17. Chosen

Short Meds in ‘Living the Life’: 17. Chosen

Eph 1:4 he chose us in him before the creation of the world.”

It is not uncommon for children to question their parents, “I wasn’t adopted was I?” It is a question that underlies our insecurity and need to feel we belong. It is also quite likely that it is the motivating force that energises some of us to ‘do’ things to earn God’s love. Perhaps it is the biggest challenge that the enemy whispers to us, “Oh he doesn’t really love you, you’re not worthy of his attention.” Or maybe it is, “See he’s paying no attention to you, you’re on your own, he doesn’t care about you.” Lies.

When God wants us to pay attention to something He says it a number of times. This verse above is just one of seven references in the New Testament to God’s plan involving Christ, that was conceived by the Godhead BEFORE Creation (Jn 17:24, 1 Pet 1:20, Rev 17:8, Rev 13:8, 2 Tim 1:9, Tit 1:2).

The life we are living out today was conceived by God before He made anything. He knew sin would come to Eden and His world, He knew the only way for justice to deal with it was through the Cross and, as He looked into the future, He knew that you would be a responder, and in that sense, even right back then He ‘chose’ you. Today you are walking a path that was planned before anything else came into being. Nothing about your life is an accident, it was known, it’s ‘in the Plan’. Live it secure in that knowledge and rejoice in it.

Now here’s something else about the plan which, as you personally are concerned, kicked into being when you were born again: not only did God conceive it and see you in it, He didn’t just start it off in you, He’s going to do all He can to ensure you finish it and ‘get the goods’ at the end as you enter heaven to a fanfare of angelic trumpets. he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Phil 1:6)

But not only has He got the end in mind for you, He’s actively working day by day right through to that end: in all things God works for the good of those who love him.” (Rom 8:28) That’s all things EVERY day, He there watching over your life.

Check out Psa 121 again. Five times (v.3,4,5,7,8) it says He watches over you. He didn’t choose you to abandon you and leave you on your own. Being chosen means much more than that; it means He is there for you providing you with protection (v.5-7) and he will do it, “both now and forevermore.” (v.8) But back to Ephesians 1, He chose us, “to be holy and blameless in his sight.” (v.4b)  That’s how He sees you. Yes, He knows about your foibles (and will be working on them) but when He looks at you and feels for you, it is as a son or daughter who is spotless as far as the Book of Life is concerned, as brought about by Jesus. Not only that, in v.11 He says you were chosen “for the praise of his glory,” (v.12b) or as another version puts it, so that “we would bring praise to God.” That’s it, chosen to be His kids (yes adopted! v.5) who will reflect their Dad. Awesome! Amazing! Wonderful!  

16. Mystery

Short Meds in ‘Living the Life’: 16. Mystery

Rom 15:25 “the revelation of the MYSTERY hidden …. but now revealed and made known.” 

We spoke yesterday about wisdom and revelation imparted by the Holy Spirit, and it’s especially the word ‘revelation’ that seems to call so strongly now. Revelation as we said before is disclosed knowledge, knowledge that was previously hidden. The Revelation of John, for example, the last book in the Bible, is prophetic insight shared by Jesus to John (Rev 1:1) about how things will be in the last days. In 2 Sam 7 Nathan the prophet comes and gives David the big picture of the future of both the present and the future (v.4-16) and so we read, Nathan reported to David all the words of this entire revelation.” (v.17) In one sense the who Bible is God’s revelation to us.

Hindsight is both a blessing and a bane. Having the completed Bible as we do means we have the whole picture in our hands and that is a blessing, but that means we often miss the struggles that people in the Bible had. Paul spoke of the mystery of Christ (Eph 3:4, Col 4:3) or the mystery of the Gospel (Eph 6:19) or this mystery more generally, (e.g. Rom 16:25, Eph 1:9, 3:3,6,9, Col 1:26,27). Before Christ came there was this prophetic sense of a ‘coming one’, a messiah, but that was all it was, a shadow in history. The prophets longed to understand what they were sensing (1 Pet 1:10). We now know what it was. Let’s not miss out on the privilege we have of living in this time with this knowledge.

I wonder if that is how we see it – a privilege that we have of living in this present time with the complete Bible in our hands or on our bookshelves? But there we have it for so many, Bibles on bookshelves. They need to be in our hands for Paul wrote, that we are saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.” (2 Thes 2:13b) i.e. we experience God’s salvation as the Spirit works in us and our faith builds up daily our ‘belief in the truth’.   When Paul spoke of a ‘mystery’ he was referring to the prophetic scriptures of the Old Testament that hinted at a coming one and yet it had come with different hues – he might be an abused servant, he might a mighty king (and of course he turned out to be both) that it was confusing for scholars. It needed the events to be rolled out in history and then spoken into the spirit of this out-of-time apostle before what had been a mystery became clear. The truth is that the word of God is a mystery to many, very simply because they don’t approach it in prayer and with a submissive heart, and so because it does seem a mystery, people fail to read it daily, fail to be fed by it daily, fail to be built up daily by it, fail to be transformed by it as the Spirit applies it. And so the enemy whispers, “It’s hard, you don’t need it, you can get by without it.” A lie, in fact three lies! It is the foundation of our faith and it is food for our faith and so without it we feel unstable and worry, we feel ‘thin’ and weak. I recently ran across a simple quote by a well-known Christian leader: “Anxiety comes from unbelief,” and I believe he is right and is why so many people are living in anxiety. They have not let God impart faith, confidence, and assurance through His word because they have kept the mystery book closed. Away with these lies, away with this folly. At times in history we have been known as ‘the people of the book’. May that be true again today as we cast off the negatives spoken in the world about it, and let God come again in both His Spirit and His Word and unshackle the Church.

1. Introduction to Glory

Glory Out of Failure Meditations: 1. Introduction to Glory

Rom 6:6,7 (Msg) Our old way of life was nailed to the cross with Christ, a decisive end to that sin-miserable life—no longer at sin’s every beck and call! What we believe is this: If we get included in Christ’s sin-conquering death, we also get included in his life-saving resurrection.

A New View: I have in the past written a series entitled ‘Reaching into Redemption’ that considers how God is working to bring change, to bring transformation to each of us, and there is a sense that I feel this new series may cover similar ground. This series will not be long, about a dozen studies I believe, and will focus mainly on Old Testament characters, concluding with three from the New.

I write nearing the last part of 2020, a year that has been blighted by the Coronavirus pandemic, a year in which the world has been changed and the future is still uncertain. For the last two years in particular I have had a burden for the Church of the West in the twenty-first century, a church I am convinced that has almost been drowned by the tsunami of changes that the last century has brought. Some have predicted that it is the end of the church. I believe that, quite contrary to that, it has been a time of revealing the bankruptcy of mankind without God and the pandemic has been used by God to get Christians to start thinking in new ways. These ‘new ways’ are, I believe, in reality the old ways that the church has abandoned.

A New People: The boundaries between the world and the church have been blurred but God is not leaving that any longer; He is coming with a re-emphasis of the need for His presence, a need for His Spirit, and a fresh need to rely on and teach His word.  As we have been going through the pandemic experience with its uncertainties, the temptation has been to think we are just the same as everyone else, but we are not. During this time, several times I have come across the saying ‘We are in the same storm, but not in the same boat.’ In this time, we have been reminded again that we are God’s people with God’s resources, and we need to learn afresh to use them. This distinctiveness should be at the heart of our understanding. The apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian church, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Cor 5:17)

His writings are peppered with this idea. Our starter verses from Romans 6 declare the truth expanded from the previous verse: “just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life,” (v.4) declaring it’s a new day, a new way. Paul also wrote similar things to the Ephesians: “you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live …. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ.” (Eph 2:1,2,4,5) We are not who we were!  We are justified, forgiven, cleansed, adopted, empowered, glorified.

Glorified? Definitions of ‘glorified’ include ‘invest with glory, to praise the glory of God, especially as an act of worship’, and yet Paul, again, declared, those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified;) those he justified, he also glorified,” (Rom 8:30) We have been glorified, i.e. we have been made ‘glorious’. Now synonyms for ‘glorious’ are splendid, magnificent, wonderful, superb! I have a feeling that many of us, going through this year, have NOT felt like those descriptions, we have not felt that we are splendid, magnificent, wonderful, superb, and yet that is how scripture describes us.

Why Failures? So why is it that we don’t feel like that. May I suggest some reasons. First, we have been aware of a struggle and we have focused on the struggle rather than who we are.  Second, we have associated our struggles with failure. If you were hiking through a wilderness that was really hard going, would you think you were failing? No, you were just coping with the environment, as tough as it may be – but not failing. Third, and I believe this is the most important and is at the heart of this series, we have forgotten the basics of who we are – glorious children of God redeemed from our lives of failure. Now going with that description are aspects of the character of God of which we need to remind ourselves, and that is what this is all about, a fresh reminder of who we really are and, more importantly, what God us like.

And So? So throughout this series we are going to work our way through the Bible picking up on some of the examples of the people of God, all of whom were failures, and yet all of whom found themselves in the midst of the working of God who was intent on bringing them out of their failure into a place of glory.  It may have taken many years for some (if not most) of them, but glory was the end product, just as it is for us. This is a time for restating the basics of salvation for the good of the many outside the kingdom to help them face themselves, and for the many in the kingdom to help us realise afresh the wonder of our salvation, the wonder of who we are and, most importantly, the wonder of God. Ask the Lord to open your eyes to these things as we go through these studies together.

12. Place of Trust

Wilderness Meditations: 12. The Place of Trust

Jn 3:14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up

Lev 16:10 the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the Lord to be used for making atonement by sending it into the wilderness as a scapegoat.

Recap:  We have been considering how we think, how we look at the world and look at life, how we have to come to the end of ourselves before we can truly be open to God. We reminded ourselves in the last study how we need people in our lives. We can’t get by without God and it is difficult to get by without people. People are one of God’s resources to us, that was a primary lesson we learned afresh in the early months of the 2020 Pandemic lockdown.

Things Taken for Granted: In a previous series about guilt, about how we can fall short of the things God has for us, we noted things we take for granted in our lives, and the wonder of our salvation was one of those things. Now I am sure there are many, many Christians, who have simply attended church, joined in the worship and prayers and listened to the sermons, week after week, month after month and year after year, but as we have done that the shear repetition of it all has meant that it has dulled our appreciation of who we are and what Jesus has done for us. As a result of that, so often our repetitious ‘services’ have meant that we hear the words but we still try to make ourselves good, make ourselves righteous, make ourselves spiritual, in order to win God’s approval. And it is there we fall down.

Through the lockdown period, church-going ceased, services started up online, meetings were conducted via Zoom. Suddenly many felt isolated from what they had known of as ‘church’. Suddenly, with the trappings stripped away, many were looking afresh at what they believed. It was a time of reassessment, of realising God’s salvation through Christ was THE only way, knowing Him personally had to mean more than turning up at a building on Sunday mornings.

The Old Testament Speaks: A snake on a pole? “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up.” (Jn 3:14) As the snake in the wilderness became of focus of both repentance and faith for healing (Num 21:9), so Jesus was lifted up on the Cross, lifted up by God in reputation (Phil 2:9) and lifted up from death into heaven where he rules at his Father’s right hand (Acts 2:33, 5:31, Eph 1:20). We may be in the wilderness but we too have died (Rom 6:2), have been raised (Rom 6:4,5),  and there, in the Spirit, we are seated with him (Eph 2:6). It doesn’t matter about the limitations of Covid-19, rejoice in the fact that we are divinely supernatural people who have been ‘lifted’ with Christ.

But then a scapegoat in the wilderness? The word ‘scapegoat’ is familiar, one who takes the blame – unfairly! There were two goats in Lev 16, one offered as a sin offering to take the guilt, the other sent into the wilderness to take the act of sin out of God’s presence. In the New Testament the application of that is brought to us: Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many.” (Heb 9:28) He took our guilt and punishment on the Cross and passed into the wilderness of death, carrying our sins away. If, in this wilderness, you see this scapegoat more clearly, understand God is just reassuring you that you can’t take your sins away, Jesus can and has. Don’t take them back.

Reality? So there is the teaching which, it is quite likely, you’ve heard before. But there are various things in those two pictures involving the wilderness, that should create questions in us:

Coming to the snake on the pole (the Cross) in the wilderness (of the lost and fallen world) required recognition that, having been bitten by snakes (the many expressions of sin in the world), we were at the end of ourselves and death faced us. Repentance meant facing the pole (the Cross) and the one on it, seeing the cause of our woes being nailed to death and taken by our Saviour, accepting his death was on our behalf. We receive it and are forgiven, cleansed and healed. Have we taken that for granted?

One of the two goats took our guilt. Jesus took our guilt. Do you still live a life tinged with guilt? Your guilt has been dealt with. Once you confessed it and repented, God forgave you. (1 Jn 1:9). Done deal, there is no more to be said. The other goat took our sins away into the wilderness (of death). Do the wrongs of your past still lurk in the background? Realise they have been removed, taken far away, you are a new creation in Christ, “the old has gone, the new is here.” (2 Cor 5:17).

And us? With all the trappings stripped away, have you been able to see in this wilderness with a fresh clarity the reality of your salvation. You are what you are not because of your church-going or other ‘spiritual acts’ but entirely because of the combined work of Christ on the Cross and now the applied outworking of that by the indwelling Holy Spirit: the past work, the present outworking, all coming from Him. Our part? Just to believe it and receive it in reality. May that be so.  

31. Blindness – to Sin (1)

The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 31. Guilt of Blindness – to the Sin of the World (1)

Rom 3:23 (JBP) For there is no distinction to be made anywhere: everyone has sinned, everyone falls short of the beauty of God’s plan.

Rom 3:23(TLB) Yes, all have sinned; all fall short of God’s glorious ideal

Rom 3:23 (ESV/NKJV/NIV) all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God

Continuing: Starting out this second Part in study no.20, we started focusing of how wrong thinking can lead us into sin and how wrong looking can lead us into wrong desires to do wrong, but all the time, behind it all is the way we think. Indeed whenever we talk about belief or believing, we are talking about what we think. What goes on in our minds is critical to our lives. And so in the last four studies in particular we have been focusing on how we think about a variety of issues – the glory of God, the history involving God, and the wonder of the salvation revealed in that history, the basic beliefs that contribute to our faith.

Dangers: But if we think casually about these issues or even ignore them, that weakens our faith and as we said before, that anesthetizes us, puts us to sleep, it disarms us and stops us being a threat to the enemy, and it undermines us and makes us vulnerable to his deceptions and temptations. It is important then that we take hold of these things again and clarify them in our thinking. Indeed some of these things, if we have weak thinking about them, will actually undermine our very faith. No more is this true than in respect of what we think about Sin. Now I don’t want this study to appear a heavy treatise on how bad we all are, but I do want us to see it is at the heart of so much of what we experience in our live in the twenty first century.

Focusing Sin: Now I have used just one starter verse today but have provided three versions of it to clarify the most common one that we use that says we have all sinned and which explains that as falling “short of the glory of God”.  That is not an easy concept to grasp which is why I had added the others – falling short of the beauty of God’s plan (i.e. failing to enter into the wonderful will of God) and falling short of God’s glorious ideal. But each one has a commonality – falling short of something, failing to reach a possibility or goal. God designed mankind to be perfect but the fact that that included free will resulted in us using that free will to choose to go our own ways and not God’s. Thus we all live according to the ‘design’ we have in our own minds of how life should be lived, and that is always less than the way God has for us. No other philosophy or theology can explain our potential greatness and yet our potential awfulness. But this living less than God’s way has very practical outworkings.

Outworkings of ‘Falling Short’: This is seen in both mundane but real ways, and deep, complex and evil ways. I happened to be reading a devotional book the other day that spoke about personal struggles and how we often feel a need of approval, how we try to impress others to win that approval. We worry about who we are, we struggle with identity, we fill our lives with activities that we hope will boost our self-esteem. We struggle to cope with other people, some who are clearly better off than we are, some who are clearly cleverer, more handsome or more beautiful than we are, fitter and healthier than we are, more successful than we are. All of these are expressions of ‘self’, the struggle that goes on inside me to make sense of who I am. They are struggles of people who ‘fall short’.

Big Sins: And this is not to mention the bigger sins of life that go on and which we hear of via the main media – killings, violence, abuses, rapes, thefts etc. etc. etc. and the list could go on and on and on – but most of those things don’t impact most of us most of the time. We are believers who have rejected lifestyles than involve this sort of company, these more violent expression of self.

Godless Self: Whether it was the first group we described, of daily ways we ‘fall short’, or the bigger sins committed by those who have abandoned all semblance of caring humanity, there is a further characteristic of all of us – the propensity to be godless. That simply means we live lives in the absence of God.  We don’t think about Him, we don’t speak to Him, we don’t focus our lives on Him, we don’t seek out His ways in every circumstance. We try to gain self-esteem by self-effort. We go to keep-fit; we take classes, we seek to rise up the social and business ladders – all without Him. None of these things in themselves is wrong but it is the godless approach to life that is the wrong. Some of us will try to feel spiritual by ‘going to church’, some by reading the Bible or devotional literature, but ultimately the question has to be asked, “do I seek first His kingdom, His rule, His way of doing things (righteousness), His will?” (Mt 6:33).

The Goal: These are the realities of life which, if we came to Christ, in some form or other brought us to our knees in repentance as we realized that we were helpless to change on our own, and thus hopeless as far as our future was concerned. Now we need to resurrect these simple truths in our understanding for they are the heart of any change we may hope to see in our desires for ourselves, our family, our friends, our community and our nation. Facing these truths is the start of change and if we have lost this realization we need to ask the Lord to open our eyes afresh to it. We’ll consider it in the wider community in the next study.

30. Blindness – to the wonder of Salvation

The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 30. Guilt of Blindness – to the wonder of Salvation

Psa 40:5  Many, Lord my God, are the wonders you have done,  the things you planned for us. None can compare with you; were I to speak and tell of your deeds, they would be too many to declare.

Continuing: In the previous study I made a plea for those Christians who will grow in understanding of history – biblical and secular – in order to be better equipped to confront the world with its failure. Learning from the past, coming to understand the future, recognizing the evidence of the world getting it wrong, and balancing that against the design of God for mankind, all these things will better equip us to confront the world with the truth. These are all things about how we think and then what we do with what we think. Doing it without God and without prayer will, of course, be a hopeless task but put all that together then maybe, just maybe, there is hope. If we fail to do it, then all we are left with is a desperate hope that God comes in sovereign revival power. Indeed, if we do not rise to the occasion, then that is perhaps what He will do, but I have a feeling He would prefer to restore the Church to what His word speaks of it being, through renewal by His Spirit. But that should not mean we fail to learn, fail to think, fail to act.

Recharging our Salvation: In thinking about ways that we fall short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23) – for that is what these studies are really about – we find ourselves thinking on our state before God. The Message version puts that verse as, “we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us,” which is why we need God’s salvation and why it is so wonderful.  How long is it since you first came to Christ? The longer it is the more possible it is that we have come to take it for granted and if we do that, it has two effects: first it makes us less thankful and, second, it takes away from us the wonder of what could happen to our unsaved family, friends and neighbors. Taking it for granted anesthetizes us, puts us to sleep, it disarms us and stops us being a threat to the enemy, and it undermines us and makes us vulnerable to his deceptions and temptations. We need to recharge our salvation.

Steps for Change: If we are not living in the daily wonder of our salvation, not rejoicing daily in the wonder and thrill of it, we need to take steps to change that as follows:

  1. Confess it to the Lord and ask Him to open your eyes afresh to the wonder of it (Eph 1:17-19).
  2. Declare the basics of what God has done for you – drawn you to Himself by the working of His Holy Spirit, convicted you of your need by that same Spirit, sent Jesus to die on the Cross for you to redeem you, a forgiven, cleansed and adopted child of God, and given you His indwelling Holy Spirit to teach, guide and empower you, taking you day by day into all the good things He has for you (Eph 2:10)
  3. Daily rejoice in those things.
  4. Look for opportunities to share them.

Speaking it out: You know speaking out these truths – either declaring them in prayer as the basis for praise and worship, recounting and using them as a basis of a time of prayer and praise with other believers, or sharing them with those who don’t know these things – impacts not only others, but also your own life and wellbeing. The Message version of part of Rom 10 puts it so well: “It’s the word of faith that welcomes God to go to work and set things right for us. This is the core of our preaching. Say the welcoming word to God—“Jesus is my Master”—embracing, body and soul, God’s work of doing in us what he did in raising Jesus from the dead. That’s it. You’re not “doing” anything; you’re simply calling out to God, trusting him to do it for you. That’s salvation. With your whole being you embrace God setting things right, and then you say it, right out loud: “God has set everything right between him and me!”

How great is that! That ‘word of faith’ was you speaking out to God, “I believe, please forgive me, please save me.” That opened the door for Him to come and for you to be reborn (Jn 3). And it happened and then as it impacted you, you spoke it out. Perhaps to a friend, “I’ve become a Christian!” and then as they ask you about it, you explain what you did and, even more importantly what He had done. That ‘speaking it out’ confirmed it in you, released even more fresh impetus in you. Every time we share it – speak it out – it does that for us.

Recap: Look, what we’re doing in this whole series is confronting ‘guilt’; times, situations, circumstances where, to put it most simply, we get it wrong.  We’re doing that for three reasons. First, because we believe He has led us down this particular path. Second, because we believe He wants us to face these ways we may be falling short (and hindering Him moving through us). Third, and most importantly, that we can take steps to remedy these shortcomings in order to “prepare the way of the Lord” As the Message versions puts it, “Prepare for God’s arrival! Make the road straight and smooth, a highway fit for our God. Fill in the valleys, level off the hills, smooth out the ruts, clear out the rocks. Then God’s bright glory will shine and everyone will see it.” (Isa 40:3-5) ‘Make straight’ = declare again the truth so the Way is clear. ‘Fill in the valleys’ = make up what is deficient in your knowledge, put into your life what is missing as an experience promised by Him. ‘Level off the hills’ = clear away any obstacles to faith, wrong thinking, wrong behaviour.

And So: We’ve confronted in an earlier study our blindness to seeing the glory of the Lord. Perhaps these things above will help remedy that because when we have taken steps and prepared the way, “Then God’s glory will shine.” We similarly confronted our need to see the context of history, how we fit in to God’s big plan and now we’ve just confronted the possibility of the wonder of this salvation having grown stale and ordinary. Let’s take the ‘Steps to Change’ we suggested above as a way for preparing the way of the Lord.

10. Dealing with Offenders

The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 10. Responding to the Guilty: Dealing with Offenders

Jn 8:11 “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”  

Recap: In the previous study we recognized the truth that although we do sin, God doesn’t want us to sin and therefore sin needs confronting. The power of sin over us has been broken by the work of Christ on the Cross and by the work of the now indwelling Holy Spirit, yet we can stumble and fall on occasion. As we’ll perhaps see in a later study, if we do not deal with it, sin has a habit of multiplying and so the sooner it is dealt with the better. The best course is that we recognize it in ourselves and deal with it, but how about the situation when it needs confronting by another, or I am required to confront it in another? Are there guidelines for how we should do this?

First, Recognize Imperfection: Before we trample in on someone, let’s start by remembering that we too are fragile, we too have a propensity for getting it wrong from time to time. We would do well to remember that. Even more perhaps ponder on what it feels like to be on the wrong end of accusation. It is always a difficult thing when you are falsely accused and the problem is that if you leap into the battle and defend yourself you often have to do it by making someone else appear bad. I have had this twice in my life. Yes, there have been times when the imperfect me has got it wrong and it has been entirely down to me, but life isn’t always that simple. On two occasions I have struggled under unrighteous opposition but the truth is that in whatever messy situation we find ourselves, we will not come out 100% innocent. We could always have handled it better and the Lord uses such times to humble us and prove us. Leaders in the Church, in particular, often come up against opposition in the form of criticism, some of it right criticism but often criticism that doesn’t understand the situation and fails to understand what the leader is going through. How do we feel under attack? Not good.

Do unto Others: Now I say the above things because ‘the sinner’ will feel defensive, perhaps rightly so because they have a damaged or bruised ego that has blown it and is struggling to face that failure. Handling guilt – real or wrongly assumed – is like trying to traverse quicksand, a potential nightmare.  Getting to the truth, facing it in ourselves, recognizing the causes of it in others, and responding with wisdom, grace, humility and a servant heart, is often incredibly difficult. If you have to confront apparent guilt, ask yourself, “If I was the guilty person, how would I like to be treated here?” After thinking about this over many years, I have concluded that this is one of the best bits of advice I can give. This is not to ask to be whitewashed so my failure is ignored but if someone has failed, there is quite likely to have been an underlying cause.

Personal Testimony: On one occasion when I had failed publicly in the way I had responded without grace to a piece of hostile criticism, I was mortified and a day later another senior leader blasted at me, “I can’t work with someone like you!” Another leader sided with him, and I resigned. It took an apostle to tell me I was the father figure with responsibilities and should get back in there and work it through. I did. When I look back on that after many years of pondering on it, I wish that first leader had instead come with a gentle heart that said something like, “My old friend, you blew it didn’t you. What happened? That’s not like you. How can I help you get back to a good place and help the church see that is happening?” But it didn’t come like that. The big knives were out. He had his own heart issues to work through.

Analyzing Failure: The pain that that incident, and all the followed caused me (and my wife), made me think deeply over the following decade about what had happened. My first step was to recognize that I had failed (sinned) by allowing a wrong situation to prevail. I had to repent before God. As a leader I had tolerated behaviour in another where they constantly criticized my leadership, not because I was wrong but because they had deep underlying personal problems stemming from their family background.  In my immaturity and inability I had failed to draw alongside them and help them confront their situation and background and come through to a place of healing.

That is what leaders are supposed to do. I suspect this is one of the most common failures seen in leaders, who fear creating uproar if it goes wrong. It is underpinned by insecurity, lack of confidence in God. But I have learned and watched and seen that the Lord gives us plenty of leeway and space to work these things out (and that includes putting marriages on a firmer footing) but if we fail to address the problem, He will allow the rug to be pulled out from under us and we find ourselves under a stress situation where our grace runs out and the situation explodes. He will only tolerate sin in leaders for so long!

And So? Paul, speaking to the Ephesian elders, said, Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.” (Acts 20:28) Jesus bought this sinner with his blood which, as I have meditated on that, suggests they are very precious to him. Moreover, he yet knows what we can yet become if we are restored. He looks to restore; yes, to deliver from the sin, to forgive and cleanse from it, and to take us on to greater heights. He looks for our repentance and the moment He sees it, He’s there for us! Realizing His grace, realizing what could yet be, means we will constantly be looking to restore one another. May it be so.

Snapshots: Day 151

Snapshots: Day 151

The Snapshot: “but Ruth clung to her…. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die.” (Ruth 1:14,16,17) If you want to know what that word ‘commitment’ (that is so often bandied about in Christian circles) means, this is it. Ruth demonstrates commitment that flows out of love. It is love not law that gets her to respond like this. It is love that should bind us one to another in ‘the church’, not rules, not requirements, not membership rolls, but love being worked out and demonstrated and when the world sees that they will be moved and challenged because there’s not much of the real stuff out there these days.  Let’s work on this love thing and shock the world!

Further Consideration: It may seem a strange place to start this continuation section, but there is a place where the apostle Paul says we, “are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory,” (2 Cor 3:18), referring to the natural work of the Spirit who is changing us into the likeness of Jesus.

I would like to suggest, although I’ve never heard it preached, that Ruth’s words, “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die,” actually are expressions of the attitude that you and I are called to have when we come to Christ and follow him as a disciple. It was Thomas who, when Jesus is talking about going to raise up Lazarus, says, Let us also go, that we may die with him.” (Jn 11:16) Whether he meant, let’s go along on this hopeless quest with him, or whether he was inspired to refer to Jesus’ coming death, is uncertain, but whatever it was, it expressed the true calling of a disciple to go wherever the master went – wherever!

Ruth has been moved by the love and concern of Naomi for the two Moabite girls; why should she be concerned for two foreigners, especially ones who appeared unable to bear her any grandchildren? But she was, and perhaps it was that realization that moved Ruth to make this declaration. Should not Jesus’ demonstration of love for us – dying for us, accepting us just like we are – move us similarly, and if not, the simple realization of what it means to be called to be a ‘disciple’ of the Son of God, into whose likeness the Spirit of God is changing us?

If it was a TV series, this would be one of those emotional, “Aaaah,” moments that perhaps release a tear, but in the word of God it comes as an example of the calling and required response that we find in the New Testament for all those who would say they follow Jesus and, in that sense, it comes as a tremendous challenge that might evoke in us that response, “Lord, I do believe, help my unbelief.” (Mk 9:24)

44. What happens after Death?

‘Living with Uncertainty’ Meditations: 44. Q.6. What happens after Death?

Heb 9:27,28    And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.

The Question:  Death is the cessation of physical life, and many not only fear the way of dying (which can involve a painful and prolonged disease) but also what might happen after death. Moreover it might be helpful to add, what does the Bible teach about the future, beyond physical death? The one thing it does teach is that physical death is not the end. There is existence and experience beyond physical death. Let’s consider the content of our two verses above:

The Fact: “And just as it is appointed for man to die once.”  Death is the one certainty we have; it will happen, we will all experience it.

Followed by: “and after that comes judgment.”  Judgement means assessment and accountability. Now the one thing we cannot say is exactly ‘when’ this occurs. Does it occur the second after our life here ceases, or does it happen, according to our present measuring of time, at some yet future time after a number of other things indicated in scripture happen, and for the person who has died, is there no sense of time passing so it is literally the next thing they experience? (check Rev 20:11-15, 21:27) For the ‘Lamb’s book of life’ see also  Phil 4:3, Rev 3:5, 13:8, 17:8, 20:12.

Salvation Provided: “so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many.” Because Christ died on the cross for our sins, there is forgiveness for all who receive him. Thus those whose names are in the ‘book of life’ referred to above, who God knew from before the foundation of the world would respond to Him and turn to Christ, these people have nothing to fear from appearing before God.

Second Coming: “will appear a second time.” Christ’s coming a second time, prophesied by the angels at his ascension (see Acts 1:11), brings to an end the present dispensation. When he came the first time it was to reveal the Father and to become our Redeemer. Each time he comes he comes to do what no one else can do. When he comes a second time it is for a different purpose.

Receiving Salvation: “not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” The picture of the end of time in this present age is one shown through Revelation where there will be a faithful remnant living in the midst of an ungodly and unrighteous world. He comes, the second time, to bring an end to that ungodliness and unrighteousness and to save his people there on the earth still, from it all. The picture that the writer to the Hebrews brings is of a Saviour who came the first time to bring in the kingdom of God but who comes a second time to wind up the initial expression of that kingdom. Wherever we find ourselves in history and in the economy of God, we can be secure in the love and the sovereign purposes of our God that are established, being worked out and will be brought to a conclusion in our Redeemer, the Christ.

Uncertainties and Questions: There are certainties at the end which we will return to but it is a foolish person who says some of the end of Revelation is quite clear. Uncertainties abound! There are ‘events’ that are spoken of quite clearly, but whether they are to be taken literally or as prophecy to be taken figuratively, is unclear. (The philosophical idea of ‘alternate realities’ existing at the same ‘time’ may be nearer the truth, even though it blows our minds!) There are schools of interpreters who take differing views and so we will not join in but simply note the things John brings to us:

– Christ will come as a conquering king – the Second Coming (Rev 19:11-16)

– he will war against his enemies of evil and will triumph (v.17-21). Note the beast and the false prophet are thrown into the lake of fire (v.20) while all their followers are killed by the sword (word of God) (v.21)

– Satan is bound for a thousand years (20:1-3)

– during this time believers reign with Christ (20:4-6)

– Satan is then released, deceives the nations and they come against the people of God at Jerusalem, fire falls and destroys all his followers but he is thrown into the lake of fire (20:7-10)

– Then comes the final judgment (v.11-13) and unbelievers are thrown into the lake of fire to be consumed. Note there is no mention for them (only the previous three) of it being eternal.  Fire elsewhere in the Bible destroys unless otherwise shown (The burning bush, the disciples at Pentecost, the Beast, the False Prophet and Satan – these latter three being spirit-beings.) The rest of unbelieving humanity is thus destroyed.

– Following this(??) we are shown a new heaven and a new earth (21:1) When he says the first have ‘passed away’ that doesn’t need to mean destroyed but simply moved on from. It is not that the present heaven is inadequate, more likely that the new heaven is simply heaven with a new flavor, if we may put it like that; it is filled with the redeemed and there is sense of conclusion to the initial salvation or redemptive purpose of God. The ‘new earth’ – still distinct from ‘heaven’ is thus presumably still a physical existence for the redeemed people to enjoy. Whether there are dual existences available for the people of God to enjoy, in both heaven AND earth, only time will tell us.

– This new existence is free of suffering (21:4) where God dwells with His people (21:2, 22-26) and all sin has been removed and destroyed (21:8,27)

– Further it is a place (existence) of life and light and abundance (22:2-5).

Certainties: We have already noted that physical death (the ‘first death’) is the cessation of physical life and is the destiny of every single human being. Yet there will be a resurrection of all the dead (Rev 20:13) to stand before the throne of God in the Final Judgment (20:12). Only Believers’ names are written in ‘the Lamb’s book of life’ (Rev 3:5, 13:8, 17:8, 20:12,15,  21:27) and they alone are saved for eternity. The rest, who refuse to believe and so live an ungodly and unrighteous lifestyle (21:8, 22:11,15) are consigned to ‘the second death’ (Rev 2:11, 20:6, 21:8).

We may thus summarize all this, these certainties, as:

–  all godly believers are saved and saved for a glorious eternity,

–  all ungodly and unrighteous unbelievers will be destroyed.

And So?  The offer is clear in Scripture – eternal life and a wonderful existence with God for those who will turn to Christ – but so is the warning – rejection and death for all who reject God’s offer.  Rejoice in the wonder of the offer; tremble for those who disregard it. Amen.

33. A New Uncertainty – Ascension

‘Living with Uncertainty’ Meditations: 33. A New Uncertainty – Ascension

Acts 1:9   After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.

Whaaat?  I don’t know if it’s just my imagination but the ascension of Christ rarely seems to be preached today, but that is a shame because it says something vitally important. Is it because the thought of a human body going up into the sky to disappear in a low cloud seems to stretch modern credulity to breaking point? It shouldn’t any more than Christ’s resurrection or any miracle for that matter.

Historically Accepted: It is strange if we seem to be unhappy with proclaiming it because historically Creeds, Catechisms and Confessions all made a point of including it: The Apostles Creed – “who ascended into heaven”, the Nicene Creed – “he ascended into heaven”, the Athanasian Creed – “rose again from the dead, ascended into heaven”, the Heidelberg Catechism Q49 “Of what advantage to us is Christ’s ascension into heaven?”, the Westminster Shorter Catechism Q28: “Wherein consists Christ’s exaltation? A28: Christ’s exaltation consists in his rising again from the dead on the third day, in ascending up into heaven,” and even the wordy Westminster Confession of Faith, “which also he ascended into heaven “. There it is declared again and again.

But Scripture? Our key verse here must be out starter verse in Acts 1 but note how each Gospel writer concludes their Gospel.  Matthew, we noted previously, in his kingdom-focused Gospel concluded with the Great Commission and went no further. For him, that was the important point with which to finish. In Mark, the add-on we’ve seen before, included, “After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God.” (Mk 16:19) Luke concludes his Gospel with, “When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God,” (Lk 24:50-53) and then picks it up in his continuation in Acts. John makes no mention of it, obviously feeling the others had covered it adequately and he didn’t need to confirm the points he was making about Jesus ministry time, that this aspect added to it.

In Acts, in his sermon on the day of Pentecost, the nearest Peter gets to it is, “Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.” (Acts 2:33) In this and subsequent preaching his big emphasis is on the resurrection that vindicates the work of Christ. The apostle Paul speaks of how God, “raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms.” (Eph 1:20) but numerous times speaks of how Christ is seated at the Father’s right hand in heaven (e.g. Rom 8:34, Phil 2:9, Col 3:1)implying he has ascended there. But it is the writer to the Hebrews who spells it out most clearly: Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.” (Heb 4:14) He also refers to Christ beside the Father – Heb 1:3, 8:1, 10:12, 12:2 – and Peter makes a similar declaration in his letter – 1 Pet 3:22. We’ll expand on this in a moment.

The Event:After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.  They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them.  “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:9-11)  From these verses observe the following: i) Jesus ascended bodily, ii) the angels declared that this would be the same way he will return – seen in the sky. But why did it happen like this? Forgive me if I take three paragraphs from a previous series, “Focus on Christ”:

Visible Ascension: Look at the language of the verses surrounding this event: “After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes , and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee ,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky ? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” (v.9-11) Five times there is reference to the fact that the disciples SAW Jesus leave. There is surely significance to this. It is as if Jesus wanted there to be a number of witnesses to his departure. He wanted them to be able to say, he has definitely gone – we saw him go!

Leaving the Earth: There is a second thought that follows on from this. It is the fact of him going up into the sky away from the earth. Now of course we would say that heaven is not “up there” but another dimension, but the fact of him “leaving the earth” says his time on the earth has come to an end and so don’t ever go looking for him. He’s not an eternal, ageless man who continually walks the earth. He has left and gone back to heaven. In other words, the period or time for his earthly ministry has finally come to an end. His activity on earth will continue, but now by his Spirit in his followers. His person now exists in heaven as many references in the New Testament testify to.

Ascended to the Father’s Right Hand:  We should also note that not only was the Ascension about leaving the earth, it was also about arriving back in heaven, where we are told a number of times Jesus sat down at his Father’s right hand. But first, let’s note that there are 13 mentions of this fact: Mk 16:19 / Acts 2:33 / Acts 5:31 / Acts 7:55 / Rom 8:34 / Eph 1:20 / Phil 2:9 / Col. 3:1 / Heb 1:3 / Heb 8:1 / Heb 10:12 / Heb 12:2 / 1 Pet 3:22   Note the things these verses say about Jesus in heaven. He:

– has a place of honour at the Father’s right hand

– he is there as Prince and Saviour

– he pleads for us there

– he’s been given a name above all others

– all angels and authorities bow before him

To Conclude: I would also add as a summary that he is there to oversee and administer the kingdom. One of my favourite set of verses that I believe clarifies the day in which we live is, “Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” (1 Cor 15:24-26) See it clearly: he IS reigning in heaven over the earth and will continue to reign until he has finished his present work that is to rid the earth of everything that was not there when the Father and he first created it, i.e. all forms of sin and its effects. I always link this with the prophetic Psa 110:1,2 – “The Lord says to my lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” The Lord will extend your mighty sceptre from Zion, saying,  “Rule in the midst of your enemies!”

When Jesus ascended it wasn’t just to terminate his earthly ministry, it was to return to heaven to sit beside his Father, and in a few earth weeks pour out his Holy Spirit, and then through Him administer the coming of the kingdom through his body, the Church, for as long as the Father decreed until the end. Without the ascension we have the great uncertainty – how did the story finish on earth, where did he go, what did he do? No, we have none of that uncertainty because we know he returned to heaven to continue his work from there, but in and through us. How amazing! Worship him and rejoice in your part in all this.