28. Blindness – to the Glory of God

The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 28. Guilt of Blindness – to the Glory of God

Rom 1:19,20 what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

Continuing: We are continuing to ponder on areas of life where we can get it wrong, areas of our thinking and doing that perhaps of which we’re not even aware and yet which leave us in an unresolved guilty state. We have been considering guilt by sight, and now guilt from not seeing, guilt that essentially comes from blindness and that, we said, involves the way we think.

Blind to the World: We live in a material, consumerist day, we are taken up with buying things, going places, having new experiences and often so busy are we that we miss the wonder of the world around us. There are those who extol the virtue of cities (and yes there are good things) but again, so often we focus on grand buildings, culture of pleasure and so on, all things of human origin (by the grace of God), but even light pollution squeezes out the wonder of a starry sky. Is it little wonder that in the seats of government, which are usually in cities, they are full of the chatter of mankind and rarely give a thought to God – and that is their loss and the loss of our nations? Is it a sin to be oblivious to the wonder of this world? In that it means we fail to see the wonder of the Creator behind it and who made it, and thus fail to worship Him, yes.

Sources of Praise: The psalms of David are a real mixture but although there are often cries of anguish there is also the acknowledgement of the greatness of God.  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.” (Psa 40:5) I don’t know if the apostle John had this in mind when he wrote at the end of his Gospel, “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” (Jn 21:25) Do you see the similarity?  Both these men were full of the wonder of God, David by God’s acts on behalf of Israel, John by God’s acts through Jesus. Perhaps you might not have seen it like this but Paul’s pouring out of praise (for that is what it is) at the end of Rom 8 is also like this: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord,” (Rom 8:38,39) because it might be summed up as, “Wherever you go, whatever you experience in this world, you will find the love of the Lord, the wonder of His presence.” Do we see this I wonder?

Insight in Crisis: The book of Job can be hard going but within it there are gems that stand out like diamonds in the rock of life.  Job speaks out of anguish but in chapter 26 he speaks of God’s presence in the midst of death and destruction (v.6), His presence in natural weather phenomenon that he lists and then concludes, “And these are but the outer fringe of his works; how faint the whisper we hear of him!  Who then can understand the thunder of his power?” (v.14) Later, in chapter 28, he speaks of the work of men underground, mining for precious gems or gold (v.6) and is making the point that we go to great efforts to find them (v.9-11) but then asks, “But where can wisdom be found?  Where does understanding dwell?” (v.12) These precious things that are so difficult to find, how can we find them? Then he declares, “God understands the way to it and he alone knows where it dwells,” (v.23) and after he lists the signs of God’s wonderful wisdom in Creation he concludes, “And he said to the human race, ‘The fear of the Lord – that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding.” (v.28) What a gem in the darkness! Having an awesome respect for God as we see the wonder of Him in Creation, in His acts in Israel, in His acts through His Son Jesus, this is wisdom.

More from David: Again and again the Psalms call to us: Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory in the heavens.” (Psa 8:1) The king who used to be a shepherd boy who spent much of his time out in the hills where light pollution was absent, knew many nights when he would look up to an unpolluted sky and marvel at the sight. And of course that wonderful declaration, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” (Psa 19:1) Looking up at a clear starry sky puts everything into perspective, God’s greatness and our smallness. If we fail to be moved by it we reveal the state of our hearts as Paul hinted at in our Rom 1 starter verses.

And So? Light pollution may limit your vision, whether it be literal pollution or pollution of the mind, so determine to change things. I am sure the Lord wouldn’t mind of you slightly changed the Psa 119 quote we used previously and now make it, “Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your world”  for they are there to be seen by those who have eyes to see, and when you do, you will find praise and worship rising up from within and you will know that you have touched reality. Start with the beauty of a flower, watch gardening programmes, nature programmes and let the light shine into you soul and spirit.

27. Blindness – Introduction

The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 27. Guilt of Blindness – Introduction

Eph 1:17-19  I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe.

Continuing: We are considering areas of life where we can get it wrong, areas of our thinking and doing that perhaps of which we’re not even aware and yet which leave us in an unresolved guilty state. I say unresolved, because they continue on and, probably without us realizing it, they blight or limit our relationship with the Lord. We have recently been considering guilt by sight, with the way we respond to what we see, but as I have meditated on this, I realize there is the other side to the coin, guilt from not seeing, guilt that essentially comes from blindness, and that is expressed in the way we think.

Childhood Blindness: The more I have pondered this, the more I realize there are numerous areas where the children of God are blind. It is a blindness to do with awareness. I don’t know if you’ve ever thought about this, but when you were a child, of how much were you aware of your parents problems and difficulties? Somethings are blatantly obvious such as when two adults row. But there may have been numerous trials and difficulties of which you were not aware, financial, to do with work, to do with relationships or health. My mother, when I was very small, suffered from a rare form of TB in her eyes which resulted in her having to have operations by the top eye surgeon in the country. I knew virtually nothing of this at the time.

Why was that? Well, one reason is that parents shield such things from their children but the bigger issue, I believe, is that as a child you are totally taken up with your own little world and just don’t think about things about which you just have never learnt yet. Are children guilty of blindness, therefore? No, they are just immature. We don’t expect them to have such knowledge or understanding, in fact we try to protect them from it. But they have to grow up and in the growing process they come to realize things about the world that they hadn’t known or realized before and it sometimes comes as a bit of a shock. If we think back, we can probably all think of stages of growth of knowledge and understanding that changed us.

The Growing Christian: The same thing is true of the spiritual life.  When we first came to Christ our knowledge was strictly limited. Hopefully we embarked on a life of learning and within that new school of learning came new knowledge and understanding and the way we started looking at life was radically changed.  The writer to the Hebrews declared to his readers of that day, “though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again.” (Heb 5:12) Step into the average church on a Sunday morning and what do you usually find? So often it is teaching the elementary truths all over again … and again …. and again. It seems so often that both leaders and congregations are happy with a little homily, a little study, a little comforting and building up, but I wonder how often the children of God leave the building feeling better equipped to face the intellectual and moral challenges that face every one of us today in the Western world?  Are we actually aware of those intellectual and moral challenges? Do we understand them and have answers to them? If we cannot say a categorical ‘Yes!’, then we are confessing our blindness to things of which we need to be aware as the children of God.

A Spiritual Goal: Consider again our starter verses: “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.” (Eph 1:17-19) Perhaps a paraphrase version will help it come alive if we’ve become too familiar with it. Paul prays that God will: “give you spiritual wisdom and the insight to know more of him: that you may receive that inner illumination of the spirit which will make you realize how great is the hope to which he is calling you—the magnificence and splendor of the inheritance promised to Christians—and how tremendous is the power available to us who believe in God.” (JBP version)

And Us? Do you see something here, the words, “the eyes of your heart may be enlightened,” or as the paraphrase has it, “that inner illumination of the spirit”? The word ‘see’ isn’t here but isn’t this what Paul is saying, “I want you to see with spiritual understanding so that you see the wonder of it all? Let’s ask another ‘church question’. OK, let’s put aside for the moment thoughts of deeper and wider understanding that equips you for the world, let’s just accept the basic or simple truths of the Gospel, how often do you leave church almost dancing with the wonder of what you have just come to see? How often when you have your ‘quiet time’ do you put down your Bible with a heart leaping with praise and worship at the wonder of what you have just seen?  OK, be realistic, it may not happen every day, but does it happen quite often? If not we should be praying, Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law,” (Psa 119:18) and if you’re a bad sleeper, perhaps you might want to join that same psalmist who went on to say, “My eyes stay open through the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promises.” (Psa 119:148) Let’s not be content with a daily routine that leaves us unmoved, let’s pray that our eyes may be opened in a new way to see the Lord, see His salvation, see the Gospel, see the world He’s given us, see the life He’s given us, see the future He’s promised us with such ‘wisdom and revelation’ that our hearts are lifted and we want to dance with joy, shout with praise and bow down in worship. May it be so.

26. Guilt by Sight (3)

The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 26. Guilt by Sight (3)

1 Sam 16:6 “When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, ‘Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord.’”

Continuing: We are considering how ‘looking’ can stir wrong responses which are either sin or can in turn lead to sin. In the previous study we saw how words from the enemy can color what we see and stir up wrong responses. Today we are going to face a very common reaction, but it is one that arises because from the outset we have held a wrong attitude or understanding. We will start with an Old Testament example and then consider briefly two situations involving Jesus.

Samuel’s Misjudgment: Samuel had been told by the Lord to go and anoint a new king who would eventually replace Saul (1 Sam 16:1). He is to go to the family of Jesse in Bethlehem. When he arrives he says he will bless Jesse’s sons so the old man lines them up and so Samuel looks for the next king. “When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, ‘Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord.’” (1 Sam 16:6) ‘Saw’ here refers to visual sight. Samuel looked at this first son, a big, beefy looking guy, and Samuel thought to himself, I suspect, “Hmmm. Kings have to be big and tough. This must be the one,” BUT “the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Sam 16:7) His size and height suggested to Samuel that here could be a future king, big and powerful, but that isn’t the criteria that God is looking for. Samuel should have remembered that when he had had to rebuke Saul earlier on, and had prophesied, “the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart.” (1 Sam 13:14) Zechariah prophesied, Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty.” (Zech 4:6) When God takes and uses His servants it is by the power of His Spirit combined with the right heart of His man or woman.

The Disciples’ Misjudgment (1): There was an occasion in Jerusalem when, “Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings.” (Mt 24:1) The words ‘saw’ or ‘seeing aren’t used here but it is clear that the disciples looked at the Temple buildings and were impressed. From the rather ordinary temple rebuilt by Zerubbabel some four hundred years earlier, Herod the Great had greatly expanded it into a magnificent structure. The disciples, country lads from the north mostly, were a bit overawed by the grandeur of the Temple buildings in the heart of Jerusalem. We can look at big institutions and their buildings and be impressed and be a bit over-awed, but they are merely the outward trappings of religion. In the UK there are beautiful old cathedrals, in the US mighty modern church structures and we assume greatness here, but the truth may be that that greatness was in the past (or even came about by wrong means) and now it is mere show – and Jesus doesn’t do show! How easy it is to look and see history in front of us and be impressed, and we thus demean the simple work of the humble man or woman of God who is a heart-person energized by the Spirit who is real but who is touching the heart of God in their simple servanthood.

The Disciples’ Misjudgment (2): Then there was the case of the blind man of Jn 9.  “As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’  ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned,’ said Jesus, ‘but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (Jn 9:1-3) Again the word ‘see’ is not used here but it is obvious the disciples saw this blind man and jumped to their wrong conclusions. Rather like Job’s comforters they used sickness or infirmity or being disabled to attribute sin. I mean, it’s obvious isn’t it, it must be sin that caused this! Well, in the long run, yes sin is what has marred God’s creation and sickness is part of it, but that doesn’t mean this sick person’s sin has brought this on them. Jesus refused to accept that and refused to lay guilt here and, instead, turned the onus back on them basically, even though he did the healing. When we come like this, he says to us, so what are you going to do to help them then?

A Common Misjudgment: There is another instance where we look on a situation and get it wrong. Jesus taught about wrong assessment by pointing to a couple of well-known disasters and asked, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way?” (Lk 13:2) and “do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem?” (v.4) His response? “I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” (v.5) We can look on catastrophes and assume sin was at the heart of it. Sometimes that may be true but never jump to conclusions. We simply live in a fallen world where things ‘just go wrong’.

And So? It is what we do with what we see, and very often that is determined by what our heart is like from the outset. If it is judgmental, we will look to blame. If we are insecure in God’s love we will seek to assess by the ways of the world – size, power, intellect, appearance, upbringing, role, position, but none of these things count so much as a right heart in God’s kingdom, a heart committed to God and reliant upon His Spirit. Let’s not make ourselves guilty of misjudgment from wrong hearts.

25. Guilt by Sight (2)

The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 25. Guilt by Sight (2)

Gen 3:6 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.

1 Sam 16:6 When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, ‘Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord.’

Continuing: In the previous study we considered how ‘looking’ can stir wrong emotions which in turn can lead to wrongdoing, desires that lead to passion that leads to sin. Now we are going to meditate on various other aspects of ‘looking’ and how looking can lead us astray.

Seeing Personal Possibilities: We are familiar with what happened at the Fall: “When the Woman saw that the tree looked like good eating and realized what she would get out of it—she’d know everything! —she took and ate the fruit and then gave some to her husband, and he ate.” (Gen 3:6 Msg) ‘Saw’ here means perception. She had already ‘looked’ at the tree and now Satan’s words added significance to what she saw. His words colored what she thought about the tree.  We can look at something in all innocence and then enemy can whisper into our minds wrong thoughts that play on our latent desires. James understood the sequence when he wrote, “each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” (Jas 1:14,14) I used the word ‘latent’ about desires because often they are dormant or un-awakened and we don’t realize they are there until we see something and Satan whispers illicit possibilities into our minds. If we listen, if we are enticed, the desire rises up, we struggle against it and then may give way and fall. Satan may come in the guise of a friend: “Hey, why don’t you try this stuff, it will make you a new person,” or “Hey, you want to try this website. What the women are doing is bizarre.” Whispers that stir wonderings. You see – and are hooked. Don’t let it happen and if it has already, confess it, repent, and ask Him to deliver you from it.

More Possibilities: There is a strange case of seeing possibilities that we find in respect of Elisha’s servant, Gehazi. (read 2 Kings 5).  Elisha has just brought about the healing of leprosy of the great army commander of Aram, Naaman, and now Naaman is really grateful and he offers Elisha a gift. He is well off and has much to give, but Elisha knows he was merely an instrument of God and the glory is God’s and therefore declines the offer. But Gehazi his servant is standing there in the background and he has other thoughts. We aren’t told what those thoughts were but it is pretty evident. He sees Naaman with his retinue and all the goods with which he had come to bribe the seer to get him to heal him, and he sees Naaman, because of Elisha, is going to take them all back home. What a waste! He follows Naaman and spins a tale – a lie. He takes two talents of silver and two sets of clothing from him and sneaks home with them. But Elisha knows and calls him to account.

What was happening here? Gehazi saw a situation from which he could profit. Naaman could afford it. Elisha didn’t need it, so what’s the harm? It involves lies and deceit; it is greed and covetousness. In business money changes hands, either as a grateful thanks or to pave the way. In some parts of the world it is normal and in some areas of business it is considered part of the deal, but the word for it is a bribe. In the Law of Moses there were laws about justice and integrity, one of which said, “Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds those who see and twists the words of the innocent.” (Ex 23:8) The context rather suggests a court situation but to bribe someone means ‘to dishonestly persuade (someone) to act in one’s favor by a gift of money or other inducement.”

Why is it dishonest? Because it implies you are getting someone to do something which they would not otherwise do, and once you introduce that into business dealings integrity goes out the window, truth is compromised and you know if it was out in the open others would criticize such behaviour. It demeans both the giver and the taker. It comes about because someone ‘sees’ an opportunity to make personal gain, just like Eve did, just like Gehazi did.

The Ongoing Fruits: We commented in an earlier study on two groups of people who have, in recent decades, displayed the worst excesses of this sort of thing, bankers and CEO’s who have paid themselves excessive amounts of money in their greed, but there is a secondary spin-off – loss of trust in the watchers. We no longer trust these people and that ferments under the surface of society and is one of the current forces undermining democracy in the West. It is a loss of integrity caused by greed and avarice because men (and it is mostly men) have ‘seen’ ways whereby they may profit excessively to the loss of others. I mentioned earlier, in the UK in this year, the scandal of sweatshop clothing manufacture has come to light and behind it we see those leading it taking massive amounts of money while the workers have less than a living wage. These are areas that the prophets revealed are subject to God’s righteous anger. He will act. Beware. We may not be such people but in our everyday dealings with others can be ensure we are not those ‘looking for the main advantage’ that comes as loss to others.

24. Guilt by Sight (1)

The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 24. Guilt by Sight (1)

1 Jn 2:16 For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world.”

Recap: We continue to consider specific ways we can go wrong. We have just been considering desires, good and bad, which might fit John’s description of how the godless unbelieving world lives – lust of the flesh, a life lived in response to physical desire for pleasure. We went on to consider other emotions that can, if not controlled, lead us into unrighteousness. But there is another specific aspect of desire that we need to consider as we move on, the desires that we allow ourselves to have because of what we see.

Biblical Examples: We already noted more than once the story of David & Bathsheba which starts out with the words, From the roof he saw a woman washing,” (2 Sam 11:2) and because, “the woman was very beautiful,” he sent for her and that was the start of a train of sinful acts that had severe consequences. David saw, David appreciated, David wrongly desired, David sinned. Guilty! Now here’s the thing, seeing in itself is not the sin, it’s how you respond to your seeing.

In 1 Kings 21 is the story of Ahab and Naboth’s vineyard. “The vineyard was in Jezreel, close to the palace of Ahab king of Samaria.” (v.1) Now the story doesn’t say that Ahab saw the vineyard but that must surely be implied. Ahab wouldn’t have wanted something that he hadn’t seen. The fact that it was close to the palace would mean he had seen it and having seen it, he wanted it and when he wasn’t able to purchase it, he sulked and when he sulked, his wife picked up on it and set things in motion for Naboth to be falsely accused and stoned to death. Bad response from Ahab, even worse from his wife. You might say Naboth was unwise not selling up to Ahab, knowing the sort of man he was, but the point is about how Ahab acted in it all, having started out by seeing something he wanted.  Sin. Guilt.

Proverbs: In Proverbs we find in Prov 6 the warning, My son, keep your father’s command… keeping you from your neighbor’s wife, from the smooth talk of a wayward woman. Do not lust in your heart after her beauty or let her captivate you with her eyes.” (v.20,24,25) It’s actually all about not giving way to the beauty you see in another man’s wife, the cause of so much modern-day adultery. In Prov 23:33 we read a strange verse: “Your eyes will see strange sights, and your mind will imagine confusing things,” which the Message version simply puts as, “Do you really prefer seeing double,” because it is in the context of over use of alcohol, but it is really a warning not to let alcohol mess with your judgment. How many wrong liaisons came about because alcohol removes inhibitions and suggests we see (as Eve did) a wrong outcome in a good light. But ‘seeing’ comes up in other ways: “Don’t jump to conclusions—there may be a perfectly good explanation for what you just saw.” (Prov 25:8) We may not understand what we’ve just seen and jump to a wrong conclusion. How we see ourselves is another example. Again in Proverbs, “the rich are wise in their own eyes; one who is poor and discerning sees how deluded they are.” (Prov 28:11) Don’t let family background, a good job, or affluence, kid you that you are right with God. Those are not the criteria He uses to assess us.

Today: ‘Happiness’ is no longer today seen as a virtue, it is seen as a product of buying something, owning something, experiencing something. Modern advertising makes us focus on what we do not yet have and that makes us forget and fail to be appreciative of what we have already. In other words, it makes us discontented. As someone has said, the ‘consumer society, in short, encourages us to spend money we don’t have, on products we don’t need, for a happiness that won’t last.’ True?  We live with dissatisfaction and that is fueled by advertising, whether it is what we see in magazines, what we see at the cinema, or what we see on TV.

Covetousness: Another word for dissatisfaction that evokes desire for more is ‘covetousness’. Ex 20:16 might be summarized as “Don’t yearn for anything you see others have”. Why should that be? Why did God say that?  Murder is bad we’ll all agree, so is stealing, but just wishing you had more, why is that so bad? Well the Internet describes covetousness as “implying inordinate desire often for another’s possessions.” Note that word ‘inordinate’ which means excessive, unreasonable or disproportionate, i.e. too much! The vast majority of times this occurs, it comes from seeing what my friend has, family member has, person at work or college has.

And So?  Do you see the importance of all this? It is not so much what we see but how we are able to respond to it. The sight or a beautiful woman or handsome man should not generate wrong desires in us.  The sight of a top-of-the-range car should not evoke a yearning to have it. The sight of the ‘latest fashion’ should not evoke in us a yearning to buy it, especially when we have a wardrobe full of clothes and there are poor people in the neighborhood with nothing. Sight reveals attitudes and emotions, both of which can be wrong. It is a wonderful world God has given us to enjoy – but with restraint. Failure to exercise that restraint puts financial pressure on us and on those we love. A big area to be pondered seriously in this age of mass consumption. We have been warned in the 2008 financial crisis; we are now being warned in the 2020 Pandemic.

23. Guilt by Emotions

The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 23. Guilt by Emotions

Mt 5:22  But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment.

Jas 4:2 You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God.

Moving On: We have just considered the problem with ‘desires’ which may be good or bad, and desires involve emotions but there are some emotions that do not necessarily involve desire, such as anger. Now a simple dictionary definition of anger is ‘a strong feeling of annoyance, displeasure, or hostility’, and some might add a motivational addition, ‘because of something wrong or bad’

Causes: Anger may be a spontaneous reaction to some action or event caused by others, or it may be a more long-term feeling that almost becomes an attitude. Anger may be legitimate (God gets angry over sin) or not legitimate.

Wrong Causes: If a child is slow to learn, your frustration or lack of patience with them may be seen in anger vented by you. That is wrong anger and, oh yes, needs repentance. Then there is another common cause of anger to do with children, that relatives experience.  It involves gift giving and their responses to it. Now that is mostly just a case of appreciation and in a day when many children (in the West at least) have many toys, appreciation is so often lacking. That is our loss by over-indulging our children (often because we feel guilty that we are not keeping up with what others do. It’s time Christians started leading the way to counter the consumerist mess). Essentially it is only polite to say thank-you for a gift but when someone, a child or adult, fails to give thanks (and we’ll deal with in respect of God in a later study) it is simply a sign of their poor socialization and lack of teaching by their parents, and that a matter more for pity than of anger.

Probably unjust anger between parents and children is one of the most common forms of anger today, but more often than not, it is a sign of lack of self-control in the parent, maybe because they have failed to learn to gently discipline and teach their child from their earliest years, so now the child is willful and disobedient. Anger in such situations becomes a tool to try and dominate the child’s willfulness, and that does little to remedy the bad situation. Discipline in this situation, please note, is not so much about punishment as about correction and guidance into right attitudes and behaviour which, as we said earlier, needs to be addressed from the very earliest years.

Right Causes Wrongly Expressed:  When there has been physical abuse (wife-beating say) or sexual abuse (of a parent or more commonly today, step-parent) the guilt, shame and fear that often build up in the abused can easily turn into long-term anger. God is angry over such behaviour. We might suggest that this is just one form of prevalent injustice and where injustice continues and is not addressed, it almost invariably results in anger by the oppressed.

In 2020 the classic case of this was in respect of a black American killed at the hands of the police (one by-standing policeman being colored). This resulted in a wave of ‘protests’ in both the USA and the UK and some other countries around the globe when anger was vented in a major way.  This killing was wrong on at least four counts: i) it was  the over-use of force that resulted in an unlawful death, ii) it appears to have been a clear case of racism (which is always wrong), iii) it was a follow-on from numerous other deaths of black men at the hands of white police, an ongoing thing that has thus far not been addressed, and iv) it happened in an environment that has been allowed to run for over three hundred years and where change has been incredibly slow to come.

But the anger that we saw being vented in this case, was more likely to be just a further instance of anger that is stacked up in modern society that has been stoked by ‘identity politics’, a form of politics that has come into being in the last decade in the West where political people have sought to create a mindset of oppression of minority groups where inequality is sometimes prevalent and the powerful are seen as self-serving and unjust, or indeed that they permit injustice to prevail. (I have previously referred to abuses in the financial sector of modern western nations in the past twenty years). These injustices fuel anger but when this ‘identity politics’ has grown in such measure it also sees a lash-back by those, often in the majority, who feel their concerns are lost in this political maneuvering.

We have thus seen in a number of Western nations, but predominantly the USA and the UK, a toxic divisiveness in society that is expressed as anger and outright hostility against those who are ‘not with us’, over perceived truths, untruths, fake news, and injustices (real and imaginary). In the Covid-19 environment it is seen as hostility against government strictures that have been issued in order to control the virus. Christians have thus been drawn into these culture wars and I have heard ungodly and unrighteous expressions of this anger which has been allowed to permeate even the Christian culture. IT IS WRONG.

Countering these things: How do we deal with these things? Some Christians should involve themselves in politics if they feel they are so called. Above all else we should be purveyors of truth, love and goodness and we need to apply these things to all we see going on around us. We need to reject the vast majority of horror stories that come out, reject the conspiracy theories, refuse to join in chat-room assassinations, control our fingers on our cell phones and only communicate goodness. Yes, we should write to authorities complaining, but also expressing thanks and goodness. And above all, we should reject the fears, the tension, the angst that the enemy is using to destroy our nations in the present day, and seek the Lord, learning to commit all these things to Him in prayer and move according to the wisdom that He brings us.

Anger may be unrighteous if handled wrongly or if it springs from untruth. Anger over injustices should be channeled into prayer and righteous, godly responses. I believe this is a major area where Christians have been led in wrong-standing before the Lord. May we wake up and stop siding with any righteous cause that it being handled unrighteously and seek the Lord for a righteous response before He comes to bring even more disciplinary judgment on our nations. It is a time for repentance in this area.

22. Guilt by Desires

The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 22. Guilt by Desires

1 Pet 1:14   As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance.

Mk 4:19 the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.

Rom 8:5 Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.

Recap: We are looking at specific ways we can get it wrong in life, not to bring guilt and condemnation but to set us free from the guilt that follows wrong. Sometimes, I believe, many of us have like a cloud of guilt hanging over us because we either struggle with a wrong ungodly desire or we think we are guilty about some desire.

Right and Wrong Desires:  Desires are a combination of thought, emotion, and physical want. Let’s consider, first of all, good desires. I have desires for my wife and as long as I don’t impose them on her when she isn’t ready for them, they are good and right desires. I have desires for food and drink, and as long as those don’t become excessive and bring about either obesity or drunkenness (I rarely drink alcohol these days!), they are good and right desires. I have desires to serve the Lord and do His will, and as long as I submit to His will and don’t do ‘my own thing’, they are good and right desires. I have desires to write as He has inspired me, and as long as I look to Him as my resource, they are good and right desires.

But then, as have subtly been suggested above, there are desires that are not good. If I have sexual desires that I am unable to control, that would push me into watching online pornography (and I have never done that and never will – stay away from it lest it destroy you) or visiting a prostitute (ditto!), then I need to take steps to break the power of those desires. How? Stop feeding them. Pray. Maybe share your struggles with a mature Christian friend, a leader if possible, and get them to pray for you. Fill your mind with good things. Determine not to accept the philosophy of the modern world that sex outside marriage is OK, frequent sex is necessary. Paul knew otherwise (read 1 Cor 7 for Paul’s wide spectrum of advice in this area).  A word to the older men among us. I have observed in three different men in my past life what I can only call a moment of infatuation, a sudden focus on a beautiful woman. In two of them it nearly drove them to make foolish decisions that could have wrecked their marriages. I don’t know what causes it, it is more than a midlife crisis, but if it is you, turn your back on it, walk away, fill your thoughts with your own partner, with other things in life.

Desires under control and in the right context are how God has made us. The right context for sex is within marriage despite what the harmful folly of the media in the West has been saying, undermining and destroying many.  Yesterday we noted, by way of introducing things that go on in the mind, Jesus’ warning that lustful thoughts are as bad as the act – not an excuse to proceed to the act! Whether it be food, drink or sex, there is within these ‘desires’ a physical element which has to be mastered. It starts by asking why we have such a strong desire, and then goes on to how we master it, because if we don’t, it will harm us and possibly others.  We’ve seen how David’s desire for Bathsheba opened up a whole train of wrong events.

But there are other desires, for example, the desire to achieve. This is what drives entrepreneurs to start up companies, provide work for others and provide good for the community. Good desires. But then the way we go about fulfilling that desire is all important. Doing it by unrighteous and ungodly means, involving bribery and corruption and self-centred effort, distorts the desire and opens the way for further wrongs to occur. The desire for money that becomes excessive (it was all right to start off the business) is what we call greed (defined as intense and selfish desire for something, especially wealth, power, or food.) and so often leads to injustice in business practices.

Possibly one of the most significant books coming out in 2020, I believe, is Morality by Jonathan Sacks. In it he documents in detail so many ways modern society is going wrong, things that so often start with wrong thinking. In an amazing chapter entitled ‘Markets without Morals’, he cites the greed and folly that brought down companies such as Enron in 2001, the greed and folly that brought about the 2008 financial collapse which was only saved by government interventions to save the banks which they saw as central to modern survival. But he notes that even afterwards in the period of austerity, the banks continued to award bonus payments to their senior staff, while never exhibiting any sense of remorse guilt or shame for what they had allowed to happen causing untold anguish for millions. Greed – sin – guilt! Accountable to God! Elsewhere he documents, especially in America, the staggering gaps between the pay and bonuses of CEOs and their workforce. In the UK we have a scandal brewing of a sweatshop clothes manufacturing industry, appearing to work under virtual slavery conditions, paying less than basic wages to workers while the top people cream off millions. Greed, avarice, injustice – rampant desires out of control. Every one of us who is in business needs to check our hearts for we may have a heavy accounting to come.

And So? Good and bad desires. Good desires in context and under control, blessed of God. Bad desires out of proper context, unrestrained, sinful, harmful, guilty, accountable to God. Contentment in God is a good antidote to keep us on track. May we not be casual about these things, may we not excuse wrong desires and practices by saying, “Well, everybody does it.” That doesn’t make it right and there will come an accounting before God if not in the sight of the world. Be careful.

21. Guilt by Thought

The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 21. Guilt by Thought 

Mt 5:28   I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

Deut 15:9  Be careful not to harbor this wicked thought: “The seventh year, the year for canceling debts, is near,” so that you do not show ill will toward the needy among your fellow Israelites and give them nothing. They may then appeal to the Lord against you, and you will be found guilty of sin.

Next: We move on now to consider the specific ways we can get it wrong. That sounds a rather negative future but if there are things that we inadvertently have come to accept as normal in our lives, things that are contrary to the will of God, they will limit our relationship with Him and hinder Him coming to us. When Isaiah declared, In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.  Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the Lord will be revealed,” (Isa 40:3-5), he was declaring in picture form the need in a time of dryness to make preparations for God to be able to come to prepared hearts. The language of straightening the way, making it level, and filling in holes, was common language used in preparation when a king and his retinue might be coming.

Direction: In this second Part we will start by observing what we think, because that is where belief is. But then thinking is linked with our physical bodies and that is about desire. But that also involves emotions, and they can so easily be out of kilter with God. These can also be stirred by sight, by what we let our eyes see and the thoughts, feelings and desires that follow. That is where these next six studies will go. But when we talk about ‘sight’ or ‘seeing’ it can also mean how we perceive or view aspects of life, but when we are thinking about how we fall short of God’s intents for us, it can take us back to how we think or, to link analogies, how we can be blind to these things. And that is where the remaining studies will go. So that is our plan for the days immediately ahead.  These things are not to load us with guilt but to give us goals to aim for.

The Starting Point – Unbelief: Sin starts in the mind. The apostle Paul said we were to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Rom 12:2) Speaking about our old life he said, You let the world… tell you how to live. You filled your lungs with polluted unbelief.” (Eph 2:2,3 Message version) I like that version because it emphasizes that unbelief is a way of polluting our thinking, so let’s ask some basic questions about who we believe we are? Do we truly believe we are / children of God, / totally and utterly saved by the finished work of Christ on the Cross, / and empowered by the indwelling Holy Spirit? If we have any hiccup over any one of these three bits, as I’ve divided them out, we have an unbelief problem. It was unbelief that meant those who called themselves Jews but failed to believe were cut off (Rom 11:20). It was unbelief that stopped Israel initially entering the Promised Land (Heb 3:19) and the writer to the Hebrews warns us against it for belief leads to disobedience (Heb 4:11) i.e. wrong thinking leads to wrong doing. As we said, it starts in the mind. Indeed the battle for your life is the battle for your mind.

Beyond the Outside: In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus emphasized that it didn’t start with the outward behaviour but in the heart, in the mind. Adultery, he said, starts in the mind. We’ll go on to look at desires more fully in a later study, but for now let’s focus on the thought that guilt starts by wrong things happening between our ears – in our mind. Later on he said, I tell you, do not worry about your life,” (Mt 6:25) and where do you worry? In your mind! Now worries in themselves are not sin, but they do in fact show there is a need, and you need help! This is why Paul taught, Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:6,7) So the battle for your ongoing life to have peace, is a battle of the mind. Unbelief says, “I can handle it,” but the godly wise say, “I have a problem and I need God’s help with it.”

Wrong Thinking: The battle in the Garden of Eden was a battle for Eve’s mind and once she capitulated to Satan’s wrong reasoning, she sinned and led Adam to sin. In our starter verses the verse from the Law in Deuteronomy reveals wrong thinking which, if we give way to it, says the Lord, means you will be “found guilty of sin.” (Deut 15:9) In that example the Lord warned Israel against devious and self-centred thinking in the way they followed the Law in respect of avoiding caring for the poor. Jesus criticized the Pharisees of his day because with crooked thinking they excused themselves from helping their parents by appearing spiritual (see Mt 15:3-9). When Jeremiah said, The heart is deceitful above all things,” (Jer 17:9) the ‘Easy to Read’ Bible version nails it with, Nothing can hide its evil as well as the human mind.” The heart refers to the inner workings of the intellect and will, how we choose to think.

Making Excuses: When we’re afraid of having to do or say something, it’s in the mind that we start making excuses, seeking to justify our actions or lack of them. Jesus challenged the church at Thyatira that had obviously reasoned in their minds it was all right to tolerate Jezebel and go along with sexual immorality and eating idol-worshiping-tainted-food (Rev 2:20) and declared, I am he who searches hearts and minds.” (Rev 2:23) That echoes the psalmist who wrote, I’m an open book to you; even from a distance, you know what I’m thinking.” (Psa 139:2 Message version). God knows what goes on in our minds even if we hide it from others. Let’s not kid ourselves – He knows. So let’s deal with unbelief and build faith as we read His word, let’s not get into devious thinking to avoid what we know is the right path. Failure and guilt start in the mind. Let’s check ourselves out and make sure we’re not letting that happen. Amen? Amen!

20. Unintentionality

PART TWO: Specific Failures that produce Guilt

The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 20. Unintentionality

Lev 4:13 “If / the whole Israelite community sins unintentionally/  and does what is forbidden in any of the Lord’s commands, / even though the community is unaware of the matter,/ when they realize their guilt / and the sin they committed becomes known, /  the assembly must bring a young bull as a sin offering and present it before the tent of meeting.

Next: As we go to move on in this series on Guilt, to consider specific ways we get it wrong, perhaps as a bridge between the more general issues we have been considering and the specific ways we fall short in this next Part, we would do well in this study to note the fact of unintentional sin which nevertheless means a person is guilty. It is also worth noting that so often people write off the book of Leviticus as just Old Testament law that is no longer applicable, but in the verses we will be studying we will see specific examples of principles that apply generally.

Groups & Process: Our verse above is about the whole community of God’s people, that’s the starting place for this particular group of verses. This law is reiterated but covering different people – a leader (4:22), anyone in the community (4:27) i.e. it covered everyone. The issue is of doing wrong unintentionally, i.e. they were not aware that it was wrong. But then the Law assumes there will come a point when they will realize they are guilty of a sin. It is at this point that the Law is provided whereby the sinner can deal with their sin in an appropriate manner – offering a sin offering. So we have different stages of the process: the sin, awareness of it being a sin, it being atoned for by a sacrifice. The same is true of the other two instances we have just noted.

Sin Types & Process Again: The nature of different types of sin is made clear. For example, sin by not acting: If anyone sins because they do not speak up when they hear a public charge to testify regarding something they have seen or learned about, they will be held responsible.” (Lev 5:1) or of wrong things done (5:2-4). In both cases the order of events is then made clear: “when anyone becomes aware that they are guilty in any of these matters, / they must confess in what way they have sinned. / As a penalty for the sin they have committed, they must bring to the Lord …. a sin offering; / and the priest shall make atonement for them for their sin.” (5:5,6) There the process is expanded: sin & guilt, awareness, confession, offering, atonement.

Clarity: “If anyone sins and does what is forbidden in any of the Lord’s commands, even though they do not know it, they are guilty and will be held responsible.” (Lev 5:17) This rather drives the nail in the coffin of the person who excuses themselves by saying that they did not know what they had been doing was wrong.

Application: So let’s be quite clear. We may not be part of a community such as Israel and we may not have the various religious ceremonial laws to abide by, but the general principles are still valid:

i) Sin is wrongdoing before God, disobeying His design.

ii) Regardless of whether we are aware that it is sin or not, when we have disobeyed we are guilty and we will be held accountable by God.

iii) If we become aware that we have sinned, the path is specific: confession, repentance and atonement.

Of course for us the atonement comes not from having to make a sacrifice but simply believing in and relying upon the sacrifice of Jesus Christ of his own body on the cross for our sins.

The Problem: The problem that arises is that so often we just don’t understand that certain things we say or do or don’t do are wrong, and we thus assume we are all right. But God says we are not. We will still be held accountable for them, even if we are not aware of them at the present. What is also concerning is that so often these things hinder our relationship with the Lord.

A simple example of this is Peter’s teaching to Christian men: Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.” (1 Pet 3:7) i.e. men, if you don’t treat your wives properly don’t expect to get blessed; in fact expect your spiritual life to be limited. Sadly such men who mistreat their wives probably don’t care about the quality of their spiritual lives, but it nevertheless goes to show your religiosity can be annulled by wrong selfish behaviour.

And So: Your first reaction to this second Part may be negative in that you feel we don’t, as New Testament believers, need to focus on getting it right all the time, but the truth is that we can appear very spiritual and yet have big gaps in our righteousness which annuls the rest (read Isa 58:2,3). The truth of this is often witnessed at times of revival when God comes in sovereign power and it is the church that is first on their knees in tears of repentance for the things they had tolerated but which now appear before the gaze of the holy God. Let’s not wait until then. Let’s check these things out NOW and deal with them NOW.

19. Even the Wise Fall

The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 19. Even the Wise Fall 

1 Kings 1:37   As the Lord was with my lord the king, so may he be with Solomon to make his throne even greater than the throne of my lord King David!”

1 Kings 11:6  So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the Lord; he did not follow the Lord completely, as David his father had done.

Recap: As we continue pursuing the thoughts about consequences and now come to the life of Solomon, we have to say from the outset that it is a story that reveals that within the foolish sinfulness of mankind, even the wisest of the wise can end up being stupid if they allow themselves, by degrees, to drift away from the Lord.

Solomon: Let’s itemize the basic facts to save time and space:

– born to David & Bathsheba (2 Sam 12:24)

– came to the throne in David’s last days by his decree (1 Kings 1)

– came with high expectations (see 1 Kings 1:37 above and v.47)

– cleared away all the possible traitors and established the kingdom (1 Kings 1 & 2)

– had a dream from God and asked for wisdom (1 Kings 3:5-15)

– clearly received that wisdom (1 Kings 4:29,30)

– built the temple (1 Kings 6:14) and restored the ark (1 Kings 8)

– had such fame, success and prosperity the Queen of Sheba visited and acknowledged it (1 Kings 10)

– yet he had many foreign wives (1 Kings 11:1) in disobedience (v.2) and they led his heart away from God (v.4-6) and incurred God’s anger (v.9-11)

– God raised up enemies (1 Kings 11:14,23,26) and eventually after his death the kingdom was divided.

His Rise & Fall: On the plus-side Solomon received and used God’s wisdom to create a great and powerful and affluent nation, he built and established the temple and continued to build the land up. His downfall came with first one foreign wife and then many of them – polygamy in the extreme – and, not surprisingly, all these foreign wives came with their gods and pressurized Solomon to accept them. Eventually he fell right away from following the Lord at which point the Lord spoke, rebuked him, and told of what he would do – divide the kingdom.

The Judgment: As we noted above, three adversaries rose up against Solomon, the last becoming sufficiently powerful that he led the division when Solomon’s son foolishly ignored the wisdom offered him and became king over the northern ten tribes.

The Lessons: There are, I would suggest, various very clear lessons from his story:

  1. God who knows all things, including the future, will not be put off bringing present blessing even though he knows the future activity will turn pear-shaped. Observe great men of God who have been mightily used of God and yet who fell away later and sinned. This is but the grace of God.
  2. Never take God’s blessing for granted. As the apostle Paul wrote, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! (1 Cor 10:12) It is in our times of prosperity and apparent security that we may be most vulnerable to temptation.
  3. The Lord’s dealings with us – as are most obvious with both David and Solomon – are such that He seeks to avoid harm for others around us. Removing both David and Solomon for their sins would have made Israel very vulnerable and so, instead, the Lord allowed them to continue but in very curtailed circumstances.
  4. When we sin, the Lord seeks to bring us to repentance and so often uses the fruit of our wrong behaviour to discipline and change us. He is always working for our redemption, especially when we fall.
  5. Having said all this, there are clearly time in Scripture when the Lord does take the life of the individual in judgment. We suggest the reason for this would be to prevent the sin of the individual escalating or their bad example being taken as acceptable and eventually the norm. We should add that in the light of people such as Manasseh who we’ve considered earlier, He surely takes people away who He sees will never repent. Such judgments we refer to as ‘judgments of the last resort’, it is the last thing the Lord wants to do (see Ezek 18).

Warnings: In the days in which we life, the spiritual state of the Church, as we’ve documented in other series, leaves much to be desired. Merely because we are not aware of the judgment or major discipline of the Lord on the Church at the present time should not make us complacent and think all is well. It is simply the Lord being patient with is (2 Pet 3:9), looking for our repentance which we may pray out now or on our knees in tears if He comes in sovereign revival power. Let’s not be casual.

As we move on into Part Two, we will document specific ways we can get it wrong and incur guilt, again not to condemn but to set goals.