Snapshots: Day 9

The Snapshot: “In the beginning… the Lord God … was walking in the garden in the cool of the day.” Peace, harmony, unity, pleasure, possibility; heart sharing, hope wondering, question asking; confidence, assurance, absence of fear or guilt or shame; laughter, joy, company, friendship, love, concern, connection, openness, nothing hidden, everything open; stillness, quietness, peace, wonder, awe, awareness; potential but no dissatisfaction, contentment with possibility, unity with distinction, appreciation. Marvel at what once was and yearn for what can yet be.

Further Consideration: Let any life be put under a microscope, the life of the Christian and the life of the atheist and the life of the many in between. None of us show up well, some worse than others. Our trouble is that we make excuses or rationalize our bad behaviour: “Well, I’m not as bad as her!” and, “It’s not my fault!” though it usually is. Our measuring sticks are never good, the comparison we make are never good ones, they always let us off the hook.

It is only when we align ourselves with how God made things to be originally, in the little glimpses we get in Gen 1-3, that we see what we have lost and the type of people we have become.

It is often said that with the Fall, Adam and Eve lost their innocence, and as I look at the world of the West today, it seems that that is one of the greatest losses that we suffer. Our knowledge of violence, of abuse, of distortion of gender and sexual design, our twisting of relationships, our all-knowingness, our brashness and our coarseness, say that this is indeed a fallen world, a world so different from how God originally made it and designed it to be.

But it is not only the way we treat the world and each other, it is the way we treat God. The picture of life in the Garden was one of such beauty, not only of the Garden itself but of the relationship between this innocent couple and God Himself. It is perhaps only after we see the arrival of guilt and fear that we appreciate what it was like before. A little while ago it struck me that we respond, so often, like tropical fish in a tank or the birds in the garden to us humans – suspicious of His motivations, confused by His action or inaction.

The effect of sin in us means we have become used to a negative response towards God and we desperately need His help to overcome that. We need reminding of what it was like in the Garden originally, and then we need to restate again and again what He has done for us in sending Jesus to die for us.  When He speaks to us do we respond with complacent, unresponding unbelief or do we receive what He says with great joy and wonder?

Snapshots: Day 3

Snapshots of the Bible Story: Day 3

The Snapshot: “In the beginning… the Spirit of God hovered….” : (Gen 1): As the Thought and the Word expressed themselves outwards, the Force flowed from them, the Force who was one with them, the Force who was the very perfect expression of them, almighty, perfect, love, goodness, and the Force expressed the Personality that was Him, and whatever He wanted, the Force performed and brought about, perfectly expressing their will, so Thought and Word and Force expressed perfect harmony, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, as they would come to be known, the Trinity, the Godhead, just One but three in One. Ponder, marvel and worship.

Further Consideration:  The Holy Spirit is to many, a mystery and yet the Bible clearly reveals God in three forms: the Father, Supreme over all, the Son sent to earth to redeem mankind, but now back in heaven ruling alongside his Father, and then the Holy Spirit, the ‘executive arm’ if you like, of the Godhead, the power seen as He (they) move in our time-space history. “the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” (Gen 1:2) What a picture of the power of God hovering over the already existing earth, covered with water, just watching and waiting for the next move of God in the Creation saga. The Father speaks and it starts to change.

“Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” (Gen 2:7) However we view this graphic and perhaps picturesque language, we live because God breathed energy into us, apparently His Spirit. But later we find, “Then God said, “I’m not going to breathe life into men and women endlessly. Eventually they’re going to die; from now on they can expect a life span of 120 years.” (Gen 6:3 Message) We think we live because of food and drink but the Bible challenges that limited understanding.

There is a mystery beyond our understanding and, yes, only accepted by faith, that we live because He enables us to. Centuries later a writer was to declare about the Son, he is “sustaining all things by his powerful word.” (Heb 1:3) again adding to this mystery. ‘Life’ is more than meat and drink. The message is that the Holy Spirit is not only the One who moves in power expressing the will of the Godhead on earth, He is also the one who maintains ALL life, or should we say, They all maintain our life. Moses knew it: “O God, the God who gives breath to all living things….” (Num 16:22) It is both a mystery and a sobering thought, a thought that puts my life in perspective. Lord, thank you for the gift of today, of life.

17. The End or the Beginning

Meditations on “The Big Picture” 17. The End or the Beginning

Rev 21:1-4    Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

The fact that there are various schools of theology in respect of the end times suggests that everything is not as clear as we might like to wish it to be. Time is coming to an end, the day of the material world that we know is rapidly coming to an end. History as we know it is about to be wound up. Apart from the return of Jesus again (see Acts 1:11, Mt 24:30,31, 1 Thess 4:15-17, Rev 1:7, 19:11-16) which is quite explicit, the details of what will happen at the end leave us with questions. Are some of the things figurative or literal?

The book of Revelation is almost our only source and it is prophecy which means very often the language used is figurative rather than literal. But what does it say?

  • Jesus comes down and subdues his enemies (Rev 19)
  • Satan is subdued for a thousand years (Rev 20:1-3)
  • Those who had been martyred will reign for that thousand years (Rev 20:4-6)
  • At the end of that period Satan will be released to deceive and war against God’s people but his followers will be destroyed (Rev 20:7-10)
  • Then will come judgment, all before the throne of God (Rev 20:11-15)
  • Then comes a new heaven and a new earth and a new Jerusalem (Rev 21:1-5)
  • Judgment is imposed on all unbelievers (Rev 21:6-8)
  • The bride of Christ (see Rev 19:7-9) is revealed as the new Jerusalem (Rev 21:2,9-26)
  • There is the throne of God (Rev 22:1-5) dwelling with His people

To summarise those things, Jesus is coming to wind up the world as we know it. There appears to be an interregnum, if you like, where the world continues but without Satan’s influence, then a releasing to show nothing has changed with him or with sinful mankind. This is followed by a final judgement where Satan is subdued and all created beings stand before God for an accounting. Those who have not received the Lamb go to judgement. Those who are his followers enter into a new experience, a new heaven and a new earth and they, as a people, will enjoy the Lord in their midst in a new unlimited way for eternity. Shortening it even more, the end of evil and an eternity for the followers of the Lamb in the glorious presence of God.

And that is it. The end of what is now and the beginning of the experience of eternity with the Lord. Everything has been working towards this. The whole history of the Bible has been about revealing God to His world and looking for response to Him by people. Many reject, many receive Him.  Those who receive Him have an inheritance in eternity that is really beyond our understanding or explanation. Perhaps that is why it is so limited in scripture. There is a plan. There is a beginning and an end to it and yet the beginning and the end refer only to the material existence part of the plan which is limited. It is the bit we are largely concerned with today and it is the bit that takes up 99% of the Bible, and yet it is only part of existence. There is also a spiritual dimension, another existence that somehow exists without time, outside of time, beyond time, and yet an existence that can be comprehended, understood (when you are in it) and communicated.

The present material world appears massive to us, in fact beyond our imaginations even as we try to comprehend millions of galaxies, billions of light years and so on, and yet in comparison to the real existence is so limited.  Solomon caught a glimpse of this: He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” (Eccles 3:11)  The psalmist also caught it: “The LORD reigns, he is robed in majesty; the LORD is robed in majesty and is armed with strength. The world is firmly established; it cannot be moved. Your throne was established long ago; you are from all eternity.” (Psa 93:1,2)

There is a material world existing in time-space history and there is another dimension called eternity, and God is Lord over them both. In Proverbs, wisdom personified, revealing the Son, begotten of the Father, declares, “I was appointed from eternity, from the beginning, before the world began.” (Prov 8:23) The son stepped from eternity into material world existence as he stood alongside the Father creating the wonder of the world that we know: “I was the craftsman at his side. I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence, rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind.” (Prov 8:30,31) Father and Son and Holy Spirit together from ‘the beginning’ but then eternity doesn’t have a beginning.

But this is their book, this is their history, in brief sketchy outline at least, this is their account and they are in it from the beginning when “God said, ‘Let there be light’, and there was light.” (Gen 1:3) through to the end: “Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done.  I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city.” (Rev 22:12-14)  Amen! Hallelujah!

1. Let there be light

Meditations on “God of Transformation”: 1:  Let there be light

Gen 1:1-3    In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.

There is a theme that runs through the Bible that has come to my attention and which will form the basis of this particular series of studies – that God is a God of transformation, that He comes to bring change.  Now as I have observed church life over the years, I conclude that so often there is a form of unbelief that prevails that looks at the present and is not in faith for it to change, certainly not for the good, but that flies in the face of the testimony of Scripture. My hope is that as we progress through these studies my faith and yours will be released in a new measure to break free from the shackles of materialism that says we live in a closed system where nothing can change, only the furniture get moved around!

The appropriate place to begin is at the beginning and, in the first three verses of Genesis 1 above, we see the very first recorded transformation taking place. Now I suspect that these words are so familiar to us that we have perhaps taken them for granted and fail to see the wonder behind them.

The opening statement, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”, makes a bald statement but without explanation. It may also be a summary of what follows. Now it is what follows that I think we so often take for granted and give little thought to: “the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep.” The planet we call earth was a mass of rock covered by water, and dark. Here’s my question: why?  God could have said, “Go!” and the whole earth as we know it could have come into being in an instant, but He didn’t; He reveals it in stages. Why? Because God seems committed to doing things in logical stages – you see it throughout history – and therefore we see it in the Creation narrative of Genesis 1.

The first sentence doesn’t even take us back as far as the scientist’s ‘Big Bang’ for we are presented with an Earth that exists but as a formless mass. It is into this that we find God’s first creative declaration, “Let there be light.” When God says it, it is done. He could have said, “Let there be a compete earth”, but He didn’t. Why? I suggest the answer includes that thought that He wants us to think about the stages and ponder on them. We’re doing that purely in respect of the first one, the bringing of light.

But what is light? Depending where you search you will come up with various answers varying from the less technical to the highly technical. For instance, “Light  is the natural agent that stimulates sight and makes things visible. Light is what allows us to understand the world we live in.”  That explains what it does. But then, “Light is part of the electromagnetic spectrum, which ranges from radio waves to gamma rays. It is the very narrow range of electromagnetic radiation that our eyes can actually see.” Then “visible light is carried by a fundamental particle or energy packet called photons,” and “light involves fluctuations of electric and magnetic fields, which can transport energy from one location to another.” So it’s all about energy. Where does this energy come from? God, because God is energy.  That’s not quite what the Bible says for the nearest you will get is Jesus saying, “God is spirit” (Jn 4:24).  My definition (which still leaves lots of questions) is that the Spirit is energy or power with personality. In any of the heavenly visions in Scripture, light seems to emanate from the throne or the very presence of God.

When God said, “Let there be light,” this may be the very first time the divine expressed Himself in material form (accepting that light particles or waves operate in the material existence. Isn’t it interesting that when God’s presence filled first the completed Tabernacle (Ex 40:34,35) and then the completed Temple (1 Kings 8:11) it came as an incredibly bright light in the cloud, that we call the glory of the Lord. The glory of the Lord is simply an incredibly bright light. When Jesus was revealed on the Mount of Transfiguration his clothes shone with incredible light (Lk 9:29).

How amazing that the primary manifestation of God the Spirit is in the form of incredibly bright light, and when He speaks into the dark and formless world it comes as light. The fact that the sun, moon and starts don’t appear until v.14  either means that they did not become visible until later because of the vapour covering the earth or because God is making the point that He is the originating source of life, not the light from the sun etc. I suggest both can be true but when considering meaning, the latter takes on significance. There are few plants that can live without light. We human beings wilt without light. Light is fundamental to life and without it life can rarely exist (but see creatures in the depths of the oceans as an exception). Light in increasing forms translates energy into heat and without that heat we cannot live. Thus from the outset it is like God is saying, “Let there be here in this material world the means to sustain ‘life’.”

A study of the word ‘life’ in the Bible opens up massive areas for consideration but ultimately that is what we are all about – living beings and we live because God has turned His energy into light which in turn enables life in this material world. God is thus both the source of life and the sustainer of life – spiritual AND physical!

Can we appreciate light so that it stirs praise and thanks in us? When the sun comes out and brings life to nature, when the moon and stars shine ay night reminding us of the enormity of this universe and reminding us, so the scientists tell us, of millions of other universes, all created by our God. And when a rainbow appears with the spectrum that together makes up white light, and the clouds create shadows and shades of light, let’s marvel at it and give thanks to the Lord of all things, the Creature not only of what we know but infinitely more.

2. Not a Lonely Machine

Meditations in Meaning & Values   2:  Not a Lonely Machine

Eccles 1:5-7  Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever. The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises. The wind blows to the south and turns to the north; round and round it goes, ever returning on its course. All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full. To the place the streams come from, there they return again.

In 1967 Arthur Koestler wrote a book called, “The Ghost in the Machine”, the title coined by Oxford philosopher Gilbert Ryle, and is really about the mind–body relationship. Both believed that the mind of a person is not an independent non-material entity, temporarily inhabiting and governing the body.  The title of that book could equally apply to the idea that deists have, that there is a God but he sits at a distance allowing the world to just continue on as a machine. Indeed the concept of the world as a machine is common to many modern thinkers.

In this they have good company in Solomon as he writes Ecclesiastes. In our verses above there is this sense of a world that just keeps on and keeps on, doing the same thing all the same with no change, a meaningless world. His reference to the water cycle is of course accurate: streams flow down to the sea, the sea evaporates, the water vapour forms clouds, the clouds cause rain and the rain falls on the ground and eventually runs into streams which run into the sea……

Yes, that is how God has made it to work but merely because that is so, it doesn’t mean that is how it always was, or always will be. This mechanistic deist or even atheistic world view forgets, ignores or maybe is ignorant of certain things.

First of all it all had a beginning. For modern scientists it is the ‘big bang’ but what they struggle with in their materialistic searching is what happened a second before the big bang.  They are in a scientific cleft stick because on one hand they maintain that for anything to happen, there needs to be an originating force but supposing there was a big bang, what was before it? One of the crucial things we struggle with is the concept of ‘nothing’. The atheistic scientist would like to tell us that before the big bang nothing existed because if ‘something’ existed it would just push their search back a further stage, but the problem is that if there was really absolutely nothing (and Christian philosopher Dr. Francis Schaeffer used to call it ‘nothing nothing’ to emphasise the point) we cannot conceive of something coming from absolutely nothing.  Absolutely nothing is a concept beyond our imagination and something coming from it is impossible – unless the something before it was God. Where did God come from, asks the sceptic? I don’t know; I said there are things beyond our conceiving. All we have is, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Gen 1:1)  God did it, on purpose.

The modern scientist, if he is an atheist, wants an impersonal mechanistic beginning but if such a thing was possible then it would be absolute chance that brings it about and everything that follows would be absolute chance, and absolute chance rules out meaning and purpose and that would be all well and good except we all live our lives as if there is meaning and purpose to them. That is the greatest mystery: why? The answer has to be because the personal God gave us that sense. There was a beginning, a beginning with personality behind it, that of God, a beginning with a purpose and a meaning, not an accident.

On an earlier day Solomon had compiled the book of Proverbs and there he had personified wisdom (that later revelation reveals was the Son of God) and there the Son says, Then I was the craftsman at his side. I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence, rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind.” (Prov 8:30,31) What a beautiful picture of God, Father and Son, working together to bring into being this world in ways that defy our intellect, a world from nothing, but rejoicing together, “rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind.” Nothing impersonal about that; they enjoyed bringing it into being and enjoyed what they made. Nothing about a ‘miserable old God’ in that!  Indeed when they had done it, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” (Gen 1:31) It may be a stretch of the imagination to see the Father turning to the Son and saying, “Good job son!” but it does have that feel about it. So this world had a beginning, a personal one and that is important.

But poor old Solomon has this fatalistic feeling that this ‘machine’ is going to go on for ever and ever. Actually no! This world has a limited duration, not because it will wear out or run down but simply because one day the Lord is going to say, “Enough!” and we find at the end, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away.” (Rev 21:1) We don’t often think about this, perhaps because the Jehovah’s Witnesses go on about it but the truth is that there is coming ‘the Day of the Lord’ a day of great accounting and then these things follow. Now whether these are things that will happen in chronological order or they describe the process we go through after we die, only time and eternity will tell, but the big point is that the present world will not remain.

Does this mean that like Plato and his followers we tend to despise the material, despise the present physical world?  No, definitely not!  This present world is God’s gift to us and we best enjoy it when we enjoy it in parallel with enjoying God. It is a wonderful world; yes it is a fallen world and sin and Satan spoil it, but as children of God we can enjoy to the full the wonder of this world that God has provided. So even if it is the water cycle, the next time you think about it, rejoice and give thanks and say, “Lord, thank you for the wonder of this, that you have given us water to enjoy in so many ways – to drink, to mix with so many other things, to swim in, to sail upon, thank you that it is here for our enjoyment. Hallelujah!  A lonely machine?  No way, a wonderful world given by God and…..  no, I’ll save that for the next one!

2. A Sure Foundation

Meditations in Titus: 2 :  A Sure Foundation

Titus 1:1,2   Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ for the faith of God’s elect and the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness– a faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time.

In the first meditation we saw the apostle Paul explain his ministry as awakening faith and then providing truth to enable God’s chosen people to live godly lives, but as he goes on in his introduction he gives us a foundation on which that faith and knowledge of the truth rests. It is the hope of eternal life. Now if that was all it was, as amazing as that might be, someone would say that it was just Paul’s wishful thinking, but he denies that; it is eternal life which God promised before the beginning of time.

In other words God declared this before He even brought time-space history into being.  Of course with our finite minds we cannot conceive any existence before material time and space came into being. All we can grasp, and that very lightly, is that God has always existed  and being Spirit (Jn 4:24) existed uniquely and independently of anyone or anything else, Father, Son and Holy Spirit existing and communicating together and then at some moment in His existence, He said, “Let there be light.” Yet before that, according to the revelation given in the New Testament, the Trinity considered the possibilities and realised that if they made mankind with free will, at some point that free will would be exercised contrary to the dictates of the godhead and when that happened, it would have a series of consequences, bad consequences, and the godhead would have to take further action to win mankind back but without violating their free will.

The plan was to befriend Abram and then later establish a nation through his grandson, a nation that would reveal God to the rest of the world, and reveal their own inability to break free from that sinful expression of that free will. When that inability was clearly revealed, the Son would leave heaven and come to earth to live within that nation and to reveal the love and goodness of the godhead to mankind through that one life. But there was still the problem of the guilt of mankind’s sin and justice demanded that that needed dealing with. The only way to achieve that was for God Himself, in the form of His Son on earth, to take the punishment due – hence the Cross. When the truth of this became clear it would win many back to God and in being reunited with God they would receive His Holy Spirit, who is also eternal God, and thus brings eternal life.

Now all of this was decreed by the godhead before those incredible words, “Let there be light.” In fact according to the revelation that Paul has, when God declared this before He made anything, His declaration of intent was tantamount to a promise. When God says something is so, He does not lie, He sticks to it and so His declaration of intent before anything else was the equivalent of a promise that it would be so. Thus the promise of the possibility of receiving eternal life was made right back then.

We find references to this decision before the start of the world in all the following verses: Jn 17:24, Eph 1:4, 1 Pet 1:20, Rev 17:8, Rev 13:8, 2 Tim 1:9, Tit 1:2. They all refer back to this decision, this promise, made before anything else.  THIS is the foundation, this is the surety for all else that follows. Thus when Paul, as an apostle, awakens faith in this people, this people that God knew before He made anything else occurred would turn to Him in time-space history, we see that faith is belief in a plan that had its origins way back then. When Paul, as an apostle, goes on to teach new believers how to live godly lives, the design of those lives had its origin in the plan formulated before God made anything else.

The strength of this faith and this knowledge is not in the fact that Paul says it but simply that he is conveying God’s plan decreed before anything else came into existence. The Gospel is not an accident, it is not an add-on, something God had to think up because everything was getting out of control; it was the plan agreed by the Father, Son and Holy Spirit before they brought this material world into being. The plan of salvation was as clear cut in the mind of God as His plans to create a material world. The two cannot be separated. The material world was perfect and yet to give mankind free will was almost guaranteed at some point to bring about Sin – which is simply self-centred godlessness.  Without free will love could not exist and as that was the prime characteristic of God, it would be the characteristic of all He made, it is all an expression of His love.

If we are to be able to love, it has to be a free expression by definition. Love is not something forced or imposed. Thus, if we sinful human beings are to be able to love God, it is because our hearts are won by His love. When we comprehend that, we receive it and receive the Spirit of love, and it becomes our expression as well, and the first object of our love becomes God Himself. We couldn’t have dreamed this up, but He did – even before He spoke a word and brought this world into being. How amazing! And now faith and our knowledge of the truth flows out from this truth. Everything flows from it in fact, everything! Hallelujah!