans 2).

An expression of a good heart: Obedience to God is part of wisdom. There is an aspect of hearing and indeed listening that can reveal folly. I once had a five hour discussion with someone about God, the Bible, Jesus, Christianity and faith and at the end of five hours they said, “I have heard all you said, I think I understand all you said and I can go along with it, but the truth is I like being a sinner and so I cannot accept it,” and with that they got up and left. This is a true story. At least that person was being honest, although the truth is that they did not comprehend three things: first, how wonderful God is and how wonderful it is to have a living relationship with Him and, second, they did not comprehend the true state of their own life and the ongoing consequences of continuing down the path they were following, and so, third, they did not understand the awfulness of a life and an eternity without God.

However, as we said, at least they were seeking to be honest, but can the same be said for the person who simply intellectualizes the truth but never lets it impact and change them, the person who hears the word but doesn’t apply it. James wrote, “Do not merely listen (hear words) to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” It is a warning that Jesus brought when he told the parable of the two house builders and he said, Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like…..” (Mt 7:24) and went on to talk about a man who built his house on rock that would withstand the storms of life. He contrasted it with a man who built on sand, whose life could not withstand the storms of life (see Mt 7:24-27). Hearing here means hearing the words, taking them, and responding to them with obedience.

Listening as a need: In the final quote, James again brought a further warning as an example of the need to listen. When a wise person is speaking, the wise listen. “Now listen you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” (Jas 4:13) He was chiding the wisdom of the fool who speaks unwisely. The Message paraphrase version expresses it,  And now I have a word for you who brashly announce, “Today—at the latest, tomorrow—we’re off to such and such a city for the year. We’re going to start a business and make a lot of money.” You don’t know the first thing about tomorrow. You’re nothing but a wisp of fog, catching a brief bit of sun before disappearing. Instead, make it a habit to say, “If the Master wills it and we’re still alive, we’ll do this or that.” (Jas 4:13-15) The exhortation is to a specific group of people who think and speak unwisely. We leave that group when we start ‘listening’, paying attention to what God says, learning from it, and obeying it.

And So? It is all very well to think about and study aspects of the God who communicates, but He always communicates with a purpose. Familiarity with some of these things for some of us who have been Christians a long while, may mean that hearing has been dulled and we are no longer listening attentively to our Lord. The peak of folly that I have experienced, I believe, came with a not very clever man who said to me one day, “I don’t think you can teach me anything. I have learnt it all.” And he meant it!!!! And he left. When God speaks it is the fool who does not listen. May that not be you and me.