7. God of Purpose: Introduction

Getting to Know God Meditations:  7. God of Purpose: Introduction   

Gen 12:2,3  “I will make you into a great nation,  and I will bless you; I will make your name great,  and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you,  and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth  will be blessed through you.”

Again?  We are sticking for the moment with references from that first book of the Bible, Genesis, and with the man, Abraham, who became known as the father of the nation of Israel. This is going to be the start, the introduction if you like, to this subject of the purposes that God has for the earth. Later we will go on and expand on this. When we understand the revealed purposes, we will understand something of God, and what we find may surprise some of us.

Abram is the first person in the Bible, the first historical figure, to enter into any form of long lasting relationship with God but, and here is the important issue, it is all initiated by God; this is a God-revealed thing that we are considering and what we are reading are words about God’s purposes, revealed to Abram. Look at the simplicity of what He says here to Abram: “I will make you into a great nation.” Why should that be? Why would God create a particular nation from this one man, why did Israel come into being? What was so important about them?

The Developing Revelation: A while after these opening words of chapter 12 of Genesis,  we find, in an ongoing conversation between Abram and God, the following: “God said to him, “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations.”  (Gen 17:3) In the Bible you will find explanatory footnotes, indicating that Abram means ‘exalted father’ and Abraham means ‘father of many’. We have said previously Hebrew names frequently have a purposeful meaning. Along the way Abraham first had a son Ishmael via his servant maid when his wife did not appear able to conceive, and then later Isaac, miraculously by his wife long after child-bearing age. Ishmael became father of the Arab nations, Isaac father of Israel. But is that all this meant?

A while later God reiterated this: “Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him.”   (Gen 18:17,18) How could that be – and yet it is God’s purpose declared, to bless the whole earth somehow via this nation that would come into being.  We see this promise stated yet again in Gen 22:15-18, and then to Isaac in Gen 26:2-6, and then to Jacob in Gen 28:13,14.   Moving on, Moses was aware that God’s dealing with Israel would be heard by other nations – Ex 15:14-16, Num 14:13-17, Deut 2:24,25.

Deuteronomy is Moses’ talks to Israel before they enter the Promised Land and in it he reminds them what has happened to them and then gives them instructions how they are to live once they have entered into the Promised Land, Canaan: “See, I have taught you decrees and laws as the LORD my God commanded me, so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to take possession of it. Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.”  (Deut 4:5,6) He reiterates this in Deut 28:8-10.   When Joshua leads the nation he speaks to them similarly: “He did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the LORD is powerful and so that you might always fear the LORD your God.”  (Josh 4:24)  This awareness is seen in David and Solomon in subsequent years, it is their clear understanding of God’s purposes in respect of Israel.

Initial Goal: Let’s be quite clear what we have seen so far. It is clear that the first reason at least for the existence of Israel, and the way they are blessed by God, is to reveal something of God to the rest of the world. He constituted Israel as a nation and gave them ‘The Law’ which refers to the Ten Commandments plus a lot of other laws about how to live in peace and harmony as a nation.

Let’s make the note here that these laws were for them uniquely as an agrarian community but, even more importantly, a community that should be contrasted with the pagan communities surrounding it. This was not only by the fact they had a living relationship with God, but by the way they trusted Him and lived according to His guidelines and were blessed accordingly, and therefore some of the apparently really strange prohibitions that critics dig out, are against copying the cultic behaviour of those neighboring pagan nations.

An Early Fulfillment: The outworking of this ‘living according to His guidelines and being blessed accordingly’ is seen most amazingly in an incident in the reign of king Solomon.  The Queen of Sheba hears of all that is happening in Israel and so she comes on a state visit. Thus we see, “She said to the king, “The report I heard in my own country about your achievements and your wisdom is true. But I did not believe these things until I came and saw with my own eyes. Indeed, not even half was told me; in wisdom and wealth you have far exceeded the report I heard. How happy your people must be! How happy your officials, who continually stand before you and hear your wisdom! Praise be to the Lord your God, who has delighted in you and placed you on the throne of Israel. Because of the Lord’s eternal love for Israel, he has made you king to maintain justice and righteousness.” (1 Kings 10:6-9) What an incredible testimony. She is saying, I am amazed by all I see of your affluence and I can see that it is all what ‘The I AM God’ has done for you.

And Yet!  And yet, sadly, this is not typical and, in fact, this episode with the Queen of Sheba is almost unique occurrence (certainly in its impact on her). The tragedy is that so much of the time in the life of this nation – that became two nations – they turned away from God again and again and again and got into a mess. The book of Judges is the classic example of the record of this as we see a recurring cycle – Israel are at peace and are blessed by God, then they drift away from following Him and as a result they become vulnerable to enemy attacks from their neighbors, they get into severe difficulties, cry out to God, and He then sends them a deliverer, they return to peace and harmony, and so the cycle starts over again. It happens again and again. Years later, the prophet Isaiah would declare their failure: “We have not brought salvation to the earth, and the people of the world have not come to life.” (Isa 26:18)

A Second Goal? Now this isn’t stated but one cannot help wondering, from a human point of view, how this state of affairs could have carried on?  God has blessed this people, made them a strong nation, given them a wonderful fruitful land and done everything He could to establish them, and yet time and time again they mess up and turn away from Him and to idol worship and get into trouble. Why didn’t He just wipe them out and start with another nation? Well one of the things that the Bible teaches us is that God knows, He knows everything – He knows about everything and He knows what will come and how things will work out. So, we might ask, why did He create Israel if He knew they would mess up?

The obvious answer has to be so that we would have, under a microscope so to speak, an insight into human beings. It is not that Israel were uniquely bad or uniquely stupid – we all are! Israel only demonstrated what we are all like when we have the courage to be honest and face it.  The second goal, I may suggest therefore, is that God brought Israel into being to reveal to the world the sinful tendency of humanity in the world. Now that is the first time I have used that biblical word, ‘sin’ and so I had better explain it. Put most simply it means our propensity to be self-centred and godless which leads to wrong living, living contrary to God’s design for us (we’ll look at this more fully later).

Recap: OK, before we move on let’s just recap what I have suggested are the two initial goals for God creating the nation of Israel:

  1. To reveal Himself and His good intentions to the world,
  2. To reveal the sinful nature, tendency or propensity, of human beings.

Now these two goals lead on to an even bigger third goal, the ultimate goal that God has for mankind, not to condemn us but to save us from ourselves, but we will need more space for that so we’ll look some more at this in the next few studies. Stay with me as we continue to consider the God of Purpose!

Snapshots: Day 28

Snapshots: Day 28

The Snapshot: “so he proceeded to bless him.”  A blessing is a prophetic decree of good from heaven. It comes from God, touches a heart, is declared and applied by God. It is not a wish but a declaration of the good will of God and is, in one sense, general for all of us (His desire for good for His children) but in another sense unique (what He sees He wants to do for ‘me’ uniquely). We impart a blessing only as the Holy Spirit enables us; it is not a case of just wishing someone well, but an opening of the door of heaven for the good to be poured forth as he desires. How amazing that He wants to involve us, is limited by us, because He wants us to be the bringers of His good to His world. Lord, please make me sensitive of your will for those I love that I may bless them.

Further Consideration: Over the years I have had the impression that most Christians know little of blessings and curses. The classic passages of the Law that describe them are Deut 28 for blessings following obedience, then curses for disobedience. However, blessings start in Gen 1 when God blessed the living creatures (v.22) and then mankind (v.28). In each case ‘blessings’ are God’s decrees for good. In each case the blessing is “to be fruitful” and this is also seen when He blesses Noah (Gen 9:1). A beautiful outworking of this is seen in the case of Isaac: “Isaac planted crops in that land and the same year reaped a hundredfold, because the Lord blessed him.” (Gen 26:12)

Somehow this understanding has been communicated to Isaac and so it is no surprise when he blesses who he thinks is his eldest son, but turns out to be Jacob. He clearly holds a blessing in the highest degree for once he has spoken it, he knows he cannot either withdraw it or repeat it in respect of Esau (see Gen 27:34-37).

A blessing is thus equivalent to a prophecy and of course genuine prophecies always originate in heaven, in God’s heart, and not merely in our hearts. As we catch a sense of the Holy Spirit’s prompting we may then utter the blessing that we sense the Lord wants to impart to the person before us, and life is changed.

I will often simply say to someone, “The Lord bless you,” because I know it is the Lord’s desire to bless each one of us. My daughter reminded me not long ago that she grew up through a childhood that knew me bringing God’s blessing to them. Whenever we do that we are reiterating the Lord’s desire to bring good to that person, and that opens the way for Him to do just that. We don’t do it by habit or to control but simply when we are absolutely sure that God wants good for His people.  The more we know Him, the more sure we will be of that and be able to be His channels of blessing to others.

2. It’s too big

Expectations & Hopes Meditations: 2. It’s too big!

Gen 12:2,3   I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

An obvious starting place when thinking about ‘expectations’ has got to be the story of Abram and these first verses of Gen 12 in particular, and I believe they will say some very significant things to us.

The context of these verses is that Abram, later called a Hebrew, lived in Ur (Gen 11:28) in the area of Mesopotamia, the so-called ‘cradle of civilisation’, the location of the now-hidden Garden of Eden. We know his father’s name was Terah (v.27), that he had a wife named Sarai and that she could not have children (v.29). Terah had taken Abram and some of the family to travel to Canaan (v.31) but when they had arrived at a place with the same name as one of his sons who had previously died, they stopped there and settled there until Terah died there (v.31,32). After this Abram set out again for Canaan (12:4,5). It is into this context that we are told that The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.” (12:1) which implies that this word had come to Abram previously and had probably been the motivating force that started the family off for Canaan from Ur.

So much for the facts of the story; what does it suggest? Think of the background again. Abram is married but his wife appears not able to conceive. Having children would be the desire of every man who, at the least, would want his family name continued through him. (You only have to look back at the earlier chapters of Genesis to see that family lists were already a big thing.) And then – somehow – he hears God. We don’t know how but it is in such a clear way that he is convinced he’s getting divine guidance. What he hears impinges directly on his greatest heartache: it promises him children in abundance if he will go to the foreign land. He goes with great expectation. This is at the heart of Abram’s story. At this point ‘the land’ is only secondary to and the environment for ‘a great family’. Again and again both of these things – the land and the family – are spoken about by God. Why? We will see.

Now, as I have pondered this story, there is something that Abram ‘could’ have thought which I see reflected in contemporary Christianity again and again. I say he could have thought it but clearly didn’t. It is the thought that might well come in response to God’s words of the future, “Oh, come on, that can’t be it’s too big, it’s too impossible!” Now I read that on people’s faces sometimes when they are brought a prophetic word for their lives today. “Who me? Surely not!”

The starting thing I believe we should focus on about expectations and hopes, is that they aren’t automatically received. When God speaks the future into our lives – and this is what expectations are all about – we can either say with Mary, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” (Lk 1:38) or negatively respond like Zechariah, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” (Lk 1:18) We choose whether or not to hold a faith stance, a position of expectation, when God has spoken.

Tomorrow we’ll consider times when He hasn’t spoken personally but circumstances say that expectations are natural, but the point here is that expectations are natural because God has spoken. Zechariah looked at his natural circumstances (both he and his wife were well beyond child-bearing age) but Mary looked to God and not her circumstances. Abram would have every reason to think he would go to his grave childless. When the years have passed, and you have tried again and again and again and still nothing happens, it is natural to give up. Then some bright character turns up and prophesies, “You will have a baby within a year,” (and I’ve had the privilege of doing it twice) and you can either respond with cynicism and mutter under your breath, “Insensitive slob!” or you can receive God’s word for what it is, and rejoice. Abram received it and started out for Canaan.

Now there is something else here than could be missed. Without doubt, as history shows, the Lord wanted Canaan, or Israel as we know it today, to be the home for His people, a place where He could interact with them as a people in their own right with their own land. The Lord thus used the fact of Abram’s childlessness as a spur to get him into that land. There are times when I believe the Lord uses what I will call ‘additional reasons’ to bolster our expectations. He knows we often need the encouragement. Something I have watched time and again (and became aware of it in my own life again just a week ago) is that when a vision is proclaimed, it often takes time to be fulfilled and the natural temptation is to allow it to dim, and so the Lord often speaks again and again, to remind us of it, to remind us we have a part to play. I have at the present time a vision of something I am to work into and I know it will be a long-term thing, probably at least a couple of years, and I also was reminded just this last week, that I had been allowing it to dim because the ‘thwarting circumstances’ of the present almost squashed it.

This is the thing about a vision from the Lord, a prophetic word that speaks of your future, so much of the time such a word cuts across the present stagnation of life and speaks of newness, about creating something that isn’t there at the present, and that is the challenge. When we have lived with the non-activity for so long, it takes real faith to believe that, yes, it can be changed, yes, God will do it, yes, I have a part to play in it, and that part will result in change. It is only as we step out in small steps that we see the change slowly beginning to take place. In many ways Abram’s story is a story of small steps, little episodes of faith, until eventually the Lord says, “This is it! You’ll have your child within a year!” (Gen 18:10)

But there’s one final thing we need to add: the expectation is real, the word was from God, He IS going to do it, but the end result may not be as you think at this moment of receiving it. Apart from Ishmael, Isaac was the only child of the promise, Abram never saw a family like sand on the seashore as promised. That picture would take centuries, but it did happen. (He did have six children through his concubine who he married, Keturah – Gen 1:2, 1 Chron 1:32 but they were not what became the Hebrew people – Israel, God’s chosen people.) The vision may not be fulfilled in exactly the way you anticipated but it will be the way the Lord anticipated and as such you may hold to such a word and live in that expectation and that, we will see, is what the Christian life is all about.

16. Faith and the Past

Meditations on ‘Focusing Faith’ : 16.  Faith and the Past

Heb 11:21   By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph’s sons, and worshipped as he leaned on the top of his staff.

Although this may also be true of Isaac blessing his boys I believe it is much so applicable to Jacob’s situation later in life – that facing death he is faced with the fruit of his life and he still has something to do about it. It is the fact that he is dying that perhaps provokes this action although there may be other factors. Let’s look at the story.

As he is aware that he is reaching the end of his life, Jacob calls his son Joseph to him. You may remember they are living in Egypt and Joseph is the nation’s second leader next to Pharaoh, but old man Jacob (renamed Israel) is still the patriarch of the family. And yet Joseph is the one with the power so Jacob sends for him and gets him to promise that when he dies Joseph will take his bones back to Canaan and not allow him to be buried in Egypt (see Gen 47:29-31).

A little while later Joseph is informed that his father is ill (Gen 48:1a) and so he takes “his two sons Manasseh and Ephraim along with him,” (v.1b) presumably to say goodbye to the old man before he dies. There appears nothing significant about the two boys going along with him and what follows is promoted by Jacob. Jacob was nearly blind (48:10) but he could just see two figures with Joseph and when he is told they are his two grandsons he says, “Bring them to me so I may bless them.” (v.9) He had obviously learnt from his father Isaac something of the significance of a blessing, to be given to the oldest son, but more than that, even as in his own case he had learned that a blessing was to be a prophetic declaration of God’s will, not his.

Thus when Joseph brings the two boys to him and places his hands on their heads the right hand, (the hand of authority) on the older boy expecting him to get the greater blessing, Jacob switches hands and then, intriguingly blessed Joseph as their father but says, “May the God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day, the Angel who has delivered me from all harm –may he bless these boys. May they be called by my name and the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac, and may they increase greatly upon the earth” (v.15,16) i.e. may God bless these boys and make them famous and may they increase in number on the earth. Now this switching hands annoyed Joseph but Jacob insists, “I know, my son, I know. He too will become a people, and he too will become great. Nevertheless, his younger brother will be greater than he, and his descendants will become a group of nations.” He blessed them that day and said, “In your name will Israel pronounce this blessing: `May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh.’ ” So he put Ephraim ahead of Manasseh.” (v.19,20)  The lesson is clear: when you impart a blessing you impart God’s will, not what others think it should be, and the blessing is a truly prophetic word.

Note the time elements in all this. Jacob is old and about to die. Joseph had had two sons, first Manasseh and then Ephraim. The traditional expectation would be that the older son would inherit the family name and business and be better known, and so on. In other words, so often we let the affairs of the past govern what we think about the present. Very often we allow ourselves to be governed by our past but God knows what He wants and what will be and it is NOT determined by the past. You may have had negative things spoken over you in the past and you may be living in the light of those negatives.  When you were born again you entered a new time dimension, a heavenly one, an eternal one and the same rules no longer apply – only God’s will.

Your negatives can be thought of as a curse, things that decree bad for you. The apostle Paul wrote, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.” (Gal 3:13,14) Summarize that and you have, Jesus was cursed to take all our curses so that  now we can be inheritors of all the blessings God has for all people of faith.  Jesus has taken all your negatives; you do not have to be bound by them. More than that Jesus has opened the door to heaven for you so that all the blessings of God for His children may flow to you. It doesn’t matter what order in the family you were – you are a child of God. It doesn’t matter if your parents gave up on you, your heavenly Father will never give up on you. It doesn’t mater if you have felt lonely through life (for whatever reason), you have a big brother in Jesus who is totally for you. It doesn’t matter if you have felt utterly weak in your life, you are a container for the Holy Spirit, the very power of God.

Ephraim became probably the most powerful of the northern tribes and indeed the northern kingdom was sometimes referred to as Ephraim. Your future is not to be subservient to the expectations of others, the lies of Satan or whoever else, or even the events of the past or even traditional expectations;  you are a child of God, precious to Him and He has a great future for you. Accept it today, declare it and praise and thank Him for it. Go for it!

37. Love One Another

Meditations in 1 John : 37 : Love One Another

1 John  3:11   This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another.

This is almost too simple and too basic as to be worth comment, and yet sometimes the things that are the most obvious are the things we miss out on.  So here’s the test. Think of all your family, every one who constitutes your family. First of all, is there anyone you don’t like in this family group? Is there anyone you don’t get on with in this family group? If you answered positively to either of those questions you may struggle with the next one: is there anyone in that family group you don’t “love”.

Before we go any further let’s remind ourselves of what ‘love’ actually means. It isn’t about having nice warm fuzzy feelings about someone (although it can include that) but it basically means having a determined sense of goodness and good-will towards a person, wanting the best for them and wanting to do what you can to achieve that. Now look again at your family group and consider, is there anyone in that group that you don’t have that determined sense of well-being towards, wanting their best?

Now in case we get ourselves into a legalistic bind at this point, recognise that there may be those members of your family that you never see and when you don’t see someone it is realistically difficult to think or feel these things towards them, so let’s limit this consideration to those who we see (or purposely don’t see because we don’t like them!). The command is to love them. It’s not an option, it is a command, and maybe we need to pray and seek God’s grace for it.

OK, how about the people in your church? Some of your family may be non-Christians and it may take a lot of grace to love them, but the people in your church are supposed to be Christians, so shouldn’t it be easier to love them? So, let your mind wander over the congregation on a Sunday morning. OK, perhaps with a big congregation there are people you don’t know so it is difficult to assess your attitude and feelings towards them, but hopefully if you meet and touch their lives what flows between you is love. As your mind ranges over the people that you do know, are there any for whom you do not have that sense of wanting the best for them, thinking the best about them, and wanting to be a blessing to them so they are blessed by you?

We could repeat the exercise for workplace, college, or school. The call is not to be self-centred and self-concerned, but to be there for other people, wanting God’s best for them, accepting them as they are and seeking to bless them. This is not pie in the sky; this is the practical teaching of the Bible.

Now I have a feeling when we put it like this that many of us start to feel uncomfortable and the reason is that with the passing of days and the busy-ness of modern life, it is very easy to forget this call upon our lives as Christians. We excuse ourselves giving reasons why we can’t stand certain people but that still doesn’t remove from us Gods call to love them, and loving them means accepting them where they are but wanting God’s best for them, and to even feel that we WILL need to pray for His grace at the beginning of every day.

But this call to love is followed by an interesting warning: Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous.” (v.12) John is a pastor and John knows that if we are not careful, because we often feel insecure, we can so easily look at other people and feel jealous of them. In the family there are those who are favourites – and we aren’t! In the church there are people who appear more spiritual than us and we feel inferior. At work there are people being promoted while we get passed over. At college or school there are people who appear more clever than we are, people who get the favour of the teacher or tutor while we get ignored. All of these situations are ripe and fertile ground for the enemy to come and whisper words of discord in our ear, words that stir jealousy or envy and before we know it, those paragraphs about love above, are like a millstone round our neck.

John knows we are vulnerable as human beings to being put down by life and other people and we fall before it and end up with low self esteem and negative feelings about ourselves, and then so easily become prey to the enemy when we encounter people who don’t have low self-esteem and don’t feel negative about themselves. At those times, thoughts of loving as a Christian go out the door. At such times we have to take hold of ourselves and take hold of the truth and reach for God’s grace to reclaim our position – bringers of the love of God, peacemakers, those who are to be there bringing the blessing of God. These people need it just as much as anyone else. The command is to love them; it’s not optional, and when we do and when we bless others, we too will be blessed, so it’s worth working on it. Be blessed.

16. Prosperity

Meditations in the life of Abraham : 16. Prosperity

Gen 13:1-2   So Abram went up from Egypt to the Negev, with his wife and everything he had, and Lot went with him. Abram had become very wealthy in livestock and in silver and gold.

This is the third indication that we have read of Abram’s growing prosperity. The first was back at Haran: “He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Haran, and they set out for the land of Canaan.” (Gen 12:5) The second was in Egypt: “He treated Abram well for her sake, and Abram acquired sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, menservants and maidservants, and camels.” (Gen 12:16) And we come to today’s verses which act as a summary of what has happened.

Previously we assumed that Abram had had cattle and sheep beforehand because they tend to be the currency of the wealthy in those days, but actually there was no actual mention of them until Egypt. So perhaps a more accurate picture (and we can’t be sure) of Abram’s change would be: leaving Ur as a traveling nomad, settles in Haran for a while and accumulates ‘possessions’ – moves on to Canaan – moves on to Egypt where he acquires sheep, cattle, donkeys, camels and more servants.

Now I don’t know if you have noticed something interesting in all of this. Twice Abram had apparently strayed from his calling, once when he settled in Haran, and second, when he went down to Egypt.  Moreover it was in those places that he gained riches! Is this to advocate straying from the Lord’s plan? Heaven forbid! No, but it does say that the Lord will use every opportunity to bless His new follower. Do you believe the Lord will only bless you when things are going well?  Be clear on what happened in both these times. First he settled in Haran because his father settled there and, I suggest, he honoured his father by staying there a while at least. He wasn’t there out of his own making. In the second instance, it was a famine in the Land that drove him south to Egypt. If there had been no famine he would not have gone. He did not go freely to either of these places. People and circumstances pressed him to go where he went.

But they weren’t the places of God’s calling for him. No, but that won’t stop the Lord blessing him. The Lord blesses him, not because of where he is but because of who he is. All the Lord requires is our obedience and when we are we find we are in the way of His blessing. When we wilfully disobey Him then things go wrong, but that isn’t His desire for us; He desires us to be in the place of blessing. We are afraid of this principle sometimes because we feel pastorally concerned for those who are not well off. Well, let’s change our approach. Let’s be positive and ask how we can bring them into blessing. Please note I didn’t say just make them well off. Blessing is good that comes from God. For good to come from God we have to lead people into a place of relationship with Him.

Is God going to bless those who have no relationship with Him? No quick answers here because even the unrighteous are often well off. There is possibly something her about God’s permissive will rather than His active will, i.e. He allows rather than brings affluence. But, again, go back to Deut 28 and there is no question but God promises blessing on His people who will obey Him, and that blessing can be seen in material terms.

At the very least when we come to the Lord, we want to check with Him that we are doing what He wants us to be doing in terms of career. Thereafter as we seek Him and seek His wisdom (Jas 1:5) we should expect our lives to improve. Now that may not mean money. Three times in my working life I made career changes and three times I took a third cut in salary to do it, but my quality of life greatly improved on each occasion. Money does not necessarily equate with quality of life.  But quality of life (and that may include material blessing) is something to concern us but the most important thing is to seek and do His will as He reveals it to us. Speaking about things or possessions, Jesus said, But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Mt 6:33)  Putting the rule of God first is key.

The apostle Paul was later to write, we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Rom8:28) Note the components of that well-known verse. What God is doing – working for our good. Where – in all things. Who is He doing it for – those who love Him. Why only them? Because He needs our cooperation to do so much in our lives and He has that in those who love Him. If someone disregards Him and refuses Him (and He sees that is how they will always be) how can He work with their cooperation? He can’t!  Don’t worry about them; focus on your own relationship with the Lord. Ensure your heart is open to Him and you understand His will for you and you live according to that – then leave the rest to Him. Amen?

54. God be Praised

Meditations in 1 Peter : 54: God be Praised

1 Pet 4:11 If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

Speaking and doing. There are echoes of verse 7 here: be clear minded and self-controlled.” where we said it was about thinking and then doing. Here it is about speaking and doing. But note that this is a continuation of verse 10: “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.” These are the expressions of the ‘gifts’ we have.

Seen in that context the speaking that is referred to here is to be seen as a gift from God and an expression of the Lord and so if we are someone who has the privilege of being in a position in the church where we speak publicly, we should recognise the honour and the responsibility that is ours and we should recognise that if we are motivated, energized, inspired and directed by the Lord in this ministry, what we are bringing is to be seen as the very word of God. That is a very high calling! I wonder how many of us who are either preachers or teachers, see it in this way? There is an implied challenge here to be careful as to what we say, and to seek the Lord before we open our mouths. for we will be answerable to Him.

Now there is something else involved in this. Jesus said, “out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks,” (Lk 6:45) i.e. what comes out of our mouths is a reflection of what is in our hearts. If our hearts are given over to God, that will be observed when we speak. If we are still self-centred and not God-centred, that also will be revealed. We will, in other words, only speak the words of God if we are filled with God and given over to God. How we are with God will be observed in the words we speak. The preacher and teacher cannot help but reveal their spiritual state when they speak – and that is a real challenge!

But it isn’t only our words; it is also what we do, our serving. Is doing and serving the same thing? No, ‘doing’ can be self-centred or simply an expression of self. Serving is doing for the benefit of others. Serving is done as a purposeful act of the will to bless other people, something we choose to do. Now not everyone has come to the place of desiring to be a servant, even though Jesus calls us to it: “whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.” (Mt 20:26) There is an implication there that followers of Jesus will want to grow, develop, get on, and to achieve great things but, says Jesus, they only can do that by becoming a servant, by having a servant attitude. Serving is an expression of maturity so, according to Peter, if you have reached the level of maturity where you desire to be a servant, “do it with the strength that God provides.” In other words, if you are going to be God’s servant, you can only do it with His strength. Working (or serving) is hard and tiring and so to be able to continue doing it, you will need God’s ongoing strength, which will mean waiting on Him for it (see Isa 40:28-31)

Now there is an outworking to all this and it has been hinted at by Peter more than a few times: so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.” We do what we do so that God will be revealed and glorified. Peter started praising God in Chapter 1 for having “given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” (1:3) In chapter 2 he spoke of us having been called so that we “may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (2:9) He then continued, “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” (2:12). In chapter 3 he put it slightly differently: “in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.” (3:15) but the end is the same – praise to Him. And that brings us here to chapter 4 with, “so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.” (v.11).

The ultimate goal? To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.” When that happens, truth is being observed. Any glory is due to Him and only Him, for any power is His and so whatever we say or do is to be an expression of the life of the Spirit of Jesus within us, and that will always glorify the Father. Speaking of his own glory, Jesus said, “If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me,” (Jn 8:54) i.e. any glory we have comes from the Father and belongs to the Father. Near the end of the Last Supper Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified and God is glorified in him.” (Jn 13:31) i.e. Jesus will be glorified through his death and resurrection and that will glorify the Father. This was made even more clear in the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus prayed, “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you.” (Jn 17:1)

In all of this we see that the outworking of Jesus’ life was to glorify or reveal the wonder of the Father. It is the wonder of the Father’s character that is being revealed, the wonder of His thinking and His planning and His love for mankind. Everything flows from and returns to God the Father. Jesus executed His will in a human body, and the Holy Spirit continues to do it in and through Christians today. That is where you and I come in! May He be glorified in us!

2. Praise & Blessing

Ephesians Meditations No.2

2. Praise & Blessing

Eph 1:3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.

God is worthy of our praise and worship. The fact that most of the time we don’t praise and worship Him is simply a sign of our spiritual blindness. The fact that people even deny God or speak badly of Him is an even greater sign of foolishness. It was the psalmist who said, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” (Psa 14:1). Paul was elsewhere to condemn sinful man in that, “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 men are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him.” (Rom 1:20,21). Paul, now in this letter, has things on his mind that he wants to convey to the Ephesians, and the very thought of these things evokes praise in him.

He has just greeted them with a blessing: “To the saints in
Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” He has described the believers as ‘saints’ which simply means ‘holy or consecrated ones’ which is what all Christians are. He has desired grace – God’s power or ability for us to live out our lives as His children – and peace, which comes through that relationship. Instantly these are things where there is an interweaving between God and man. This book is all about that. It isn’t about ‘God out there’ and it isn’t about us on our own. No, it is all about the coming together and interaction of God and man that results in transformed and changed men and women who form a ‘called out people’, the church, and it is all the work of God through His Son, Jesus Christ. Thus when he asks for grace and peace for them, it is from both the Father and the Son, for it is a joint activity.

But now, as we’ve already noted, he praises God. Praise automatically rises within him when he thinks of what God has done. Praise is about acknowledging someone’s achievements. Worship is about acknowledging God’s greatness, the fact of Him being infinitely greater than us, but praise focuses on what He has done. We praise our children when they have done well. We praise God for what He has achieved.

Do you notice how he links Father and Son: “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” He wants to remind us at every turn that Jesus is God’s unique Son and that God is uniquely his Father. But he’s not just ‘Jesus’, he is ‘our Lord’. Paul is quite clear; Jesus is our Lord, because he is the Christ or the Messiah, the anointed one sent by God to save us. Every word is significant. Paul is quite careful in the way he uses each word, and we shouldn’t miss the significance of each word therefore.

But now comes the reason for Paul’s praising God: who has blessed us.” A frightening number of people never seem to see this, that God’s intent is to bless us. Now the word ‘bless’ is not a word commonly used today but in the Bible it is very significant and used a great deal. When God ‘blesses us’ He ‘decrees good for us’ and when God decrees something it IS done. So Paul is praising God because of what God has done and the outworking or end product of what He has done is that He has been able to decree good for us.

But there seems a condition on this blessing as far as it is being mentioned here: who has blessed us in the heavenly realms.” Now to catch the meaning of this we have to look at the other four times that Paul uses this phrase in this letter (and nowhere else). The next reference is, “which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms.” (
1:20) which clearly refers to heaven as a place. Then comes, “And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.” (2:6) which suggests us being linked to Christ who is in heaven. This is followed by, “His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms.” (3:10) and “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (6:12) both of which suggest that there is a spiritual dimension of which we need to be aware.

Putting these together we can therefore suggest that our being blessed “in the heavenly realms” means that our origins have been settled in heaven and God decrees good for us from heaven now, and in heaven in eternity. It also suggests that in the spiritual world, where we (knowingly or unknowingly) interact with angelic forces or demonic forces, God decrees good for us. As the Bible indicates that this spiritual realm also impacts the material realm, it is also a suggestion that God decrees blessing in every aspect of our lives.

Every spiritual blessing in Christ”? Yes, everything that is good that can be considered as part of the outworking of Christ’s work on the Cross, is for us! Perhaps a shorthand for this is the sense of Paul’s rhetorical question in Romans 8 put as, “God is for us(Rom
8:31). Yes, all of God’s intents, attitudes, call them what you will, in respect of us, are GOOD. Be blessed! Praise Him!