38. And So?

The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 38. And So

Acts 12:11 Then Peter came to himself and said, ‘Now I know without a doubt that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me

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 that I would not have to destroy it, but I found no one.

Reality or Dream? When the angel delivered Peter from prison, it took a while for Peter to realise that what was happening was real and not a dream. So often we can meander through life and it is more like a dream than a reality and because of that we can live with things in our lives about which, in the cold light of reality and if everyone else knew about them, we would feel ashamed. I am moved by the above word from Ezekiel because there was a situation that needed an intercessor but as God looked around, He found none. No one seemed aware of the need of the hour, no one caught God’s heart for the day.

And So?  As we come to the end of this series, my fear is that we will just treat these pages as ‘nice little studies’ instead of being moved in heart by them.  So can we recap where we’ve been to try an avoid that error.

In Part 1: In the first part (19 studies),

– we considered what Guilt was, how it is always guilt before God, how we step over boundaries that God has created, so it is always an issue with God.

– We went on to observe various misconceptions, about how we seek to offload guilt by offloading blame to others, or how we think short term pleasure can mean we ignore future consequences, about the error of assessing guilt in others, or being conned into feeling guilty by others when we are not guilty.

– But then we went on to consider dealing with guilt through repentance, and when we see guilt in others how we should deal with it gently, graciously and always looking for and hoping for the best outcome.

– We went on to observe how religiosity can fail to understand God’s grace, seen in Jephthah and Eli, but went on to see how grace worked in Hezekiah and Manasseh.

– We concluded the first part with looking at the consequences that follow failure, God’s discipline built into life that brings negative outcomes whenever we cross those God-set boundaries, outcomes that so often are brought through other people, and we concluded by seeing how that worked out in the wisest man in the world who went off the rails, Solomon.

To summarise: The reality of guilt, misconceptions of guilt, dealing with guilt, God’s grace there to deal with guilt, and the consequences that follow when we fail to reach for that grace.

In Part 2: In this second Part,

– we started by recognising that guilt is still guilt even though we were unaware of doing wrong.

– Guilt can occur in the way we think, in our desires and our emotions.

– But then we opened up the whole concept of guilt through the ‘way we see’: lust, wrong perceptions. wrong assessments.

– But then we saw the other side of the coin of ‘seeing’, when we fail to see when we should, i.e. blindness, and we considered how we fail to appreciate the glory of God, the wonder of history, the wonder of our salvation, the sin of the world as individuals and corporately, of ungratefulness, of the needs of the world around us, of Jesus’ call on our lives, of being too taken up with life to catch his vision, and of failing to see the potential of the church and what we could be doing to reach that potential.

To summarise: Guilt in mind, emotions and deeds, guilt in our responses to what we see, guilt by what we fail to see. As the Anglican Book of Prayer puts it, “We have left undone those things which we ought to have done, And we have done those things which we ought not to have done.”   

And So? How easy it is to get it wrong, but merely because it is easy to sin that should not mean we are casual about it. Accountability stands in the wings waiting to bring consequences but God has provided the blueprint for dealing with our guilt: confession, repentance, cleansing and forgiving through the blood of Christ. He doesn’t want us caught up in guilt – immobilized, powerless by shame and inferiority in light of past failures, or the indifference or chiding of the world – He wants us delivered from it so we can walk with head held high as the redeemed, cleansed and restored children of God.

And More: We’ve got to stop somewhere and this feels the right place. We could have considered the guilt of leading another into error – see Gen 20:9 Abimelek and Abraham. We could have considered the guilt of negligence – see Deut 22:8, caring for others. We could have considered the massive subject of injustice – try Deut 24:15, but we’ll leave those for you to work on. Many of us live with guilt from the past. Deal with it by confession and let Him cleanse you and restore you. Some of us suffer from the guilt of ongoing shame; do the same. Some of us are locked into wrong behaviors. Do the same, but also share it with a loyal friend or leader and let them deliver you in the power of His Spirit. Let’s walk free together. Amen.

37. Blindness – to Building Church

The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 37. The Failure to ‘Build’ Church

Eph 4:11-13  So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

Hesitation: I hesitated to write this penultimate study in this Part on ways we can fall short of God’s will and thus limit our lives, for I have expressed my burden for the church in other series previously. Yes, only yesterday, almost as a sign to do it, I was talking with a friend who was sharing about a friend of hers in another church that she described as a fairly small, mostly aging congregation, who refused any talk of change. I could not help but think, ‘and unless the Lord comes in revival power that church will no longer be here in ten years’ time’. Let’s consider what is, and then what could be.

Characteristics of the Church: Let’s not look at the institutional aspects of church that we know, that tend to rely on man’s planning and effort, or of denominational church, that focuses on division and suspicion, and instead suggest some of the characteristics of the Church that the New Testament implies should be there. Very simply I suggest life, growth, and constant change, and then ask, am I blind to these three things?

Life: May I reiterate a vision of church I have used before of ‘church’: “alive with the presence and power and revelation and  activity of God by His Spirit, where God is truly honoured, where life and vitality, where fellowship and friendship, where power and authority, pour through the congregation, through this potentially wonderful ‘body of Christ’, bringing constant life transformations, with conversions, deliverances and healings being a regular feature of their life, and the surrounding world is impacted and changed”

Another well-known church leader was heard to say recently, “the truth is that we have been deeply ineffectual as churches and denominations. There is very little evidence of the power of God among us and virtually no evidence of the transformation of society because of us.” That is difficult to deny. My emphasis there was on reliance on the Holy Spirit, allowing Him free reign to do what Jesus did and still wants to do as he works to bring in the kingdom. Be honest, is this description what you know of as church and if not, why not? Is it because we focus on other things? Is it because we are chained to the past and fear the possible future? Is it because we fear being out of control if He is in control? Perhaps a need to confess, to repent and to pray.

Growth: The writer to the Hebrews scolded his readers (Heb 5:11,12) for not having matured. The words of Jesus to his seven churches in Asia Minor included the words, I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God,” (Rev 3:2) indicating that they had not gone on to fulfil God’s purposes for them. The Eph 4 starter verses above, speak of growth and coming to maturity.  The apostle Paul spoke of his expectation that we would grow in faith (2 Cor 10:15, 2 Thess 1:3), grow in life (Eph 4:16), grow in the knowledge of God (Col 1:10). The apostle Peter talked about his expectation that we would grow up in our salvation (1 Pet 2:2) and that we would grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Pet 3:18).

Change: Growth implies change. Parents, understandably, get worried about their child’s development sometimes, perhaps when it is slow learning to walk or talk. They expect change. In that famous ‘love chapter’ 1 Cor 13, Paul writes, When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.” (v.11) He may have a future dimension in mind, but the principle still remains true for all time, children grow up, children change. As children of God (Jn 1:12,13, 1 Jn 3:1) some of us have the idea that that description is how we will always be – little children. Not so for there is yet another description we ought to understand.

Sons of God: Paul teaches we have been adopted as ‘sons’ (Rom 8:15, Gal 4:5,6, Eph 1:5). Now in Old Testament times the son held a special place in the family. As he grew up, he watched his father, learned the family business from his father, started to work alongside the father and would eventually take on the business from the father. Growth brought understanding, activity, and responsibility. Our heavenly Father is in the kingdom-building business and has shared it with His Son Jesus who now shares it with us (Eph 2:6-10).  

And Us: A verse we have considered many times in the past: “Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power.   For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet,”    (1 Cor 15:24,25) requires us to realize and recognize how Christ is ruling in the midst of his enemies (Psa 110:1,2, Heb 1:13, 10:13, Mt 22:44) AND that we are part of his ruling, we are with him in working to bring down these enemies (which include such things as unbelief, unrighteousness, ungodliness, anger, bitterness, hostility, wars, fighting, etc. etc. as well as the more obvious evils, such as slavery, still as prevalent today as in the past). This is what the teaching about the ‘body of Christ’ in the New Testament is about, that starts with, “you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” (1 Cor 12:27) That is our calling to enter into life, to grow and to change and become ‘sons’ who share in the Father’s business as He calls, He empowers and He directs. Are we blind to the church- its present powerlessness, its potential, what it could be if we pray, confess, repent, pray, seek Him, make ourselves available to Him? Can we change?

36. Blindness – to Vision

The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 36. Guilt of Blindness – to Vision

Prov 29:18 (KJV) Where there is no vision, the people perish

Prov 29:18 (NIV) Where there is no revelation, people cast off restraint

Continuing: In Study No.26, introducing the concept of guilt through blindness, we talked about how children tend to be focused on their own little world, often shielded by their parent, so they are not aware of the problems their family may be experiencing. But there is another expression of this childish way of seeing – or not seeing – and it is the concept that only gradually grows, of time, of the passing of time, of the length of time, and this takes on a significance when it comes to thinking about the future. Little children think little about the realities of growing up, the possibilities of what might be, the things needed to be done to prepare for the future. Career counselling tends not to be given until mid-teens. Little children have no real vision of the future, what might be coming, what they might be able to achieve in the future.

Future Uncertainties: Remember, this is all about ‘falling short’ of God’s plans. John Wimber used to teach on five-year church planning, but some people say we should never do this and refer to James’ teaching: “Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.”Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” (Jas 4:13-15) Yet the truth is, that in normal living (pre-Pandemic experience) we do plan. We make dental appointments, say, for a week’s time, or book a hotel or conference or holiday, weeks or months in advance. The 2020 Covid-19 Pandemic brought that sort of planning to an end during the period of lock-down. So these things may have a large degree of uncertainty about them, but can we not look into the future more specifically?

General Christian Vision: Vision is being able to see ahead, its possibilities, alert to God’s calling and God’s goals. It is perhaps, first of all, simply being able to see the basics of the way ahead when we come to Christ, things we’ve already considered in some measure – our salvation (daily living), sanctification (gradual changing), and glorification (future with God). We may not be able to see all the details of how that will work out for us as individuals, but as we read the New Testament, we can sense the big picture or the general direction.

Personal Vision: Vision may be limited by personal circumstances, we tend to think. A young mother says, “I’m too busy with raising my baby to be concerned for anything else,” and that may be true – for a while. An old person may say, “Surely you don’t expect me at my time of life to be launching off in new ventures?” It depends on the ventures and the physical and mental state. Vision will also be linked to gifting, the specific abilities that God has given me, the individual. Vision can also be linked to personal burdens we find heavy on our heart, specific needs in the community perhaps, maybe things God has put on your heart. Vision is swamped or diluted by personal cares, personal worries, personal desires, the things that make us inward looking, because vision is all about looking outwards.

The Costs: Some of us fear this line of thinking and thus we fall short of what could be in God’s economy. Let’s not argue whether or not this is sin, but simply wonder, when we come face to face with the Lord, how will we answer if He asks, “Child did you use all I gave you, did you take every opportunity I put before you, did you heed my prompting to bless me and my world, or were you too taken up with your own selfish affairs?” I’m sorry, it’s an uncomfortable question so let’s put it in a more gentle form with two other questions: first, are you at peace before the Lord knowing you are doing the things He’s called you to do, and, second, are you open for Him to put other things on your heart where he could bless you and use you?

Possibilities: I think I have probably spoken before of one of my favourite TV programmes, Grand Designs. It is about people who have had the vision to build a new big (and they tend to be big) house. The main commonalities of each programme are that each couple (it is mostly couples) get a piece of land and a vision of the sort of building they want, time stretches out, delays are often caused by the weather or other unforeseen circumstances, they run short of money, and nearly come to the end of themselves – and yet they persevere. However, at the end of the programme, there is a beautiful building and an incredible sense of achievement. How often do we have such a sense of achievement and if the answer is, “Never,” or “Rarely,” perhaps it is because we have never caught God’s vision of what we could be achieving. Yes, it may cost time, effort, even finances, but the fruit at the end of it – or even during the process – is wonderful. And So: Our starter verse, “Where there is no vision, the people perish,” implies that vision is God’s tool to bring salvation, blessing, and order to His world. Do we have such vision, a sense of purpose and direction that means our lives are going somewhere to achieve something meaningful? Is this something we should be bringing to the Lord in prayer to fill in a gap in the road that prepares the way for Him to come in a new way to bless people you know – or perhaps don’t know yet?   

35. Blindness – to Jesus’ Call

The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 35. Guilt of Blindness – to Jesus’ Call

Mk 1:17   Come, follow me,” Jesus said

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 that I would not have to destroy it, but I found no one.

Continuing: Failure, and consequently guilt, comes in many different ways, as we have been seeing already. Usually it starts in the mind and is soon expressed as actions. They may be one-off failures or they may be ongoing failure. So many times, I believe, we grow to tolerate the behaviour and fail to realise that it is something that falls short of God’s desires for us, and is therefore, sin. Some things are just the way we view life, quite possibly because we have never been taught otherwise. The responsibility on leaders to teach the flock and turn them into an army is great. Failure to do that results in the subject we are tackling today – the failure to see ourselves as disciples.  

Church of Disciples: The Church is made up of disciples. Every true Christian is a disciple of Jesus. The so called ‘’Great Commission’ at the end of Matthew’s Gospel spells it out: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, / baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, / and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Mt 28:19,20) I have divided that sentence in three parts.

i) Followers: First, we see Jesus instructing his disciples/apostles with him there to continue his mission after he leaves them. They are to make disciples out of all nations. In other words his goal is the entire world. He didn’t come just for Jews but for the whole of the rest of the world as well, i.e. the Gentiles as well. But see the thrust – they are to make disciples from all nations, i.e. the whole world. Now the dictionary definitions of a disciple is in general terms, “a follower or pupil of a teacher, leader, or philosopher.” Now the very nature of a disciple is that they follow someone else, someone who is leading the way before them, and they will thus copy them, learn from them, and become like them, and do what they do. That is at the heart of discipleship. Note the three things there – learn from them – become like them – do what they do.

ii) Distinct: Second, the call of Jesus in the Great Commission is to make those disciples distinguished from all others, different from all others, committed publicly to be these specific people, and they start it by being baptized. In the New Testament, baptism was by immersion under the water and that was to be a picture of what had happened and would happen to the disciple – they had died to self and the old life (and were buried), and they were raised from the dead to live new God-centred lives, God-empowered lives, God-directed lives, God-serving lives, world-blessing lives. That is how distinct they are to be.

iii) Taught: The content or detail of that distinctiveness is to be found in the teaching of Jesus, but that teaching wasn’t just intellectual, it was practical, it was about how to live out these new lives, and how to serve God in this new walk with Him: “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”  Two parts to that: a body of teaching (that we find in the New Testament), and obedience to it. Thus disciples are committed to learning all that Jesus taught (do we make that a central focus of our lives?) and then doing all he taught (do we make that the joint central focus of our lives).

Outworking: But of course it isn’t just following the ‘rules’ of his teaching, because his teaching was all about a relationship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. So we relate to and honour and worship God the Father, we are seated alongside God the Son as he rules in the midst of his enemies, working to bring in the kingdom or rule of God until the time when he will complete that work and hand it back to the Father (1 Cor 15:24,25), and we receive power and are enabled and directed by God the Holy Spirit to live it out here on earth. Disciples relate to the Trinity, to the Godhead. This is our perspective for our lives and anything less than this, is missing the mark.

Inadequacies: If we see our lives as Christians as those who turn up on a Sunday morning, or whenever else the church meets, and simply imbibe the worship, the prayers and the preaching (and let’s not mention ‘the Notices’!) – and that’s all – we are falling seriously short of the will of God. The concept of church being ‘the body of Christ’ is a concept of related people with different giftings who inter-relate with one another to do the works of Jesus (see Lk 4:18,19 & Mt 11:5) or as Paul puts it, “the works of service” (Eph 4:12) that he expects all believers to be doing as envisioned, equipped, and enabled by the ministries of v.11.

And So? Perhaps the easiest and most brief summary question would be, do I see myself (when I am being honest) as [GROUP ONE] a pure spectator who is required corporately to sing, give, listen, or individually to have a quiet time that involves brief prayer and Bible reading, OR [GROUP TWO] as a gifted member of an inter-relating gifted body who are together seeking to be disciples. In this second group, as Jesus said, we will be people who say we fit the category of “whoever believes in me,” who will respond to his teaching and leading and “will do the works I have been doing.” (Jn 14:12) If we’re only in the first group, we have some repenting to do.   

34. Blindness – to the Need of the World

The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 34. Guilt of Blindness – to the Need of the World

Jn 3:16  God so loved the world that…..

Mt 11:5   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.

Continuing: It is a strange thing that we live in a world with the best communications it has ever known and yet so often we remain oblivious to the plight of so much of it. Indifference – lack of interest, concern, or sympathy – so often is an un-Christlike characteristic that blights our lives. It is thus one of those ways we are seeking out that hinder our Christian lives in this twenty-first century. In the previous study I mentioned the self-rights-concern that was evidenced in many during the days of the Pandemic, a failure to be aware of the needs of the vulnerable.

The Caring of Jesus: Jesus, as he expressed his Father’s love for the world, did not merely speak words, he reached out and touched people (often literally) and used the power of God to transform their lives, delivering them from sickness or infirmity. As we noted previously he was concerned for the physical world as well as the spiritual. Now before I say anything else let me declare again (as I hope all these series of meditations confirm) that my total belief is that the Gospel, coming to believe in Jesus as Saviour and Lord is THE most important thing we have to convey. But we must add that it must come with the love of God and that should also include interest, concern and sympathy for those around us.

Caring for others: This  is part of the package that God has built into us, not merely for the welfare of the world but for our own wellbeing as well. A study carried out in the University of California, Berkeley, showed that the mortality rates of those who volunteered for two or more organisations reduced by 44 per cent. It further noted that in American teenagers, those who are giving, hopeful and socially effective are also happier, more active, involved and excited than their less engaged contemporaries. Even more, adults who gave social support to others experienced reduced anxiety over their own situation when under economic stress, those offering emotional support to others helped people forgive themselves for their own mistakes, and in elderly couples, those who did not provide support to others had higher rates of mortality.

Our Need: The truth is that when we become inward looking we experience such things as depression, loss of hope for the future and anxiety in the present, far more. The world is hurting because of its sin and therefore to minister to that, we need the following things:

– to understand Sin and its effects (as we saw in a previous study)

– to understand the wonder of our God who is there for this world (ditto)

– to know and experience the wonder of His salvation (ditto)

– to conclude this is what the world desperately needs.

Jesus came to convey the love of the Father to the world in the way he spoke and acted and then said, “whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing. “ (Jn 14:12) Have we become so caught up in our own little world and its inward looking struggles that we have lost perspective and forgotten that we are God’s answer to this fallen, hurting and dysfunctional world?

A Parable: Mercy Ships is a Christian organisation that provides hospital ships that go around the world providing wonderful, free, life transforming surgery for thousands of people who have no access in their own countries to such facilities. The job of one crew member is to manage the gangplank or gangway onto the ship. He wrote, “I connect the big, white hospital ship to the people it serves. Every journey of transformation begins with me. Forty three steps up …. courageous steps of hope. They include physical pain and discomfort and usually emotional scars. I can feel their weight. Inside they receive free surgery. They are loved. Then – forty three steps down. I can feel the extra bounce in their steps, filled with excitement and anticipation of what is to come …. excitement for the new life that awaits them.”

That is a description of a physical experience and it is wonderful and I believe God is blessed by them. And it may be God might call you to something like that. But it crosses my mind that each of us could be like that gangway, providing access from a sin-sick world to encounter the living God. People come with their pain and scars and as we share our testimonies and the good news of Jesus and reach out to them in love, they are taken into the presence of the Holy One and are transformed. Then, just maybe, we may be part of the process that helps and encourages and equips them to go back into the world, transformed and transforming.

Facing Our Indifference: I recognize that sometimes, with the barrage of bad news from around the world we can become world-weary, or we see celebrities from time to time encouraging us to give money to charities, and we feel jaded as we think of their affluence that grossly exceeds ours. Yes, these are things that can leave us feeling indifferent to the needs of the world, left with a feeling of, “What can I do, I am only one, and anyway others have more money and talents than me, so why am I feeling guilty?” and so we retreat into the safety of our homes. And then Jesus comes, knocking on our front door saying, “Can I come in and eat with you”, and then in his company we feel his concerns. Then he reaches out and takes you hand and says, “Come with me, let me lead you into a new day where the gifts and talents I’ve put within you can be used with my help to bless others. Will you come with me?”

33. Blindness – of Ungratefulness

The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 33. Guilt of Blindness – of Ungratefulness

Rom 1:21  although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him

Continuing: As we continue to ponder on the ways we humans fall short of what we could be, there is an element of modern life that stands out in this respect and it is that of taking for granted what we have and failing to be grateful for it. No doubt in 2020, people living through the Covid-19 Pandemic have become aware of how much they value, but have taken for granted, their freedom. The fact of the use of ‘lockdown’ as an instrument for restraining the spread of the virus has, I suspect, awakened many to how much in the West we have the freedom to go out and about. The fact that we have cars and petrol and can drive miles is something few of us give a thought to. The parts of the not-so-well-off world, where such things for many are just dreams beyond their finances, never crosses our minds. Thus we take our cars and our affluence for granted. ‘Oh, but we have had to work hard for such things,’ we might protest, but that only goes to show how we take for granted an economy with jobs.

(I think it is also pertinent to recognize how we take for granted those in authority, a thankfulness that is sadly today so often blunted by the character assassination politics that goes on. Yet authority is God -given and we are to respect it (Rom 13:1) and be thankful for those who struggle to care for the nation or State – especially as it has been seen in 2020, a testing time where many Christians I believe fell short of God’s desires and rejected the calls of authorities to be careful – ‘in the name of freedom’ yet failing to care for the vulnerable – a very real area of guilt.).

Ungrateful: Paul focused our attention on this in particular regard to God Himself.  One paraphrase verse brings our starter verse into sharp focus with, “They knew all the time that there is a God, yet they refused to acknowledge him as such, or to thank him for what he is or does.” (JBP version) Note the latter part of that verse – “or to thank him for what he is or does.” Spiritual blindness means modern man is locked into a vision of himself only in the world, and fails to see the wonder of the Almighty One who puts meaning into life, having brought it into being. Instead they prefer to hobble mentally backwards and forwards trying to prove the impossible, that you can get something from absolutely nothing, a concept that proves the utter folly of even the greatest of human minds who have not yet found that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” (Prov 1:7) AND that, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” (Psa 111:10) or as the ERV put those two verses, “Knowledge begins with fear and respect for the Lord, but stubborn fools hate wisdom and refuse to learn,” and “Wisdom begins with fear and respect for the Lord.” i.e. it all starts with the way we view God. Literally everything flows from that.

Easy to say: But it is so easy to quote all these verses, but ask yourself, how often are you consciously grateful to God? ‘I’m grateful for the world we live in,’ you might respond, but I wonder how short-sighted are we about this world. I am utterly convinced that God is behind great inventions, great designs, great works of art or literature even, that He inspires such people and gives them ideas, non-Christian unbeliever though they may be. We can’t prove it and so it is a matter of faith. Years ago I had a torn retina and had to have an emergency operation (although I didn’t realize it was an emergency at the time) that lasted an hour and resulted in me having cataracts which they promptly removed. Suddenly, after fifty years of having to wear glasses my sight was brilliant. I only wear glasses for close up reading and sharpening the distance but for the first time in half a century I could see well without glasses. I didn’t see all that coming and so it came when I suddenly found half my vision gone. Two thousand years ago Jesus would have healed my sight but today through modern surgery I see well. But where did all this skill and ability come from? I suggest it came from a God who is constantly working with us to improve this fallen world, to make it better. Our modern technology isn’t an accident. It is the result of thousands of years of gradual increase in knowledge that flows through industry and economics and medicine, and who is behind it? God of course?

And So? Is your vision of this world blinded so you have a spiritual world and a material world and never the two meet?  Spiritual is for Sundays; material is for the working week? If that’s the God you (vaguely) worship, you need to think of Jesus turning water into wine, feeding crowds with a few loaves and fish, bringing sight to physical bodies and so on. This is God in HIS world, God working to bless mankind who He has given five senses with which to appreciate this material world. Is this an area where we need to make serious mental adjustments to our (un)belief.

Did you know? Did you know there have been lots of studies done on thankfulness? The modern market economy and its advertising, works on creating dissatisfaction and discontent, and therefore we live in a world of discontent, which comes out into the open in politics where the apparent goal of opposition parties is to make you unhappy about what the current government is achieving. They want you to be unhappy about them so you won’t vote for them next time round. A world of discontent.

But did you know that people who express positive emotions like gratitude, happiness, hope and love, are more likely to live longer and be mentally healthier in old age. The extensive research proves it. Thankful people have more positive emotions generally. Happiness is best worked out in lasting relationships, so is that why so many people today are unhappy.  God designed us to be aware and thus be grateful, He designed us to get the most happiness out of lasting relationships. The research proves it, so if we have allowed the enemy to dump us with negatives, it is time to change it, repent, and become a grateful person, become one who appreciates goods, services, experiences, as provisions from God, but doesn’t make them the foundation of a happy, contented life. Knowing Him, being grateful, appreciating the wonder of the world He has given us, and working on long-term godly relationships. There is a different world awaiting you.

32. Blindness – to Sin (2)

The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 32. Guilt of Blindness – to the Sin of the World (2)

Rom 3:23 (JBP) For there is no distinction to be made anywhere: everyone has sinned, everyone falls short of the beauty of God’s plan.

Rom 3:23(TLB) Yes, all have sinned; all fall short of God’s glorious ideal

Rom 3:23 (ESV/NKJV/NIV) all have sinned

Continuing: We continue to think on this thing about the Sin of the world. Yesterday we focused on how it affects us and is revealed in and through us individually. We used these three versions of Rom 3:23 to see how ‘sin’ is all about falling short, of not reaching our potential because we fail to follow God’s way, God’s design, and instead we live according to our own ideas which always fall short of what we could be. More often than not they also bring a bunch of negative consequences.

The Corporate Dimension: Moving from the individual perspective we now consider the ways that sin in manifested in our societies in the West.  I have mentioned before that I have been reading Jonathan Sacks’ latest book, Morality, and as he has researched these things widely, may snatch some quotes from him about our modern societies in the West. He heads up four very negative changes that have been taking place in our societies and I would suggest they are all manifestations of Sin.

  • The first is the change in Politics where parties demonize one another in ways hardly ever seen before. Disagreement has been acrid and truth has been a casualty of a media-manipulated world. Dissension abounds.
  • The second was loss of happiness, where he highlights what an affluent yet unhappy world we have become. “In Britain, a 2018 report revealed that the number of people aged fifty and above who have received hospital treatment for drug abuse has more than quadrupled in a single decade.” But it’s not only the UK, “rates of depression among American teenagers are also rapidly rising.” And there is much more. Unhappiness abounds.
  • The third was in the economics of inequality and we have noted before the enormous divisions in pay scales in business between the top and the bottom. Injustice abounds.
  • The fourth was the assault on free speech, one of the blatantly more horrifying manifestations of the work of the enemy in the modern world, where pressure groups, for their own agendas rubbish others through social media. Fear abounds.

Big Picture Failure: These are pictures of the big ways our modern societies driven by godless, self-centred, driven-thinking abounds, but it is a vicious circle. Documenting the pressures through shaming and damning people through social media, at one point Sacks, referring to cyber-bullying, refers to a young man who had been posting vicious, character-assassination posts and notes, “When the interviewer began probing into his mind­set, he revealed that he had been abused by his father as a child,” and the researcher noted, “it shows how zealotry is often fuelled by people working out their psychological wounds.” Sin evokes further sin.

I have often cited how, very simply, living outside God’s boundaries creates positive harm: over-eating causes obesity which causes life-threating damage to the body; excessive use of alcohol causes drunkenness and accompanying social evils, and life-threatening harm to the body; use of recreational drugs often results in a loss of reality, growing depression, further reliance on drugs and life-threatening harm to the body; excessive focus on sex leads to growing (and it does grow) use of pornography and increased desire for further sexual expression without boundaries which eventually leads to a loss of meaning and identity as well as numerous unwanted side effects – unwanted pregnancies, abortions, diseases etc. The basic biblical teaching of a person “reaps what he sows” (Gal 6:7) is bang on target.

Whose Wisdom? The apostle James writes about two sorts of ‘wisdom’ (Jas 3:13-18) but it is clear that the ‘wisdom’ of the world that he is speak about is folly. Those who live according to God’s wisdom he says, will live a, good life, by deeds done in humility,” (v.13) lives that are “pure, then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.” (v.17) The ‘wisdom’ of the world is seen in other outworkings: “bitter envy and selfish ambition,” from people who, “boast about it or deny the truth,” (v.14) and who reveal, “disorder and every evil practice.” (v.16) Such “wisdom”, he adds is “earthly, unspiritual, demonic.” (v.15) I think that last word is one that should be given prominence because I believe as we look at the fruits of these things in our communities we are seeing a breakdown, not only of family life which has been happening for the last few decades, but now a breakdown in communities and even within nations. Democracy is under major threat and so are our very ways of living.

Listen to the list of ‘sins’ that the apostle Paul warns the Colossians against (Col 3:5-8): “sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed ….and filthy language,” as well as, “anger, rage, malice, slander.” Look at the lives of celebrities or leading politicians sometimes and pray for these people who exhibit these things. I separated out the latter four and suggest you watch for them the next time there is an election pending, and ask yourself about these people, “are these people righteous, are these the people I want to vote for?” and if you answer, ‘but both (all) parties are like that’, then perhaps it is time to either stop voting, or for Christians not aligned to any present party need to be set up and supported, those who will commit themselves to speaking and doing only that which is good and righteous. Much more could be said.

And Us? The point is that this is the way of the world and you and I as children of God must flee from such things, recognizing them for what they are. Pray your heart out for our communities in the Western world and, yes, recognize that there is much good, but while we tolerate these trends of godless, unrighteous, self-seeking attitudes in society we can only expect it to get worse and one of the ongoing stages in decline will involve open hostility to all things Christian. At the moment in some parts of the West, religion is acceptable and even used by politicians, but as the trends of decay continue, that will change. Repent and Pray.

31. Blindness – to Sin (1)

The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 31. Guilt of Blindness – to the Sin of the World (1)

Rom 3:23 (JBP) For there is no distinction to be made anywhere: everyone has sinned, everyone falls short of the beauty of God’s plan.

Rom 3:23(TLB) Yes, all have sinned; all fall short of God’s glorious ideal

Rom 3:23 (ESV/NKJV/NIV) all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God

Continuing: Starting out this second Part in study no.20, we started focusing of how wrong thinking can lead us into sin and how wrong looking can lead us into wrong desires to do wrong, but all the time, behind it all is the way we think. Indeed whenever we talk about belief or believing, we are talking about what we think. What goes on in our minds is critical to our lives. And so in the last four studies in particular we have been focusing on how we think about a variety of issues – the glory of God, the history involving God, and the wonder of the salvation revealed in that history, the basic beliefs that contribute to our faith.

Dangers: But if we think casually about these issues or even ignore them, that weakens our faith and as we said before, that anesthetizes us, puts us to sleep, it disarms us and stops us being a threat to the enemy, and it undermines us and makes us vulnerable to his deceptions and temptations. It is important then that we take hold of these things again and clarify them in our thinking. Indeed some of these things, if we have weak thinking about them, will actually undermine our very faith. No more is this true than in respect of what we think about Sin. Now I don’t want this study to appear a heavy treatise on how bad we all are, but I do want us to see it is at the heart of so much of what we experience in our live in the twenty first century.

Focusing Sin: Now I have used just one starter verse today but have provided three versions of it to clarify the most common one that we use that says we have all sinned and which explains that as falling “short of the glory of God”.  That is not an easy concept to grasp which is why I had added the others – falling short of the beauty of God’s plan (i.e. failing to enter into the wonderful will of God) and falling short of God’s glorious ideal. But each one has a commonality – falling short of something, failing to reach a possibility or goal. God designed mankind to be perfect but the fact that that included free will resulted in us using that free will to choose to go our own ways and not God’s. Thus we all live according to the ‘design’ we have in our own minds of how life should be lived, and that is always less than the way God has for us. No other philosophy or theology can explain our potential greatness and yet our potential awfulness. But this living less than God’s way has very practical outworkings.

Outworkings of ‘Falling Short’: This is seen in both mundane but real ways, and deep, complex and evil ways. I happened to be reading a devotional book the other day that spoke about personal struggles and how we often feel a need of approval, how we try to impress others to win that approval. We worry about who we are, we struggle with identity, we fill our lives with activities that we hope will boost our self-esteem. We struggle to cope with other people, some who are clearly better off than we are, some who are clearly cleverer, more handsome or more beautiful than we are, fitter and healthier than we are, more successful than we are. All of these are expressions of ‘self’, the struggle that goes on inside me to make sense of who I am. They are struggles of people who ‘fall short’.

Big Sins: And this is not to mention the bigger sins of life that go on and which we hear of via the main media – killings, violence, abuses, rapes, thefts etc. etc. etc. and the list could go on and on and on – but most of those things don’t impact most of us most of the time. We are believers who have rejected lifestyles than involve this sort of company, these more violent expression of self.

Godless Self: Whether it was the first group we described, of daily ways we ‘fall short’, or the bigger sins committed by those who have abandoned all semblance of caring humanity, there is a further characteristic of all of us – the propensity to be godless. That simply means we live lives in the absence of God.  We don’t think about Him, we don’t speak to Him, we don’t focus our lives on Him, we don’t seek out His ways in every circumstance. We try to gain self-esteem by self-effort. We go to keep-fit; we take classes, we seek to rise up the social and business ladders – all without Him. None of these things in themselves is wrong but it is the godless approach to life that is the wrong. Some of us will try to feel spiritual by ‘going to church’, some by reading the Bible or devotional literature, but ultimately the question has to be asked, “do I seek first His kingdom, His rule, His way of doing things (righteousness), His will?” (Mt 6:33).

The Goal: These are the realities of life which, if we came to Christ, in some form or other brought us to our knees in repentance as we realized that we were helpless to change on our own, and thus hopeless as far as our future was concerned. Now we need to resurrect these simple truths in our understanding for they are the heart of any change we may hope to see in our desires for ourselves, our family, our friends, our community and our nation. Facing these truths is the start of change and if we have lost this realization we need to ask the Lord to open our eyes afresh to it. We’ll consider it in the wider community in the next study.

30. Blindness – to the wonder of Salvation

The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 30. Guilt of Blindness – to the wonder of Salvation

Psa 40:5  Many, Lord my God, are the wonders you have done,  the things you planned for us. None can compare with you; were I to speak and tell of your deeds, they would be too many to declare.

Continuing: In the previous study I made a plea for those Christians who will grow in understanding of history – biblical and secular – in order to be better equipped to confront the world with its failure. Learning from the past, coming to understand the future, recognizing the evidence of the world getting it wrong, and balancing that against the design of God for mankind, all these things will better equip us to confront the world with the truth. These are all things about how we think and then what we do with what we think. Doing it without God and without prayer will, of course, be a hopeless task but put all that together then maybe, just maybe, there is hope. If we fail to do it, then all we are left with is a desperate hope that God comes in sovereign revival power. Indeed, if we do not rise to the occasion, then that is perhaps what He will do, but I have a feeling He would prefer to restore the Church to what His word speaks of it being, through renewal by His Spirit. But that should not mean we fail to learn, fail to think, fail to act.

Recharging our Salvation: In thinking about ways that we fall short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23) – for that is what these studies are really about – we find ourselves thinking on our state before God. The Message version puts that verse as, “we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us,” which is why we need God’s salvation and why it is so wonderful.  How long is it since you first came to Christ? The longer it is the more possible it is that we have come to take it for granted and if we do that, it has two effects: first it makes us less thankful and, second, it takes away from us the wonder of what could happen to our unsaved family, friends and neighbors. Taking it for granted anesthetizes us, puts us to sleep, it disarms us and stops us being a threat to the enemy, and it undermines us and makes us vulnerable to his deceptions and temptations. We need to recharge our salvation.

Steps for Change: If we are not living in the daily wonder of our salvation, not rejoicing daily in the wonder and thrill of it, we need to take steps to change that as follows:

  1. Confess it to the Lord and ask Him to open your eyes afresh to the wonder of it (Eph 1:17-19).
  2. Declare the basics of what God has done for you – drawn you to Himself by the working of His Holy Spirit, convicted you of your need by that same Spirit, sent Jesus to die on the Cross for you to redeem you, a forgiven, cleansed and adopted child of God, and given you His indwelling Holy Spirit to teach, guide and empower you, taking you day by day into all the good things He has for you (Eph 2:10)
  3. Daily rejoice in those things.
  4. Look for opportunities to share them.

Speaking it out: You know speaking out these truths – either declaring them in prayer as the basis for praise and worship, recounting and using them as a basis of a time of prayer and praise with other believers, or sharing them with those who don’t know these things – impacts not only others, but also your own life and wellbeing. The Message version of part of Rom 10 puts it so well: “It’s the word of faith that welcomes God to go to work and set things right for us. This is the core of our preaching. Say the welcoming word to God—“Jesus is my Master”—embracing, body and soul, God’s work of doing in us what he did in raising Jesus from the dead. That’s it. You’re not “doing” anything; you’re simply calling out to God, trusting him to do it for you. That’s salvation. With your whole being you embrace God setting things right, and then you say it, right out loud: “God has set everything right between him and me!”

How great is that! That ‘word of faith’ was you speaking out to God, “I believe, please forgive me, please save me.” That opened the door for Him to come and for you to be reborn (Jn 3). And it happened and then as it impacted you, you spoke it out. Perhaps to a friend, “I’ve become a Christian!” and then as they ask you about it, you explain what you did and, even more importantly what He had done. That ‘speaking it out’ confirmed it in you, released even more fresh impetus in you. Every time we share it – speak it out – it does that for us.

Recap: Look, what we’re doing in this whole series is confronting ‘guilt’; times, situations, circumstances where, to put it most simply, we get it wrong.  We’re doing that for three reasons. First, because we believe He has led us down this particular path. Second, because we believe He wants us to face these ways we may be falling short (and hindering Him moving through us). Third, and most importantly, that we can take steps to remedy these shortcomings in order to “prepare the way of the Lord” As the Message versions puts it, “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.” (Isa 40:3-5) ‘Make straight’ = declare again the truth so the Way is clear. ‘Fill in the valleys’ = make up what is deficient in your knowledge, put into your life what is missing as an experience promised by Him. ‘Level off the hills’ = clear away any obstacles to faith, wrong thinking, wrong behaviour.

And So: We’ve confronted in an earlier study our blindness to seeing the glory of the Lord. Perhaps these things above will help remedy that because when we have taken steps and prepared the way, “Then God’s glory will shine.” We similarly confronted our need to see the context of history, how we fit in to God’s big plan and now we’ve just confronted the possibility of the wonder of this salvation having grown stale and ordinary. Let’s take the ‘Steps to Change’ we suggested above as a way for preparing the way of the Lord.

29. Blindness – to History

The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 29. Guilt of Blindness – to the wonder of History

Deut 1:5,6 Moses began to expound this law, saying: The Lord our God said to us at Horeb, ‘You have stayed long enough at this mountain.

Acts 7:2  he replied: ‘Brothers and fathers, listen to me! The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham while he was still in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Harran.

Continuing: Other ways in which we get it wrong, let ourselves down, fail to hold to the truth and be strong in Christ, fail to ‘see’ correctly and thus think incorrectly.  That’s where we are now, and I suspect you may find this one surprising. I never enjoyed history when I was as school, learning lots of dates, about kings and queens of the past. That sort of history did little for me and I think it has changed in the way it is now taught.  But then I became a Christian and started reading my Bible and it was quite a few years before I realized that I was reading history and it was absolutely essential that I not only read it but believed it. I want us in this study to consider what we think about history.

The Essential Nature of History: The whole of our salvation is based upon historical facts, the Bible is full of it. All we know of God in the Bible comes through historical events, things that happened long ago. For some, the fact that the last things recorded in the Bible happened nearly two thousand years ago comes as a problem to them, but the truth is that these things that happened changed history, changed how we view ourselves, changed our futures and the fact of it having been a long time back is irrelevant.

History Declared: The book of Deuteronomy is a record of Moses reminding Israel of their history while they camped on the Plains of Moab just before entering the Promised Land. That history was vital for them to remember because it came, not only as reminders of events that took place but, and just as importantly, what God had said to them about how they were to take the Land and then live in it.  In Acts, in chapter 7, we find Stephen making a defense and it is entirely based on the history of Israel. He not only reminds them of the facts of their journey as a people, but also their failures as a people. It is history, maybe uncomfortable, but history.

Faith, Failure & Hope in History: The whole Bible is full of these three things and they are there to teach us, rebuke us, correct us and train us in righteousness, so that as servants of God we may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Tim 3:16,17). But we need to read and study more than individual verses, we need to catch the big picture (and I’ve done that previously in a series called ‘Big Picture meditations’) so we see the Big Plan of God and recognize that we are part of that.

Reaching Further Afield: Now I am going to do something unusual. Usually I write for the whole congregation but now I want to suggest some things that will not be for everyone. I hope it will be for many, but it will not be for all. I am thinking about those of us who want to be equipped to be as fully prepared as possible to be able to answer the questions of their contemporaries. I am going to say something I never thought I would say: knowing your Bible is not enough.

Learning to see the reality of life: Over the years I have come to see something that may be put very simply: God’s design works, ‘the world’s’ doesn’t.  All around us we see the unbelieving godless world pushing its ungodly, unrighteous agenda, and most of us aren’t even aware of that. But here’s the thing, when we look at how life in the West is being lived, we see it isn’t working.   Someone has written, “‘It is a remarkable paradox that, at the pinnacle of human material and technical achievement, we find ourselves anxiety-ridden, prone to depres­sion, worried about how others see us, unsure of our friendships, driven to consume and with little or no community life.”  That is just one aspect of it. Family life for so many is in tatters. The younger generations are suffering from loneliness, depression and so on. The evidence is there; this is not just negative Christian thinking, this is how the world is not working and there are surveys, reports galore, to prove it. Some of us, at least, need to understand this, see how history has changed in the last hundred years. Yes, we can summarize it as a move away from God but if we are to talk knowledgeably to our non-Christians friends, we need to investigate this history and see its failure.

I read biographies and autobiographies as well as history today. What have they taught me? As human beings we have potential for greatness but every single one of us has what I call ‘feet of clay’ something about us where we fall short. The doctrine of sin that the Bible speaks so much about is out there, visible and able to be seen so clearly. Don’t let your friends mock you that it is an outdated idea. It is real and obvious and the reason we share with them.

And So? In so many ways history reveals the truth. First there is the history of the Bible that reveals the wonder of God and the failures of mankind and thus our need for salvation, and then how that salvation has come and the potential it has for transforming our lives. That is the Bible.  But then there is the history of the world that confirms everything the Bible teaches – that mankind is blighted with Sin and needs a Savior. The Bible in one hand and history in the other: we are unassailable!

But now we come to the heart of the matter, the ways we get life wrong. In this context we fail to appreciate the wonder of God’s word and what it reveals through the history it recounts. We fail to appreciate the world in which we live, and by this we mean mankind. It’s amazing potential for good and yet its terrible potential for evil. These things need to be put out there and displayed for they reinforce the truths of the Bible. And yet, as I have listened to sermons over the years, I am not sure that I have ever heard these truths of this study displayed.

We need spiritual and intellectual warriors who hold firmly to the truth so that they can display it to the world which desperately needs it at this time. Whether that is just the ordinary, simple Christian who says to his friend to neighbour as they are talking, “You know I have come to appreciate how the Bible sheds light on history to help us see our needs and what God has done for us,”  or whether it be the preacher / teacher who equips his people to understand the days, like those men from Issachar, men who understood the times and knew what Israel should do.” (1 Chron 12:32) We ‘understand the times’ when we take note of and understand history. How many just don’t care. God is looking for those who will care and will equip themselves and others. The more we ‘understand the times’ the more we will pray. May it be so.