61. On the Way (1)

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 61. On the Way (1)

Acts 9:1,2   He went to the Chief Priest and got arrest warrants to take to the meeting places in Damascus so that if he found anyone there belonging to the Way, whether men or women, he could arrest them

Gal 2:2   I wanted to be sure I was not running and had not been running my race in vain.

A Journey: It is interesting that in Acts the new faith was referred to as ‘the Way’ which suggests a journey going from somewhere to somewhere. The apostle Paul several times refers to our faith as a race and of course a race has a beginning and an end. In addition to our Galatians verse above, he said to Timothy, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Tim 4:7) Throughout this series we have contended for the idea that our lives as Christians are a long redemptive process, that it is God’s intention to change me, and you, and the world. Why? Because He wants something better for us than that which we have presently. Never settle for the present, there is more on God’s heart for you.

The Range of God’s desire: I have just recently been listening online to a Bible week in the UK, a week that always has very high faith levels, excellent teaching and an expectation of the power of the Holy Spirit working. What I have found interesting and challenging is the language of worship leaders and other leaders as they lead the worship and wait on God, such as, “I believe the Lord wants to reach out to those who have been holding onto fears for many years and release you from them,” or “there are people here tonight who have been struggling with their marriages and tonight I believe the Lord wants you to recommit yourselves to making them work with His grace.”   Now I don’t have a problem with those words as such, but they have triggered a thought in me that I have never seen so clearly before: Yes, God does want to come and minister to those people but also those who struggle with anger, with sexual temptations, with worries at work, with worries about their children, and those who are feeling spiritually lethargic, those who are feeling like giving up, those who feel failures, those who are struggling in a myriad of ways, yes, He wants to minister to ALL of these things, all of these people, so why doesn’t He, because these are surely things He wants to redeem us from? The change in respect of each of these things IS God’s will for us, so how does it work?

Aspects of Change: Does God wave a magic wand and we are changed? No, of course not. The Lord works through clearly defined channels. We can see them in the New Testament and there is nothing hyper-mystical about them. They are easily understood, so let’s consider each of them.

My Self Will: Now there is a clear indication in the Bible that we do genuinely have free will and we have the ability to choose how to act in response to anything God says. The Bible shows that God speaks and expects people to respond. He wouldn’t bother to speak if He didn’t have that expectation. Now we also have examples in the Bible of people who did respond positively in belief (and many of our earlier studies showed individuals who did respond positively to God) but we also have examples of people who rejected what God said and disobeyed Him. At the outset Eve could have refused to listen to Satan, but didn’t and so gave way to his suggestions, the temptation in the Garden of Eden.

Heart Condition? You and I can choose how we respond when we hear the word preached, but it is not that simple. There is our ‘heart condition’ and the things that impact upon it. Heart condition? The Bible speaks about hungering and thirsting (Psa 42:2, 63:1, 107:9, 143:6, Isa 44:3, 55:1, Mt 5:6, Jn 7:37, Rev 21:6, 22:17). The person who hungers and thirst is, without doubt, a more open vessel to receive from God. In the Gospels we find people crying out to Jesus to help them. Is that us? Is it possible to make yourself ‘thirst’ for God or is it something He has to do? Both!

Our Choices: I can choose, in respect of the so-called spiritual disciplines, to make more time to wait on God in stillness, I can choose to deepen my study of His word, I can choose to deepen my prayer experiences, I can choose to purpose to worship more fully, I can choose to take notes, listen more carefully and more purposefully respond to the preached word, and all of these things are our efforts to draw near to God. As I do these things I believe there is a changing that will take place in me as He responds (“Come near to God and he will come near to you” – Jas 4:8), and I will find a raising of faith within me, an increase in awareness of Him, and a thrill and sense of thanksgiving rise in me. I can choose to do these things and then have to trust in His responses. This is my contribution to this part of the redemption process.

But there are also the big life choices – not to steal, not to covet, not to commit adultery, not to tell lies, not to abuse others in word or deed, not to defame others. Those are the negative choices I have to make, but there are also positive ones – to speak well of others, to encourage others, to love others, care for them with compassion, accept others and be there for them.  These are another set of choices that I have to make as part of my redemptive process.

The Faith Level Present: Now there is no doubt that faith is a key issue. John Wimber used to say that faith was present in someone in every recorded instance of healing in the Gospels. But I have watched over the years and this I know, the preacher who faithfully expounds God’s word under the anointing of the Holy Spirit releases faith in his hearers. Such preaching should produce a ‘wow factor’ response. That may be “Wow, that was amazing, isn’t God good, I must serve Him,” or “Wow, God is holy I must bow before Him and commit myself afresh to Him”. If preaching leaves people unmoved, either they have hard hearts, or the preacher is unexcited by God’s word and lacking the anointing of God. Bringing God’s word, preachers can come with a high faith level and expectation and generate or release faith.

‘Non-Faith’ Churches & People: Very often ‘church services’ or ‘church meetings’ completely lack faith. Why do you need to depend on God turning up when you have a service all laid out and it must be stuck to? Where is there room for the Holy Spirit to move to bring revelation, fresh direction, empowering to bring healing, deliverance or change generally? Being part of a church that is like this means spiritual growth – the journey along the path of God’s redemptive work in us – is slowed down, either to snail’s pace or actual standstill.  I used to agree with those who said you never stand still, you either go forward or backwards. I’m not so sure that is true, because I do know Christians who appear at a complete standstill in their lives and I suspect they are still thinking the same way and doing exactly the same things as ten years ago. That is not growth, but it is also not backsliding, for they would say they are bona-fide Christians who pray, read the Bible, go to church, worship etc. But have they grown in character and spirituality, wisdom, revelation and insight, are they moving in gifts of the Spirit, being more available and more used of God? No.  Yes, sadly I also know those who once were part of church life but no longer, and who now appear to exhibit little if any spiritual life. Their complaints tend to be about the lack of reality in much church life, but they have opted out from trying to change that from the inside and so simply sit outside and criticize.

The Church Spectrum: But the point I wish to make here is we are not people in isolation in this redemption process, we are part of the church and ‘the church’ can encourage us, release faith in us (which is what the Eph 4:12 ministries are supposed to do) and generally help us to grow – or not! The ‘Church’ worldwide is a complex organism and often more an organisation than an organism. In some places you might find a group of ten believers meeting together with a measure of life flowing between them but having little impact on anyone else. At the other end of the spectrum it is possible to find mega-churches with superstar preachers who justify why a personal jet is necessary, and their pew fodder are supporters who simply finance these stars but show little similarity to the disciples of the New Testament, and the ‘body of Christ’ is no more than an untouched idea in Paul’s writings.  Wherever we worship on this spectrum, can we blame the leaders for failing to lead us to the spiritual heights with God and in transforming the world by His Spirit?  Yes we can, but that is no excuse for us making poor choices that limit our growth. I can choose to study God’s word, to pray and seek God’s face, and worship and witness – or not. I can choose to read books that will stir, challenge and build my faith – or not. I can choose to go on spiritual retreats, Bible conferences and the like – or not. I can choose to contribute to my spiritual growth – or not!

Locked in to circumstances? Sometimes it feels like our life circumstances lock us in and lock us down. Sometimes personal illness strikes, sometimes accidents occur, sometimes we get abandoned or falsely accused and hurt, sometimes we lose a loved one unexpectedly and prematurely and life seems seriously unfair. Sometimes the clouds of gloom or depression hang over us and no one seems to care, and so talk of a redemptive process appears unreal; we don’t appear to be going anywhere. But the thing is that despite what we are choosing to do, or not, and despite what others in the church are doing, or not, God is always there quietly working in the background. and that well known verse of Rom 8:28 still proves to be true: “Moreover we know that to those who love God, who are called according to his plan, everything that happens fits into a pattern for good.” (JBP version) or “we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.” (Message version). Our part in this redemptive process is sometimes to simply hang on in there and be able say, “Yes, I still love God,” and then just trust that in all the imperfect circumstances surrounding us, He IS still working through His redemptive process in us.   Amen.

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48. God who disciplines

Meditations in Hebrews 12:  48.  God who disciplines

Heb 12:5,6  “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.

The writer to the Hebrews earlier faced the fact that the Church had suffered under persecution and was constantly at war against heresies. He was aware that life was often tough for the Christian and in his encouraging his readers, he now acknowledges a further way that life sometimes seems difficult – when we are being disciplined by God.

Press on despite opposition: The context of this is a further encouragement to press on: “In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons.” (v.4,5) Yes, they may have suffered persecution but that had not resulted in deaths. But perhaps this is more than just persecution (as bad as that might be) for he speaks of it in the context of “you struggle against sin.”  Resisting temptation to sin is one of the struggles of the Christian life but so also is the struggle to counter lies, deceptions and false teaching. Behaviour and beliefs are both areas where the enemy attacks.

Now here is the strange thing: the enemy comes against us seeking to lead us astray in both our behaviour and our thinking and yes, the Lord does encourage us, as we have seen time and again in the book, but that is not all He does. When He sees we are slipping in behaviour or belief, this really means that we are drifting away from Him, and so He takes action to draw us back close to Him again.

Discipline from God: Now in verses 5 and 6 that we have above, he reminds us that a) the Lord does discipline and b) He does rebuke and c) He does these things to those He loves.  Verses 5 and 6 are quotations from Prov 3:11,12. The word discipline means ‘to train’ or ‘to bring about a change in behaviour’.  We usually hear about discipline in the armed forces and discipline is the first and foremost thing instilled in new recruits, to change their behaviour from self-centred, self-willed individuals into an authority-centred fighting force. Discipline changes their minds and their bodies. It is perhaps the biggest difference between a member of the armed services and a civilian.

The writer lays down some basic principles of discipline: “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons.” (v.7a) Discipline is hard and requires you to persevere. For the Christian it means pressure of the Holy Spirit and of God inspired or God-allowed circumstances to knock out of you the ways of the world and to conform you to the image of Christ.  Discipline comes because you are a son or daughter of God and it is intended to drive you closer to Him. Now some of these seem hard words that I have used – knock out and drive – but they are necessary when we have allowed ungodly attitude or behaviour in, and it is only tough words or circumstances that will get us to deal with them, and because God loves us so much He will do what He sees will bring about that change.

Human Discipline: The writer appeals to human behaviour: “For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness.” (v.7-10) In a day when fathers are abandoning their first families and children are being left without discipline, these may seem strange words. They are also strange because there is much confusion today over parenting. As a trained parenting trainer, may I suggest a summary: for us as a parent, all discipline must come in an environment of love. When our children know they are truly loved and their parents have proved it by laying down their lives for them, THEN discipline, which is correction with an aim, can be safely brought.

Failure to say no, accompanied by an explanation but backed by a strong action – in a context of loving care – may prevent your child a) from going wrong and b) from finding the law or an employer acting against them in later years in ways they find thoroughly uncomfortable. I will always remember a murder case, I think it was, where a judge said of a seventeen year old, “This young man has no consideration for others or for the Law because no one has ever said no to him before.”

The object of discipline, whether it be us with our children, or God with us, is to restrain wrong in us and develop self-control that can work to bring out good in us: “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (v.11)

Balance Needed: I have been preaching for over twenty five years that “God loves you exactly as you are, but He also loves you so much that He has something better for you that he doesn’t want you to stay like you are.”  Now I have heard, and seen in books, the first part of that and it is right, but without the second part, we fall short of understanding God’s love for us. If sometimes it seems a bit tough, the verses we’ve read say, see it as a means of changing you for the better. That is the encouragement being brought here.

Some of us get caught up in ‘church life’ whether that is services and ritual or Bible Studies or Prayer Meetings. It may also mean a variety of other meetings or gatherings as we lay on activities that either build and strengthen the church or reach out to others. However God’s goal for us is first and foremost to change us to be more like Jesus in character – righteous and full of peace – and righteous in this context will mean full of love and goodness and grace and wisdom. Those are His goals for you and me and if He cannot get them into us by simple teaching, then he will take other measures that will result in us drawing closer to Him and become more like Him. That is what this is all about.

7. Visible Faith

Meditations in Colossians: 7. Visible Faith

Col 1:3,4   We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus

I find every time I am examining one of these things the apostle Paul says, I am lining it up alongside the modern church and churches that I know. Paul had reason to thank God for these Colossians because he had heard of their faith.  Now if someone said of you or of your church, “I have heard of your faith,” what could we take that to mean? They clearly have in their mind’s eye things about you and about your church that are obviously visible. What sort of things might they be?

Well before we look at specifics, we need to remind ourselves what the Bible, and specifically the New Testament, says about faith. Giving a general description of faith, the writer to the Hebrews explained,faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (Heb 11;1)  That is the nature of faith – a way of seeing. He then goes on to show it is all about relating to the Lord. Faith is a relational thing.

The apostle Paul wrote, “faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ,” (Rom 10:17) i.e. faith comes as a response to hearing from God. Every act of faith is a response to what God has said. Faith is thus simply a response to what God says to you. So when we speak of a person who ‘has faith’ we simply mean they are someone who has heard God and responds to Him. The response may be in the mind (Abram believed God and was justified – Gen 25:6) but what starts in the mind is turned into action (Jas 2:17) Thus when Paul says he has  heard of the faith of the Colossians he will have in mind things he has heard about them, things they have done, so let’s consider some of the things we may expect to ‘see’ in believers.

  1. Change of Life. When someone is ‘born again’ they have been convicted by God’s Spirit, have surrendered to God declaring their belief in Jesus’ death for them, and have received His Holy Spirit and a new life. They are changed, they are different: “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Cor 5:17) When a person is born again we may expect to see a change in life. For each of us there will be different things that stand out. For some the positives will stand out – they become more compassionate; for others it will be the negatives they will be most aware of. For me the habit of swearing was broken, and lots more other things have changed over the years, but that was a big issue thing for me. And why do these people act like this? Because they heard God and responded to Him.
  1. Change of Values. This new person suddenly starts thinking in a completely new way and that involves their moral or ethical values. The apostle Paul described our old life in the first part of Eph 2 and he starts out, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.” (Eph 2:1,2) Previously we lived according to the standards of the godless world and at the beck and call of Satan (see also 1 Jn 5:19). He describes what went on in us: “gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts.” (Eph 2:3) The values that we had were utterly self-centred. When we came to Christ that all changed, we become God centred and caring and concerned for others. Instead of inward looking we became upward and outward looking. We found we had become concerned for what God wanted and what God was doing in us and so things like reading the Bible and praying and worshipping became expressions of our life. We became more concerned for His will than what the world encouraged us to do. His values became ours.
  1. Change of activity. Meeting with other Christians became a norm and we came to realise that we were the church and being a part of it, God had plans for us, to release gifts and abilities in us, and as we recognized and used them so we found He gave us opportunities to bless and serve others and we found joy in serving others. We looked for and took opportunities to share this new found love with others, we looked for and took opportunities to bless others, and every time we did, it was the Holy Spirit prompting and guiding, leading and equipping us to be a blessing to His world. Every time we did we were hearing God and responding to Him – that was faith.

Now I have written with the assumption that this is how it has been for each and every one of us who call ourselves believers, Christians, but it is possible you have looked at these three paragraphs above and questioned whether that has been your experience, that faith has not been a visible element of your life, that the likes of Paul would not be able to look at you and ‘see’ faith. It has not been visible because it has not been there. To conclude may I give three quick reasons why that may be your case.

  1. Never born again. Very simply you may never have come to the place of crisis where you surrendered your life to God and called out for the salvation that only the work of Jesus on the Cross can bring to you – forgiveness of your sins, cleansing and adoption as a child of God. But if this is what you want, why not do that today – come to Him in surrender, declaring your belief in Jesus as your Saviour and Lord and putting your life in his hands for the rest of your days on this earth. Do it today.
  2. Early days. You may be born again but you are only a young believer. That’s OK, it is a learning process and we will continue to learn every day this side of heaven. Simply ask Him to take you on deeper in the knowledge of His love for you and His plans and purposes for you and be open to receive all He has for you.
  3. Slipped away.  You might have found yourself reading this page and realised that that was how it used to be but for a variety of reasons you have stopped listening to and responding to God and life has gone cold and stale. It’s not too late to change that. It requires confession, acknowledgement of failure and a desire to start again. You know it is that simple but, yes, it is hard to make that fresh commitment, but it is worth making. Why do you think you were reading this today? This is Him calling you back. Heed His call.

So there we have it, the possibility of being people of faith, people with visible faith. Don’t let the enemy suggest this is for spiritual super-heroes; this is actually the normal Christian life as the Lord has spelled it out in the New Testament. Accept nothing less!

3. Shining more Brightly

Meditating on the Gems of the Bible:  3. Shining more brightly

Prov 4:18  The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter till the full light of day.

2 Cor 3:18  we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit

Why these verses? Because they won’t go away when I pray. So, let’s see what the Lord might want to say to us through them. The Proverbs verse speaks about the righteous and the 2 Corinthians verse speaks to Christians who are God’s righteous ones. Both of them speak about changing lives but the second one gives the reason for the change – the Holy Spirit.

The first thought that hit me when I got these two verses is that they are more about the Lord than they are about us. We know that we cannot change for the good left to ourselves and so any changes for good in our lives has to be the Lord. I know that when I came to the Lord I left behind a life of self-centred godlessness which was marred by failure. The transformation that took place when I came to Christ happened because He put His Holy Spirit within me and He was now my guiding, directing, teaching power. If I shone brighter now it was because of His Holy Spirit.

Of course Prov 4:18 says it is “the path of the righteous” that is shining ever brighter and I suddenly realise that Jesus said “I am the way” (Jn 14:6) and another word for ‘way’ is path. He is my life, his Spirit lives in me and therefore he is the one who grows brighter with the passing of each day – in and through me. Indeed, as I respond to him and allow his Spirit to lead, guide and change me, my life generally will be brighter, expressing him – but it is him. When the apostle Paul spoke of Jesus’ glory he said, But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” (2 Cor 4:7)  Our bodies are like jars of clay but they contain the glory of God and it is the glory that shines, not the clay.

Now if we accept these foundational thoughts – that these verses apply to us Christians and that the source of the brightness is Jesus and his Holy Spirit – there is something very basic that must flow out of this and it is so simple that it is something we take for granted, and that is that God purposes for us is to change for the better. Now I’ve just said that this is so basic that we probably take it for granted, and if we do I suggest that familiarity had bred contempt and so we don’t actually believe it for our lives. Note again what we are saying: God purposes good changes for us and in us. He loves us so much that He wants something better for us that what we are today.

Seriously, check that out. Are you completely happy with all that you are today? Are there aspects of who you are that you are not happy about? I don’t mean things like you feel you have big ears or you don’t like the colour of your hair. No, I’m referring to things like anger or lack of patience, or constant worries or jealousy, say. There could be a whole raft of issues we could choose from. Are there bits of the New Testament, say, that you skim over because they are uncomfortable? You know deep down that there are things where you don’t match to Jesus’ expectations of you in his word.

Now we have to make a simple clarification. We don’t mean things that very rarely you stumble over. We are all of us still imperfect this side of heaven and so there may be times when you are physically low and that in turn seems to sap your grace and you are not as patient, say, as you normally are. No, these are one-off rare failures; what I am talking about is a regular behaviour. You find you snap at people too often, you find you are impatient with others, you find you are constantly worrying about what might happen next week or how you might handle tomorrow. These are the sort of things which, when we feel safe and secure we can confess to being unhappy about in our lives.

Now here’s the thing: God is more concerned to help you move on from these failure repetitions than He is to punish you. He understands you and loves you and sees the ultimate cause why you are like you are (so often it is poor self-image, not realizing who we are in Christ) and why you seem to be unable to break out (so often it is because we just haven’t realised our position of freedom in Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit in us). He understands these things and understands that there is coming a time where you are going to be just ripe to receive His word and, hey presto!, it will be dealt with and you will be changed. Suddenly you will be shining brighter!

This is it. The good news is that he is on our side and He is working to help us change so that we will indeed be changing from one degree of glory to another. Why? Because He loves us and He knows we will enjoy life more, enjoy being ourselves more, when these things have been dealt with and we change. But it’s not a big heavy thing; it’s just part of the wonderful process that started the moment we came to Him and were born again.

One final thing. Very often the changes are slow and almost indiscernible and therefore we will not realise that this process IS being worked out in us. Don’t worry about it; just thank the Lord that these two verses DO apply to you and it is happening, because you want it to deep down, and He wants it for you because He loves you so much. Rejoice in it!

5. The Gift of Repentance?

Meditating on the Will of God: 5:  The GIFT of Repentance?

Rom 2:4  Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?

We made reference in the previous study to what is often referred to as “the gift of repentance” but the truth is that that phrase never occurs in scripture. What the Bible does do is show us a God who does things that are meant to lead us to repentance. Repentance is an act of the will whereby the sinner turns around and turns away from their sin, confessing it and acknowledging their need of God’s help.

Note the elements of what we have just said. Repentance involves change, a change of heart and attitude and then, subsequently, of lifestyle. Second it is an act of the will, it is something we choose to do. Third it is an acknowledgement of wrong and, fourth, a desire to turn from that wrong. Fifth, it recognizes our own human inability to change and therefore our need of God’s help to bring about that desired change. We cannot do it on our own. We can desire to, we can want to, we can determine to, but unless God acts on us by His Holy Spirit, we cannot bring about that change in reality. Thus we find within those elements a combination of the work of God and the desire of man.

Our verse above shows us one of the things that should bring us to our senses and to repentance. God expresses “kindness, tolerance and patience” and the foolish sinner  construes these as God’s weakness, whereas as we saw in the previous study from Peter’s first letter and third chapter, God holding back His judgment is simply Him giving us further opportunity to repent. We should realise that the time ahead of us may be limited and come to our senses and repent. That’s why He is giving us this time.

What other things work in us to bring us to repentance. Consider the apostle Paul’s words: “yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” (2 Cor 7:9,10) One of the elements of repentance we noted above is expressed here as sorrow.  Now what was it that caused sorrow in these Corinthians? It was Paul’s words in his previous letter.  The word of God comes to us and convicts us, the truth is placed before us and we are moved by it as the Holy Spirit applies it forcibly within us. 

Suddenly the word before us seems to take on a new life and power and it impacts us. The effect it has is sorrow within us. We realise our failure and our need to bring about change and our need of God’s help. This sorrow is godly sorrow, sorrow brought about by God, and Paul says it is good because of the end result it brings about, our repentance. There is also a counterfeit sorrow. Yes, it is a genuine sorrow but its source and effect are not godly. It is what Paul calls ‘worldly sorrow’, a sorrow that is self-centred, a sorrow that I have been found out and revealed for what I am, and it is a sorrow that grieves that I am being exposed. This sorrow, which we said is self-centred, does not bring repentance but simply an inner grievance and that quenches the Spirit and cuts off spiritual life.

When Paul was instructing Timothy in his role as a leader he said, “Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.” (2 Tim 2:25,26). Here there were people who opposed the Gospel. Paul reminds us that such people are blinded by Satan to do his bidding. As Timothy brings God’s word to these people it is “in the hope” (it is not guaranteed) that this word will have impact in them and will bring them repentance. Now the word in the original  there rendered ‘repentance’ has a meaning more like ‘conversion’ but of course conversion involves repentance.

To speak of God “granting” them repentance simply recognizes the work of the Holy Spirit in bringing conviction. The process involves God speaking to the individual – although they are not aware that that is what is happening at the time – and as they take note He leads them on to a place where they find that the truth is so strong that it stirs a strong emotion within them for the need of change, that we call repentance.  The truth is that there will be many who ‘hear’ His words calling to them but they will not respond and so do not come to the point of conviction. Why some respond and some don’t is a mystery.  The responders get led by the Spirit to a point of conviction and with that comes repentance. God’s help IS needed for the process that leads to conversion but that does not mean He holds back help to stop others, simply they have not asked for it, for at some point they drew back and turned away and refused to heed His calling voice.

The reality is that we may (we do) have a responsibility to respond to the voice of God but when we do, even then it is the work of God that makes us new people, and that was not because we deserved it but simply because loves to give it freely: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus ….” (Eph 2:8-10)  We can come to crisis but unless God would move, we are stuck there at the crisis point, still not able to move. As the apostle Peter preached he declared, quoting the prophet Joel, “Whoever calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.”  (Acts 2:21) – He convicts, we repent and cry out – He does the rest. Yes, we have a responsibility to respond to God’s voice, but once we do, it is all the work of God to bring that initial change in us. Thereafter it is a partnership that requires our acquiescence to His leading, and that we’ll look at in the days ahead. 

13. Ordinary Men

Short Meditations in Mark’s Gospel: 13. Ordinary Men

Mk 1:16 As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen.

I used to live near the sea where there were fishermen who went out in their boats everyday to make their living by catching fish. They tend to be a breed a bit apart. They don’t live comfortable lives; they live according to the constantly changing tides, and they have little to do with the rest of us. And the first people that Jesus chooses to travel with him for the next three years are fishermen. Not  scholars, not religious people, not especially good people, not pillars of society – but fishermen. Very ordinary people. This is a new day, a new religion obviously!

Why does God choose who He chooses? The only answer I can come up with is that He chooses people He knows will respond to Him and who will change as He leads and guides them through life. I have wondered if Jesus chose some fishermen because they were rugged individuals who didn’t care about the creature comforts of life and who could cope with all the travelling that would be involved in following him in the three years ahead.

I have been especially struck as I have read the Bible over many years, how God chooses ordinary people, and then how He changes them. Peter (or Simon as he is called here) was a rough and ready individual who was constantly opening his mouth and putting his foot in it, yet in the course of the years he would be transformed to become one of the leading apostles, a leader of the new church. Who would have believed it? Jesus would! For this is the key, Jesus knows people and knows what we can become. God had had centuries of working with mankind and knew what He could do with ordinary people. Take Jacob, for example, a twister and a schemer, and yet by the end of his life he is the father of a nation, a prophetic patriarch and a man who receives respect from kings. Or take his son, Joseph, a spoilt brat who is transformed into a wise and compassionate world leader. Amazing! So now Jesus chooses these first two men who will not have a clue what is coming – but it will be good!

Lord, I marvel at the way you take ordinary people and transform them, not because they are good but just because they are available. I marvel at what you have done with my life over the years – and I am so grateful. Please continue your work of changing me and may I be an instrument who helps others come to you and likewise be changed.

12. Good News

Short Meditations in Mark’s Gospel: 12. Good News

Mk 1:14,15 Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!”

Repentance is one of those words in the Christian vocabulary which is necessary but so often disliked. Because of that sinful nature we were all born with, none of us like to be told to change. Change is what repentance is all about. Some people describe it as making a hundred and eighty degree turnabout. It is turning from unbelief to belief, from being self-centred to God centred, from being unrighteous to righteous.

So Jesus came proclaiming good news. Again many people, if you ask them about the Christian faith, say it is a bunch of ‘you must not’ or ‘you should not’ things, yet Jesus came bringing good news and those things by most people’s standards don’t constitute ‘good news’. No, good news is news we all like.

So what was this ‘good news’? It was that the time had come, the kingdom of God was about to be revealed. Yet again that old sinful nature doesn’t like the sound of that – God’s kingdom? What about my own? What about my rule, what I think? And therein in the deception because if we were able to think about it dispassionately, we might concede that, so far, we haven’t made the best out of our lives. The truth of the Gospel is that God is far better at getting the most out of our lives than we are, and that is what He wants to do when we hand the reins over to him. That is what ‘the kingdom’ or rule of God is all about, but we struggle to believe that.

No wonder that Jesus had to cry that out: turn from your unbelief and turn to believing that God loves you and wants to bless you and make the most out of your life. Believe this good news! How the people, the religious authorities and even Jesus’ disciples struggled with this. How we still struggle with this! It is a sign of the old sinful nature that clings on, that we find it so difficult to believe these wonderful things – that God loves me and has come in the form of His Son to set me free from that old unbelieving nature and to release in me a new hope and a new wonder.

Lord, I am so sorry that I am so slow to believe the wonder of the Good News that the New Testament speaks about – that you love me whole heartedly and have plans for my life that just mean goodness and more goodness for me. I believe it! I really do!