26. The End Goal

Meditations on “God of Transformation: 26:  The End Goal

Rev 21:1  Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.

There are various schools of Interpretation when it comes to the end times and eternity and I simply want to side with the old preacher who said, “I’m a pan-millennialist, it will all pan out right in the end!” The fact that there are these various schools indicates that it is not so clear cut as some of us would like to think.  Very largely the future is a mystery although God has given us some pointers about His will.

I finish this series picking up this verse of hope from the last book of the Bible. Apart from stating the obvious it declares that God acknowledges the fact that what exists needs replacing! This fallen, sinful world cannot be the end objective for the Lord. We might think that heaven itself is to be His ultimate goal and yet He says here that He will be remaking heaven as well as the earth which brings a double whammy to the debating table. Somehow He still has a better heaven on his heart and the end product of His long-term goals is not just heaven but a new heaven AND a new earth. A material earth in the same sense as now? Time alone will tell.

The picture is confused by something the apostle Paul added to the equation when he was speaking about the resurrection from the dead, how we will all appear in our post-death state in eternity: So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.” (1 Cor 15:42-44) We will have new bodies but they will be imperishable and they will be spiritual. The only thing I can say about that is that they will not be material. Will the new heaven and the new earth be  in a new ‘spiritual’ dimension? Time alone will tell.

You may have heard powerful preachers laying down their precise interpretations so I will leave you with whatever the future holds. When you get there you can say, “See, I was right….” or not.

So why end on this unclear note? Well I come back to one of my original comments above: God acknowledges the fact that what exists needs replacing!  Now perhaps the word ‘needs’ is too heavy, perhaps the sense should be that God knows that He can produce something better in the future than we know now. There is nothing heretical or surprising about this because everything we know about history is that it has been changing for the better. Put aside all our qualms about the moral state of society today and without doubt living in this world today (and yes, I meant put aside all our concerns about sin as well) is much more wonderful than living two hundred years ago.  Yes, we probably all have our gripes or dislikes about something today but overall what the Lord has allowed (or maybe even enabled) us to do and to have is wonderful in comparison to say two hundred years ago. We are fed better, clothed better, cared for better and have better health care than ever known before. Change. It take place slowly but don’t tell me our loving God is against that list of things, but He works slowly and allows us to develop slowly so inventions and scientific break throughs happen slowly, and yes, so much of it is good.

But there is a whole big part of the world that doesn’t have the abundance that so many of us in the West have. While there is slavery (and it is worse today  than in the days when slaves were being shipped across the Atlantic), while there is poverty, while there is starvation, while there is forced prostitution, child abuse, wife beating, denigration of women generally, and so much more, there are things that need changing.

The Revelation verses of chapter 21 continue: Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” (v.3-5) This is God saying, “I know this Fallen World is not the best in the long-term, but it was necessary while I gave you free will, but it is not the end goal.”  The end goal is without death or mourning or crying or pain. That is where God is going to end up, and you and me with Him.  So, how does He want us to view all this?

Well I suggest it is not to sit back passively and helplessly and say, “Well, it’s a sinful fallen world and we cannot change that so there is no point doing anything. We’ll just wait until he comes and brings the change.”  Hold on; He has come and He did bring a glimpse of the change. One of the things Jesus did almost more than anything else was heal people and remove their cause of pain and anguish and tears. It was only a start and he said to us, “anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing.” (Jn 14:12).

On one hand I find this one of the most embarrassing verses in the New Testament, because mostly we, the Church, are NOT doing this. He didn’t just say, ‘some of the things I have been doing’ but the implication is ALL of the things Jesus had been doing. Jesus came to transform lives then and there, not just in eternity. Jesus IS concerned with the here and now, which is why he has inspired Christians down through the centuries to campaign against slavery, open poor houses, start hospitals, build orphanages, create unions and so many other charitable works that care for the poor, needy and oppressed in a whole variety of ways, all working out Jesus’ mandate when he said, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed,  to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Lk 4:18,19) The year of the Lord’s favour was clearly then and every year following when He can express His kingdom through His church.

Yes, we will have to wait for that final transformation but in the meantime, just as Jesus didn’t wait but revealed His Father’s will and got on with the business of transformation, so that lives and communities were transformed, so we too are called to be people of transformation, people who are being transformed and, as the body of Christ, similarly bring transformation to others, individuals and communities, as we allow Him to lead us into it.

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25. Purpose by Direction

Meditations on “God of Transformation: 25:  Purpose by direction

Acts 8:26  Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road–the desert road–that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.”

Yesterday we saw how the believers of Jerusalem were scattered from Jerusalem by persecution and saw how one of them, Philip, was amazingly used by the Lord in Samaria. One of the temptations in the Christian life is to settle in the area of blessing where we are. The Lord (or circumstances) has led us here and it is a good place. Philip is in a good place where he is blessed and being used.

It sometimes takes something special to get us out of that place where we have settled and in Philip’s case it was an angel. For each of us, the changes of life come through different means. We often talk about how the Lord can speak to us and guide us and, yes, there have been times in my life when I look back and can remember His voice coming in some particular way to bring new guidance, but a little while ago I was reflecting on the Lord’s goodness through the years of my life and I was surprised to note that in the three times I have made a major career change they were all because of the circumstances. Yes, I did need to check with Him but it was the circumstances that pressed me to move. The first one was an office move that made travelling a pressure on our family so I took redundancy. The second one was an employer cutting back and so I took early retirement. The third one was age  and an obvious moment to move over and let others lead while I went off to do something new. It was the circumstances that brought the pressures to move, and yet afterwards in every case I can see the Lord’s blessing on the move and although initially in each case I took a drop of salary, our standard of living and quality of life as a family improved greatly – every time!

It may be that your motivating force for change is a negative thing. In each of my three changes the circumstances appeared uncomfortable but necessary. Your negative thing may be change of health or change of financial circumstances or who knows what. I say this because when the angel comes to Philip in the middle of his revival in Samaria and tells him to go south on the desert road – without any other instructions or guidance – he would be less than human not to struggle with what appeared a very negative instruction. Most of us would reply, “But I am involved in a good work blessed by the Lord,” but he goes. The transformation appears to be from fruitfulness to barrenness – I mean what good can happen on a desert road going nowhere.

Well of course it wasn’t going nowhere, it was the route for an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians.” (v.27)  Be very clear this man in the chariot is a very important person. In our context we might say the Governor of the Bank of England or the Secretary of the US Treasury; that’s who we have here, and Philip this is why you have just been yanked out of the midst of the revival in Samaria, so you can catch this man who is on the edge of the kingdom, bring him right though and send him back to his country where some believe he established the first Christian church in Africa. That’s who you are going to, but of course the Lord did not give him that little detail when He called him to go south.

After Philip has shared the Gospel with this seeker and baptizes him, we read, “When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.” (v.38,40) I have often though that the reference to the Spirit meant He caught up and whisked him away invisibly, but it may just be that he received that urgent sense of the Spirit’s directing that he needed to move on to the next assignment which led him up to Caesarea where he appears to have settled and stayed for some twenty years at least (see Acts 21:8).

What we have here appears a life of transformation: a deacon in Jerusalem, a power evangelist in a Samaritan city, a personal witness on a road going south, an evangelist in Philistine cities and eventually an evangelist in Caesarea.  What motivated the moves? First persecution, second an angel and third the Holy Spirit. Yes, a variety of different things leading him into a variety of fruitful ministry areas. What a beautiful example of an available believer.

Our lives often contain ‘seasons’, periods that appear fixed, but only for a time, when we then move on to the next ‘season’.  If you are a mother of young children that is your present season. Make the most of it while you can, rejoice in it, thrive in it, be blessed in it and do what no one else can do in the same way, establish them in life and in the Lord. Create an environment for them of love and security where He is known to be a resident friend.  You are studying at College or University. You are in a season. Make the most of it, rejoice in it, be blessed in it, and in it learn to receive His help in learning. It will soon come to an end and you will need to move on to your next season. But in every season there will be opportunities to share the love of the Lord and to know His presence and His blessing.

Unlike the natural seasons, every season we are talking about can be fruitful in some way or other. The fruit may change but He never wants us to be static, unchanging, unlearning, unproductive. A different season simply means a different series of opportunities, just like Philip had.  Some may be dramatic, others less so, but the all-important, over-arching thing is that you know His will, that you are where you are by His appointing and doing what He wants with His enabling and His power.  As I shared earlier, guidance comes in different ways and you may simply have gone by the natural circumstances of life before you and the peace He grants you, or you may have had a dramatic word that came through preaching and then by prophecy and then by the counsel of a friend. The ways are endless and they are all valid.  Rest in your experiences of Him and rejoice as He moves you on to the next ‘season’ of life and service. Hallelujah!

24. The Power of Fear

Meditations on “God of Transformation: 24:  The power of fear

Acts 8:1  On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.

Over the years I think the verse that has impacted me more than most in the New Testament, at a practical level at least, is Rom 8:28 – we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” It is “in all things” that leaps out, the fact that God will be at work in whatever is going on in the world and He will be working in it for our good. Now fear is a funny thing; it is what we would call a negative emotion and yet so often it acts as a safeguard to protect us, so it makes us run away from a blazing building or a tsunami of persecution and the threat of imprisonment. You only stand around in the face of these things if you are fireproof, or in a watertight bunker, or in God.

Now that last bit makes us think about what was going on in Jerusalem and why different people reacted in different ways. Saul of Tarsus was wreaking havoc in the church, taking Christians and imprisoning them. The apostles stood fast but most of the rest of them fled and “were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria”.  The apostles knew the call and the power of God and they knew they had already stood before the Sanhedrin and been threatened and yes some of them had been in prison and been released by God. But other people didn’t have that security and so they fled, they got out the way of the marauding Saul.

So were these people who ran, lesser Christians? Did God write them off? Does He write us off when we don’t seem able to stand up to the pressure sometimes? For the answer to that, watch what happened to one of those who fled: “Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Christ there. When the crowds heard Philip and saw the miraculous signs he did, they all paid close attention to what he said. With shrieks, evil spirits came out of many, and many paralytics and cripples were healed. So there was great joy in that city.” (Acts 8:4-8)

Isn’t that amazing! First of all, it seems, all those who were scattered took the word with them and shared it. Philip is a classic example. He ends up in a city in Samaria, starts sharing about Christ and finds the Lord is with him to perform miracles, and bring healing and deliverance and the city is transformed!  And he was just one of the runners! Until then he had just been a deacon in the Jerusalem church and so the Lord took the opportunity of the persecution to take him out to new pastures where he could be stretched and used even more.

But, says the cynic, you quoted Rom 8:28 and so are you saying that that persecution was God working for Philip’s benefit?  No, I am saying that the Lord who is sovereign over even the devil, allowed it in His greater will, but that it was something that happens in a Fallen World and so the Lord simply uses it to spread the Gospel. Was it for Philip’s benefit? Well in which zones, so to speak, do you think Philip was most blessed in? As a deacon in Jerusalem or in Samaria where he is seeing people being saved, healed, delivered and so on, and the city being transformed by the joy of the Lord?  I know which one I would be more blessed in! Oh yes, without doubt, he is more blessed in what he is doing. Transformation from deacon to signs and wonders evangelist, courtesy of a nasty bout of persecution!!!  Awesome!

So your world turns nasty or you are presented with a major life difficulty that threatens your future and at least your peace. Do we lie down in the middle of the road and let the steamroller of life in the Fallen World run us over, or do we say, “No way, Lord, please use this change to your glory and for my good as your word says”.  Sometimes life seems to go really pear-shaped. It may be our own fault or it may be caused by other people or simply circumstances beyond our control. Actually, it doesn’t matter the cause; what does matter is what can the Lord do with us in and through these things?

We’ve already seen, earlier in this series, the story of Joseph in the Old Testament, where he was sold into slavery but was brought by God into the place of most power in the whole of the Middle East. His bad circumstances had been brought on by a combination of a) an insensitive father who had a favourite, b) his own pride and youthful arrogance and c) the jealousy and hostility from his brothers. Into that melting pot came two prophetic words that created even more hostility initially, and then circumstances where the brothers were given the opportunity to sell him as a slave, which they took, and then a variety of other negative incidents that ended up with a long-term jail sentence.

It can’t get much worse than that story. And yet in the midst of it we find, “The LORD was with Joseph and he prospered,” (Gen 39:2) and “while Joseph was there in the prison, the LORD was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden,” (Gen 39:20,21)  Yes, all circumstances of a Fallen World, but the Lord was still with him in the midst of it all and yes, He was working for his good and the good of the world, so much so that by the end of the story we find Joseph saying to his brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Gen 50:20) Yes, he had learnt it, that even though he was living through the negative circumstances of a Fallen World, the Lord had been with him throughout and, even more, the Lord used it to bring good.

So, whether it be persecution or other life challenging circumstances, remember, as God’s children He IS there for us and He WILL be working for our good in it all. To conclude, remember another person we considered earlier in the series – Habakkuk – who by the end had come to a place where questions had given way to a trust that could say in the midst of the Fallen World stuff, “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior.” (Hab 3:17,18)  How could he praise the Lord in the face of all that? Because he had learned that God was at work and that to bring change and that change to bring blessing. True then, true now. Praise Him in the midst of it and watch for the transformation, watch for the opportunities, watch for the blessing. Hallelujah!

23. When He comes

Meditations on “God of Transformation: 23:  When He comes

Acts 1:8   you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

I suspect most of us underplay the Day of Pentecost, and yet what happened on it brought about the greatest people transformation that has ever occurred. Consider the events. Jesus has returned to heaven and, I suspect, left an even greater hole in the lives of the followers than after his death. He has been with them for about five weeks or so, and had shown them that he was truly back there with them as the risen Christ. He had no doubt laughed with them, talked with them and, of course, he taught them. And then he returns to heaven. In his closing words he has told them to wait for the promise of the Father from heaven, the coming Holy Spirit, and so they continued to meet together and pray. They appoint another to replace Judas but beyond that they do little other than pray. I mean what else can they do, their head who was the one who did ‘the stuff’ or specifically appointed them to do specific things, has gone. Until God comes and speaks with them or does something, they are somewhat helpless.

Jesus has said they will receive power when the Spirit comes but they don’t know how that will be, but they certainly feel powerless in the face of the Jewish and Roman authorities.  The authorities have the power, not them. Jesus had spoken about them being his witnesses there in Jerusalem and then up through Judea and Samaria and then – can you believe it? – to the ends of the earth, whatever that means!  But all they can do for the moment is sit around and pray – and no doubt talk and speculate.

And then the Spirit comes. He comes first with manifestations, sounds like a violent wind filling the house  and then what looks like tongues of fire over each one of them, and yet they are not being burned. And then it happens to them: suddenly they are all “filled with the Spirit” to overflowing and the overflowing is heard as they all start speaking in languages they don’t know, languages recognised by other visiting Jews as from all different countries. But the languages are praise and worshipping God, declaring His wonders. There was nothing pre-thought out about this, it just happened. He came and they did what came naturally and in so doing immediately the first part of Jesus’ last command was being fulfilled, they were being witnesses  to God and as the days went on they would be witnesses to Jesus as the Spirit enabled them. The sound came from heaven, the sight came from heaven, the Spirit came from heaven and the praise came from heaven; this was a 100% God event!

I am aware of the various schools of thought that you find around the church about being filled with the Spirit. Some say it happens when you are born again, some say it happens as a distinct event at a later date, some say it happens again and again. Rather than get bogged down in defending any one of those (and if you want to know what I personally believe is that it should happen at rebirth but frequently happens as a later event and certainly happens again and again) I would much prefer us to focus on the effect of being filled with the Spirit – whenever that happens – and ask the question, do you know personally these outworkings?

On this particular day we have already noted the noise, the sight, the effects in the believers of being able to worship in other languages and then – which we haven’t mentioned yet – Peter being enabled to preach a great sermon and see wonderful fruit, thousands being saved. In Acts 4:8 we read, Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said….” In other words the Holy Spirit – refilling him? – enabled him to have great boldness to testify to the religious leaders. A little later we read of the believers praying together and then, “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.” (Acts 4:31) which was clearly an answer to their prayers. Now I can’t help but note that one minute they weren’t filled and the next minute they were, which suggests a more than once experience (although of course there has to be a first time), but the big thing to note is the effect – boldness and enabling to speak God’s word.

For persecutor Saul, when Ananias was sent to him (Acts 9:17,18) he was filled with the Spirit and was enabled to see again, his blindness was healed, sight or vision was given. We also note that very soon he was out preaching (v.20) a possible effect of what had happened to him; now he was testifying to Jesus in his preaching.

When Peter preached to the Gentiles in the house of Cornelius we read, “the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.” (Acts 10:44-46) Although the word ‘filled’ was not used that clearly was what was happening with identical effects as on the Day of Pentecost. Message?  It’s for Gentiles as well as Jews.

Bizarrely after persecution, on one of Paul’s journeys, we read, “And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 13:52)  The Holy Spirit clearly filled them and they knew joy which overtook any fears they might have had. Power in another form.  A while later after some believers had been baptized in water, we read, “When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied.” (Acts 19:6) Again, clearly a filling and similar fruits – gifts of the Spirit. More power.

So here is the central message of the Holy Spirit: when He comes He transforms the weak and helpless into power-filled, witnessing, emboldened believers.  If these characteristics are absent from the Church or any individual local church, i.e. the believers,  then the church needs to be praying and seeking the Lord because what we have been reading is clearly God’s intention for His people. Any view less than this has surely got to be unbelief.

22. Will you go again?

Meditations on “God of Transformation: 22:  Will you go again?

Jn 21:15   When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?”

The upheavals of life, indeed sometimes of the Christian life, means that there are times that we look back on with regret and sometimes, confusion. Life is not always clear cut and when it goes wrong or goes in ways we neither expected nor understood, we are often left hurt, confused and wondering. If these things have never happened to you, congratulations that you have created a cocoon of your life that is utterly sheltered from the rest of the world, but for most of us, when we dare be real, there are parts of our history that we prefer to forget.

If you are not comfortable with this line of thinking, may I gently suggest you are exhibiting signs of insecurity, an inability to be real with yourself and with this world. Have you ever thought that if the Christian world was, in God’s plans, always to be totally secure, comfortable and easy, then there would be someone at least in the Bible who showed that?  There isn’t! The truth is, as we say so often, we are living in a Fallen World where sin dominates so many, life goes wrong, things break down, accidents happen and people are often nasty. That’s not the whole picture by any means but it is true.

If you wanted a Biblical example of all this, then you couldn’t ask for a better one than the apostle Peter. He starts out being called by Jesus, but then very soon realises that he and Jesus, although in the same boat literally, are in reality in very different boats (see Luke 5:1-9). But boats feature big for ‘the Big Fisherman’ and it is out of a boat that he steps and walks on water, as we saw recently. It would have been a boat that helped him out of a mix up where he had opened his mouth too much (see Mt 17:24-27). In fact Peter’s experiences with Jesus could almost be summed up as so often opening his mouth and putting his foot in it, as we say.

Yes, without doubt he was a leader and stepped out where others feared to tread, but he still kept on tripping over his own tongue.  It comes to a peak at the Last Supper where first of all Peter refuses to let Jesus wash his feet (Jn 13:6-8), but then goes for it wholeheartedly (v.9), and shortly afterwards declares he will lay down his life for Jesus (Jn 13:37). He then went even further, if everyone else deserted Jesus, he never would (Mt 26:33,35).  Shortly after this he couldn’t even stay awake to pray with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mt 26:40). Within hours Peter is denying Jesus three times before he flees the precincts of the Palace of the Chief Priest in tears.

When he looks back Peter has got some great tales to tell of his ‘Christian life’ but also there are things where he goes strangely silent.  Oh yes, it hasn’t always been a bed of roses, but perhaps it has for such a bed is prickly and that’s how it has been for Peter sometimes. So Jesus meets him after his resurrection and tells them all to go to Galilee where he will meet them. They trek off up north again and wait. Peter is still not good at waiting:I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” (Jn 21:3). There is a distinct air of déjà vu about this because, “they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.” And then Jesus appears on the beach. I wonder if Peter thought, “Oh no, not again.” Anyway he dives into the lake and swims ashore ahead of the others to meet Jesus, who already has his own fish and is cooking them on a fire. But there was also bread there (v.9). Loaves and fishes? The echo of yet another occasion when the disciples had not lived up to Jesus; expectations.

But then, after the meal comes that interrogation between Jesus and Peter. I once got in a mix up with Jesus and someone came to ‘help’ and started out, “Well, that’s a fine mess you’ve got into isn’t it.” That didn’t do anything to help me out of the mire. But Jesus does it differently: “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” (v.15)  Hold on, what happened there? It’s not clear whether Jesus refers to the other disciples or to the fish (and his past life) but Peter won’t rise to the bait and refuses to measure himself against either others or his past career and so answers with a neutral, “You know I love you.”  That’s all I can say. Don’t ask me to compare myself or check myself against others or against my past. Yes, I do love you.  Good enough, here’s a small job for you, look after my young followers. You still want to use me?  Yes.

OK, says Jesus, let’s check it out a bit more: “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” (v.16)  Again Peter refuses to get into a discussion about the depth or reality of his love. He is no longer the brash responder, no longer so sure of himself. I can’t get into ‘how much’ I love you, I just know I love you.  Good enough. I’ve got a slightly bigger job for you. Jut take care of my followers. OK? You still want to use me like that?  Yes, but let’s check it one more time, very simply, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” (v.17).  That’s painful because it is so basic and so fundamental: “Do you love me?” It goes directly to the heart saying, come on now, be ruthlessly honest with yourself. What do you really and truly feel for me?  “He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.” What? Pardon?  You heard. I like that confession, you know who I am, you know that I know the absolute truth about you, and yes, I know you love me. OK, I have a slightly bigger job for you: feed my followers.

You see this is the wonder of the Son of God who is our Lord: he has died for all your failures and mine and as long as we’re willing to face them with him and give them over to him, his grace just wants to pick you up and carry you on to bigger and better things. Transformation from failure and guilt means standing in front of the one who knows all things and being transparently honest and open with him, recognising that he is not only Lord but also 100% our Saviour. We will be what we will be only when we let him be our Saviour – Saviour of every failure, every heart ache, every feeling of guilt and shame. I can’t cleanse me of all of that  but he can. And then incredibly, he has something more for me to do. I would have written me off years ago, but he forgives us, cleanses us and picks us up and sets us going again.

Don’t be under any illusion this will not make you perfect – you’re only that as you allow him to lead you moment by moment – for there will be times when you show glimmers of your past still, but that wont disqualify you. If you don’t believe me, check it out in respect of Peter when he gets sent to Cornelius.  First of all he argues with God in a vision because he doesn’t understand (Acts 10:14), then he needs the Lord’s encouraging to go with three Gentiles (v.20), then he’s not totally truthful it seems about how he had felt about it (v.29) and then sounds somewhat disparaging (v34,35) but the Lord uses him and fills the Gentiles with His Spirit. Honesty, openness, availability, willingness. Be transformed!

21. I need to see

Meditations on “God of Transformation: 21:  I need to see

Jn 20:25   But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.”

The thing about the Christian community is that we are a totally mixed bunch. I was pondering the other day how important is it to know and to understand, i.e. how important is it to learn the truths of the faith. Personally I want to know, I have a thirst for knowledge – if only I had a memory that matched the thirst!!!  I would always encourage new believers to learn, to read the Bible, attend Bible studies, take notes on Sunday mornings, keep a journal – but that isn’t where everyone is at. Some of us don’t like writing, some of us are not god at memorising. Does that make us a lesser person? No! Just a different person.

Yes there are great men and woman of God who are also great scholars, but there are also wonderful men and women of God but who have little understanding of words such as redemption, justification, sanctification, or glorification. They are simple people with wonderful faith and do wonderful things in the  name of the Lord.  And the Lord loves each of us just as we are. I was talking to a friend the other day and reflected on the fact that if it was possible to measure knowledge and understanding, I would guess my knowledge and understanding of the things of the faith have increased a hundredfold, if not more, in the years since I became a Christian but the Lord loved me exactly the same when I was a young Christian as now.

There are days when I feel a saint. I wake in the morning and the sun is shining and it’s good to be alive. I have a long ‘quiet time’. I pray and I feel like I’m in heaven and His word comes alive in every sentence.  I encounter people in the day and share the Lord.  I attend a church meeting in the evening and the sense of the Lord’s presence is very real and I contribute much to the meeting and people go away blessed. I have further time with the Lord and go to bed praising and worshipping.  In fact perhaps because I went to bed late, I wake up next morning feeling terrible. I feel muzzy headed and when I open my Bible the words look fuzzy, so I shut it and simply pray,  “Lord, you know.” and that’s it. The day totters by and it’s like walking through syrup, physically, mentally and spiritually. I stay in and watch rubbish TV in the evening and go to bed shattered. Now here’s the question: on which day does the Lord love me most?  Answer, both!  I suspect He feels differently about me on the two days – pleased on the first, saddened on the second – but He still loves me the same on both.

Now I say all this with Thomas in mind. He had missed seeing Jesus when he had first appeared after his resurrection and so when all the others bubbled with the wonder of what they had experienced when they had met Jesus again, he is gritty. He thinks they must have been hallucinating or it’s some form of hysteria. For him nothing less that being able to touch Jesus personally and feel for himself that he is real flesh and blood alive again, will do. And you know what? The Lord loves him!

 

For some of us, just hearing someone else’s testimony, of hearing some teacher giving an academic explanation of some word in the Bible, just doesn’t cut it for us. We need something more tangible and so even all these meditations about God transforming leaves us feeling, “Well I’ll believe it when He does it for me!”  That’s OK, He still loves you just as much as me. But be honest, is your refusal to believe more to do with a fear of what the consequences will be rather than struggling with the possibility? You see, if it is that, then so often the fears of ‘what might follow’ are completely unfounded and unreal. The Lord probably isn’t going to ask you to confront a Pharaoh, He’s already had a Moses for that. He probably isn’t going to ask you to walk on water, because you’re not likely to be in a storm on a lake seeing Jesus walk towards you, and anyway, your name’s not Peter.

No the truth is that Jesus didn’t leave Thomas doubting for the rest of his life, he came to him a week later and said (basically), “OK Thomas, if that what you want, here I am, touch me.” And Thomas fell before him and worshipped him. An all or nothing person, our Thomas! Is that you? If the Lord comes close and transforms your understanding, will you worship him?  Is your heart for him, it’s just that you need to get it a bit clearer?  If you’ve read these meditations for any time you will know my testimony in this respect – there have been so many times when I have prayed and asked for encouragement and then it has come, often within minutes, sometimes within days, but it has always come.

You see the Lord understands us and understands our struggles. And in fact goes along with our little charades. I know this by Gideon’s little episode with the fleece (Jud 6:36-40) where the Lord went along with his requests. I have to warn you that sometimes, to get to the place of transformation, the Lord does invite us to step out in faith so that He can then prove He’s there for you. For example, consider what He said through Malachi to the people of Jerusalem in his day:Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.” (Mal 3:10)  Trusting Him materially was a problem for them so He says, well, go on, trust me, bring tithes as the Law says, and I’ll guarantee you that you will be blessed so greatly you’ll hardly be able to handle it – but you step out and do it first.

There’s just one more thing. Yes, sometimes there will be a material answer – and yes, He will bring a material change – but as He is seeking to teach us to walk by faith (which means by hearing Him), are you open for Him to speak to you and bring a confirmation or encouragement that way?  Be honest, is your request because actually you don’t want an answer or is it a genuine need for clarification?  If it is the latter, then He will speak and will seek to bring transformation to your understanding. Thomas had the physical Jesus in front of him and it had been a physical question posed by the other disciples. Today it will be unlikely to be that, so dare to pray, ‘Lord please transform my understanding, strengthen my faith, speak Lord, for your servant is listening.”

20. Beyond Us?

Meditations on “God of Transformation: 20:  Beyond us?

Jn 20:15   Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”

There are things that are just beyond the human intellect to understand. I have to say I cannot grasp the meaning of “fifty million light years” or ‘fifty million  galaxies”! Those are the easy ones not to understand; shear size – or it may be smallness seems beyond our comprehension. It’s one of the reasons that I am slightly sceptical about scientists trying to work a second before the ‘big bang’ when they say there is absolutely nothing before it. When you have absolutely nothing – really nothing, no energy, nothing – how can something come from nothing?  I just about coped with yesterday’s meditation about Lazarus coming back from the dead. I’ve seen films where people are ‘kick-started’ back into life, so I just about comprehend God kick-starting Lazarus back to life – bit it is not something I would expect in normal life to happen. And when the bringer of life himself appears to be very human and allow himself to be executed, I think I find some sympathy with Mary when in the Easter Sunday morning she encounters to risen Jesus but doesn’t realise who it is.

I think we take some of the things in the Bible for granted, the things we’ve read again and again and we’ll have heard this account every Easter. How, people ask, could Mary not have recognised Jesus? Was there something about him that looked different, was he wearing a hood so his face was partly hidden, or was the shear unlikeliness of it all the thing that made her confused?  I had an experience a few years back that gave me a little understanding. My wife had arranged a special time away for us for a special birthday (I don’t do special birthdays but she does, so….) and had kept as a surprise where we were going. I had not a clue. We eventually pulled up outside a large house somewhere about a hundred miles north of where we live and she climbed out of the car muttering something about needing to find a key. Without thinking about it much I assumed it was an office where you collected a key for a holiday chalet nearby, or something like that. She went through the front door and I followed her into a large hall. There seemed to be no one around so she opened one of the doors, peered in and then shut it again and went to do the same to the next door and so I joined in the search for ‘the office’ and opened a door at the end. There were people in there and so I shut the door thinking, “Oh there are other people here already, I’d better tell her,” but as I shut the door – and I did actually shut it – I suddenly realised that I knew those people; they were the rest of my family, my grown up kids and their partners and our grandchildren. For a second I had looked at them and not recognised them – simply because I was not expecting them. In fact they were all there together for we were going to stay in the massive house for the week together; a brilliant surprise, but a surprise it was!

I can only suggest that there are some things that in our mind are impossible so that when we are faced with the impossible, it doesn’t register with us. Maybe, just maybe, that was how it was with Mary and if we’d been there it would have been the same with us.  Now I’ve taken all this time to say all this because I think when we come to Jesus’ resurrection we come to the peak of God’s transforming power and yesterday and today we arrive at an area that may be familiar in words but in reality and our own personal lives, still hits as an impossibility – because we simply cannot understand how it can be.

Now if we know our Bibles we know that the apostle Peter on the Day of Pentecost, after speaking about Jesus’ death, went on, But God raised him from the dead,” (Acts 2:24) and happily accept that as if that makes any more sense.  Don’t hear me wrong, I believe it implicitly but I still don’t understand the physics of it, if you like. But it becomes even more personal when the apostle Paul; writes, “if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.” (Rom 8:11)  Life to our mortal bodies?  Does this mean when we die or is there an experience of that in some measure at least here and now?  And that takes us back to the vexed subject of healing. Am I open to Jesus healing me or people near me?  He certainly healed everyone who came to him in the Gospels.  Is he different now? Does he not want to heal in the same way now? Your answers will depend on how far entrenched your mind is in terms of what is and what is not possible.

We’re now at our twentieth illustration of God who transforms – GOD who transforms! Is there really anything He cannot transform TODAY? Isn’t Jesus Christ the same yesterday and today and for ever? (Heb 13:8). Should we, I wonder, like the father, pray, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mk 9:24)