22. God of Communication (1)

Getting to Know God Meditations:  22. God of Communication (1)

Heb 1:1.2   In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son 

Recap & Purpose:  I feel a little bit that there may be a feeling that we have gone full circle when we come to this study, after all in the first block of studies we had, 2. God of Record, 3. God of Self-Disclosure, 4. God of Intervention, 5. God of Gradual Revelation, and 6. God of Interaction, all of which in some way and another are really about God communicating. However in this and the next few studies I want to do three things: first, note the fact of all this communicating in the Old Testament, and then, second, consider God’s ultimate act of communication, His own Son, Jesus Christ, and finally, the acts of ‘hearing’ and then ‘listening’. If God ‘talks’ does it mean that people naturally hear?  I don’t think so! So, first of all let’s note the fact of all this communicating and see what we can learn from it.

God who speaks: From the earliest pages of Genesis we see this phenomena – God speaking to human beings, for example, “the Lord God commanded the man, “You are….” (Gen 2:16, the very first instance), then, “the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” (Gen 3:9) and so conversation goes on. Later, “Then the Lord said to Cain…” (Gen 4:6), then “So God said to Noah…” (Gen 6:13) then, “Then God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them….” (Gen 9:1) then, “The Lord had said to Abram” (Gen 12:1) which takes us to the starting point in our earliest studies. Three things to note about these. First, they are all instances of God communicating with specific people using language. Second, some of those references lead on to full conversations. Third, those instances are relatively small amounts of the text, the bulk of which is descriptive about what was going on and why God did or said various things.

In that record of Genesis (and the following four books for that matter) there is a great deal of the record that stretches over hundreds of years that go into explaining how the Hebrew people (later becoming Israel) existed and had interactions with God. It is a reasonable question to ask who wrote these first five books. Later books were written either by key players or recorders who observed the key players, but over this period, who could have written such a coherent series of books?

The best, the most logical and most sensible of all the various answers that scholars come up with, I believe, are those that a number of modern scholars arrive at (who also conform to the ancient Jewish beliefs), that Moses ‘compiled’ these books, certainly having been there and been the key player for the second to fifth of the five books we refer to as the Pentateuch (the five writings) and had formed Genesis through a combination of the accounts passed down through the generations together with clarity and understanding added by God in the many, many hours Moses spent with God in the Tabernacle in the forty years he spent looking after Israel until they were ready to enter the Promised Land.

Ongoing Language: As the Bible goes on, the means of communicating changes and it is important to see how it does.   Initially it carries on as we have seen previously, for example, “the Lord said to Joshua,” (Josh 1:1) and then a little later, “And the Lord said to Joshua….” (Josh 3:7) but what is interesting is that Joshua leads Israel in ways that would have required instruction from the Lord but those instructions aren’t given to us; the recorder, I suggest, simply omits them as secondary issues that keep the action flowing. The key issues the recorder does include, for example, “At that time the Lord said to Joshua…” (Josh 5:2) is an instruction to ensure all the males were circumcised. Circumcision had been brought in with Abraham, possibly with health implications, but primarily as a sign and reminder to every Jewish male of their relationship with God. This had been an issue with Moses (see Ex 4:24-26) and was to be an ongoing requirement in Israel. Thus this instance is one of God bringing Israel in line with previously instructed requirements for them.  The ‘big’ instructions keep on being recorded, for example, “Then the Lord said to Joshua,” (Josh 6:2) as the Lord instructs Joshua how to take Jericho.

Different Means: As we work our way through these early books picking up on God speaking to the various key players, we probably ought to pick up on the various instances where God or His representatives turn up and speak through human form. Where it is God, theologians refer to these as theophanies (ancient Greek ‘appearance of god’). Otherwise they may be angelic beings in human form (e.g. Judg 6:11,12,22). In Gen 18 ‘three visitors’ turn up to speak to Abraham (Gen 18:1,2) who the text indicates represent God Himself, a theophany. When Joshua was approaching Jericho there is a strange incident when, “he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?”  “Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.” Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, “What message does my Lord] have for his servant?” The commander of the Lord’s army replied, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so.” (Josh 5:13-15) The implication that is usually taken is that this ‘man’ is in fact an angel who appears to give Joshua a more tangible sense, if you like, of the Lord’s presence with him, fighting for him, as he is about to go into the first encounter in the Land.

And so these sorts of verbal encounter continue. When we get to Judges, Israelites asked the Lord, “Who of us is to go up first to fight against the Canaanites?” The Lord answered, “Judah shall go up; I have given the land into their hands.” (Judg 1:1,2) Judges is a particularly murky book, I tend to feel, full of illustrations of Israel getting it wrong. Perhaps it is because of this that the divine presence seems to step back, to be replaced by angelic interventions (see Judg 2:1, 5:23, 6:11, 13:3,6,9, etc.) The book of Ruth that follows is almost an aside to show how part of the Messianic family tree was filled in, but then come the main historical books.

1 Samuel 1 is the natural historical flow on from Judges. Israel have Eli, an elderly priest presiding, a leader past his best and who eventually dies after his sons are killed on a foolhardy venture with Israel against their nearby enemies, the Philistines (see 1 Sam 4). Before this comes the account of Samuel’s birth and childhood, before he grew into manhood as Israel first prophet (after Moses), and where the Lord “at Shiloh…. revealed himself to Samuel through his word.” (1 Sam 3:21)

From now on there is a mixture of simple speech and, through the prophets that followed, came ‘the word of the Lord’. Our understanding of this, in line with modern prophetic gift, is that the individual suddenly has a sense of a word, a picture or a message that he (or she) is sure comes from the prompting of God. So in the ‘conversation mode’, we still see, for example, “When Samuel caught sight of Saul, the Lord said to him, “This is the man I spoke to you about; he will govern my people.” (1 Sam 9:17) In chapter 10 Samuel gives Saul, who is to be the new, first king of Israel, a prophetic word, or word of knowledge, telling him exactly what was going to happen in the coming hours (see 1 Sam 10:1-8) all of which happened (v.9). It had to be a revelation of God.

The Word of the Lord: This phraseology is first used in Gen 15:1 “After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Do not be afraid, Abram.” and is then found later in Exo 9:20,21 of those who “feared the word of the Lord,” and who ignored the word of the Lord meaning the word from God that Moses had passed on to Pharaoh. It also appears a number of other times in the following narratives, e.g. Num 3:16,51, Deut 5:5, 1 Sam 3:1.  In that latter reference it was noted, In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions,” implying that much of the time that which was implied as having come from God came through visions – yet now rarely.  A few verses on we read, “Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord: The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him,” (1 Sam 3:7) or as a paraphrase version puts it, “Samuel had never had a personal message from God yet.” As the historical narrative continues, and more prophets are in evidence the phrase is used more to indicate they sensed a specific prophetic message (speaking of the future) being given by God through them, e.g. 2 Sam 7:4, 27:11, 1 Kings 13:1, 15:29, 16:1,7,12, 34, 17:2,8,16, 21:28, 22:38, 2 Kings 1:17. In the major Prophets the sense is even stronger, for example in Jeremiah, e.g. Jer 1:2,4,11,13, 2:1,4,31, 6:10, 7:2, 8:9, 9:20, 13:1 etc. etc.

And So: So it is no wonder that the writer to the Hebrews (see the book of that name) declared, “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways,” (Heb 1:1) and then continues with those devastating words, “but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.” (Heb 1:2) Bizarrely, back at the end of the nineteenth century, liberal German theologians started propagating the idea that the supernatural could not happen, therefore prophecy could not happen, therefore God could not speak. Putting it in the light of what we have been considering in this study, it sounds ludicrous, even though it carried the minds of church leaders in the first third of the 20th century until scholars started rejecting the folly of what was being said, for the Bible is packed full of claims that God has spoken, God is a communicator. You either believe the Bible – for every single book either declares that truth or implies it,  it is a universal claim throughout the 66 books – or you don’t. If you don’t you are actually flying in the face of all the evidence. In the next study we will take this on to consider that verse 2 of Heb 1 and in the following one, the other side of this coin – hearing and listening.

62. Addendum: Christ’s work in me

Focus on Christ Meditations: 62.  Addendum: Christ’s work in me

Rom 8:29,30   For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

You might be excused for thinking we had arrived at the end of this series in yesterday’s study, for I had thought that. However, having done that I found this nagging feeling that actually we have not summed up the effects of Christ’s work on the Cross. Yesterday we sought to carry out an overview of the life and activity of Christ, but to more fully appreciate his work we need to try to lay out just what he has done and is doing in our lives, personally.

In our verses above the apostle Paul conveniently laid out an overview of the work of God in respect of our lives. As we have commented a number of times, at least seven times in the New Testament we are shown that the plan of God in respect of Christ and our salvation was mapped out by the Godhead before the foundation of the world. At that time they looked into the future and knew who would respond (that is not the same as making people respond) and in that sense they knew even then the total number of those who in time-space history would become believers, i.e.  ‘predestined’. In the fullness of time the process involved God, by His Holy Spirit, calling people and when they responded He declared them righteous on the double basis of Christ’s work and their faith response. i.e. they were justified. But then He also put His own Holy Spirit within every believer and established eternal life for them which would continue from this life into the next. i.e. they were glorified.

But let’s look at this ‘process’, as I have called it, first from a) what Christ did on the Cross and then b) what he does for each believer.

The Work of the Cross: The angel told Joseph that “he will save his people from their sins” (Mt 1:21). The sins of mankind since the Fall were the thing that not only brought down mankind and made us less than that for which God had designed us, but also kept us from God and God from us. The word ‘justice’ has come up many times in these studies because it is a strange phenomenon of the human race, this demand for ‘rightness’ (that must come from the character of God). How to ‘put right’ the human race has been the central aspect of the plan of God from the beginning. So note the following two key concepts of his work on the Cross:

i) Atonement: We noted in a previous study: “God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished– he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.” (Rom 3:25,26) The footnote in v.25 offers instead of ‘sacrifice of atonement’, “as the one who would turn aside his wrath, taking away sin.” But look at the reasoning: “to demonstrate his justice”. The apostle John added, He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole(1 Jn 2:2)

So here we come across a word we have not picked up on before: atonement,  which is about making amends, putting wrongs right and bringing reconciliation with God. It produces a salvation that is available for any and all, e.g. whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.” (Rev 22:17 & also 1 Jn 2:2 above). Note my use of ‘available’. It is not automatic, it has to be asked for, it has to be received and it has to be appropriated – but it IS available for any to come down the path of repentance and faith.

ii) Redemption: This is a concept that suggests we have been bought back from slavery to sin and Satan (and indeed the Law’s curse, Gal 3:13), and the price paid was the blood of Christ. The idea conveyed in the Bible is that unbelievers ‘belong’ to Satan or are under his sway (dominion) and he has rights over them because of their sin. They can only be ‘ransomed’ from this way of life after they have repented and on the basis of Christ’s death. See 1 Pet 1:18,19 & Eph 1:7

The Work in our lives: That leads us on to what happens as a result of this work of the Cross which is available to each and every person.

i) Justified: we have already touched on this twice and it happens because of our faith and is received by our faith. Paul’s teaching in Romans 3-5 was that faith within us, the accepting of the truth of Christ put before us, and surrendering to God, is what God looks for to declare us justified. When He declares it, we have to believe and accept it and live it out. There is a sense whereby we were justified the moment we turned to Christ in faith, and are being justified as we live it out.

ii) Regeneration: This is not a word you will find in your Bible but it refers to the act of God by which a new life, His Holy Spirit, is implanted in the individual and can only happen because that individual has just been justified and made right with God, and so can now become a vessel of God or a temple of the Holy Spirit (e.g. 1 Cor 3:16). Words we associate with this are being ‘born again’ (see Jn 3:3-8) or converted (e.g. Acts 15:3)

iii) Adopted: This is God’s act of declaring us to be part of His family as a result of the above things (see Eph 1:5)

iv) Sanctified: This refers to the act and process of being set apart to God and conforming to the image of Jesus. For the act see 1 Cor 6:11 & Rom 15:16 and for the process see 1 Thess 4:3 & 5:23.

v) Glorified: In addition to what we have said about this above, we may speak about the glory given to believers because of their union with Christ. (Col 1:27), his expression (Eph 1:27) who glorify him (Eph 3:21) as we are seated with him in the heavenly realms (Eph 2:6) but living out our lives here on earth. Moreover, one day we will receive gloriously transformed bodies (Rom 8:11,23, 1 Cor 15:43-53, Phil 3:21)

Now all of these things are what you will find in any book of theology but perhaps the biggest issue of all, in respect of who we are now, as a result of the work of Christ on the Cross, and now in our lives, is the potential of the relationship with God that is before us, summed up in Paul’s words to the Ephesians: “we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10) If we may expand that at the end of this series: God has done everything He has with His Son, Jesus the Christ, to bring about a new possibility in us humans, the possibility of sharing in the being that is Christ, so that we may share in the things that he is doing, things he planned from before the foundation of the world, things he wants us to share in. That is the climatic end to all of this. The Son of God came and lived and died and rose and ascended in order to reverse the works of the Fall so we could share with he and his Father in working to eventually create a new heaven and a new earth. Incredible! Hallelujah!

7. Ezekiel’s Mission

Meditations from Ezekiel: 7.  Ezekiel’s Mission

Ezek 2:1,2   He said to me, “Son of man, stand up on your feet and I will speak to you.” As he spoke, the Spirit came into me and raised me to my feet, and I heard him speaking to me.

God’s personal communication: From the strange nature of chapter 1, as we move into chapter 2 we move into simple straight forward instruction. Now it is almost so obvious that we don’t usually think about it, but what we find behind all that we have read so far in this book, is that the Lord is revealing something of Himself and His glory because He has a message to convey to Ezekiel and the Lord wants the message to come in the overall context of the heavenly vision. Now of course He could have sent a single angel to convey this message to Ezekiel as we find with such figures that we have referred to previously, Gideon, Zechariah and Mary, but when it comes to calling a prophet it seems God appears to speak to the prophet personally. (See Jeremiah or Isaiah, for example) The point is that God has a task for Ezekiel and when we speak of his calling, we refer to what God calls him to do for the rest of his life. Observe.

Son of Man:He said to me, “Son of man, stand up on your feet and I will speak to you.” Note, ‘Son of Man’ a designation used over 90 times in Ezekiel emphasizing his humanity. The Lord knows his frailty as a human being and will provide accordingly, but also it may be He uses this designation to keep Ezekiel in a humble perspective because he is going to be the recipient of amazing prophecy and there is always a danger in that. The apostle Paul said the Lord had given him a ‘thorn in the flesh’ to counter any pride that the enormity of revelation he received might stir up in him (see 2Cor 12:7). C.S.Lewis had Aslan the Lion refer to the children as “son and daughters of Adam”, his way of conveying the same thing, but perhaps it also reminds us that we are part of the sinful human race and we constantly need God’s mercy and grace.

Empowered: Ezekiel is flat on his face so the Lord instructs him to stand up because He wants to speak to him face to face, but, “As he spoke, the Spirit came into me and raised me to my feet, and I heard him speaking to me.” (v.2) The power of the holy Spirit accompanies God’s words and it is the Spirit who raised him up. When God instructs, He also enables.

Directions: Then comes the message we’ve been waiting for all this time: “He said: “Son of man, I am sending you to the Israelites, to a rebellious nation that has rebelled against me; they and their fathers have been in revolt against me to this very day. The people to whom I am sending you are obstinate and stubborn. Say to them, `This is what the Sovereign LORD says.’” (v.3,4) He is going to receive words from God and he is to convey those words to the Israelites there in Babylon, and maybe those words will get back to Israel and Jerusalem as well. He is to be under no illusions about this task for the Lord sees that this people “are obstinate and stubborn”. On what does He base that assessment? On the fact that He has sent His word to Israel again and again and again, calling them away from idolatry and back to Himself but, in His words, they had been in rebellion and revolt against Him for decades, if not centuries.

Now Ezekiel is given some helpful encouragement: “And whether they listen or fail to listen–for they are a rebellious house–they will know that a prophet has been among them.” (v.5)  i.e. it’s not down to you whether they respond; all you have to do is bring the message with the result that they will know you are a prophet from me and will never be able to say they didn’t know what I want.

But then He brings a stronger instruction: “And you, son of man, do not be afraid of them or their words. Do not be afraid, though briers and thorns are all around you and you live among scorpions. Do not be afraid of what they say or terrified by them, though they are a rebellious house. You must speak my words to them, whether they listen or fail to listen, for they are rebellious. But you, son of man, listen to what I say to you. Do not rebel like that rebellious house; open your mouth and eat what I give you.” (v.6-8) Three times he is told not to be afraid of the people. Yes, they are obstinate, yes, they will reject you, yes, they may even oppose you, but you don’t need to be afraid of them. All you need to worry about is that you convey my word to them; don’t be like them and disregard or rebel against what I am saying to you.

Now we may understand the context a little more, the incredible vision of chapter 1, of which these verses are still part. The enormity of heaven and the powers of heaven are behind you Ezekiel, the Lord God Almighty is with you and sending you. His might and authority go with you.

And Us? Now there are similarities and differences here from what we experience. First of all we have been called and the result of our calling is that we are now Christians, we are part of the body of Christ and individually members of it (1 Cor 12:27). As such God has plans and purposes for each of us:  “we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10) Moreover God will gift us with whatever we need to do whatever He calls us to do: “Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.” (Rom 12:4-6)

The big difference for us is that neither you nor I are called to speak to a whole nation (There may be someone out there called to speak to a community of whatever size) but most of us will operate with the leading, the calling, the empowering and the gifting that God gives to us as PART of the body of Christ, the Church. In general terms we are all called to be witnesses to Christ whenever we have the opportunity, but a few of us will be called to be evangelists, some pastors and teachers and so on.

How we are ‘called’: Now honesty demands that I acknowledge that few Christians sense a very specific call to a particular ministry. Some do and that may be you, but many of us find we get ‘called’ by dint of circumstances or heart yearning and opportunity. What will happen is that we find a particular desire or even burden on our hearts and this the Lord uses to lead us into His ‘good works’ (Mt 5:16) that He knows you will be good at. That may be being merciful to the needy, it may be teaching Sunday School, or it may be bringing prophetic encouragement, the range is extensive. But here’s the thing: “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” (1 Cor 12:27) that we’ve already quotes but which needs emphasizing. YOU and EACH ONE, those are the words to note. Every single Christian is a member of the body of Christ and the purpose of that analogy is to get us thinking and doing the WORKS of Jesus. The works of God for Ezekiel will be conveying His message to His people. That’s what will be coming in an intriguing variety of ways. Watch this space.

26. The Origin of all gifting

Short Meditations in John 3:  26. The Origin of all gifting

Jn 3:27    To this John replied, “A man can receive only what is given him from heaven.

John understands his ministry and, to be more precise, he understands where it has come from. He was called by God and anointed by God to be the forerunner of the Messiah – and that’s all.  He has done what he was given to do and any ‘success’ that he had had came from the Lord. So when his disciples, or maybe even other Jews starting to stir up competition with Jesus and his ministry, come with questions about his ministry, his basic answer is, I have got what I have from God and do what He gives me to do – and the same is true of the Messiah!

In many ways this is the clearest statement of this principle in the Bible: we do what God calls us to do, and no more. Other people have different ministries and we are not in competition. The apostle Paul wrote in respect of gifts, Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?” (1 Cor 12:27-30). In this he makes clear various important things. First, it is God who appointed these ministries. Second, the ministries are quite clear and distinct. Third, there are only limited numbers of them and not everyone is the same. This sounds very obvious but in practice it is not. Suppose I am called to be a teacher, say. That means I am a teacher and not a prophet and if I have not been given the prophet’s gifting, I should neither hanker after it nor pretend I have it (even if I have the gift of prophecy).

The key to being at peace in serving God, is knowing what He has called you to and what He has gifted you with. This avoids all temptation to envy or jealousy and enables us to be blessed by other people’s ministry and blessed in exercising our own gifting.  This may all sound very obvious but I wonder how many square pegs there are in round holes in the church – men or women ‘performing’ tasks that they have not been given by the head of the church, but just because they think it is expected of them or wrong ambition pushed them to it? It is a vital subject in the kingdom of God, knowing the calling and the gifting of God and not going beyond it, recognising that real gifting comes from God alone and is not something we stir up. John the Baptist rested in this knowledge, it was his disciples who were slow to come to understanding of it.

41. The Divine Process

Meditations in Romans : 41:  The Divine Process

Rom 8:29,30   For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

This is THE most compact description of God’s work of salvation found anywhere in the Bible. To put it in context, Paul has been bringing reassurance to the Christians in Rome and having just said that God works for the good in our lives, he now steps back and takes a panoramic view of  God’s work.

It starts with the word, ‘foreknew’. Before God created anything He KNEW what would happen if He did this or that. God KNEW what would happen if He gave us free will. God KNEW what would happen with sin entering the world. God KNEW how He could then work to draw men and women back to Him. God KNEW who would respond to Him.   On the Day of Pentecost Peter preached, This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge,” (Acts 2:23) speaking of God’s preplanned purposes, and then a little later he preached, “this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Christ would suffer,” (Acts 3:18) reminding us that God had spoken of this plan many times through the Old Testament prophets. Later in prayer they prayed about the religious leaders, “They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.” (Acts 4:28). Again and again they realised that all that had taken place, happened with God’s foreknowledge; He had planned it before the foundation of the world. (Check out Jn 17:24, 1 Pet 1:20, Rev 17:8, Rev 13:8, 2 Tim 1:9, Tit 1:2)

But having known what would happen – the Fall – God planned or “predestined” the way for sin to be dealt with. The key would be the death and resurrection of Jesus, His Son, how people responded to him. As we already said, He saw into the future and knew who would respond to His Son. This wasn’t a case of Him making us respond but of simply knowing who would respond. Knowing who would respond and writing their names in the Lamb’s book of Life (Rev 17:8) is what the Bible means by predestination. You were predestined to become a child of God in that God looked into the future, knew everything that would happen and saw you responding. It was fixed only in as far as God saw what would happen and thus because it did happen we can say retrospectively that you were predestined.

But there is more because it says, predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son,” indicating the purpose of what God was going to do in you. Jesus was the blueprint of a perfect man and God’s work throughout our time on earth is to conform us gradually to that blueprint. Jesus would be revealed through his death and resurrection as God’s Son, and in this he would be, if you like, the firstborn of God’s big family that would be created throughout the period of church history, until Jesus comes back again. It will never be perfectly done, this process of change, until we meet Him face to face, but big steps will be taken.

That was the plan but it had to be brought into being in time-space history and so “those he predestined, he also called.” To bring about redemption required the work of the Holy Spirit to call us and convict us.   In the same way that God used a burning bush to attract and call Moses (Ex 3), so the Holy Spirit used circumstances to attract us. Almost invariably it was some form of crisis and somehow, either directly or using another person, we were presented with the Gospel, we repented and came to Christ.

At that point we were justified. At the point of our conversion, at the point of being born again, God justified us: “those he called, he also justified.” The old Sunday School adage of “just as if I’d” never sinned, holds true. He wiped away our guilt and sin and forgave us and adopted us as children of God. At that moment we were declared free of guilt and shame, our old sin and our old lives. At that moment we were declared clean, forgiven and sons of God.

But it doesn’t finish there: “those he justified, he also glorified.” We have already said that at that moment He adopted us and He did it in a very practical way: He put His own Holy Spirit within us. At that moment we were glorified in that suddenly the world was able to see that a new child of God existed, another container of the Spirit of God, and from that moment on we would be glorified as children of God as we lived out the Christ life and were transformed into his image and character, and as the Holy Spirit led us into the works of Christ. One day when we pass into God’s presence, we will be changed in a split second into the glorious image of a redeemed heavenly child of God.

God foreknew … predestined … called… justified… glorified.  Note it is all the work of God. This is what He does as He seeks to draw men and women back to Himself. Our part is simply to respond and then we find we are part of the story that was established even before the Lord Himself said, “Let there be light,” and there was light! Wow! Amazing! Incredible! Wonderful!

40. Greatest Assurance

Meditations in Romans : 40:  Greatest Assurance

Rom 8:28   And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

I always believe that this verse has got to be one of THE most assuring verses of the New Testament. First of all, let’s note that it flows on in Paul’s mind from all that he has been saying and hence it starts with a link word, “And”.  The flow of Paul’s argument goes right back to when he was speaking about us being sons of God (v.14) and therefore heirs (v.17) as long as we take the sufferings as well as the glory (v.17). Having mentioned suffering he contrasted it with the wonder of what is coming (v.18), noting that the world is groaning and waiting for us to be revealed as God’s sons (v.19-22). We too groan inwardly as we wait for the time when we will be changed in heaven (v.23). In the same as we groan inwardly so the Spirit does when we don’t know how to pray. The picture is of a world and a life that is waiting incomplete, a world that is often uncertain that leaves us wondering what God’s will is. THIS is the context for our present verse.

Against the uncertainty of this Fallen World, Paul now balances it with a wonderful assurance for believers, that whatever is going on (which we may not understand!), God will be working for our good. Let’s note this verse bit by bit because it is so amazing. We note first it is about God working and we note that He is working “in all things”. There is nothing in your life or mine where God is not active. God is never passive. Jesus said, My Father is always at his work.” (Jn 5:17). We may not discern His activities and we may not catch His voice but He is always moving and acting on our behalf.

And it is always for our good! There may be various elements working in our lives. Things happen because of what we say or do. Things happen because Satan or someone that he uses intervenes. Things happen because God intervenes. Our motives may be selfish, Satan’s intentions may be harmful, but God’s intentions are always for our good: “God works for the good.”  God always works to bring good, not bad – because He IS love (1 Jn 4:8,16). The Bible shows that God weaves His actions into the actions of humanity, sometimes even using Satan, to bring good.  Sometimes, as we’ve just noted, as we’ve noted WHO may be involved in our lives, things start out badly as self, sin or Satan are at work, but despite that, God in His wisdom will be working into the situation to somehow bring good to us, His children.

Yes, the target of God’s loving goodness, in this context at least, are “those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Now don’t sink into some subjective wonderings about, “Do I really love Him?”  Love isn’t just a nice warm, fuzzy feeling, it’s commitment. When you came to Christ you committed yourself to Him and, perhaps, initially you had feelings of gratefulness but you might not have identified that as love. But the fact that you are a Christian means you love God. The other side of the coin is that you are what you are because God called you with a purpose. You eventually surrendered and were born again because the Holy Spirit was working to convict you, but He was calling you to God, to come to a place when you knelt before God and surrendered your life to Him. His purpose? It was to save you, redeem you, change you, forgive you, cleanse you, and then take you on in a lifetime adventure of change as a son of God!

Now there is about to follow a most amazing overview of the process of God and we mustn’t rush it and therefore we will leave it to the next meditation. In the meantime if you are someone who sometimes worries about what is going on in your life, remember that your loving heavenly Father is working there in the background of your circumstances to bring good to you, either through the circumstances or despite the circumstances. And God never fails!  Let that truth sink in. Amen? Amen!

15. Variety

Short Meditations in Mark’s Gospel: 15. Variety of Followers

Mk 1:19 When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets.

Two meditations ago we considered how Jesus chose such ordinary men. Here are now two more very ordinary men who get called by Jesus to follow him. These two, however, later get the nickname ‘Sons of Thunder’ because they started out being such fiery followers. That is strange because John ends up being the apostle who was most aware of God’s wonderful love and that brought about such an incredible pastoral heart in him.

These may be just some more fishermen but they are unique individuals. There are some cults of which it is said they just produce clones. That could never be said of mainstream Christianity because the Lord takes individuals and keeps them as individuals and in fact develops their uniqueness and individuality. Here is a mystery for the New Testament also speaks of the Church as the body of Christ and the emphasis is on the individual parts and yet they all work in harmony.

Chinese Christian leader, Watchman Nee, wrote a book emphasizing the difference in calling of these men, Peter who was called after fishing and who became the ‘Great Fisherman’ and then John who was called ‘preparing’ or ‘mending’ his nets and who role and writings in the New Testament seemed to focus on mending or strengthening the early Church. Peter ended up being martyred while John was the only one of the twelve apostles to die of old age. Both started from the church in Jerusalem but Peter ended up in Rome while John ended up in Ephesus before and after a period of exile on the island of Patmos.

Yes, when you become a Christian you need not have any fear that the Lord is just going to clone you and make a uniform pattern Christian out of you. There is no such thing!  Each one of us is unique and we have a unique calling and a unique experience of the Lord. Some of us the Lord will turn into apostles, others prophets and others Pastors or teachers and other just unique witnesses. He sees our character and He sees what we are capable of and uniquely draws us out to be that unique person, gifted by Him.

Lord, thank you that you do not try to make me be like anyone except your Son, Jesus. Thank you that you have made me a unique individual and you love me as an individual and you will take me and use me as an individual.

8. To Samuel

“God turned up” Meditations: 8 :  To Samuel

1 Sam 3:4-6 Then the LORD called Samuel. Samuel answered, “Here I am.” And he ran to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” But Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” So he went and lay down. Again the LORD called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”

Over the years I have come to a conclusion. I’m not sure I can prove it from Scripture (I suppose I’ve never tried to), but it very simply is that God talks to everyone. I’m sure the Lord speaks to everyone on earth. Now it’s very obvious listening to people that the vast majority would say that they never hear from God; they just aren’t aware of Him speaking – and this includes Christians too! But one of the things that comes over loud and clear in the Bible – and we’ve seen it in these studies – is that God is a communicator; He is constantly making contact with individuals and speaking to them. I’m sure many of us hear things in our thoughts but shrug them off or reject them, yet in eternity we will find it was the Lord.

Samuel’s is a unique start – I suppose each of them we’ve considered is really – but this one stands out in its strangeness. The Lord seems to call out loud to Samuel (or at least he thinks it is out loud – it may just be in his mind). Samuel is so sure he’s heard a voice he gets up and goes to Eli who is the chief priest who he works for. Samuel is only a young person and so when Eli calls, he goes – except it is not Eli. For the first couple of times Eli doesn’t realise what is going on. It is only after the third call that Eli realises that Samuel isn’t just dreaming but must be hearing from the Lord.

Now the description of Samuel is interesting: “Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD: The word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him.” (v.7)  In other words Samuel did not yet have a relationship with the Lord and did not realise that God speaks and, even more, had not yet learnt to discern the Lord’s voice.  As we said, it is only after the third call that Eli realises what is going on: “Then Eli realized that the LORD was calling the boy. So Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, `Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.(v.8,9)

So what has Eli told him to do? He told him to stay where he is when he hears the voice again, to reply to the voice and then stay still and listen. I think those three things are good guidance.

If you think you might be hearing the Lord, first of all stay where you are. Many people who do hear the Lord immediately jump into action or even more, they focus more on the wonder of God speaking than what He actually said. I know this is something that I have struggled with over the years. When God turns up we get all excited and our minds start running ahead and we lose the rest of what He is trying to say.

Now the second thing is to reply to the Lord. I think this is important too. It is a sign of your acknowledgment of the Lord and a sign that you are positively going to listen to what He has to say. It is a faith statement. I can look back on one or two very memorable conversations with the Lord, but a conversation is a backwards and forwards speaking, first one person, then the other, then the first person and so on. But for a conversation to ensue you need to acknowledge the first words. As I said, it’s a faith issue.

Now the third thing is to stay still and listen. This is perhaps the hardest. You’ve had the initial excitement of sensing the Lord speaking and then you’ve responded. But what we said in the first response is equally true here for I find that I have a mind that can suddenly get full of junk and go off at tangents, and before I know it a number of minutes have passed and I haven’t heard a thing from the Lord. At that point I apologise to the Lord and sit quietly and He graciously starts again. This is a real experience but because of the nature of the lives we live, so full of voices and information, I believe it is a very difficult experience and one we need to discipline ourselves in.

I have also noticed that I have a tendency to interrupt the Lord. He speaks and I join in. What I mean is that I cut across Him and I have to apologise. He graciously reaffirms His love for me and tells me He will not give up on me. This is a major learning experience and I am the learner. I have been learning to listen to God for probably over thirty five years and the only thing I can tell you is that I am obtuse and a slow learner – but still God loves me and still God keep speaking – just like He did with Samuel. He doesn’t give up when He sees our slowness to hear, our slowness to pay attention, our slowness to learn. No, He loves us and understands us and one of the things the story of Samuel tells us is that He will keep on speaking until we hear.

But then I hear you saying, but not everyone does hear. Yes, I agree. I believe He does speak again and again to everyone so no one will face Him in heaven and be able to say we didn’t know. But there are some that I believe the Lord knows will never heed and so He gives up speaking (I may be wrong), but with others He knows that if He keeps on speaking we will eventually hear. I am sure, when I look back, that the Lord was speaking to me long before I came to Him. That’s how I eventually came to Him. He spoke to me and stirred a hunger in me and then drew me and saved me. Isn’t He wonderful!