46. Amen!

‘Living with Uncertainty’ Meditations: 46. Amen

2 Cor 1:19,20   For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you… was not Yes and No, but in him it is always Yes.  For all the promises of God find their Yes in him

Rev 3:14   ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation.

Uncertainties and Questions:  As we bring this series to an end – and yes, this is the final part of it – we simply want to recap the seven ‘Big Questions’ we have been looking at, one by one, facing the uncertainties in each and then the certainties. In God and in Jesus there is a sense of the final, “Amen!”, so be it Lord! May we see all such uncertainties before Him, the Lord of all things.

  1. God: At the end of the day there are two options: there is a God or there is no God. If there is no God then the world is more uncertain than we can express for it has, therefore, to be the result of pure blind chance, and that leaves no room for meaningful talk of purpose and meaning. If there is a God, what is He like? A monster as some would suggest or the most amazingly wonderful Being who is summed up as, “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8,16), a Being the Bible describes as Spirit, infinite, perfect, unlimited. When we try to describe Him, I suspect we will find all our descriptions in reality are like 1% of an iceberg that is visible, and when we see the rest……. wow! The 99% that I am suggesting is His reality that we cannot see at the moment, is the uncertain part, but the truth is that if the 1% part we find in the Bible reveals what the rest is like, then we can be utterly certain, utterly confident of His love and His feelings towards us. We just have to open our hearts to receive them.
  2. The Bible: Do I understand it all? No, probably because I haven’t spent sufficient time studying it. What I have read, what I have studied, leaves me going, wow, Lord, that is wonderful. No, not full of mistakes, not full of contradictions, but instead, for those who will take the trouble by looking, full of assurances for those who would reach out to Him with open hearts. The more you read and study, the more it makes sense and the more it makes sense, the more you find your heart rising in worship to God. We’ve just got to do it.
  3. Suffering: Suffering is a problem if you ignore the big picture within the Bible. Suffering is horrible, suffering is unpleasant and we would wish it wasn’t part of the human experience, but then we realise that so much suffering in the world comes from the human experience, is of human origin. It comes when humanity exercises its ability to choose, to exercise its free-will and rejects God, ignores Him, and ignores and rejects His design which is clearly seen in the Bible. Yes, we live in a broken, dysfunctional, fallen world that is like it is because of Sin, whether it is the behaviour or lifestyles or attitudes that are self-destructive or destructive of others, that releases powers that upset the balance of nature or cause disease and cell-malfunction. Yes the big-picture also reveals a good God who is intent on working into this fallen world to redeem its occupants, as He speaks to them, seeks to call them back to Himself, seeks to call them to receive His answers, and all the while He feels with us. Amazing.
  4. Unanswered Prayers: Even more apparent mystery, but the clouds of uncertainty evaporate in some measure at least when we realize that sometimes we ask silly things, sometimes when we speak we’re not really addressing God because of our unbelief, sometimes we ask selfishly, sometimes we ask things contrary to Jesus’ will, sometimes when we ask God is pausing with an answer because He wants us to enter more fully into a deeper relationship with Him which only comes about when we spend more time in His presence, seeking answers, and sometimes when we pray we are confronting enemy realities and it sometimes means we are hindered and frustrated and just have to keep on in prayer. Indeed, the more we pray, we realize the more we need to pray, that here is a channel of communication with God which, at times, may leave us wondering and questioning and yet, in the long run, creates a deeper relationship between us and Him, and what an opportunity that is for a human being.
  5. Confused Identity: There are some for whom identity is a problem. For some it has to do with gender. For them, whether it is physical or psychological (and/or both) it was not how God originally designed the world but has come about through the effects of the Fall, but then we all live with those effects in some measure or other. The problem has been exacerbated, as it so often is, by humanity struggling to come to terms with this, especially in an age where communications means we become more aware of these things. There has become a blurring between the reality (a) of those for whom chromosome provision is genuinely out of balance, and (b) those who, crudely speaking, jump on the bandwagon of ‘having a ‘different’ sexual experience’ and who seek to legitimize it. The Romans 1:26,27 description does not, I suggest, describe those in the former group but certainly willful action of the latter group. Further, we note, promiscuity, of whatever form is unacceptable in the kingdom of God. God loves the repentant sinner of whatever ‘brand’. Holding right attitudes before God is vitally important.
  6. Death & the End: Death is the great unknown, the greatest uncertain experience, simply because we all know we have to experience it and none of us alive today have. The Bible removes the uncertainty with the coming of Jesus so we see that eternal life for the believer means a continuation of life into a glorious eternity with God. Judgment on the unbeliever means that death will mean death, the end. In between these end outcomes, the Bible seems to indicate there will be the Final Judgment when any and every individual will stand before God to account for the way they have lived in their time on earth. Belief in Jesus (or in a genuinely [and rare] utterly good heart towards God for those who have not heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ, according to the apostle Paul in the early chapters of Romans) is the measuring stick for entry into eternity with God. The only uncertainty is whether a person will believe.
  7. Present Judgment or Something else: Living in the unique days that we live – days of a Pandemic that are days of world-wide communication as never before known – means we are forced into life-styles of limitation in the face of death of thousands (not millions) and indeed, possibly our own premature death. Such a time means a breaking off from the normal affairs of life in the twenty-first century, either as a front-line care worker who is daily confronting the effects of the virus, or the majority who are living in enforced solitude. In these times, reflections on the meaning of life and the things we do in these lives normally, means hearts are being challenged as at no other time in our lifetimes. The uncertainty of all this leads one to wonder how God will use it. Is this a precursor to God coming in either world-wide revival or church-wide renewal? Whatever it is, the believer is called into a place of alertness to pray, to watch, to listen and to be available for whatever God might do through it all.

And So? And so we have sought to eyeball some of the biggest questions that confront us, to bring them into perspective. Throughout the series we have sought to confront the reality of uncertainty in living generally, and as a Christian disciple, and in these latter seven studies, the big questions that are there behind it all. God is there, Jesus is there and they are unchanging and immovable. God’s will is unchanging, and that involves us having a relationship with Him. As we spent more time in His presence, and in His word, and seek to make ourselves obedient to Him and to it, and available to Him, the uncertainties fade so, as the old song says,

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.

May we know that glory and that grace. Amen

45. Judgment or Precursor to Revival?

‘Living with Uncertainty’ Meditations: 45. Q.7 Judgment or Precursor to Revival?

Hab 1:2,3,5    How long, Lord, must I call for help,  but you do not listen? …. Why do you make me look at injustice?  Why do you tolerate wrongdoing? …. “For I am going to do something in your days  that you would not believe, even if you were told.   

Hab 2:1  I will stand at my watch and station myself on the ramparts; I will look to see what he will say to me

The Questions:  There are times when things happen on the earth which should raise questions in the wise – what is happening, why is it happening? The arrival of Covid-19 in the early part of 2020 is one such thing.

Habakkuk’s Experience: Habakkuk was a prophet, ministering, probably just a few years before the fall of Jerusalem to Babylon in 586/7, who looked at the unrighteous state of his nation and asked God, “Why, why do you put up with this?”  When the Lord said He was going to bring disciplinary judgment on his people by bringing the Babylonians to deal with this nation, this left Habakkuk amazed and confused. His response: I’m going to have to go aside and listen and watch to see what He will say.”

God and Judgment (For detail go to my link ‘The Judgments of a Loving God): How God brings about a particular judgment is in some ways irrelevant. In Job we see Satan allowed to come against Job and he does it initially by stirring up the Sabeans to plunder his goods (Job 1:12-15). Howe did Satan do that? Did he make them attack? Only, I suggest, by whispering in their ears that Job was a good target. How did the Lord fulfil His word getting Nebuchadnezzar to attack Israel? Only, I suggest, by getting one of Satan’s emissaries (see 1 King 22:20-23) to go and whisper proud thoughts to him. God doesn’t need to make people do evil, He just lets Satan stir their already sinful attitudes to go that way.

Covid-19?  Is Covid-19 a judgment from God? How did it start? As one website puts it, “The source of the coronavirus is believed to be a “wet market” in Wuhan which sold both dead and live animals including fish and birds. Such markets pose a heightened risk of viruses jumping from animals to humans because hygiene standards are difficult to maintain if live animals are being kept and butchered on site.” It would also appear there was a Chinese doctor who warned about it but was disregarded. Careless workers plus disregard by the authorities? Sounds like the work of the enemy allowed, we have to say, by the Lord. But why?

The Effects: Consider what has happened. The world has ground to a halt, economies are under threat, proud authorities are lost as to how to deal with it, and relatively few numbers have died (over an above those who would have died in the northern hemisphere winter anyway.) Mankind has been humbled and people shut off from their usual activities given time to reflect on life. Discipline? Most certainly.

But Why? Well, what was God’s intent in bringing Nebuchadnezzar to destroy Jerusalem? To discipline and humble the people, to stop the ongoing sin of idolatry that He had spoken against for so many years through both Jeremiah and Ezekiel, to cleanse the people of their sin to prepare them to return to the Land with a new outlook. What, if we are right and God is behind it, even if it is simply Him standing back and letting the sinfulness of mankind bring it about, is He seeking to achieve through it? Well of course only time will tell but what we have already noted might give us a clue: mankind is being humbled and people given opportunity to pause up in their lives and ponder on the important things of life. For some time now, various voices from around the globe have been hinting at the possibility of God coming with worldwide revival and such as this would appear to be a way of preparing people’s hearts to receive Him. The ministry of John the Baptist may be what should be the ministry of the Church to the world at the present time. Check out Isa 43:3, Mal 3:1, Matt 3:3 and see if they speak to you.

Revival or Renewal: But  I find a question rising in me, an uncertainty if you like: does God want to bring Revival or would He prefer to bring Renewal? We need to understand the difference and then listen carefully. Revival, history shows, is God coming in sovereign power for a limited period of time both inside the Church AND outside it bring in a great harvest of the lost. Renewal is where God comes by His Holy Spirit to reinvigorate the Church.  Restoration tends to refer to a restoring of gifts and ministries of the Holy Spirit. If we have renewal and restoration together we have a reinvigorated ‘body of Christ’ that is equipped, empowered, and envisioned to continue to work of Christ as we have never seen before.

Christ’s Calling to the Body: Consider what Jesus said of himself: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour,” (Lk 4:18,19) and “report to John what you hear and see:  The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.” (Mt 11:4,5) As we have seen previously, Jesus sent out the twelve to do these things, then the seventy-two and concluded with an ‘all-church’ commission: “go and make disciples of all nations… and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you,” (Mt 28:19,20) having already declared, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing.” (Jn 14:12).

How to Pray: Praying for Revival is easy: “Lord, please come and sovereignly do all the work.” Praying for Renewal and Restoration is harder: “Lord, please come in the power of your Holy Spirit to bring us together and equip, empower and envision us to be the body you called us to be so that through us you can reach this world – that you have prepared with this virus – with your power and your revelation.”

And So? Uncertain about the days in which we live? Pray.  Uncertain about God’s intents? Pray. Uncertain about your availability? That is down to you, your act of will, just declare it and make yourself available to Him, not only to pray but to be available to do whatever He wants to do as we pray. Amen? Amen!

44. What happens after Death?

‘Living with Uncertainty’ Meditations: 44. Q.6. What happens after Death?

Heb 9:27,28    And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.

The Question:  Death is the cessation of physical life, and many not only fear the way of dying (which can involve a painful and prolonged disease) but also what might happen after death. Moreover it might be helpful to add, what does the Bible teach about the future, beyond physical death? The one thing it does teach is that physical death is not the end. There is existence and experience beyond physical death. Let’s consider the content of our two verses above:

The Fact: “And just as it is appointed for man to die once.”  Death is the one certainty we have; it will happen, we will all experience it.

Followed by: “and after that comes judgment.”  Judgement means assessment and accountability. Now the one thing we cannot say is exactly ‘when’ this occurs. Does it occur the second after our life here ceases, or does it happen, according to our present measuring of time, at some yet future time after a number of other things indicated in scripture happen, and for the person who has died, is there no sense of time passing so it is literally the next thing they experience? (check Rev 20:11-15, 21:27) For the ‘Lamb’s book of life’ see also  Phil 4:3, Rev 3:5, 13:8, 17:8, 20:12.

Salvation Provided: “so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many.” Because Christ died on the cross for our sins, there is forgiveness for all who receive him. Thus those whose names are in the ‘book of life’ referred to above, who God knew from before the foundation of the world would respond to Him and turn to Christ, these people have nothing to fear from appearing before God.

Second Coming: “will appear a second time.” Christ’s coming a second time, prophesied by the angels at his ascension (see Acts 1:11), brings to an end the present dispensation. When he came the first time it was to reveal the Father and to become our Redeemer. Each time he comes he comes to do what no one else can do. When he comes a second time it is for a different purpose.

Receiving Salvation: “not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” The picture of the end of time in this present age is one shown through Revelation where there will be a faithful remnant living in the midst of an ungodly and unrighteous world. He comes, the second time, to bring an end to that ungodliness and unrighteousness and to save his people there on the earth still, from it all. The picture that the writer to the Hebrews brings is of a Saviour who came the first time to bring in the kingdom of God but who comes a second time to wind up the initial expression of that kingdom. Wherever we find ourselves in history and in the economy of God, we can be secure in the love and the sovereign purposes of our God that are established, being worked out and will be brought to a conclusion in our Redeemer, the Christ.

Uncertainties and Questions: There are certainties at the end which we will return to but it is a foolish person who says some of the end of Revelation is quite clear. Uncertainties abound! There are ‘events’ that are spoken of quite clearly, but whether they are to be taken literally or as prophecy to be taken figuratively, is unclear. (The philosophical idea of ‘alternate realities’ existing at the same ‘time’ may be nearer the truth, even though it blows our minds!) There are schools of interpreters who take differing views and so we will not join in but simply note the things John brings to us:

– Christ will come as a conquering king – the Second Coming (Rev 19:11-16)

– he will war against his enemies of evil and will triumph (v.17-21). Note the beast and the false prophet are thrown into the lake of fire (v.20) while all their followers are killed by the sword (word of God) (v.21)

– Satan is bound for a thousand years (20:1-3)

– during this time believers reign with Christ (20:4-6)

– Satan is then released, deceives the nations and they come against the people of God at Jerusalem, fire falls and destroys all his followers but he is thrown into the lake of fire (20:7-10)

– Then comes the final judgment (v.11-13) and unbelievers are thrown into the lake of fire to be consumed. Note there is no mention for them (only the previous three) of it being eternal.  Fire elsewhere in the Bible destroys unless otherwise shown (The burning bush, the disciples at Pentecost, the Beast, the False Prophet and Satan – these latter three being spirit-beings.) The rest of unbelieving humanity is thus destroyed.

– Following this(??) we are shown a new heaven and a new earth (21:1) When he says the first have ‘passed away’ that doesn’t need to mean destroyed but simply moved on from. It is not that the present heaven is inadequate, more likely that the new heaven is simply heaven with a new flavor, if we may put it like that; it is filled with the redeemed and there is sense of conclusion to the initial salvation or redemptive purpose of God. The ‘new earth’ – still distinct from ‘heaven’ is thus presumably still a physical existence for the redeemed people to enjoy. Whether there are dual existences available for the people of God to enjoy, in both heaven AND earth, only time will tell us.

– This new existence is free of suffering (21:4) where God dwells with His people (21:2, 22-26) and all sin has been removed and destroyed (21:8,27)

– Further it is a place (existence) of life and light and abundance (22:2-5).

Certainties: We have already noted that physical death (the ‘first death’) is the cessation of physical life and is the destiny of every single human being. Yet there will be a resurrection of all the dead (Rev 20:13) to stand before the throne of God in the Final Judgment (20:12). Only Believers’ names are written in ‘the Lamb’s book of life’ (Rev 3:5, 13:8, 17:8, 20:12,15,  21:27) and they alone are saved for eternity. The rest, who refuse to believe and so live an ungodly and unrighteous lifestyle (21:8, 22:11,15) are consigned to ‘the second death’ (Rev 2:11, 20:6, 21:8).

We may thus summarize all this, these certainties, as:

–  all godly believers are saved and saved for a glorious eternity,

–  all ungodly and unrighteous unbelievers will be destroyed.

And So?  The offer is clear in Scripture – eternal life and a wonderful existence with God for those who will turn to Christ – but so is the warning – rejection and death for all who reject God’s offer.  Rejoice in the wonder of the offer; tremble for those who disregard it. Amen.

43. Who am I?

‘Living with Uncertainty’ Meditations: 43. Q.5. Who am I?

Rom 8:22-25 (Msg)   All around us we observe a pregnant creation. The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs. But it’s not only around us; it’s within us. The Spirit of God is arousing us within. We’re also feeling the birth pangs. These sterile and barren bodies of ours are yearning for full deliverance. That is why waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don’t see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy..

The Question:  Years ago, before communications became what they are, people suffered identity struggles because things happened to them that they did not understand and they felt alone and misunderstood or they felt isolated and ashamed. That has changed, but with the changes has come much confusion and purported truth, especially for Christians, can become confusing. The question that a number feel, has come out into the open: who am I?

A Mistake?  A question that some may feel is, am I a mistake, or why did God make me like this? Let’s start with an identifiable easy-though-horrible problem, that of Thalidomide, a sedative drug discovered at the end of the 1950s, prescribed to many pregnant women in order to relieve pregnancy nausea, which resulted in thousands of babies worldwide to be born with malformed limbs. Is that person a mistake, does God love them? A mistake in that humanity was staggeringly careless so they were born deformed, but no less a person who God loves and who can enter into a relationship with the living God.

Confused Gender: And so a person is born with mixed genitalia. Confusion and uncertainty are natural. A child has all of the physical aspects of being a girl, say, but feels a boy from a very young age. Gender used to be defined by physical makeup but today is often defined by personal or social perception. In the two illustrations we’ve just used, the situation can be changed by an operation and/or by hormone treatment (which can be two-way: ‘female’ to ‘male’ or vice-versa). Are such people (note ‘people’) loved by God and capable of a relationship with God? Of course. In neither case was the ‘cause’ of their difference down to them and they certainly could not be ‘blamed’ for it.

Biblical Perspectives: The Jews of Jesus’ day blamed a man’s parents for his blindness from birth (Jn 9:1,2) and Jesus rejected that analysis not, I suspect, from it not being true because there could have been something about the lifestyle of the parents that produced a blind baby, but more because such an analysis is neither helpful to the blind person nor loving of them, and just maybe God wants to step in and change the situation. The work of ‘Mercy Ships’, a Christian charity that provides free surgery, reveals that in Africa today, often because of poor diet or poor health care, children can be born with a variety of physical deformities. The answer is not to denigrate such a nation or such people but to say, how can we help?

In gender discussions, the path is not always made clear by quoting such scriptures as, “male and female he created them.” (Gen 1:27) This was clearly how God made the world with clear gender distinctions, but with the advent of the Fall, we observe (as we noted in the study on Suffering) the result of the general Sin of mankind (we’re not identifying the individual) means that diseases occur, and viral, genetic misfunction or cell breakdown occur so that although we may be able to suggest, ‘this is the norm according to God’s original design’ some people experience something different from that norm. To ‘blame’ them is to blame the human race, and as Jesus pointed out, blame is not helpful.

Clarifying Confusion: Unfortunately, in recent decades, because of the crusading by those who do not match that so-called ‘norm’, I believe we have overstated the case and there are sometimes mixed motives, unwise public behaviour and confusion for many that challenges reality. Let’s take what used to be stated as basic behavioural development. It is often clearer in girls, it seems, than in boys. Development of young girls into and through puberty, traditionally has been seen to include a stage of preference for those of the same sex, hence teachers will often testify to observing ‘school-girl crushes’ of younger girls for those several years above them. It is a developmental stage, and most usual development means the girl will pass through that stage and turn her attention to members of the opposite sex so that one day they will choose a partner with whom they will have a family. Male + female = child. (That never changes however we manage it!)

However with the propaganda produced by the crusaders of alternative gender lifestyle, such a girl is so often today branded as ‘lesbian’ which in most cases will not be the case, simply factually and because of it was we would move to a test-tube civilization, a far cry from God’s design and will. Psychology used to suggest causes for the development of such tendencies and attempts to nail it down to genetic makeup have proved dubious and so, subsequently there tends to be an abandoning of the ‘why’ question and it turns to just how we can get on and live our lives as we perceive ourselves today.  As this trend has developed and the whole area been opened up to public acceptance we have in recent months (this is 2020) found a number of doctors testifying to the fact that so often those who opted for gender transformation surgery now bitterly wish they had never done it, and trends are starting to move towards imposing long periods of reflection before such surgery goes ahead. Time it seems, means people change how they feel about themselves, which suggests purely psychological perceptions may be muddying the water.

Questionable Motives: Now before we say anything else, let’s recognise what is real and what is not.  So, as we have observed earlier, there may be those who struggle with mixed gender conflicts, and that is real. That needs to be a starting point that we hang on to, but let’s dare to ask for honesty in this discussion and say history of homosexual or lesbian experience does show that for many the drive for acceptance has simply been to legitimate and make acceptable a life-style for which the word ‘promiscuous’ may appear loaded but has described what has been often accurately reported in the earlier days. From a Christian standpoint we need to acknowledge that according to the biblical teaching, promiscuity whether straight or gay is unacceptable in God’s design, hence Gen 2:24, the family mandate, is in the singular and elsewhere God declares His hatred of divorce (Mal 2:16)  because it does violence to the parties to it. The pattern of ‘one man plus one woman for life’,  remains God’s design and anything less, is less than that. Sex for thrill with multiple partners of whichever gender is a pure example of self-centred godlessness and so, of course, for those whose life at all levels rejects or ignores God, we should perhaps not expect anything else. The big question is not about their lifestyle, it is about their unbelief and their eternal destiny (which we will consider in the next study.)

Holding a right outlook: The truth is that we will all hold particular beliefs and those beliefs lead to different forms of behaviour. For Christians on all sides of the divide, holding a right attitude before God is the important issue. For those who struggle with the changes that society is accepting as ‘normal’, the important issue is to maintain love for those we see ‘flouting traditional behaviors’.  For those adopting optional lifestyles, flouting it in the face of traditional teaching is both juvenile, immature and ungracious.  What you do behind closed doors is down to you and God. If someone is of the opposite and traditional camp, realize that you proclaiming your freedom to do what you like is purposely trying to upset them, and time alone will prove who is right. In thirty years (or sooner if God turns up in revival) we may all be thinking quite differently.

To conclude: This is a subject which warrants much more but for the time being let’s suggest the following:

  1. Whatever your place in life, know that God loves you.
  2. If you are holding to an alternative lifestyle to that espoused for centuries in the Christian tradition, do it before God and not flouting it before the world otherwise, I believe, you face divine censure for your lack of care for others. Be respectful of others..
  3. If you are one who holds the traditional position, ensure you hold an attitude of love towards others else the same applies to you. Be respectful of others.
  4. If you are a leader who struggles to bring together opposing believers, seek His wisdom and His grace, teach your people on both sides to be gracious and humble and pray for Him to intervene and express His will to His people.
  5. The world’s acceptance of alternative lifestyles to that traditionally espoused by Christian believers (and the way they have done it and encouraged it) is, I believe, activity of the enemy who always seeks to cause division and an opportunity for the people of God to be seen in a bad light (which often results in opposition if not outright persecution). Pray against this, don’t just sit back and let it develop badly.


42. Why doesn’t God answer my prayers?

‘Living with Uncertainty’ Meditations: 42. Q.4. Why doesn’t God answer my prayers?

Jas 4:2,3   You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives

1 Pet 3:7 Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect ….. so that nothing will hinder your prayers.

Jn 14:13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.

The Question:  “Why doesn’t God answer my prayers?” is a fairly common question among believers and non-believers alike (yes non-believers often pray according to surveys.) There are, when you start thinking about it, some fairly obvious common sense answers as well as some less obvious spiritual answers.

COMMON SENSE PRAYING: The first answer has got to be very simply, because we don’t pray, as James said in our verse above. But perhaps there is more behind that. Prayer is talking to God. Now that may sound fairly obvious but are all words uttered ‘prayer’? If you don’t believe He is there or that He’s not listening, is that really prayer or a mere superstitious act? Do you genuinely pause up and focus on God, the Almighty, Holy, Creator God of the Universe, and address this One, or just utter words?

The second answer has got to be simply we are asking silly, unrealistic things. For example, “Lord please give me a parking space,” or “Lord, please provide a petrol station, I’m running out of petrol.” Such prayers seem to require God to create something. A better prayer might be, “Lord, please make me alert and help me spot a parking place.” A prayer for God to speak to you and guide you as one of His children is legitimate.

A third answer has to be that you are praying contradictory prayers – your prayer may be contradicting one another may be praying, e.g. “Lord please don’t let it rain today,” while down the road a farmer is praying, “Lord we desperately need rain for the crops. Please send some rain.”

SPIRITUAL FOCUS PRAYERS: Some praying is simply limited by our own spiritual limitations. So, for example, first of all there are selfish prayers. James added, “you do not receive because you ask with wrong motives.” (Jas 4:3)

Now that should perhaps be linked, second, to praying God’s will. One of our verses above speaks about ‘asking in Jesus’ name’. That simply means praying what you believe Jesus’ will is that will extend the kingdom and glorify the Father. Praying, “Lord, please give me a big yacht,” is probably a selfish, self-aggrandising prayer but many years ago when computers were first coming on line, I felt it right to pray, “Lord, please will you give me a PCW, a word processor,” because I sensed He wanted to open up writing for me. Where the money came from I don’t know but within a couple of months I had it.

We need an aside here: sometimes when praying, especially for healing of a person at death’s door, it is natural and right to pray out of love for them, sometimes even sure that you want them to live – but even that motivation and sureness isn’t enough. It may just be that God knows that this is their time to go home – and we have to accept that! It may be hard but there we have to humbly bow before the throne and accept their death. Jesus healed and raised the dead, so let us pray for it. The Father is not going to be stressed by our love for our loved ones – and He may intervene!

That in turns leads on to, third, prayers that are half-hearted from lack of assurance. Sometimes, to be sure we are praying in the will of God we just need to start praying and catch a sense, while we are in prayer, whether this is in fact God’s will. If it is, the Holy Spirit will witness to that fact and we can thus be encouraged to press on in prayer. Yes, this does mean we need to learn to be sensitive to the still small voice of God (1 Kings 19:12), but when we do we can listen for that encouragement. Sometimes, associated with this I believe, fourth, prayers are delayed because God is training us, training us to listen, training us to learn to wait upon Him, training us to persevere, and that only comes when we are confident about the things we are asking. Is that why Jesus taught, “Ask (and keep on asking) and it will be given to you; seek (and keep on seeking)  and you will find; knock (and keep on knocking) and the door will be opened to you,” (Mt 7:7 with the verb tenses added) and also, “told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.” (Lk 18:1)

This takes us on to realize that in His training of us, fifth, we need to learn God’s limitations. Yes, there are some things God will not do. Yes, He will perform miracles that go against nature if it conforms to His overall plans. Jesus regularly healed people, sometimes raised people from the dead, and sometimes performed other miracles, but Jesus never forced people to believe. He would teach them, challenge them, and even rebuke them, but he never exercises sovereign power to make us change our minds. Thus, when praying for our loved ones who don’t know Him, “Lord, please make X believe,” is unacceptable, whereas, “Lord please speak again and again to X and help them see their need,” is I suggest legitimate.

We should also note, sixth, that we may be acting unrighteously and that will hinder our channel to God. In one of our verses above, Peter warns husbands to treat their wives properly otherwise that will hinder their spiritual activities, i.e. prayer!

SPIRITUAL WARFARE PRAYING: In addition to the above things, the mature believer realizes that we operate spiritually in a spiritual dimension and within that dimension there is warfare. May we not be casual about the apostle Paul’s teaching: “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Eph 6:12) There are instances in the Old Testament – “Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them. But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days,” (Dan 10:12,13) and the New Testament – For we wanted to come to you—certainly I, Paul, did, again and again—but Satan blocked our way,” (1 Thess 2:19) that suggest to us the way is not always open and easy and when the enemy shouts, “Resistance is futile,” we need to laugh and press on!

RIGHT PERSPECTIVE: Our tendency as little children is to want Abba, daddy, to do it all for us but from the beginning we find, “God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it,” (Gen 1:28) or as the Message delightfully and succinctly puts it, “Prosper! Reproduce! Fill Earth! Take charge!” There are times when God delights in stepping in to the affairs of the earth, for example when Jesus came, when Revivals occur, when Renewals of the Spirit occur, when He inspires healing crusades etc. but much of the time I believe the Lord wants us to grow up and “take charge” of our lives.

What does that mean? I believe it means using them wisely, checking that regularly by keeping in close contact with Him, seeking Him for wisdom (see Jas 1:5) while all the while realizing that living in a Fallen World means that trials come so, “the testing of your faith produces patient endurance. And let patient endurance finish its work, so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (Jas 1:3,4) Note the order: trials create patience and endurance that produce maturity in us. Yes, God will sometimes move in sovereign power in our circumstances and sometimes wants us to pray for that, but the majority of the time He wants to speak to us, lead us, guide us, grant us wisdom, and where we get stressed, grace, and where we mess up, the reminder that the path is repentance, reconciliation, restoration, forgiveness, and the grace to press on.

To conclude: If we take a couple of biblical characters, look first at Abraham – the Lord spoke to Him a number of times but only stepped in with the supernatural power once, to enable Sarah to conceive. Look at how the Lord worked with Joseph – spoke prophecies to him, watched over him through the time of rejection by his brothers and being sold into slavery, spoke to his masters in prison to give him favor in their eyes, gave him prophetic understanding and dreams that resulted in him becoming the savior of the Middle East. Throughout Judges the Spirit empowered leaders with boldness, a right attitude. Moses was a different ball game because that involved national judgment and deliverance. David grew to be the warrior he was because of his relationship with God and everything else flowed from that. Do we get the message? Relationship! Listening, obeying, doing, ruling, triumphing! Hallelujah! Let’s pray, let’s keep on praying, sometimes getting it right, sometimes not, but all the while being children with a loving Heavenly Father, children who are gradually growing up and maturing, in knowledge, in understanding and in experience. May it be so.

41. What about Suffering?

‘Living with Uncertainty’ Meditations: 41. Q.3. What about Suffering?

Rom 8:20,21 (JBP)   The world of creation cannot as yet see reality, not because it chooses to be blind, but because in God’s purpose it has been so limited—yet it has been given hope. And the hope is that in the end the whole of created life will be rescued from the tyranny of change and decay, and have its share in

Concerns & Questions:  A regular question or series of questions that arise include: Why is there suffering? Why did God make a world with so much suffering? Why doesn’t He step in to remove it? If He is good and loving and all powerful why doesn’t He step in and act on our behalf? But what is ‘suffering’? A dictionary definition is ‘undergoing pain, distress or hardship’.

Sources of Suffering: The first step is to identify the causes of ‘suffering’ as we have defined it.  Let’s try and pin down the main causes:

  1. Inflicted by others: Pain caused by others may have at least three sources. First, the list of violent acts that the human race shows it is capable of, is long and distressing and runs from individual violence (verbal or physical) that can include beating, abuse, rape, torture, to corporate violence that can include war, genocide, oppression, and terrorism. View the whole world and these things constitute the vast majority of the world’s suffering. Second, perhaps to this we should add the things that we don’t do for one another that we should do, such as caring for the weak, providing for the needy, and that covers not only the large number of refugees from war zones, but also simply the plight of individuals who have not been coping with life generally. Third, there are the hurts, pains etc. imposed on us by the negligence of other people, i.e. accidents causes by lack of care.
  2. Self-Inflicted: this is an area where we are even less comfortable. This is where, living contrary to the design of God for His world, we take on lifestyles that are harmful – over-eating, excessive alcohol or drug use, unrestrained sexual lifestyles that are accompanied by diseases, unwanted pregnancies, abortions, criminal acts, and stress and anxiety from too much self-effort. Choice of attitude, approach to life, and inability to cope with the pressures that the modern world sometimes brings, are maybe the primary ways we cause harm and suffering to ourselves. As above, we should perhaps add pain caused by accidents which are in turn caused by our carelessness or negligence, and maybe we should even include our misuse of the world that causes environmental problems with global warming etc.

These first two are the suffering caused by humanity itself in individual or corporate recognizable acts.

  1. The Breakdown of the World: The fact is that we suffer a variety of other things that cause pain, suffering, even death, things that can be identified as the world mis-functioning, or not functioning as it was originally designed to function (which we’ll consider shortly). This list includes

– illnesses and that may be viral, genetic misfunction or cell breakdown. (look up ‘disease’ in Wikipedia)

– climatic causes – hurricanes, tornadoes, floods from excessive rainfall,

– earth upheavals – volcanoes, moving tectonic plate movement causing earthquakes and tsunamis.

(Note in passing that the Sin of mankind, according to one doctor, causes diseases and releases spiritual forces that cause harm. See more in the next study.)

Where is God? The questions that we suggested above might be rationalised to a) Why did God make the world like this? and b) Why doesn’t He step in to help us?

God’s Design & the Fall: Without the Bible, without God, the atheist is just left with a horrible world and indeed various atheists have described it as such. You can only blame God if you believe there is a God, but the atheist will say to us, “This God that you say you believe in, why….?” and so it is legitimate to ask what does the Bible say about all this?

From the beginning, if you are going to blame a God who exists, we are told that this God created this world – by fiat in a split second or over seven periods of time or by long-period evolution is irrelevant; it is down to Him! But here is the most important thing: “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” (Gen 1:31) There is no room there for saying that any of the things in the three groups above existed. It was a perfect world. So how come the difference between that and the descriptions in the three groups above? The answer is found in Gen 3 in what we refer to as ‘the Fall’ that might be summarized as mankind choosing to ignore or disregard God and live how they decide to live. The consequence of that is ALL the things listed in those three groups above. Do you see why identifying those three groups are so important.

I so often define ‘Sin’ as “self-centred, godlessness that results in unrighteous self-destructive acts” Unrighteous simply means actions that are contrary to God’s design. The Adam and Eve picture of Gen 3 shows them acting in an entirely self-centred way that excluded God from the equation and resulted in them doing something that opened the door to a whole way of living that was godless, hard, and self-harming. They typify what the whole of mankind is like. They and the world (and us) were not as it had been, no longer perfect, but broken, dysfunctional.

But Why? But why did God make us like this? Hold on, what was the alternative? It all hinges on this thing called free-will. Most people don’t realize how much we exercise ‘free-will’, the will to choose at any moment what we will do: when to get up in the morning, what to eat for breakfast, when to leave for work, how to travel to work, how to perform our work, how to respond to people or circumstances, when to enter into or break off a relationship, how to respond when we see a person in need, how to respond to a rebuff, when and how to write a song, a novel or some poetry, or paint a picture, or create a sculpture. Literally everything we do involves us exercising this ability to choose. We each have tremendous potential for being amazing people, in caring or in courage, in creativity and in construction, the potential of being self-less, godly, beautiful people who can be a blessing to the rest of mankind and to God. However, on the other side we can, as we saw above, be utterly self-centred and godless, harming ourselves, harming others and harming the earth, and we grieve God.

But where is God in all this? More questions. If God allowed us to be this sort of creature – capable of incredible good and incredible bad (evil)  – has He created it like this and then walked away? Definitely not! There are three things we should note about God in this:

  1. He feels: It is clear from the picture of Jesus at the tomb of Lazarus (Jn 11) that he feels for us. It is clear when God was speaking to Moses at the burning bush that He felt for His people (Ex 3:7). God does not hold Himself aloof from people, He feels for the young parents who have just lost their new-born baby, He feels for the woman who cannot conceive, He feels for all of us who anguish. Jesus allowed his compassion to motivate him (see Mt 9:36, 14:14, 15:32, 20:34) and told of his Father’s compassion in one of the best known parables (see Lk 15:20).
  2. He involves Himself: The Bible is full of God who intervenes on behalf of mankind. After the exclusion from the Garden at the end of Gen 3, God did not just leave mankind to it; there are instances again and again and again of God who was interacting with people (Gen 5:24, Gen 12:1, Gen 3 etc. etc.) to reveal Himself and be revealed through them. Jesus is the peak of God’s intervention in the affairs of mankind, described by John as God (Jn 1:1), Creator with the Father (Jn 1:3), yet who came from heaven (Jn 6:38) to dwell in flesh (Jn 1:14) to reveal the Father and die as a sacrifice for our sin. In his ministry, through Jesus we see, The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor,” (Mt 11;5) or, as Peter summarised it, he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil.” (Acts 10:38) This was God NOT accepting the status quo of the fallen world but intervening in it to change it – as He still does today. (For His sovereign will see the next study) Today, by the presence and work of His Holy Spirit, the Lord provides all the grace we need to handle this world.
  3. He has a new end goal: The present world is not the end goal of God. Yes, He has given us free will, yes He gives us space to exercise it, yes He works to bring redemption here on earth, but none of these are the end goal. There will come a time, the Bible declares, when He will bring an end to this present existence and establish for the redeemed, who throughout history have responded to Him, a new heaven and a new earth (Rev 3:12, 21:1,2). Not only will there be a new place in which the redeemed may live and enjoy their God, but there will also be a Final Judgement where all will stand before God to account for their lives and those who have rejected Him will be rejected for the new heaven and new earth (Rev 20:12-15) and destroyed. Justice will be seen to be done for every wrong and every injustice seen in history.


– there are clear and obvious causes of suffering.

– most of it is down to the effects of the sinfulness of mankind, resulting from wrong use of free will.

– God doesn’t stand outside our suffering but feels with us and often intervenes to alleviate it.

– all wrongs and injustices involving suffering will be held to account at the end.

– this world of suffering is not the end but a world without “death or mourning or crying or pain” (Rev 21:4)  is the ultimate destiny of all who will respond to His call.

May that be the ultimate experience of each of us.

40. Can I Trust the Bible?

‘Living with Uncertainty’ Meditations: 40. Q.2. Can I trust the Bible?

1 Tim 3:16,17   All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

Continuation:  In the previous study, at one point I used the words, ‘We can read the Bible, study it in depth, find out all about its origins etc., and become completely assured as to it veracity, its authenticity and accuracy.”  One might have thought that such an exercise should, after all these years of so much scholarship and so many books written in this subject, be unnecessary, that there should be do doubts, no uncertainties about these things.

Concerns: But the reality is that a new generation comes along that displays serious concerns (my concerns about them, not their concerns!) that have been having a negative effect in recent years on parts of the Christian community, invoking uncertainties. My concerns are:

  1. Inadequate Historical Reading: These people clearly have not read the incredible writings of such people as Josh McDowell (yes, even the updated version ‘The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict’ was right back in 1999! but still stands as a monument to apologetics), have not bothered to investigate the wealth of knowledge and scholarship that goes to being assured about the origins of the Bible.
  2. Inadequate Apologetics Reading: There is also obviously an absence of reading of such great writers as Norman Geisler and many other scholars who seek to make sense of the Bible and come up with legitimate answers.
  3. Inadequate Bible Reading: The Liberal critics who appear to be having a voice in parts of the church today (haven’t they always been there in the background) demonstrate two worrying characteristics: first, their knowledge of what the Bible says as a whole, seems very limited and, second, they appear to come from a materialistic stance of unbelief that question the very basics of belief in the divinely supernatural (no miracles, no prophecy etc.).

From these inadequacies, unbelief spreads but it demonstrates two things: first an absence of knowledge in such semi-believers and, when it is accepted by the Christian community, second, a poverty of teaching in many churches to equip believers so they know a) what the Bible is, b) it’s origins, and c) why is can be trusted for accuracy and authenticity.

But??? But, you may be saying, you have not been giving me helps to trust the Bible. Well, actually, indirectly, yes I have. I have put before you suggestions of approach, scholars to search out, books to read that will give you understanding of why you can trust the origins of the Bible, trust the historical content of the Bible and its general accuracy. Beyond that – and those previous things are massive areas of study which, if you aren’t a great reader, you will have to trust me about, and maybe ask your pastor, minister, leader, to teach on – the biggest issue is will YOU become a Bible scholar? All I mean by that is will you (and any questioner you find yourself with) take the trouble to read the Bible? I recently heard of one local young woman who read the entire Bible in the 40 days of Lent and is now going to reread it in the chronological order (not the book order) that things happened. There is someone of credibility!

In approaching understanding the Bible may I suggest you need to set yourself a curriculum of study: a) catch the ‘big picture’ of what the Bible is all about – see my series ‘Big Picture Studies’,  b) focus on Jesus in the Gospels – read a Gospel a week, c) catch something of the historical narrative of the Old Testament – my series ‘Struggles of Israel’ does something of this.

That is just a start to catch something of the overall content of the Bible. I have been reading and studying and writing on the Bible for approaching forty years. You can trust it and the more you read it the more assured you will be about it, and about your faith.

It’s claims: All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. God breathed? “given to us by inspiration from God” (the Living Bible paraphrase version). That is the ultimate summary of what the Bible is.

The Problems: But it is sixty-six books, can that apply to them all? Yes, why not? That doesn’t mean that every book is full of truth. Job, one of the most difficult to read, comprises largely of conversations between Job and his three ‘friends’. The only trouble is, they don’t always speak truth. Oops! Then there is Ecclesiastes, the best read for modern cynics because it shows the hopelessness of life without God, the testimony of a jaded Solomon late in his life when he has allowed himself, after a life of mega-success, to be seduced away from a relationship with God and now feels helpless. Yes, see the truth it conveys. Then there are records of bad people. That is not the Bible justifying them, but simply revealing them for that they are.

Then there are multiple viewpoints that I so often liken to a variety of reporters at a car or train crash, each reporting from their viewpoint. Oh yes, God inspired each of these ‘reporters’ to write what they saw from their perspective and that ends up creating an amazing ‘painting by numbers’ end work that is brilliant!  So yes, there is a human element, a human dimension, in it all but that just adds to the beauty of what is there –  or at least it does when you read it!

Attitude: Possibly there is no book like the Bible that reveals the sort of people, the sort of heart we may have.  If you come with a critical, jaded, distorted perspective of life, as can be seen in some well known atheists, you will read and walk away still criticising because you just couldn’t see it. However, if you approach it with the heart of a learner, a seeker, you will indeed find a book that thrills you with its wonder, its truths and so much more. Yes, sometimes those truths are uncomfortable. I have often written about how the nation of Israel shows up the sinfulness and stupidity of mankind. It is not that their history is unique (although it is)  but it is they just show us what we’re all like. They are given amazing revelations of God, His words, and His will, which initially they receive joyfully, but as time passes they drift away from God into superstitious folly that brings self-destruction – just like us. It’s all a matter of attitude.

On one hand there is the need to use your mind, but on the other there is the need to be childlike in having a simple, straight-forward approach to this unique book.  I am sorry if this ‘study’ was not what you expected, because I did not take you though detailed studies, but I have:

  • directed you to the resources,
  • challenged you to check your heart and your attitude, and
  • challenged you to set a life-long goal of reading the Bible

and IF you will do these things, you will not regret it and find that you have been “completely assured as to it veracity, its authenticity and accuracy.”   Moreover, you will have been fed and nourished and will find that you look at the world in a new way, where so many of its uncertainties are put into perspective and are removed as worries. Enjoy!

39. What is God like?

PART FIVE: Key Questions

‘Living with Uncertainty’ Meditations: 39. Q.1. What is God like?

Acts 17:27   God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.

A Surprise:  I thought we had finished this series but as I was praying early morning I sensed that we should, before we finish, confront some of the key questions that confront believers and seekers alike, questions about God, the Bible, Suffering, Unanswered Prayer, Identity and Death and what follows. These seem to be the subjects I find being laid on my heart for us to deal with before we complete the series. The purpose of these pages, I believe, should be so that we ourselves may be assured and that we may communicate that assurance to others. It is first an intellectual assurance and then an assurance backed by spiritual experience. We may have covered a few of these issues in small ways in the previous studies but I hope each of these will be a resource in itself. We start with God Himself.

What is God like? I have taken our starter verse from the apostle Paul’s message to the Greeks of Athens on Mars Hill. He was waiting for some of the other apostles to arrive (Acts 17:16a) and while he was there, apparently wandering round Athens, he was struck by the number of idols there were in the city (v.16b) and this grieved him. Now if we don’t rush past this, it is legitimate to wonder why Paul should be grieved over the fact that there were idols all over the place. Well it was a strange thing because this city was the centre of a nation that had been known for its intellectual culture, it’s big thinkers – e.g. Socrates, Plato, Aristotle – people who worked on reason and intellect, and yet despite all this, they are a superstitious people who have idols to the gods. But superstition is about believing in the supernatural or supernatural influences at work in the world so when Paul “stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus” he was able to say to them, “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious.” (v.22)

Many people today submit to the idea of ‘materialism’, the belief that nothing exists except physical matter, yet that does still not sit comfortably with very many of us for there seems to be something in each one of us that senses something more, as Solomon wrote of God, He has also set eternity in the human heart.” (Eccles 3:11). Now I have written extensively on who God is according to the Bible in a previous series, “Getting to Know God”, and so this is very much a summary.

God the Communicator: Our starting point has to be the fact that the Bible reveals so much about God and indeed the claim is that it is inspired by God (2 Tim 3:16), which we will consider in the next study. That claim in itself is enough to suggest that if God inspired this book then He must be a God who desires to communicate much to us about Himself. But there is more than that sense behind the very existence of the Bible, there is what we find in it. Again and again and again we find such words as, “God said.” So He communicates through specific words He speaks, either out loud or into the minds of various people, but He also appears to inspire men to speak out what they are sensing He is saying. These are the Prophets. But then there are things taking place that are attributed to Him which reveal Him, reveal His nature, reveal His power and reveal His emotions and ways of thinking. All of this is communication. This God is a communicator. The peak of this communication comes with the arrival of His Son, Jesus Christ. The writer to the Hebrews was to write, “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.” (Heb 1:1,2). That “by his Son” may, in the light of what we find in the Gospels, be taken to mean what the Son said as well as what the Son did. Indeed everything he did was designed to reveal something about God. He was God’s purest means of communication, if we may put it like that.

Almighty God: The testimony of the whole Bible might be summed up in Paul’s words there to the Greeks: “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else.” (Acts 17:24,25) i.e. this God is the Creator of all things, is greater than anyone or anything else we know of. He is the provider of all life. The attributes of God you will find in that previous series, “Getting to Know God” include the fact that He is all-powerful, all-knowing, all-wise, eternal, loving, goodness and so much more. The Bible tells us so much.

Relational God: But this all-powerful, Creator, Sustainer of the world, is not an impersonal ‘force’ but a Being with personality, a being who communicates, a God who desires relationship with mankind. Paul, speaking of this and His work in establishing the world as it is, continued, “God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him.” (v.27). In our goals at the beginning of this study we said it is that we have first an intellectual assurance and then an assurance backed by spiritual experience. We can read the Bible, study it in depth, find out all about its origins etc., and become completely assured as to it veracity, its authenticity and accuracy, but that merely remains an intellectual exercise. The Bible reveals that God’s desire is that we respond to His overtures and enter into a living, two-way relationship with Him through the person and work of His Son, Jesus Christ.

But Me? The question that many people find they have is expressed as, “Me? I understand all you are saying but can that apply to me? Can I be good enough to encounter this God? Why would He want to do that anyway?” and the answer is found in three little words that the apostle John wrote: “God is love.” (1 Jn 4:8,16) with everything that the word ‘love’ means. The apostle Paul was so overwhelmed by this concept that he wrote, “I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love.” (Rom 8:38,39 Message paraphrase version) i.e. nothing but nothing but nothing can keep God’s love from you, to which we might add – except you yourself.

This series has been all about uncertainty and, yes, many people are uncertain about God Himself, but that is because they have never taken on board the wonderful things we find in the Bible, and especially the New Testament, and responded to it. Yes, you can read it, but for it to ‘go live’ it needs responding to. In fact, every time we want the Bible to ‘go live’ for us, we need to pray and after we’ve read it, to pray again. This is us making contact with the author of the Bible, the One behind all things. The Book is not there merely to be read, it is there to open a door for us into God’s presence. That is what these studies have all been about. But that leads us into the next study which is the answer to the question, “Can I trust the Bible?”

38. Review

‘Living with Uncertainty’ Meditations: 38. Review

Psa 46:10   “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

Goal:  Before we sign off with this series, it might be helpful to recap where we have been and review what we have learnt.

Part 1: Pondering on Uncertainty and Certainty

We started out recognizing that not only is there uncertainty in living in this fallen world, but there is also uncertainty in the life of faith following Jesus. When he said to his disciples, “Follow me” it was to trust him when you didn’t know what the next day would hold and where he would be leading them. Obeying Jesus, we noted, was the only way to stand in the face of the storms of life that come. In fact, we went further, it is obvious from the Gospels that Jesus purposely led his disciples into uncertain situations to teach and train them. There was further uncertainty with Jesus’ timing, especially when he appeared to delay in the face of need.

Yet we learned in all that, that God is too big to argue with, He knows best, Jesus knows what he is doing as he leads us, and although we may often not understand what God is doing, His goal is to lead us into a place of complete trust in Him. Everything about His will, His purposes and His kingdom is certain and sure for He is working off a perfect plan formulated before Creation. We further identified our uncertainties through the questioning psalms of David, and we saw the certainty of God’s provision from Abraham through to Elijah and Elisha and saw His care for us revealed.

Part 2: On the Way

Moving on from general principles, as we started looking towards Easter, we sought to see what it must have been like to be one of the disciples as Jesus set his eyes on his coming death in Jerusalem with references to that death, which his disciples struggled with. And yet with power over death we saw him raise Lazarus from the dead and the incredible effect that that had in stirring up the enthusiastic crowds on one side but the hostile religious authorities on the other. We saw him controlling the time frame by settling his ministry for a short while to the east of the Jordan, then coming back through Jericho, still teaching and still healing and calling people, to eventually come back to Bethany in preparation for the final week, waiting on his Father on the Sabbath to hold the right perspective of what was coming.

Part 3:The Last Week

We considered the uncertainties of that last week, how he came into Jerusalem on the Sunday with fanfare and the sound of triumph setting hearts on fire for the coming of the kingdom – but then letting it all dissipate. How he came next day and upset the temple market, but then stood back on Monday. How in the next few days he taught in the temple precincts raising the temperature of the religious opposition of the authorities again him, but with purposeful teaching that revealed them for what they were – unbelieving hypocrites who would receive the judgment of God.  Thus their ire grew to boiling point, and with help from Judas on Thursday evening, they arrested him, followed by the most shameful trial of history. Yet all this took place in the awareness of his ongoing teaching with his disciples at the Last Supper, revealing exactly what would happen, but how they should live in the days to follow as his disciples. Despite the incredible uncertainties of the disciples, there was the ultimate certainty that Jesus was in total control in the midst of it all and right the way through it –  just as he still is today. Thus came his terrible death, sacrificed by religion and the expediency of the world, yet as the Lamb of God to redeem the world. Silence, shame and self-recriminations would have followed on the Saturday until on Sunday morning the greatest certainty of all – that dead men stay dead – was proved wrong and he rose from the dead and showed himself to his disciples who struggled  (like we so often do) to believe the impossible, and we learnt that with God there are no uncertainties, no impossibilities.

Part 4: Aftermath

We sought to follow the events that followed the Resurrection. We saw how the Lord returned to reassure unbelieving Thomas, but we faced the fact that we still don’t know so much of what Jesus did in that period. Eventually we saw Jesus take the disciples back to Galilee on retreat, to receive teaching about the coming kingdom, and we saw the beautiful way Jesus not only reinstated Peter but set the course of his future. On return to Jerusalem, we saw the uncertainties and certainties of the Ascension. But then came a time of uncertain waiting and then the incredible pouring out of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. There we paused recognising the nature and characteristic of this experience that had echoes throughout Acts, covering all cultural people groups, and experience that transforms powerless believers and enables them to be the body of Christ that continues the work of God, the bringing of the kingdom on earth. We faced the frequent powerlessness and ill-equipped nature of the modern church that seems to have so little impact on a declining world, and pondered on the need we have to call on the Lord to come in power, either sovereignly in Revival or to re-equip, reinvigorate the Church in Renewal, to be what it was originally designed to be, the ongoing body of Christ, revealing the Father’s love and blessing to the world, the bringer of the kingdom or reign of God as He seeks to call the world back to Himself.

And So? Key things, perhaps to hold onto:

– uncertainty is a natural part of life and of being a Christian.

– in the midst of all that uncertainty, Jesus is still Lord.

– He does not change and the will of God does not change.

– His will is to draw us to himself, redeem us, train, and equip us, change us so that we can join in his ongoing work and be part of it while we wait for his return.

– His very presence with us, his Holy Spirit, is the means of resourcing us with his power, his guidance, his wisdom, his grace, his revelation, everything we need to join him in that work.

– Without his Spirit, our tendency is to wallow in uncertainty – over who we are, where we are going, what is happening to us and around us, and how we can cope.

– With his Spirit, as we submit our lives to him (Rom 12:1), not conforming to the world around us, we will know his will and do it (Rom 12:2-7) by his enabling.

May it be so. Amen.

37. Effects of the Spirit’s Moving

‘Living with Uncertainty’ Meditations: 37. Effects of the Spirit’s Moving

Jn 3:8   The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.’

Acts 4:8  Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them…

Acts 4:31  After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.

Acts 11:24   He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.

Be at Peace:  As I have suggested before there are often fears and doubts and uncertainties about the Holy Spirit which the Lord understands but simply warns us against speaking wrongly of Him (Mt 12:31,32). To deny the work of the Spirit is to deny God. But uncertainties are understandable, but it is the way we respond to them that is important. I testified in the previous study how I foolishly experienced the Spirit moving, backed away from it, yet was graciously drawn back in repentance to receive again. The Lord looks for hearts that are open to him, even if they are uncertain. Be at peace in all this.

Uncertainty is Natural: If a leader like Nicodemus (Jn 3) was confused, don’t be surprised if we often get confused. To take Jesus’ analogy about the wind, many of us feel fearful simply because don’t know when He is going to turn up and what He might do. We live in a world that teaches us to be in control so it is natural to be nervous when God turns up and takes control out of our hands. It is natural but we are not called to be natural, we are called to be supernatural. We are to live by faith not by sight (2 Cor 5:7), we are to live not by human wisdom but by Holy Spirit and scriptural guidance.

Effects: I want to finish these reflections about the uncertainty of the Spirit by noting the fruitfulness that comes when we allow the Spirit to lead, inspire and empower us. In the previous study I used the analogy of a son growing into his father’s business as a picture of what God wants for us, and when we see the things He says He expects of us, we realize that these are things we cannot do by our own ability.

Boldness: Using our verses above, in Acts 4  when Peter is brought before the authorities we see him, “filled with the Holy Spirit,” (v.8) and Luke surely means us to see that it was because of this that he could answer them fearlessly and proclaim the Gospel. In Judges we have seen the Spirit come upon people to make them bold and courageous leaders. When we are filled with the Spirit there comes a new freedom to stand up and be God’s people. At the end of Acts 4 when the church are praying, the Spirit comes on them all and they were all filled so that “they spoke the word of God boldly”. (v.31) We desperately need some Holy Spirit boldness to speak into the world today.

Characteristic: When a problem of administration arose in the church in Jerusalem the instruction of the apostles to the other believers was, “choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom.” (Acts 6:3) The experience of being filled, that results in visible changes in a person, was apparently obvious in the early church. “They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit.” (v.5) If you referred to someone as a ‘Spirit-filled believer’ you were saying there was something about them that stood out – a freedom in God, a love and joy in the Lord, and often wisdom – that could be seen! There was no wondering. Shortly afterwards we read of Stephen, “Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people.” (v.8) Is this what caused the enemy to stir up opposition against him and yet, “they could not stand up against the wisdom the Spirit gave him as he spoke.” (v.10) This opposition was to lead to him becoming the first Christian martyr. But see all those things describing him: full of faith, full of the Holy Spirit, full of God’s grace and power, performing great wonders and signs, speaking fearlessly with great wisdom, and able to face death fearlessly. This is the life potential for those “filled with the Spirit”. If the modern church cannot live up to these descriptions, is it because we use the words but don’t experience the reality of the Spirit?

Similarly in Acts 11, Barnabas was described as, “a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith.” (Acts 11:24). He was the man we know as an encourager (v.23), the one who drew Paul into ministry (v.25,26), who clearly was a significant teacher (v.26b)

A Quick Glimpse at History: We are sometimes not very good at understanding church history but let’s conclude this study with a quick refresher in respect of history and the Holy Spirit. It is said that you can find throughout the two thousand years of church history, little pockets of believers who were open to the Spirit but the so-called Azusa Street Revival, in Los Angeles, that started in 1906, brought out into the open the place and role of the Holy Spirit, which had already started to be considered in some ‘holiness churches’. Pentecostalism was born resulting in the formation of Pentecostal churches & denominations which spread worldwide. This teaching and experience restored the Holy Spirit to His proper place, but mostly stayed within Pentecostal churches

That is, until in the 1960’s when a change came which someone described as, “individual believers seeking the Father for his promised gift of the Holy Spirit.”  Out of his came a fresh awareness of the existence, experience, function, and role of ‘the body of Christ’.  The Charismatic Movement was born with personal Spirit-filling and gifting, and our place within the body, being taught and experienced in new ways. Unlike Pentecostalism the charismatic movement did not create new denominations but Spirit-filled believers continued their experience within their existing denominations.

In the 1990’s a new wave of Holy Spirit activity burst out across the world with the phenomena referred to as the Toronto Blessing, where the Spirit, sovereignly it seemed, broke in on individual believers as they gathered and brought a new joy and a new freedom to the people of God. It was not revival and mostly did not appear to stir evangelism into being. It was first and foremost a restoration of the wonder of being God’s children.

Now we may not have been around and experienced these times of blessing but the truth was that in each case new life poured into and through the church. Each of these were different from revival which is a sovereign powerful moving of God inside and outside of the church to bring fresh life to believers and a harvest of souls into the kingdom.

And Us?  Wherever we stand, whatever our experience of the Spirit and whatever our feelings in respect of Him, one thing in today’s world and today’s church is obvious: we need a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Whether He comes in revival sweeping all before Him sovereignly, or whether He comes in renewal and reinvigorates His Church to be what He wants it to be, is down to Him and we will have to wait to see. In this again there is uncertainty. There are signs in all that is going on in the midst of the world activities that the Lord may be getting ready, thus Isaiah’s (Isa 4:3-5 Msg) call is appropriate:

Thunder in the desert!  “Prepare for God’s arrival!
Make the road straight and smooth, a highway fit for our God.
Fill in the valleys, level off the hills,
Smooth out the ruts, clear out the rocks.
Then God’s bright glory will shine and everyone will see it.

How can we put it even more clearly?  Speak into this spiritual desert, this wilderness that is the modern world. Put your lives right for God is coming. Do all that needs doing to set your life right so that there is no hindrance in it to prevent Him coming and working in and through you. Clean it up, get rid of things you know would not bless God when He comes, fill in what is missing in your life and experience, and open up your heart to receive all He has for you, and then look for the coming of His glory.   Amen.