30. Absolute Certainty

‘Stand Up!’ Meditations No.30: Absolute Certainty

Psa 33:11 But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations.”

We need to continue to press on down this same avenue of truth. If some are tempted to mutter, “Why are you banging on about these doom and gloom things?” the answer is that if we are to be BELIEVERS, those who genuinely and whole-heartedly believe all that God has said in His word, then we need to look the world in the face, maintain a full perspective and see it in the light of God’s explanation in His word.

Thus our starter verse is not so much about how we can stand, as why we can stand – because HIS plans stand firm, unchangeable. We might express it, His plans stand firm, unchanging, immovable, fixed and unchanging and it’s not a case of Him having to adjust them to accommodate the things sinful mankind may be doing, but from the outset He saw all these things and set course to sail through the midst of them, incorporating them into the big picture.

These negatives of the world do NOT put Him off, do NOT detract from the ultimate goal. Let’s say that again, these things will NOT stop chapters 21 and 22 of the book of Revelation happening! These various crises of the twenty-first century are simply demonstrations of the folly of sinful mankind and show even more how we need a Saviour, how we need to turn back to Him, how we need Him to come in convicting revival power.

There is one particular thing about God that comes out in this verse above that is particularly reassuring – He doesn’t change! People change and can therefore be unreliable but God never does. What you find of Him in the Bible, is still true today, and no more true is this than in respect of His plans and purposes. So let’s say it again, from before the foundation of the world He purposed to create and work into this world for your blessing, to create a world to bless you, and into it to work to draw you to Himself to bless you even more – and that has never changed and never will change. Rejoice in it.

But now, if you are going to keep watching TV news, hold on to that and apply it to the big picture of mankind. The Bible has the answers, we say again and again, and a glimpse of that somewhat depressing book, Judges, shows us how it works. God is there to bless His people, but without overriding their freewill, so when they turn from them, He allows them respect and allows them to do their thing, but simply steps back, lifts off His hands of protection and restraint, lets the sin of man boomerang back on him, until he sees his folly and cries out to God. It’s all there, laid out so clearly in the book. Now apply that to what you see in today’s world – and pray for it, “Come Lord Jesus, come!”   

29. Total Faithfulness

‘Stand Up!’  Meditations No.29: Total Faithfulness

Isa 46:10 I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.”

This is a direct follow-on from yesterday’s thoughts. This ‘standing’ is not us, but God’s purposes, God’s will. As we said several days back, from Creation to Conclusion He is working His purposes out and they will not be thwarted. He will weave the self-will of mankind into it (see Acts 2:23). Where he finds obedience, He blesses; where He sees disobedience, He sometimes disciplines it, but other times just waits for the right time – which may even be in eternity. He is the all-wise Sovereign Lord, His will, will be done – rightly! Worship Him.

Now let this really sink in. Yesterday we faced the potential awfulness of what could possibly happen with the power that God has put in our hands. We’ve already used it – growing technology – unwisely and without thought so we have an environmental crisis quietly (and sometimes not-so-quietly) brewing in the background. We have allowed human carelessness to set loose a Pandemic on the world that has brought the world to a halt and grabbed our attention to death in ways we had rarely seen or thought of before in our lifetimes.

We have witnessed the violent division of the world in horrific war, never before seen so graphically displayed on our TV screens, we have witnessed man’s inhumanity to man in the most terrible of ways that have left virtually all of us shaken and dismayed (at least those who have TV news stations covering the big action on a twenty-four hour basis) and distraught for those millions being displaced at the whim of a madman who has cowed all those around him and imposed lies on them, in order to make them conform to his will. We have seen the worst face of humanity since the two major wars of the twentieth century.

In the face of all this, it is easy to lose focus, easy to forget the truths that the Bible conveys to us. Let’s list some of them:

1. God has a plan from before Creation to make possible redemption within mankind, through His Son, Jesus Christ.

2. He does not impose it on us, overriding the free-will He has given us, but He does quietly work ‘in the background’ and while He does that, still the free-will of sinful mankind means that terrible things happen.

3. Even as with the Cross (see Acts 2:23,24), He works such evil into His plans and purposes with the ultimate goal of drawing people to Himself so they can enter into that which He intended for them from the beginning – a life of love, joy, peace, goodness, kindness (Gal 5:22,23) and so on.

THIS is why it is working out at it is. Be at peace and pray

28. Signs of the Times

‘Stand Up!’  Meditations No.28: Signs of the Times

Lk 21:28 When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

We considered this verse before, near the beginning of these studies, but we come to it again because it is so important as we approach the end of this particular series. In the previous study we’ve just considered holding a firm attitude in a fallen world where things go wrong, although we need to remind ourselves that when Jesus was speaking about ‘the Last Days’ (which the apostle Peter on the Day of Pentecost said we were in as far as God’s economy was concerned – Acts 2:17) he warned of upheavals – wars, earthquakes etc. – so we should not be surprised about such things. However they do remind us of his words and that he was indicating that the Father had an agenda that He was working to and that He would not be rushed, so we must wait, patiently AND expectantly.

So yes, our starter verse is Jesus speaking of the terrors and anxieties of the Last Days and as they increase (is this that time?) note the order of his instruction, i) Stand up, ii) lift up your heads. Why the second part? Why is he saying ‘lift up your heads?

I suggest there are two reasons. First, because the context was of Jesus returning. Now whether he is coming in the clouds or coming by his Spirit in revival, the call is the same: stand up, look up. Get off your … all right, just stand up and look upwards expectantly to see the signs of his coming, however it will be, i.e. get ready for action, you can’t do that ‘sitting down’. This is all about attitude and outlook, about vision.

And there’s the second reason, we lift up our heads as an attitude of belief; we are not to be those cowed down by the bad things of the world, things we’ve mentioned before – environmental crises, plague and sickness, threat of war or even nuclear extinction – but instead we look up with our heads held high declaring, “We have answers, real answers based in the word of God that has been brought to us down through history, answers that provide sanity and order and blessing for present day living AND hope for the future.

If there was chemical, biological or nuclear warfare that wiped out say a third of the world (e.g. Rev 8:8-12, 9:18) we should be neither surprised nor afraid.  This is not empty-headed triumphalism but realism in light of the Scriptures. We are to pray against such things and pray for the outpouring of the Spirit in revival, but our eternal hope is in heaven and we need to live in the light of that – truly believing it! So stand up, look all of these threats in the eye and say, “My God reigns and He will let nothing happen that is outside His will to draw many to Himself.” Declare that and rejoice in it!

27. On the Battlefield

‘Stand Up!’  Meditations No.27: On the Battlefield

1 Cor 16:13 Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong.”

As believers there are two alternating perspectives on daily life. The first is to just get on with it, trusting that God will be in what you do, and simply seeking to live out your life faithfully. The second one, which is an awareness that arises from time to time, means we need to be more introverted and take more careful note of what is going on in us and around us.  Our starter verses above takes us into the realm of this second perspective.

See the words either side of the words, “stand firm in your faith.” They imply warfare, difficulties, needs for endurance or perhaps patience. When you are told to “be on your guard” and told to “be courageous” and “be strong”, this is clearly language in the context of conflict. It is a call in the midst of the battlefield to hold firm in your beliefs, your following your Lord, to maintain faith.

It is a call to resist the lies of the enemy that would demean you, resist the temptations that would snare you in guilt and failure, resist the offer of transgressions that would take you off the path of righteousness, refute the doubts that would make you self-focused instead of Christ focused. Oh yes, there is a real need to “stand firm in your faith”!

The past two years (as at this time of writing) of Pandemic and the associated lockdowns that came with it, caused a lot of mental turmoil, hence much recent talk of mental illness, but it also caused in many believers a host of other disturbing emotions – fear, doubts, uncertainty and much more. But it also seemed to coincide with a time in church life when jaded questioning was arising, people were expressing concern over the reality (or lack of it) in church life, people were dropping out, not of faith but of church attendance.

During the Pandemic, reports came in of many people turning to online services but that simply went to confirm in many that it was more comfortable to be a spectator at a distance rather than endure the routine of getting up early, getting the family ready and ‘going to church’, and enduring the pre-packaged, man-designed service that didn’t seem to feed and leave you blessed, uplifted, and strengthened.   So it has been for many a time of reflection and concern but the good side has been that it has caused many to reflect on what their faith is really about, what is real and God-inspired and God-empowered in it, and what is simply superficial culture. And the result? We are left challenged by such verses as today’s starter verse, to check that we are indeed standing firm in our faith, assured and confident in who we are with God, standing immovable. May it be so. 

26. A Hindrance?

‘Stand Up!’  Meditations No.26: A Hindrance?

Acts 11:17 who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?”

There is a terrible picture at the end of Acts 7 that perhaps we often lose sight of. Stephen has just been speaking before the Sanhedrin about how the Jews had throughout their history fallen short in their belief – right up to that present moment. When he sees heaven open they rush at him to stone him and there is this simple verse: the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.” (Acts 7:58) In the next chapter we read of this young zealot, “Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.” (Acts 8:3) A chapter later this young man is confronted on the road to Damascus by the risen Christ from heaven. Later he was to testify, “I too was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth.” (Acts 26:9) A zealous young Pharisee, standing in God’s way then steam-rollered!

But our starter verse is Peter testifying to how, as a good Jew, he wouldn’t mix with Gentiles until God leant on him to show him that He accepted them. Another zealous young man standing in God’s way.

So it’s more about attitudes towards God. We’ve seen His design, His greatness and now His will and purposes. So now this is Peter, back in Jerusalem, reporting to his peers and telling why he had gone to Gentiles. Gentiles!!! Them! Not us, not the chosen ones!!! But actually yes, God’s heart has always been for the whole world and He’s always on the move to break down barriers and reach someone new – if only we have eyes to see it, because we may not recognise Him in the affairs of the world around us. Open my eyes, Lord, to see you at work, in the people around me and in the bigger world.

I wonder in what subtle ways you and I can find ourselves standing in God’s way, holding on to attitudes or perceptions that hinder God moving in and through us to others. It’s never that God doesn’t want to move on, it’s always because we have reservations, doubts, questions, misgivings, that stop us moving into what God wants for us.

Paul was being utterly zealous but failed to realise that the time God had been speaking about for centuries had come, the Messiah had arrived and died on a cross as the Lamb of God who had come to redeem the world as both a servant and a king. Paul had no doubt read the prophecies but never realised they had just recently been fulfilled, and so he was still living in his ‘yesterday’. Easy to do, as Peter also showed. Do we hold attitudes towards others – inside and outside family, church, work, school, college etc. – that limit the Lord using us. We do it when we fail to see the bigness of God’s love for all others and fail to catch His heart for them. Let’s try and avoid that. 

25. Awesome

‘Stand Up!’ Meditations No.25: Awesome!

Hab 3:2 Lord, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord. Repeat them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy.”

Yesterday we very briefly pondered on coming to a halt in our following Jesus and allowing him to challenge us with just what is it that we want when we started out – and maybe have been continuing to do for many years with him? We said he wants us to use our minds to make decisions, one of which will be to just let him take us where he will, but perhaps it can be a case of him asking us to reassess what we think he has called us to all these years and how it is going. Are we satisfied with it, are we blessed by it, are we feeling fulfilled in it, these are all legitimate questions to ask, to check out where we are in life, but perhaps there is also something else in all this to be considered?

Now here we have in our starter verse another aspect of attitudes or outlook, this one even more fundamental. Habakkuk caught sight of something more about God and His activity and his response was, “I stand in awe”. I wonder how many of us can say we stand in awe of God?  Is it a sign of absence of teaching in the Church, or a sign we’ve absorbed the world into our minds, or simply a sign of our failure to understand bigger issues, or a combination of all of them?

Habakkuk started out with big questions: God where are you in this big mess? Then after God spoke he had another big question: how can a holy God like you tolerate or even use ungodly and unrighteous people? So he did the smart thing and went aside to listen until he got a bigger perspective. He heard from God of the pride of the unrighteous (2:4), his arrogance, greed and violence (2:5), but warned that all these will backfire on him (2:6-13), he WILL get what he deserves!

Indeed even those the Lord uses for His disciplinary purposes will be held accountable and be disciplined (2:16,17), and so it went on – the unrighteous will NOT get away with it. This ‘bigger perspective’ pulled Habakkuk up and he came to this point: I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord.” It was rather like Job: “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.Therefore I despise myself and repent) in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:5,6) The bigger the perspective, the greater the awe. Is, therefore, the large absence of the awe of the Lord in the Church today, caused by the fact that we do not have a sufficiently big perspective of the Lord and His activities? I wonder if, when we get to heaven, the Lord will allow us to look back on history with His full sight and knowledge, and we will be left gasping, “I didn’t know that was You doing that, I didn’t realise you were in that, I never recognised Your hand in that?” Open my eyes Lord that I might see.

24. A Crucial Question

‘Stand Up!’  Meditations No.24: A Crucial Question  

Jn 1:38 “Turning round, Jesus saw them following and asked, ‘What do you want?’”

Jesus has been walking along and two potential disciples start following him.  He senses them, stops, turns round, and stands there and looks them in the eye and asks, “What do you want?”  Such a simple question and yet so profound. Jesus has stopped what he was doing to just stand there and ask it. It is a moment of decision. Yes, you’ve probably been following Jesus a long time, but suppose he stops leading, turns round, stands there and looks you in the face and asks the question, “What do you want?” What is your reply?

Now remember this is a meditationand we are reflecting on truths that come out of this picture and in the language of a previous series, ask how these words may impact us. It speaks of a pause in a sequence – following Jesus, he’s moving ahead and we’re moving behind him, tagging along as we’ve said in a previous series, waiting for his guidance and his direction and then (still in this picture) he stops, turns round and looks us in the face. He’s just standing there, standing still, and so we too have to come to a halt, and then come those most challenging of words, “What do you want?” We’re just standing there, stationary and he’s just waiting for an answer.

I wonder how many times this happens in life without our realising it is happening? Life seems stationary, it seems to have come to a halt. The circumstances surrounding us have meant that what we were doing previously (following Jesus) have come to a stop. Do you ever have that awareness? I know I do.

For me it seems to be accompanied by a sense of emptiness of purpose (standing still does that for you), of being unsure of what you are doing, or where you are going. It’s perhaps a feeling of frustration as well, having lost a sense of purpose and direction and, of course, the enemy often seems to make capital of it, sneering, “See, you’re a nobody, abandoned and useless!”  Liar! That’s not what this is about at all. No, it is a time of reassessing, re-envisioning, checking out ‘where we are’. There’s nothing of failure about this feeling, it’s just the opportunity that Jesus is giving us of checking out just what it is we want. But hold on, you might say, I thought it was all about following Jesus, about letting him be Lord? Of course it is, but that doesn’t mean he wants us to turn off our brains, abandon the wonder of having a free will. When he says, “Follow me,” as much as the destination etc. is indeterminate, he still taught we are to weigh up what it costs before we leap off the cliff edge of faith (see Lk 14:28-33). So no, this is not a negative time but a very positive one. “What do you want?”  

23. Stand in the Gap

‘Stand Up!’  Meditations No.23: Stand in the Gap

Ezek 22:30 “I looked for someone among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found no one.”

We made a brief reference to this verse yesterday in the context of Moses and so we really need now to pause up and give it some more thought. Our continual theme this month is ‘standing up’ which so often simply means standing before the Lord, and we’ve seen a number of references to what that entails. We’ve also recently considered being a part of the body of Christ and standing in the role that he has given us, acknowledging that we aren’t called to do everything but, as the apostle Paul went to lengths to show in 1 Cor 12, the body has lots of different parts but we are only one of them.

But now we move away from this idea of differentiation, or our uniqueness, our limited calling perhaps, if we may put it like that, to a much more general call of God on our lives. The Lord, through Ezekiel, brings this very graphic picture. It is being spoken in the context of Jerusalem and so we imagine a city with broken down walls, with big holes in the walls, gaps through which invaders could enter the city.

Now in Ezekiel, the earliest chapters are warning against the coming destruction because of the ongoing sin of the nation. Chapters 12 to 24 are many prophetic warnings in Zedekiah’s reign before, in chapter 24, there is the hint that the city of Jerusalem is just about to fall before the advances and the siege against the city by Nebuchadnezzar. Chapters 25 to 32 steps away from Israel and brings warnings to other nations and people groups and it is, therefore, only in chapter 33 that we hear the city has actually fallen. I make this point because it shows that the cry from heaven in our starter verse, from chapter 22, comes before the fall of Jerusalem, i.e. the walls have not yet been pulled down, there are not yet holes in the walls. So what does this graphic picture speak of?

Well in verses 6-12 of that chapter we see the moral and spiritual failures of the city, of the rulers and people. The ‘walls’ are, therefore, the moral, ethical, and spiritual standards that God has conveyed as the design for His people, as given in the Law of Moses. These standards are broken down. When the walls, the boundaries, or lines of demarcation of the holy city – the church – are broken, there are holes where the enemy can sneak in and do his work. If we don’t care about the state of the church, the enemy will come with deception (lies and wrong beliefs), temptations to do our own thing, or outright attacks to bring down individuals. The Lord looks for righteous individuals who will stand (hold firm) in the gap and pray against such things. Israel failed, may we not. 

22. Differing roles

‘Stand Up!’  Meditations No.22: Differing roles

Ex 17:9Moses said to Joshua, “Choose some of our men and go out to fight the Amalekites. Tomorrow I will stand on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hands.”

So we’ve been pondering on the need to hold to the Faith, the need to trust God to be God, to be there as Saviour and Lord, yes, but also in practical ways to be our Provider, and when that happens, we have a testimony which others hear about and question. But we also noted that some may be gifted as evangelists for whom sharing the gospel comes so naturally, while the rest of remain as ‘witnesses’ who share testimony, then the truth of the gospel arises, and God is glorified through us.

But already we have observed this distinction between those gifted to be evangelists and the rest of us. But if we took the famous Eph 4:11,12 verses – “Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service,” we see even more ‘distinctions’, what we tend to refer to as ministries, ways of working enabled by the special calling and anointing of the Holy Spirit to equip the rest of it, Paul said, to do our unique and particular ‘works of service’.

Now in our starter verse we see how this worked out even in Israel’s earliest history: Moses will stand and take authority (with his staff) and pray, and Joshua will lead the fighting. A fascinating example that translates today into the body of Christ where we are each called to our own particular role within ‘the body’, as the head, Jesus, (Col 1:18) does the directing of the body. It’s not a case of Moses isn’t up to leading the army to fight (he’s got another forty years of life to come yet!), it’s just that he senses what his role is to be. He remembers when, back in Egypt, God had called him to hold out his staff and release plagues, and so now he has this same sense, he is the stand and be the man of God in the gap (Ezek 22:30) to hold back the enemy by the authority of God – and be seen to be doing it as he holds out his staff.

We so often refer to Moses praying here – and perhaps he was doing that – but there is no reference to prayer here, just to Moses holding up his hands with the staff and amazingly, “as long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning.” There is a mystery here about taking authority as God’s representatives, which seem to be largely lost to the church today. Some of us need to stand still (Moses) and pray and take authority, some need to be supporting them (Aaron & Hur v.12), and others (Joshua) need to get up and move into action. It’s not a case of what I think or you think, but what the ‘head of the body’, the Lord Jesus Christ, directs.  When the body starts moving like this, watch out world!

21. Thoughts on Sharing

‘Stand Up!’  Meditations No.21: Thoughts on Sharing

Jer 1:17Get yourself ready! Stand up and say to them whatever I command you.”

Jeremiah is an interesting case study of what it means to be obedient and leave the outcome up to God. He’s told it’s an impossible task he’s being given because his people will not listen to him. His whole book is a record of this: he speaks, they ignore. What’s the point of speaking then? Well, first, if God prompts it’s not for us to start reasoning, we just speak with love, humility, and grace and leave the rest to Him. The long-term aspect is that ‘they’, believer or unbeliever, will have no excuses, they heard from God but for whatever reason, rejected it. That’s their problem. If that sounds hard, it’s not, it’s real, and the Bible is full of it, warnings regardless of whether they are heeded (and He knew so often they wouldn’t be.) No excuses.

But this is easier said than done, especially if you are a preaching leader. You hope the words you are preaching or teaching will impact your congregation for good, leaving them walking taller, more confident in Christ, having a clearer vision of who they are, having a greater assurance of their own gifting and abilities. You may have had a real sense of revelation as you waited on God and received this ‘message’ you felt was going to be life changing. And then after you have delivered it faithfully and under the anointing of the Spirit, the best you get is “Nice message pastor,” and at that moment you feel like Jeremiah.

But then we start to come to a deeper revelation, that unless the Spirit of God has been preparing the hearts of your listeners to create ‘good ground’, there are three out of four chances of your word NOT bearing fruit, according to Jesus’ parable of the Sower and the Seed (Mt 13). Hopefully the same Spirit that has anointed you will be prompting and stirring your listeners, but perhaps there needs to be a lot more prayer preparing your people before they are ready to jump up and down at the wonder of what they have just heard! It is not an easy equation. For the ordinary individual (i.e. not the preacher) the Scriptural encouragement is quite simple and easy: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” (1 Pet 3:15)

I have over the years watched particular evangelical individuals plough in without gifting to impose the Gospel on others and actually had to say to one person, “Why do you think your brother has refused to talk to you since you shared the gospel with him?” Was it because they failed to note the last four words in that verse above – “with gentleness and respect”? I love listening to gifted evangelists as they share it so effortlessly – but that is gifting. Stand up – within your gifting!