Snapshots: Day 97

Snapshots: Day 97

The Snapshot: “This is their journey by stages.” (Num 33:2) It’s not very exciting reading but it is a record, initiated by God, of where Israel had traveled with God, and it was important to remember.  What an interesting picture, our lives as a journey with God. It is a very well worthwhile exercise (I’ve done it) to sit down and write a list of key high points (and low) of our lives. When I did it, it helped me face weaknesses and failures but it also allowed me to see the wonder of God’s blessing that has been on my life so many times.  I have marveled at where we’ve had the privilege of going, the people we’ve been privileged to meet, the amazing experiences we’ve had – all because He led. Big steps, little steps, all important in the walk with the King of Kings. Walk on!

Further Consideration: I think that taking our lives for granted almost verges on sin sometimes. I mean, think about it. From the moment you turned to Christ all those years (or months) ago, God has been there working in you and through you, changing circumstances and helping you in the circumstances, and there was not a moment when His eye was not on you (read Psa 121 & Psa 139). Yes, the truth is that probably 99% of the time we were not aware of those things, but that doesn’t make them untrue.

Yes, there were good times – and we’ve said this before recently – where life was just good and we had great experiences, and there were not so good times where it went wrong, either by our own activities or of those of the world around us, but whatever it was, He was there with us in it all.

Yes, we live in a ‘fallen world’ where the world goes wrong, life gets messy and complicated sometimes, and even occasionally the sky seems to fall on us. Yes, it can be that bad, but in the midst of it, in the midst of confusion, in the midst of the anxiety, in the midst of darkness, He was still there, He never left us and was always there working for us, even though in the cloud of pain we lost sight of that for a moment. It was just like that for a moment as Jesus carried your sin and mine on the Cross and the enemy railed against him (catch it prophetically in Psa 22), that it all blotted out the presence of the Father who I am convinced never left him (what loving father abandons their son in the midst of a crisis?) and he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt 27:46)

Yes, He was still there, through the bad times as well as the good times that go to make the rich tapestry of life, so remember those and give thanks, and keep on giving thanks. Amen?  Amen!


(Having just completed a further ten of this series we will pause and return to the Getting to Know God series, but we will come back here later)

Snapshots: Day 96

Snapshots: Day 96

The Snapshot: “Do not make us cross the Jordan.” (Num 32:5) There are so many lessons from this often somewhat unsavory book. Israel are approaching the Land from the east and two tribes petition Moses to be allowed to stay there. It was good land for their livestock. The trouble was, they were one nation and as a people they all needed to go in and take the Land together; it needed all of them. Paul taught that we are all a part of the body, the church needs all of us (1 Cor 12:12-26). The trouble is, life is very busy, there are so many calls on it. It will be all right, there are plenty of others God can use, He doesn’t need me. No He doesn’t ‘need’ any of us but He wants to bless all of us and that happens when we turn up.

Further Consideration: The concept of the ‘body of Christ’ can sometimes be an embarrassing one, especially when we want to opt out. I really do believe in ‘holy dissatisfaction’, the prodding of the Holy Spirit to help us face the shortcomings of modern church life, and I have watched numbers in recent years dropping out of church life. But, as I have pondered these things long and hard, I have come to various conclusions.

The first one is that when we find this holy dissatisfaction growing within us, make sure it is holy. If it is of God, He will be giving it to you to encourage you to pray for the church and examine your own approaches to the various activities that make up church life. If it is the enemy, it will be to get you to drop out and become vulnerable and even over critical of those who remain. Don’t let him do that.

The second thing is that ‘some church is better than no church’. Yes, you may feel it falls far short of what God wants for His church (and it does) but your presence is still needed in it. You can still bless others in it, even if generally it isn’t up to scratch. Maybe God can use you as an instrument to help change it – but you need to be there.

The third thing is that when we do drop out of church life we drop out of a ‘feeding zone’ and that makes us weak. We perhaps take for granted the amount of input we receive from fellowshipping together, from worship, from prayer, from hearing God’s word. These things feed and strengthen and build us.

The fourth thing is that when we drop out we become vulnerable to attacks from the enemy across the full gamut of our lives in a way not previously known. We fail to understand the protection that comes from being a living active member of the body.

So like these tribes within Israel who wanted to opt out of taking the Land, our calling is to resist that temptation and remember we are part of a body that needs us. Let’s not forget that.

Snapshots: Day 95

Snapshots: Day 95

The Snapshot: “who are these men with you?” (Num 22:9) When God asks questions, He always knows the answers, He just wants to hear what we say. Balaam (Num 22-24) is an example of someone who said he wanted God’s will, but all the time when there was an option that might benefit him, he kept glancing at it. Jesus said, “You cannot serve God and money,” you can’t have opposing goals in life (my kingdom or His?) When Jesus met with ‘sinners’ it was to save them. When we do, what is our goal? A heart wholly set on God is the surest thing to keep us from straying off God’s path for us, a determination to abide by His word with no compromise. That will open the door to His Spirit, to His blessing. Let’s go for it!

Further Consideration: As one modern writer has said, “when God lovingly shines His light on an area in which we fall short of His standards, it is an act of mercy. The divisive sword comes, but its intent is to cut us free of the net that ensnares our hearts”. That very much applies to what we were saying in the previous snapshot about facing our sin, but it also applied to Balaam – though he apparently neither realised that nor responded to it.

I always remember a picture that an old preacher gave many years about, when he spoke about watching cows in a field surrounded by an electric fence. Despite there being plenty of grass in the field, some of the foolish cows stretched their necks under the bottom strand of wire to see how far they could chew the cud on the other side. Reading Balaam’s story, it strikes me that he was just like that. He knew he should not be bringing bad advice to these foreigners who wanted him to curse Israel, but then they did keep offering him money and that temptation kept him there, just seeing how far he could stretch under the wire of God’s limitations.

What was amazing was that he appears to have been able to hear the Lord, even with this bad attitude and the Lord kept giving him good words about Israel, even amazing words sometimes. See how these words build from Num 23:7-10, extolling God in v.18-24, extolling Israel 24:3-9, speaking of the Messiah 24:15-19, then bringing words of judgment on surrounding nations – 24:20, then 24:21,22, then 24:23,24. Yet the record is that this two-faced prophet gave advice to the enemy how to undermine Israel (Num 31:16) and died for it (31:8).  Such are the fruits of an ongoing divided heart, eventually stepping over the boundary into unrighteousness and then paying the consequences for it. It is a strange story with a mixture of the greatness and grace of God and the stupid, divided heart of sinful man that tries to stretch boundaries. Don’t do it!

Snapshots: Day 94

Snapshots: Day 94

The Snapshot: “Make a snake and put it on a pole.” (Num 21:8) Israel had blown it again and so God sent snakes to wake them up. Any who were bitten were to go to the snake on the pole and when they looked at it they would be healed and saved. Jesus paralleled himself to the snake (Jn 3:14,15). Of course it was a snake in the Garden (Gen 3:1) that led us astray and brought death. When they faced the snake, when we come to Jesus, they and we face our sin, our failure and our guilt, and then God removes it all and life flows, but it only comes when a person faces up to these things. Saying sorry is the easy part, facing our frailty and failure and, with His help, turning from it so we are transformed by His life, that’s the hard part. Offering a sacrifice always is (see Rom 12:1).

Further Consideration:  The further we go through the Scriptures the more we will find the same lessons cropping up; we need to hear them again and again if we are to learn from them and heed them. Three particular things appear to stand out from this incident.

First, we get it wrong. We’ve acknowledged that here before but in a world where people “make excuses for our sins by calling them shortcomings or natural weakness, or by attributing them to temperament or environment”, as one prophet of recent years said, there is this tendency to whitewash our actions. No, the Lord says face them, call them what they are, Sin. Israel had sinned.

Second, there is this requirement to face and acknowledge this sin before others. Confess your sins to one another (Jas 5:16) is wisdom from on high that knows that confession is drawing a line in the sand and saying to a friend, pastor or whoever, I stepped over it, but I won’t do it again. Israel had to face their sin publicly.

Third, there was God’s salvation. He declared through Moses that whoever went to the pole and looked at the bronze snake would be healed. It is interesting that in the UK at lease this snake is a sign used on hospitals, a reminder of the healing purposes of God.

Now perhaps there is something else that we could consider and that is being a member of the congregation who has not sinned. Supposing you had not been bitten but a neighbour or a family member had been. Attitude is important at this point. Do we laugh and say, “Serve you right!” because that is what we sometimes do when we see the world suffering the fruits of their ungodly and unrighteous living? Surely the response should be gentle caring and encouragement to go to the pole, go to Jesus, seek his healing, his forgiveness, his cleansing, his wisdom to put a messed up life right.  And yet to do that graciously is difficult and needs just that – grace. May we have it.

Snapshots: Day 93

Snapshots: Day 93

The Snapshot: “Moses and Aaron… fell face down and the glory of the Lord appeared to them.” (Num 20:6) Two amazing lessons here. The first must surely be that when you face opposition, go and tell Father about it. When Moses & Aaron did that, the Lord turned up in a big way. Awesome.  But there is another terrible lesson here because Moses went out – with God’s instructions – and lost his cool with the people and was not the example he should have been – and was stopped entering the Land as a result. Had the glorious experience in God’s presence made him feel special so he reacted badly? (see v.10) I don’t know but whatever great times we have with God, let’s always hang on to humility; we’re just His servants after all. He’s the One with the power.

Further Consideration: We have just observed two lessons from one action. It can often be like that with Scripture, we can learn more than one thing from a passage or verse, what is more they may be almost opposite lessons. Here the first lesson was about prayer and relying on the Lord, while the second one shows how we can then blow it and not rely on the Lord. I think this is a lesson we have observed more than once in this series of these snapshots of the scripture as we work our way through the Bible, picking up on key issues along the way.

It is a truth that, when we are insecure in God’s love, we are not willing to think about, that on day 1, I can be a real ‘saint’ and then within 24 hours, a day later, I can utterly blow it and reveal a real ‘sinner’.

And so this truth comes through scripture again and again, as we see it in Moses who starts with a good intention in Egypt but then blows it and has to flee, then be called to amazingly lead Israel out and so 99% of the time then he gets it right (as in our verse above) but still shows his sinful humanity propensity and steps over the line of acceptable behaviour.  He is still a human being in need of God’s salvation through Christ on the Cross.

But for the moment he is a shining example to us. The people do what ‘people’ are prone to do – grumble, complain and generally be objectionable, demanding answers, and so rather than try to appease them (as many leaders do) he falls down prostrate before the Lord, a sign of being in total submission to the Lord, utterly reliant upon Him. And then, as they do this, the glory of the Lord appears, God turns up in a big way, as He tends to do at times of big crisis when we turn to Him! But He doesn’t just turn up, He instructs Moses on what to do next. He is going to meet the need of the people, all it needs is Moses to be a willing, able, humble servant who will obey and do what he is told – while maintaining a right heart!

Snapshots: Day 92

Snapshots: Day 92

The Snapshot: “Not one of you will enter the Land.” (Num 14:30) God’s plans on hold. Israel in the desert for forty years because of their lack of faith. “I will do to you the very thing I heard you say.” (14:28) I once heard someone say God gave Adam and Eve what they wanted, freedom to do their own thing, freedom to disregard Him. (It was called the Fall). It’s what every one of us wanted until, with the help of the Spirit, we came to our senses and repented and sought salvation through Christ. In Rom 1:24,26,28, the words, “God gave them over to,” means He left them to their own self-destructive devices (until they repented), He let them get on doing their own self-destructive things. It is what we see all around us in Western society. It’s the disciplinary judgment of God, designed to bring change.

Further Consideration: I, and I suspect quite a number of others, have felt for a number of years that the countries of the West are under the sort of disciplinary judgment we refer to above as we consider the Romans 1 words. As we watch what has been going on, we see exactly what Paul was describing, the absence of restraint that has been taking place for at least the sixty years. In the 60’s we called it permissiveness as sexual barriers and restraints were taken down in every direction. Thinking, standards, morals and ethics changed from then on (the change had started at least sixty to two hundred years before then) but absolutes were thrown out together with belief in God.

The way was open for ‘anything goes’ and anyone who spoke against it was branded a killjoy.

But the purpose of such judgement is to allow mankind to have a freedom which, in the absence of the restraining hand of God, produces a downwards spiral of sin. With it comes a series of consequences that vary from a sense of meaninglessness and lack to purpose in life, to actual harm, mental and physical. It is when these things increase to a level no longer tolerable, that people start crying out for help, as is seen again and again in the book of Judges.

In the West, increasingly concerns about mental health, which varies from growth in numbers of suicides to numbers being treated for anxiety and depression, are being raised.  Physically we are a society that is frequently overwhelmed by ill health (physical). Slowly but surely public consciousness and awareness (often in the media) is recognizing what is happening. Is this God’s time, is this a precursor to revival coming, the sovereign power of God being manifest to save ailing communities and drawing them back to Christ? Time will tell. One thing we know: sin brings consequences with it and those consequences are not happy.

Snapshots: Day 91

Snapshots: Day 91

The Snapshot: “Send some men to explore the land … all of them were leaders.” (Num 13:1,3) They do say leaders are those who go ahead. These men certainly did, but we know the story of how they came back and only two were full of faith to take the Land while ten only saw problems, and the ten caused Israel to end up for forty years in the wilderness. What a responsibility. There’s a challenge for any of us who have been, are, or will be leaders in whatever capacity in ‘the church’. We have the capability of encouraging and leading God’s people on in acts of faith, or we can just see problems and difficulties and hinder the progress of God’s plans. Such a responsibility is scary, but such a responsibility is only on those called and equipped. Who? Those with hearts open to be used by God.

Further Consideration: Responsibility in leadership is a tricky thing and it is something that has the potential to weigh one down with ‘all that responsibility’. Well let’s see if we can lift the load off while avoiding becoming negative reporters like Moses’ leaders.

I did a study recently on church leaders. There are those in the New Testament who appear to have been spirit-filled guys who looked after the material well-being of the flock. They were the deacons. The ones with spiritual responsibility were called elders, overseers or shepherds (pastors).  As the interchangeable names imply they were the mature and wise in the congregation of God’s people, those who guarded and protected the flock, and those who provided for the flock, whether it was food, security or healing.

Now here’s the thing, there seems little reference to them being ‘called’ whereas some denominational leaders make a big thing about ‘calling’. Actually in scripture it seems more of a natural gifting thing, an aspirational thing (1 Tim 3:1) and a character thing (3:2-7), something recognized by apostles (where there are apostles) or by the flock, and so if you are there, it is probably because God has gifted you accordingly and touched your heart – and will equip you with His grace to enable you to be a blessing to the flock. Calling? Maybe.

That’s it; if we are leaders we are called to be a blessing to the flock, serving them, looking out for them, not dominating them, but loving them and looking for all God’s goodness to them. So if you have God’s grace, what’s so difficult about that? People and Satan! Right, but His grace doesn’t change and will be sufficient to cope.

And one final thing in a short reflection like this: remember you’re imperfect and will not get it perfectly right all the time, but as long as we’re steering away from major sin, that doesn’t disqualify you. Enjoy it, be a blessing and be blessed.