2. The Foundation

Short Meditations on the Ascension: 2. The Foundation

Lk 24:46  He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day  

We have just noted that Jesus is opening up the meaning of the Scriptures to his disciples before he leaves them. They need this foundation of understanding, it is what is at the heart of the Christian  Faith, the word of God. Without it we would be lost, unknowing, floundering in a world of uncertainty but, instead, we have the existence and the will of God revealed through the Bible. And so, “he told them,” he teaches them; it is what every Christian leader has to do with the flock of God – lead them with teaching.

Thus he starts this verse, “This is what is written.” He refers back to what we call the Old Testament, the scrolls they had, the truth of God written down: “The Messiah will suffer.” Luke doesn’t expound on this here and so we are left to glance back to the Old Testament prophecies, for example Psa 22 and the anguishes cries of Psa 69 and the suffering servant of Isa 52:11 to 53:12.

Whatever else we as Christians proclaim, the Cross of Christ must always be THE most important element of the Gospel, Jesus dying on the cross at Calvary taking our sins. We are what we are and we only have a future with God because of Jesus dying on the cross for us.

But his death was only one side of the coin, the other was his resurrection: “and rise from the dead on the third day”. There it was hinted at in Psa 16:10 that Peter took and applied in his sermon on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:24-32). Isaiah had hinted at it – Isa 53:10. By his resurrection Jesus was vindicated. The Old Testament hinted at it, he had prophesied it (Mt 16:21, 17:9,23, 20:19, 12:40, 26:32, 27:63)

The death of Christ on the cross is the unique testimony of the love of God in history. The resurrection of Christ is what marks out Christ from every other man in history, the proof of the Father’s intent (But God raised him from the dead.” Acts 2:24, 3:15) and validation or endorsement of His Son, a fact that comes down through history to challenge every person, like a banner calling all to their knees.

So as Jesus opens up the Scriptures to his disciples, these are the first two vital elements of The Faith that he puts before them, there in the Old Testament, now worked out in experience and thus proving the love and the power of God as He reaches out to mankind. This is the message that the disciples – and us – need to understand and this is the message they are to bring to the world. There is more to follow but this must be the starting place, this is the first thing they must be absolutely clear about. And us?  May it be so!

37. Effects of the Spirit’s Moving

‘Living with Uncertainty’ Meditations: 37. Effects of the Spirit’s Moving

Jn 3:8   The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.’

Acts 4:8  Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them…

Acts 4:31  After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.

Acts 11:24   He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.

Be at Peace:  As I have suggested before there are often fears and doubts and uncertainties about the Holy Spirit which the Lord understands but simply warns us against speaking wrongly of Him (Mt 12:31,32). To deny the work of the Spirit is to deny God. But uncertainties are understandable, but it is the way we respond to them that is important. I testified in the previous study how I foolishly experienced the Spirit moving, backed away from it, yet was graciously drawn back in repentance to receive again. The Lord looks for hearts that are open to him, even if they are uncertain. Be at peace in all this.

Uncertainty is Natural: If a leader like Nicodemus (Jn 3) was confused, don’t be surprised if we often get confused. To take Jesus’ analogy about the wind, many of us feel fearful simply because don’t know when He is going to turn up and what He might do. We live in a world that teaches us to be in control so it is natural to be nervous when God turns up and takes control out of our hands. It is natural but we are not called to be natural, we are called to be supernatural. We are to live by faith not by sight (2 Cor 5:7), we are to live not by human wisdom but by Holy Spirit and scriptural guidance.

Effects: I want to finish these reflections about the uncertainty of the Spirit by noting the fruitfulness that comes when we allow the Spirit to lead, inspire and empower us. In the previous study I used the analogy of a son growing into his father’s business as a picture of what God wants for us, and when we see the things He says He expects of us, we realize that these are things we cannot do by our own ability.

Boldness: Using our verses above, in Acts 4  when Peter is brought before the authorities we see him, “filled with the Holy Spirit,” (v.8) and Luke surely means us to see that it was because of this that he could answer them fearlessly and proclaim the Gospel. In Judges we have seen the Spirit come upon people to make them bold and courageous leaders. When we are filled with the Spirit there comes a new freedom to stand up and be God’s people. At the end of Acts 4 when the church are praying, the Spirit comes on them all and they were all filled so that “they spoke the word of God boldly”. (v.31) We desperately need some Holy Spirit boldness to speak into the world today.

Characteristic: When a problem of administration arose in the church in Jerusalem the instruction of the apostles to the other believers was, “choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom.” (Acts 6:3) The experience of being filled, that results in visible changes in a person, was apparently obvious in the early church. “They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit.” (v.5) If you referred to someone as a ‘Spirit-filled believer’ you were saying there was something about them that stood out – a freedom in God, a love and joy in the Lord, and often wisdom – that could be seen! There was no wondering. Shortly afterwards we read of Stephen, “Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people.” (v.8) Is this what caused the enemy to stir up opposition against him and yet, “they could not stand up against the wisdom the Spirit gave him as he spoke.” (v.10) This opposition was to lead to him becoming the first Christian martyr. But see all those things describing him: full of faith, full of the Holy Spirit, full of God’s grace and power, performing great wonders and signs, speaking fearlessly with great wisdom, and able to face death fearlessly. This is the life potential for those “filled with the Spirit”. If the modern church cannot live up to these descriptions, is it because we use the words but don’t experience the reality of the Spirit?

Similarly in Acts 11, Barnabas was described as, “a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith.” (Acts 11:24). He was the man we know as an encourager (v.23), the one who drew Paul into ministry (v.25,26), who clearly was a significant teacher (v.26b)

A Quick Glimpse at History: We are sometimes not very good at understanding church history but let’s conclude this study with a quick refresher in respect of history and the Holy Spirit. It is said that you can find throughout the two thousand years of church history, little pockets of believers who were open to the Spirit but the so-called Azusa Street Revival, in Los Angeles, that started in 1906, brought out into the open the place and role of the Holy Spirit, which had already started to be considered in some ‘holiness churches’. Pentecostalism was born resulting in the formation of Pentecostal churches & denominations which spread worldwide. This teaching and experience restored the Holy Spirit to His proper place, but mostly stayed within Pentecostal churches

That is, until in the 1960’s when a change came which someone described as, “individual believers seeking the Father for his promised gift of the Holy Spirit.”  Out of his came a fresh awareness of the existence, experience, function, and role of ‘the body of Christ’.  The Charismatic Movement was born with personal Spirit-filling and gifting, and our place within the body, being taught and experienced in new ways. Unlike Pentecostalism the charismatic movement did not create new denominations but Spirit-filled believers continued their experience within their existing denominations.

In the 1990’s a new wave of Holy Spirit activity burst out across the world with the phenomena referred to as the Toronto Blessing, where the Spirit, sovereignly it seemed, broke in on individual believers as they gathered and brought a new joy and a new freedom to the people of God. It was not revival and mostly did not appear to stir evangelism into being. It was first and foremost a restoration of the wonder of being God’s children.

Now we may not have been around and experienced these times of blessing but the truth was that in each case new life poured into and through the church. Each of these were different from revival which is a sovereign powerful moving of God inside and outside of the church to bring fresh life to believers and a harvest of souls into the kingdom.

And Us?  Wherever we stand, whatever our experience of the Spirit and whatever our feelings in respect of Him, one thing in today’s world and today’s church is obvious: we need a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Whether He comes in revival sweeping all before Him sovereignly, or whether He comes in renewal and reinvigorates His Church to be what He wants it to be, is down to Him and we will have to wait to see. In this again there is uncertainty. There are signs in all that is going on in the midst of the world activities that the Lord may be getting ready, thus Isaiah’s (Isa 4:3-5 Msg) call is appropriate:

Thunder in the desert!  “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.

How can we put it even more clearly?  Speak into this spiritual desert, this wilderness that is the modern world. Put your lives right for God is coming. Do all that needs doing to set your life right so that there is no hindrance in it to prevent Him coming and working in and through you. Clean it up, get rid of things you know would not bless God when He comes, fill in what is missing in your life and experience, and open up your heart to receive all He has for you, and then look for the coming of His glory.   Amen.

3. The Storms of Life (2)

‘Living with Uncertainty’ Meditations: 3. The Storms of Life (2)

Mt 7:25  The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.

Recap: We have so far, in the first two studies, considered the reality that we live in a ‘fallen world’, a world full of uncertainties and that when we become a Christian we exchange one set of uncertainties for another set of uncertainties but those are undergirded by the certainties of the gospel, the good news of the love of God for us. We considered briefly the instance of the disciples in the uncertainties of a storm on the Sea of Galilee but in their presence, admittedly asleep, was ‘the certainty’ that was Jesus, the all-powerful Son of God.

A Telling Parable: Now I have found myself a number of times recently referring to Jesus’ parable of the two house builders in Matt 7, which might be summarized as ‘failure to do what Jesus says means our lives get undermined by the storms of life’.   We live in a fallen world, we’ve said, where things go wrong – and God even uses those ‘going wrong’ things for his purposes – but the parable characterizes these things going wrong as the ‘storms of life’ which have the power to undermine our lives. However, the point of the parable is that if we trust in the one who I have referred to as ‘The Certainty’ and allow him to lead us through life, obeying all he says, his presence, his certainty, will enable our lives to stand in the face of those storms.

The facts of ‘storms’: It is perhaps important that we look a bit more closely at these ‘storms’ otherwise we might find ourselves suffering the uncertainty of wondering are we suffering punishment and if so, what for? These ‘storms’ can come for a variety of reasons and most of them are not down to us. Yes, it is possible that we have said or done something wrong that has caused upset to come on us, but there are a lot of other reasons for these storms that, I say again, were not down to us. For instance if you are laid off from work because of a financial recession, you did not cause that recession and it was not your fault you were laid off, but now you are in a time of uncertainty, wondering where or when you may get work again. Or perhaps you get ill. In the first part of 2020 the world woke up to a new word – Coronavirus. You did not bring that about.

‘National storms’: Sometimes the things that other people do, bring about an apparent storm in your life. I always think of Jeremiah in this instance. For decades he has been prophesying and warning about the impending destruction of Jerusalem. When it comes, he is saved, but the last we see of him is being carried away to Egypt with a rebellious remnant. Being swept along by the tide of mankind is not uncommon. Some feel it in the UK at this time, as we have stepped out of the European Union. In the USA a number felt that with the arrival of a new President. National politics as with leaders of old, is so often a cause of change or upheaval and such things come as storms of uncertainty. That is must have been the case for Mary and Joseph when the emperor issued an edict that uprooted them from Nazareth and required them to go to Bethlehem, just as Mary was expecting her baby. Upheaval. Uncertainty. Yet for Jeremiah and for Mary and Joseph the environment of uncertainty was made bearable by the greater certainty, that they were moving in the declared will of God.

Multiple Causes: Sometimes such ‘storms’ have multiple causes and so, for instance, when Joseph in the Old Testament gets sold into slavery, it is a combination of his unwise father making him his favourite, his brothers’ jealousy, and his own arrogant way of prophesying. Those three things could have been the cause of his destruction if there hadn’t been a greater certainty prevailing behind the scenes, the will of God to save the world from a famine that would come in a couple of decades. Now the will of God, I will suggest in this situation, spoken out later by Joseph (see Gen 50:20), was to allow these negative things of his father, his brothers and himself, to happen so that Joseph would be carried away, eventually to a place where the revelation of God would promote him and cast him in the role of a savior.

Now of course this is exactly what we see happened in the case of Jesus as revealed to the anointed apostle Peter on the Day of Pentecost: This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” (Acts 2:23) This ‘storm’ that came down on Jesus and resulted in him dying on the Cross for our sins, was brought about because of a) Jesus’ goodness that b) provoked the sinfulness of the authorities to rise up against him and kill him. A combination of good and evil coming together to bring about the sacrifice of the Son of God for our redemption, all within that greater certainty, the will of God.

The Anguish of the Storm: We will, no doubt, come here again as we approach Easter but in the Garden of Gethsemane we see Jesus crying out in anguish in prayer to be spared this ordeal yet the greater certainty of his Father’s will prevailed over the human uncertainty of that ordeal. Storms may be long lasting or short. In the storm on the lake when Jesus walked to them on the water, the disciples “cried out in fear” (Mt 14:26). When Peter stepped out of the boat, walked on water and then began to sink, he, “cried out, ‘Lord save me.” (v.30)

Sometimes life seems like one long continuous storm of uncertainty and we see that in the way various people cried out to Jesus to help them, for instance, A man in the crowd called out, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, for he is my only child.” (Lk 9:38) and, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” (Lk 17:12,13) and, He called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”  Those who led the way rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Lk 18:38,39)

In the first of those examples, the man explains about his son, “A spirit seizes him and he suddenly screams; it throws him into convulsions so that he foams at the mouth. It scarcely ever leaves him and is destroying him. I begged your disciples to drive it out, but they could not.” (9:39,40) In the second example the ten lepers were desperate about their lives of isolation. In the third case, the man crying out was a blind beggar. Consider the uncertainties of the lives of these, a man anguishing for his possessed son, ten lepers cursed with an incurable illness, and a man cursed with loss of sight and confined to begging in the streets. These are the uncertainties that plague lives in this fallen world and in each case they have heard something about Jesus, and somehow that had stirred in them a hope, the possibility, maybe even a certainty, that this man could change their lives.

The first case above involved the disciples in a literal storm and in the next study we’re going to see it was caused by Jesus, but for the rest, the anguishing father, the anguishing lepers, the anguishing blind man, they are all trapped in storms not of their making but storms never the less, storms of lives of uncertainty that are so common in this fallen world. The Certainty, the Son of God was the only one who could change their lives, a child brought peace, ten men brought cleansing and one man brought sight. Suddenly the lives of uncertainty are transformed; that is what the Son of God does.  Hallelujah!

And Us? This not just pure academic interest, this is the stuff that impacts our lives, uncertainties that come from a variety of sources. The psalmist in Psa 91 speaks of such ‘storms’ and starts out, “Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.” (v.1) Dwelling? Abiding was the word Jesus used (Jn 15:4, older versions) meaning to stay close to. The psalmist proceeds to use poetic or picturesque or allegorical language to speak of living in a world of uncertainty, and he speaks of:

a) Things that come against us in life:

– deadly pestilence (v.3,6) that destroys many around us – illness, sicknesses, viruses.

– harm or disaster (v.10) – work of others, or accidents that can happen

– creatures that might attack us (v.13) – spiritual attacks on our lives.

He counters all of these by:

b) The certainty that the Lord will be there for him:

– his refuge and fortress (v.2),

– his shield and rampart (v.4),

– his refuge, his dwelling (v.9),

– his angelic protection (v.11,12) and

– the Lord Himself (v.14-16)

All these threatening uncertainties are annulled by the wonder of God being there for him and that reality is the certainty that enables him to sleep soundly at night! May that be true for us as well!

1. Introducing Uncertainty: “Follow Me”

I am taking the unprecedented step on this Blog of interrupting the series on ‘Revisiting the Ten Commandments’ (which I hope we’ll come back to after Easter) to specifically present a series I started writing recently, more for my own benefit than anyone else’s, about ‘Living with Uncertainty’. I didn’t start it initially with Coronavirus in mind, but it does somehow seem applicable in the light of that. For those who like short, snappy meditations each morning, may I suggest the times call for eating more than breadcrumbs each day.  (Sorry!) May I invite you therefore to join me on this walk with the Lord which, someway in, I confess has already blessed me somewhat, in these very uncertain times.

PART ONE: General Ponderings on Uncertainty and Certainty

‘Living with Uncertainty’ Meditations: 1. Introducing Uncertainty: “Follow Me”

Mt 4:19,20 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him.

Introduction: It may be the age we are living in – post-Brexit in the UK, and the advent of coronavirus across the globe, pre-another Presidential election in the US – but it seems more and more people are expressing concerns about the uncertainty of modern life and are worrying about it. As we are also approaching Easter it has set me thinking about how, contrary to the beliefs of many Christians, uncertainty is at the heart of the Christian life. It is certainly no more than that which non-Christians suffer but it is there and it is a different sort of uncertainty, brought about by the very real aspects of the Bible story and how it is worked out in our daily lives. Wonderfully, and I hope we will see it in these studies, this uncertainty is underpinned by a certainty that is inexplicable yet cast iron sure.  As I watch Christians around me struggling to cope with the uncertainties of the coming of the Coronavirus, or even with the various trials that come through modern life, I perceive what I believe is an inadequacy of holding a correct biblical view that should help them. It just doesn’t seem to be there and so for many, the uncertainties of life and also of the Christian life in particular, causes worry and anxiety and simply quoting Bible verses doesn’t seem to help. It is this sort of thing that I believe we should thinking about in more depth and be addressing in this series running up to Easter.

The Uncertainty of Discipleship: Because we rarely seem able to truly identify with the early apostles we are also unable to comprehend the true nature of the discipleship to which they, and we, have been called.  I wrote elsewhere recently, “Letting Jesus go ahead sounds the simplest description of being a disciple. I mean, it was the only thing the first disciples were called to do – follow me. Where Lord? That doesn’t matter, I’ll show you, just follow me. And he went ahead. Lord, what do you call us to do? That doesn’t matter, you’ll know when the time comes and you find someone or some situation before you that I’ve led you to, just follow me and watch me, sense what I want to do – through you – and do it. It will be that simple, just follow me.  And that’s what they did!

It WAS that simple but compare their lives as disciples from what they had been. Some of them had been fishermen and the only thing that governed their lives was the weather. As long as it allowed them, they went out on the Sea of Galilee and fished. No problem. One of them was a tax collector who probably sat in a tax booth collecting taxes; easy! Then Jesus says come, follow me, and there is something about him that compelled them to go on this nomadic life of ministry, and it’s quite clear that most of the time most of them hadn’t a clue where they were going and what was going to happen. I hope we’ll be able to see this as we observe the final weeks before Easter.

We often laugh about the way the apostle Peter only opened his mouth to change feet, but that was simply an expression of his uncertainty, of what was happening. Remember when Jesus started telling them about his impending death. Peter’s response? “Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” (Mt 16:22) Ooops! To be uncertain means to be unsure and Peter is seriously unsure about the will of God. Oh yes, our uncertainty can manifest itself in apparent certainty, that’s how we handle it like Peter here, but our certainty is wrong. That’s the wrong sort of certainty. But then, God doesn’t work like that, we say, or God doesn’t do that sort of thing! And so often we’re wrong! He does. Handling uncertainty means growing up, becoming mature in understanding.

So why are we surprised when suggestions like this arise, that the Christian life is a life of uncertainty? Why are preachers so specifically confident and so adamant about the nature of the Christian life, that it’s all good stuff? It is but not in the way we so often think! And yet, how easily, I wonder, do we read Paul’s words, For we live by faith, not by sight,” (2 Cor 5:7) and think that’s easy. But  the reality is that most of us prefer to know what we’re doing, where we’re going, yet Paul tells us the life we live is to be one in response to what God says, not only what He says in His word, but also by what He says by His Spirit, and if we dare be honest, that isn’t always easy. We struggle with this concept, I suggest, because of our insecurity; we only feel secure when we can see what’s happening, we haven’t learned to trust God when the sky seems to be falling on us!

The Core of the Faith: What we’re talking about here are the fundamental basics of the Christian Faith. We follow a God we cannot see but who somehow has communicated to us in the crises of life and drawn us to Himself. Yes, we have His word but there is so much of it that we don’t understand for the moment. Trials and tribulations of life come along and we get overrun by the negatives that pull us down, cause anxiety and so on.

Learning God’s Ways: Moses once asked God, “teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you.” (Ex 33:13) That’s what was going on while the disciples went with Jesus, they were being taught God’s ways, not in any formal way but in an on-the-job-and-life way. Before understanding comes trust and they were learning to trust Jesus, that he knew best and he was for them. I suspect they didn’t realize that this was what was happening, but it was. And that is so often true of you and me. Life is uncertain, the world is uncertain, but in the midst of it all Jesus is trying to teach us that he is in charge and uses both the good and the bad to work out the Father’s purposes, and even if we don’t understand – as so often we don’t – that’s how it is, so rest in his love.

And Us? So as we come to the end of this first introductory study, may I invite you to pray? Just recently, not only with the things going on out there in the world, but things that were happening to me, I confessed to the Lord that I felt like I was a cork bobbing around in the sea of uncertainty, but then as He drew near, I suddenly realized that the truth was that I was bobbing about in His love and, as a friend put it, changing the analogy, he was there in the boat with me. Awesome! So can you pray that, thanking Him that if life seems uncertain, the truth is that you’re in His love and even more, in the storms of life, he’s there in the boat with you? Can you declare that in prayer and praise him in the midst of it all? May it be so. Let’s think some more about these things in the weeks running up to Easter.

3. God?

Revisiting the Ten Commandments: 3. God?

Ex 20:1,2    And God spoke all these words: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

Pause Up: We have just spent two studies setting the context for understanding and seeing how these Ten Commandments came into being but before we actually move on to consider the first of the ten commands we need to focus again on these two introductory verses because it is so easy to take words for granted and thus miss the amazing claims being made.

We have already observed the fact that the Bible record here in these verses shows us a God who communicates with us – and if you are a Jew or Christian you take that for granted, but in some other world religions they have gods or idols who stay silent and offer nothing to their adherents. But here in the Biblical record we have a God who made this world and who interacts with this world and speaks to individuals in this world. Before we move on to see God’s description of Himself in these verses, I want us to ponder on just how much revelation about God had been given as we see it in the first two books of the Bible. How, at least from the Bible, did they come to know God, what does the text tell us about Him?

Origins: We perhaps need to ponder on just how the Bible came to be written, how these two books came into being. I am going to take the view that traditional academics and scholars through most of the last few thousand years (excluding the effects of liberal German so-called theologians of the late nineteenth century) and suggest that initially history was passed on by word of mouth. But that is probably only part of the picture. It is thought by traditional scholars that Genesis was written by Moses and was likely to be a combination of that passed on by word of mouth and that communicated to him by the Lord in the Tabernacle over the forty years of Israel’s wanderings in the desert before they entered the Promised Land. It is for this reason that we find the use of LORD in capital letters in Genesis although the proper origin of it doesn’t appear until the third chapter of Exodus, which we’ll consider shortly.

But of course before the word was written down on scrolls by Moses, while it was still in word-of-mouth form, we need to ask what was known of God by the experience of those who had encounters with Him as recorded in Genesis. In the Garden of Eden there seems to be what is called a theophany, God appearing in human form to be able to communicate with Adam and Eve. In the periods following that we just don’t know how God communicated and interacted with the likes of Cain, Noah, etc. and perhaps it is only when we come to a much longer record of His interaction with Abram that we can really start to make some reasonable assumptions about the sort of ‘Being’ we dealing with. Here are some of those:

The Patriarchs: In Genesis. Watching the interaction between God and Abram, (who later is renamed Abraham), Isaac and Jacob and Joseph, I want to suggest we see:

  • A God who is Creator of all things.
  • A God who thus sees and knows and understands everything there is to know about us.
  • A God who has a purpose for the earth which stretches far into the future.
  • A God who reveals Himself to mankind very gradually.
  • A God who persists with our slowness to understand, yet works to mature us.
  • A God who can intervene in His material world and bring what we call ‘miraculous’ changes.
  • A God who knows the future and plans and purposes through His people to enable them to cope with it.
  • A God who works for the good of mankind and to draw mankind back to Him after the Fall.

Moses: When we come to the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy and the life of Moses and the embryonic Israel, I suggest we see the following:

  • A God who is all-powerful and can deal with arrogant despots and superstitious, occult-following nations.
  • A God of revelation who wishes to impart His plans and purposes to those who will listen.
  • A God who planned to bring a unique nation into being to reveal Himself to the world.
  • A God who has designed this world and knows best how mankind can ‘work’ and who works to convey that to us and to present standards to be followed, which if they are not, result in self-destruction.
  • A God who will discipline to bring correction and under dire circumstances will bring judgment on some to save His world for the others.

These latter things in Exodus are, of course, only just starting to become obvious at the time of the giving of the Law. Nevertheless the Lord has already communicated various things about Himself to Moses at the burning bush (see Ex 3)

Origin of LORD: In our starter verses there is no printing mistake in the capitalising of the word LORD when He says, “I am the LORD your God.”  To see why that is like that there you need to go back to Ex 3 where God first contacts Moses and describes Himself. First of all He says, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” (Ex 3:6) In other words, I am the God you have been told about who has had dealings with your patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. There is a continuity of history even at this stage.

But then, after Moses had asked His name, who he should tell the Israelites had sent him, He went on to say, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: `I AM has sent me to you.’” (Ex 3:14) These things are repeated in the following verses and in your Bible there is a footnote that “the word for LORD (in capital letters) sounds like and may be derived from the Hebrew for I AM in verse 14.” Therefore, from then on, when God’s ‘name’ is used it is always in this form and may be taken as “The I AM” or, ‘the eternal one’, if you like. Verse 15 links the earlier v.6 with that later reference in verse 14. God identifies Himself not only as ‘the eternal one’, the one outside history, but also the God of the patriarchs, the God who has had dealings with men. He is the God who works outside of time AND into time-space history. So the ‘name’ from there on, that is printed, ‘LORD’, always conveys this sense – the Eternal One, the I AM, the One who always is.

Back to Abraham: We have just been suggesting that God reveals Himself, first to the Patriarchs of what became Israel, and then to Moses and then to all of the new nation of Israel. As an aside, there are some suggestions that He had already revealed himself to others. Studies of ancient Chinese suggest that they knew of this creator God who had the same characteristics as revealed to Israel.

But back in the Bible, earlier in Genesis, when Abram had just rescued Lot, we find the king of Jerusalem (otherwise known as Salem) came to him: “Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram, saying, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. And blessed be God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.” (Gen 14:18-20) Note that he describes God as “Creator of heaven and earth”. There is clearly prior revelation here about the Lord, a unique being who is greater than anything or anyone else we can comprehend, who is the originator of everything we know in material and spiritual existence. THIS is the God we are introduced to in the Bible. We will consider some more of just who He is as we start to properly consider the first commandment in the next study.

Application: May I suggest we pray something like, “Lord God, you who are Creator of all things, we bow before you and worship you. Thank you that you have gradually revealed much about yourself through your word. Thank you that you know us, love us, and call us to yourself, just like you did with Abram. Thank you that you have plans and purposes for us that are good. Thank you that you understand that we are but like little children and are often slow to learn, but you love us, accept us as we are, and persevere with us. Thank you for this wonderful accepting and understanding love. Amen.”

Snapshots: Day 119

Snapshots: Day 119

The Snapshot: “this Book of the Law … meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it.” (Josh 1:8) He’s an army general for goodness sake! What does he want with reading the Bible?  That’s what a big bunch of people have thought down through the centuries but there are whole group of other people who have sat for half an hour or so each morning with a Bible in their lap as they imbibe the sweet presence of the author of it and somehow, in some inexplicable way, the varied writings of this book, make sense or leap at you with life-giving insights, or glimpses of another world that brings life and meaning to this one, and day by day they are gently transformed. Meanwhile the others stay bored, unfulfilled and lacking. Funny old world.

Further Consideration:  For Joshua, the Law that had been received forty years earlier at Sinai, was to be the foundation of his leadership. Next to being aware of the Lord, turning to Him, sharing with Him and listening to Him, this revelation, the Law, was to be the anchor that held him and kept him steady.

Yes, that intimate relationship with the Lord, that practice of contemplation, of waiting upon Him in silence perhaps, listening for the still small voice of the Spirit, that is to be the base experience of every Christian (if only it was!) but that, as a friend of mine warns me regularly, can be subjective and we have to avoid being led astray by our own thoughts and wishes, and so the check, the balance, is to be His Word that never changes. For us it is far more than just a few chapters of what became the Pentateuch, it is the whole Bible but with a special emphasis on the New Testament that testifies to the work of Christ, the implications of that work, and how it is to be worked out in our daily lives for however many years he allows us to have in this present life.

For Joshua there were the scrolls on which Moses had written the original Ten Commandments, then the laws found in Ex 21-23 but then many more that Moses had added that are found not only in Exodus (those of which are mostly about the Tabernacle and the Priesthood) but also in Leviticus and Numbers as well as all the reminders and confirmations of Deuteronomy. Oh yes, Moses had been busy! Probably they were not only the ones given on Mount Sinai (see Lev 1:1,26:46, 27:34) but were added by Moses (see Num 7:89),  who spent much of his time in in the Lord’s presence (as Joshua had also done) in the Tent of Meeting, the Tabernacle. See how many times in Leviticus, for example, the words arise, “And the Lord said to Moses…” Oh yes, Joshua had a lot of reading to do – and so do you and I. History tells us that the Lord has gone to great trouble to give us the book. Let’s not ignore it.

Recap 2: Struggles of the Church

The Church Kaleidoscope Meditations:  Recap 2: Struggles of the Church

Rev 1:4  To the seven churches

Perspective: When we read the letters of the various apostles we find them addressing the various things they feel the local church needs to consider and often it is in the context of who we are. One of the things I have not sought to consider in these studies, to keep them relatively short, is the nature of the environment in which each church found itself, the spiritual background of the city or the culture of the area, for although they are important the problems that they throw up tend to be the same sort of problems that the Church across the world faces in one degree or another all the time. I have titled this short series ‘The Church Kaleidoscope’ meditations because it crosses my mind that, as I have commented before, we all have similarities but also differences. However, when it comes down to it, the reality is that the sorts of problems we face as church can ultimately be boiled down to just a few. Rather than go through each church as I did in the previous study, here I will simply try to group together the different sorts of issues that face the church.

Enemy Opposition: This varies from place to place and from nation to nation. If we sought to categorize the ways the enemy wages war against the saints, this would be identified as ‘outright opposition or hostility. In some parts of the world enemy hostility against Christian believers is blatant and intensive and, if reports are true, in China the opposition of the Communist Party (which is greatly outnumbered by the number of Christians in the country) has become more intense at the end of this second decade of the twenty-first century.

In Smyrna, the Jews slandered the church (2:9) and indeed (and we’re not told by who) the opposition against the church is going to intensify so that some believers will be even put in prison for their beliefs (2:10) and there will be a (limited) spate of ongoing persecution. In Pergamum, they had likewise suffered persecution and one believer, Antipas, had been martyred, so intense had been the persecution. In Philadelphia there was also a hint of persecution (3:9,10).

Deception – Wavering Belief: Again, it is often said, the battle that the enemy wages is a battle for the mind. Ever since the Garden of Eden (see Gen 3) deception has been a weapon he employs. Throughout my Christian life (over fifty years now) I can look back and see a number of instances where some new fad or way of thinking and doing has come to the fore that has proved to be a deception which has then passed away. Although those ways of thinking were specific (tending to be) doctrinal issues, there has, especially in the last ten to twenty years I believe, been a general watering down of the Faith in many quarters (not all thankfully). I have commented on it before but the whole area of sexuality has become a battle ground from the enemy, so that the biblical standard that limits sexual activity to ‘one man plus one woman, committed to each other for life’ has been abandoned in many quarters and is under severe pressure in others, and mayhem reigns. In an even more troubling battle-zone attacks upon the Bible have been coming from within the church, by what were once described as liberal thinkers, but has been regularly occurring in recent years, a trend where books are appearing that demean or demote the Bible as our foundation. The foundation for Christian belief and practice has been getting whittled away.

Deception in one form another is always near the surface. In Ephesus, they had to contend with false apostles (2:2) as well as with the false watering-down doctrines of the Nicolaitans that also appeared in Pergamum, linked to that softening deception of Balak (2:14,15), which we summarized as ‘a little conforming to the ways of the world is all right.’  If you have any doubts about this deception in today’s church, ask yourself, “Do I see a church where people are on fire for God, on fire for His word, and on fire with the Holy Spirit, or do I see a people more concerned with the ‘good life’ that affluence and materialism and modern technology  brings in the twenty-first century?”   Thyatira suffered another form of deception (2:20) by having a woman (or was it a whole way of looking?) who, as I noted above in parts of today’s Church, allowed sexual immorality and blurring of the boundaries between righteousness and unrighteousness. These are all belief issues that lead into changing of behaviour issues.

Seduction of heart and mind: The third enemy strategy we see coming out in some of these letters has to be a seduction that uses complacency and indifference to lull the church into a place of deception, not so much of false teaching but more as shear spiritual laziness that produces a lack-luster faith which more and more walk away from. This probably can be seen as simply an absence (and the joy with it) of the life of the Spirit in the life of the Church. Again, if you are not sure of this, ask yourself here, “Do I see in my church the outright activity of the Holy Spirit so that there is a life and vitality in the congregation that produces a regular flow of people being born again, delivered and healed, with a sense of the wonder of the Presence of the Lord in the midst that creates a mixture of awe and rejoicing?” Be honest, can you say you see that in your church? If not, it’s time for prayer!

In Ephesus, this was manifested as having lost their first love (2:4). In Sardis it was seen in the form of comatose religion, where they appeared spiritually dead and needed waking up. In Laodicea it manifested itself as luke-warmness, or what I called half-heartedness. The first of these three were good at activities but it failed to have love for Jesus at the heart of it. The second would have had a good reputation for holders of doctrine but not for life in the Spirit. The third one were just blind to their true state, no doubt like many of us today who think we are ‘fine’ or ‘OK’ without realizing how far short if the biblical picture on Christ’s heart we are.

And So?  These things are not said to depress or make us feel bad about ourselves, but to open our eyes to the truth or reality of how life can so often be in the Church and this is why Christ says these things to these churches back there in history, so that we might see them and through them perhaps see where we too fall short. The goal is not to pull down but to stir hearts to prayer and action and bring change. Jesus wants his Church renewed and revived and where we fall short of what is on his heart, then repentance is the first step. Identifying where we are similar to these churches should then enable us to seek him for his wisdom to put things right, or seek his Spirit to bring fresh life to us so that we may truly become the body of Christ that the New Testament describes, gifted, empowered and sent to do the works of the kingdom (check out Lk 4:18,19 and Mt 11:5 together with Jesus instructions in Jn 14:12 and Mt 28:20). To conclude this penultimate study, can we heed James’ instructions to, “not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” (Jas 1:22) Amen.

13. God of Purpose: Justice (3)

Getting to Know God Meditations:  13. God of Purpose: Justice (3)

Jn 1:10-13  He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God

Continuation:  Let’s be honest, none of us can fully comprehend what we have been considering in the previous studies, that Jesus Christ, the divine Son of God, left heaven, put aside all the glory he had there, and came and lived in human form, experiencing everything we experience (but without sinning), taught and did good in amazing ways, but was then falsely tried, condemned and crucified. There’s more to come but even that bit is hard enough to swallow – it is too good to be true. (We also struggle to face our need and so make excuses!) And the truth, as I have suggested before is that you will only accept it with God’s help.

The Process: There is a process that all Christians go through, in a variety of ways, before they become a Christian. It is important to understand this, to understand how God works in this, because it all goes back to what I just said above, it is almost impossible to believe because we have too much pride hanging in the balance. But when I look back on my own experience, when I listen to the testimonies of many other Christians and when I see what the scriptures say, I have to say there is a common process that takes place.

The changes: The first thing that happens is either that the individual starts to find they are thinking spiritual thoughts, or having spiritual questions, or finding themselves in a spiritual context (being asked to church, say). The more they think and the more they read and the more they hear, the more challenged they find themselves getting. The challenge is a) about the sort of person they are and b) who they are hearing Jesus Christ claims to be. Sometimes this process is accelerated by a personal crisis in their life and maybe it is the crisis that provokes them to reassess themselves and their personal lifestyle. And so there will be these two things running in parallel, this growth in personal dissatisfaction and this growth in knowledge of who Jesus Christ could be. And then at some point they find a challenge, a call to recognize this personal dissatisfaction as a need to call on God for forgiveness and a call to recognize Jesus Christ as the Savior he wants to be.

The surrender: Before a person becomes a Christian, there comes a surrender. It comes as a confession of failure and a call to be forgiven, combined with a declaration, “I believe in Jesus.”  Sometimes it is a crisis of a moment and sometimes it may be spread over weeks or even months. And they pray. The transaction with God is always made through prayer. What is prayed? It varies according to the individual. For me initially it was, having just been at a meeting where I heard the gospel preached, “God, I’ve heard it all. I understand you want my life. I give it to you. Please take it and lead me. I’ve heard about Jesus and thank you for him. Amen”  Now looking back over fifty years, I think that was pretty basic and I am sure I prayed more things to do with forgiveness and belief in the following days, but from that moment, there was no doubt, I was changed, I was transformed, I was in Jesus’ words ‘born again’ (Jn 3:3-8).  The Bible speaks about being converted (Acts 15:3) which simply means to be changed.

Pray: I hesitate to proscribe a prayer but if it would help you and you find you want to do this (only pray it if you are sincere) then pray, “Lord, I recognize my failures, and my weakness and my need of you in my life. Please forgive me that I have been self-centred and godless, I want you to change me. I believe Jesus is your Son and he died for me to take my punishment and I invite you to come into my life to change me and lead me from now on. Thank you that you will do that. Amen.”

The Result: The process takes us up to the point of surrender. When we come to that point something amazing happens. This is what the Bible says takes place: God forgives us and cleanses us and sets us free from our past life, declares we are now part of His family (adopted), and that He has plans to bless us as we allow Him to lead us, and that will go on and on throughout our life here on earth and then on past death into eternity, a life with Him, a life blessed by Him. To enable us to live that life He imparts His Holy Spirit who indwells us and empowers us and is the changing force, cooperating with us to lead, guide, inspire, teach, empower and change us.

Death & Resurrection: Remember the Old Testament picture of sacrifices we considered previously, translated into the picture of Jesus dying as a sacrifice for our sins, taking our punishment? Well there are further death AND RESURRECTION pictures that are part of this whole package which we need to look at.

i) Jesus’ Resurrection: We haven’t touched on it yet but the great truth (and you can see more if this in that previous series of studies I mentioned, ‘Focus on Christ’) is that Jesus did not remain dead: “This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead.” (Acts 2:23,24) The same testimony is repeated again and again in the New Testament.

ii) Us: The apostle Paul in his teaching letters in the New Testament urges us to see this picture of death and resurrection as what has happened to us when we became believers. Let’s see it in the paraphrase version of The Message: “Could it be any clearer? 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. We know that when Jesus was raised from the dead it was a signal of the end of death-as-the-end. Never again will death have the last word. When Jesus died, he took sin down with him, but alive he brings God down to us. From now on, think of it this way: Sin speaks a dead language that means nothing to you; God speaks your mother tongue, and you hang on every word. You are dead to sin and alive to God. That’s what Jesus did.” (Rom 6:6-11) What he is saying is that when you surrendered, as we said above, it was like you died to your old life (which you gave up) and were empowered by God with a new life, like you have been resurrected, you have a new life: if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Cor 5:17) When Paul uses the phrase ‘in Christ’ it just means united with him, one with him.

iii) A New Approach to Life: Listen again to Paul’s teaching: “I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Rom 12:1,2) See the language he uses: ‘your body’, i.e. the whole of your life; ‘living sacrifice’ – having an attitude of ongoing surrender for God to take you lead you, use you, change you (all things you can totally trust Him with); ‘renewing of your mind’ – no longer thinking in a self-centered, godless way, but having Christ as the central focus of all your thinking, making his will – which is ‘good, pleasing and perfect’ (it is for your blessing!) – the heart and foundation of the way you look at life from now on.

Justice? Oh yes, this is still all about how our past self-centered, godless lives that got so much wrong, can be dealt with so we can stand up in the court of universal assessment, pardoned and be set free, not just because of a whim of the judge but because Justice has been satisfied because someone else – Christ – stepped into the court and took your place and your punishment on the Cross. This is what the ‘gospel’ is all about: “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (Jn 3:16,17) Justice has been satisfied and a new life is offered for anyone who will accept Jesus as their Savior.  If you don’t do this, you have to ‘carry the can’ yourself and face judgment and rejection on the Last Day. What a decision to make! It’s a ‘no-brainer’ isn’t it. It can only be spiritual blindness that hold people back and the answer has got to be to pray with the blind man, “I want to see.” (see Mk 10:46-52)  My prayer is that everyone who reads these words, will respond accordingly if they have not done so already.   Amen.

10. God of Purpose: Behavior

Getting to Know God Meditations:  10. God of Purpose: Behavior

Ex 20:13-15   You shall not murder. 14 “You shall not commit adultery. 15 “You shall not steal.

Approach:  I think I need to lay out what I intend to cover in this particular study because there are other aspects I will need to cover separately in the next  study. Here I want to consider human behaviour, signs of God’s design – and possibilities. In Study No.7 I suggested four parts of the ‘big picture’ and the last part was about how God planned to win us back to himself by sending his Son to the earth to show the possibility of life with God and all that that could mean. To understand this we have to look at how we live our lives and then how we could live our lives.

Great Potential: In a moment we are going to have to face the negative aspects of the human race but to maintain balance, I believe we need to look first at how God designed us to be originally. From the outset we are told that we have been made, “in the image of God.” (Gen 1:26). What does that mean? Well, how do we differ from all other living creatures? It means He gave us the abilities to communicate, think, plan, reason, invent, create, write, compose, design, research, work, order, purpose, worship and enter into the fullness of what we were designed to be. Put another way, He has given us self-consciousness, imagination and conscience, and ability to grow and develop mentally, spiritually, emotionally as well as physically. It is all these things that separate mankind off from the rest of the animal world and, I suggest, are what the Bible means when it says we are made in His image. But even more than that, we are made to show immense care and compassion, of self-sacrifice and even carry out courageous acts of heroism. The potential of the human race is phenomenal. When you consider advances in science, technology, medicine, surgery, exploration and so much more, these are all aspects or expressions of ‘being made in his image’, and this applies to every single human being regardless of belief.

Great Pleasure: When you consider the five senses – sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell – they are all about the potential of enjoyment.  If we are – as the Bible says we are – ‘designed’ by God then we are thinking of very positive things. Ponder on looking at and taking in a wonderful sunset, a beautiful vista, works of art, or listening to the sounds of nature or the sounds of a symphony orchestra or jazz band, or reaching out to touch the skin of a loved one, or the smoothness of polished wood, the taste of a thousand dishes on menus, the smell of fresh coffee and baking bread, and all these thing are for pleasure and without those senses we are severely curtailed in that potential enjoyment.  Speech isn’t usually considered one of our ‘senses’ and yet our speech has incredible potential for good or harm.

Dysfunctional?  And yet, as I have pondered these things for many years, despite all these things in the two paragraphs above, I conclude that the best word to describe all of us is ‘dysfunctional’ which, as a dictionary says, simply means ‘not operating normally or properly’. The picture of the Garden of Eden in Genesis 2 & 3 may (if I may take in all views) be either factual history or a teaching narrative based on factual geography, but the picture of that original relationship when God interacted with man (and it may be millions of years down the evolutionary scale if you wat to believe that) was one of total peace and harmony. Put another way, there was an absence of stress, worry, anxiety, upset, hostility, all the things that characterize so much of modern Western life. The sad thing is that we now take as normal these dysfunctional things I have just listed that were not there in the beginning. Genesis 3 (fact or lesson) declares that these things happen because we reject God and His design for us.

Warping the Design:  Things go wrong in the way we live. Sometimes we are happy to acknowledge these things, but more often than not it is for economic grounds and not morally ethical grounds. For example overeating (which may be caused by a variety of reasons) causes obesity and obesity is harmful to health and even life-threatening. When that impinges on national health provision, the government health authorities start speaking up about it. Alcoholism and drug addiction are generally accepted as equally harmful.

When it comes to sexual aspects of relationships we are less likely to agree, but repeated studies show that cohabitation is a less stable relationship than marriage, and divorce has a seriously detrimental effect on the children of the marriage, which is worked out later in life in negative, antisocial ways in society. In modern Western society, sex has become for many no different than eating, it is part of the package of the evening out, and then we are surprised that young people struggle to find the meaning and experience of ‘love’, and increasingly young people are dropping out of even traditional dating. As the Sunday papers so often show, it is often, a quagmire of emotions. The quaint biblical notion of sex only after marriage with one life-long partner has so much going for it and avoids so much of the angst of modern relationships – but, yes, it does need self-control and it does need working at. It is only a matter of time, I suggest, before the realities of these things bring change.

The ways that we human beings find to abuse other are, it seems, almost limitless: murder, genocide, rape, slavery, torture, racism, violence in the home and on the streets,  cruelty, abuse, bullying, sexual abuse, aggression, slander, libel, defamation, malice, theft, vandalism, bribery and corruption, fraud, and the list could just go on and on and on. This is what we do when the restraints are removed. Perhaps we should add the motivating forces that drive some of those things: godlessness, (don’t confuse ‘religion’ with being godly), self-centredness, callousness, insensitivity, pride, envy, gluttony, greed, lust, sloth, and wrath (the seven so-called ‘cardinal sins’), lies, and deceit. What a bunch we are!

The Christian Perspective: Please don’t hear me wrongly here, Christians are not immune from these things, we speak out of turn, act wrongly and harbor wrong attitudes but may I suggest three ways we differ from our unbelieving neighbour:

– we do intend to be righteous, and our reading of the Bible and teaching within church life go to reinforce that intention (we study the New Testament which is full of teaching and encouragement to go for this; this is our primary behavioral goal).

– when we fail, we are more likely to be convicted by God about our failure and then confess it to Him and repent (turn away with the resolve not to repeat it). Also sharing it in a church context means we will be strengthened in that resolve.

– if we do fail, we are more likely to be convicted by God to put right any wrong relationship, and thus act as a peacemaker, and if necessary bring restitution.

On top of these three things I would suggest that believers, as individual disciples of Jesus, are more likely to seek to model themselves on him, by seeking to be obedient to God the Father and be led by the Holy Spirit, having open hearts to others (believers or non-believers), being generous in attitude, seeking to bless others (inside and outside the church), seeking to meet needs presented where possible, with humility, being caring, listening and accepting, while holding firmly to the conviction that God’s design is always the right way and never to be compromised.

Where Christian community is operating as it should, there will be open-hearted sharing, caring and concern, being there for one another, encouraging one another, being gentle and patient with one another, blessing one another. I have just said ‘as it should’ and my experience is that it often is in large measure, and that is so often missed by the atheist cynic.

And So: Really, seriously, look back over these things under this last heading. We may not be achieving all of them all of the time but it is our intention to do so and we work to do that. Really, can this sort of life and community life come under criticism from the humanistic, secularist atheist who has no such community and cannot provide such a similar testimony? This is what Jesus came to achieve. This is the behavioral aspect of the purpose of God through the ministry of Jesus.  We will go on to see in the next study how he laid the foundation for this to happen and how he works today to help us achieve this.

1. A Marker in the Sand

Getting to Know God Meditations:  1. A Marker in the Sand

Job 40:1,2  The Lord said to Job:  “Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer him!”

For who? I have over the years written thousands of these meditations (studies) and my general goal has always been twofold: to teach myself and clarify my own thinking AND to provide material that I hope may strengthen and encourage the Christian community. In this new series, I want to make a slight difference, I would like to help new Christian believers AND perhaps shine some light into the darkness for those who cannot yet say they are believers and yet are here showing interest. Can I speak to that latter group first of all.

Questions:  The fact that you are reading these words means that somehow you have come across this site, or perhaps been directed towards it by a friend, and are at the very least intrigued by the thought of ‘God’.   Now that in itself is intriguing for we live in a world, here in the West, that has been changing dramatically over the last hundred years in ways that are greater than all of previously recorded history and because of that ideas and thinking has been shaken as well. Throughout history there have been ‘signs of religion’. One of my granddaughters said to my wife recently, “But surely, granny, there is no evidence for God.”  What a staggering statement built on what appears to be total ignorance. My wife, telling me of this later, said she had to struggle not to tell her all about what she taught every year at upper level education, a whole year of just that, examining the amazing range of evidence. But this meditation (study) is not going to do that; my remit in these studies is much more limited but, I hope, just as rewarding. Put in a nutshell, it is to find out about God from the Bible.

The Bible? And here, briefly, we have to counter the tsunami of ignorance that prevails in many today. Here is a book – a best seller still around the world – or rather 66 books with some 40 or so authors, made up of writings from Jewish history (the Old Testament) and of the first century CE (what used to be AD!) telling of the activity of Jesus Christ and the birth of the Church. To short-cut pages of explanation may I simply put it to you if you are coming to this subject for the first time, that I am a reasonably intelligent person (teacher and retired pastor) who has read and studied the Bible for over fifty years (yes, that makes me old!), questioning, seeking, researching and never being content with superficial answers and have written studies that cover that vast majority of the Bible. At the end of all that, may I suggest to you that a) you can trust its veracity, its truthfulness and its accuracy and, b)  no, it is not full of inconsistencies or contradictions as popular ignorant opinion often has it. I would not waste your time with it if it did!

The Basis: The basis of these studies will be what the Bible says about God, not what people think about God or what people think about what the Bible says about God, but what it actually says. For that reason you may find these studies different from anything you’ve read before. They should, hopefully be full of the Bible, at least be looking to see what the Bible says. Now here’s an honest health warning. I want to change your thinking. I say that quite openly because, as I have already suggested, I believe many people come to this subject with a rucksack of ignorant wrong presuppositions that they have been carrying around that has weighed them down. I would like to invite you to lay that down and fill it instead, with reflections about what we find in the Bible. In a later study I will lay out the structure of the Bible for you because it does, despite it being 66 ‘books’, stand as a single-story entity.

A Fresh Starting Place: May I suggest, in respect of the Bible, an experimental fresh starting place for all of us. The scholars etc. who know about these things conclude, as I said above, you can trust its veracity, its truthfulness and its accuracy. Now having said that, it is legitimate to ask, why did the 40 or so writers write what they did, and can we believe their reports of their experiences. Now the one convincing thing, I find,  is that there is an amazing uniformity from such a wide diversity of writers who together form a compelling picture.

All I ask from the outset is that we ponder, IF all these people are being truthful about what they have written (and why should 40 or so people, spread over a long period of history, convey a lie?) what logically should that leave us thinking about God and, indeed, about our own lives? i.e. dare we assess the truth and be honest enough to say it might change us?  I will start each study with a verse of scripture from the Bible, and may include a lot more, but these are after all, Bible studies. We are studying the Bible. The early studies will be light on Bible quotes, not to weigh down those for whom the Bible is new reading, but I will constantly refer to people and places and give references for you to look up if you wish.

Job? The book of Job (which I do not recommend as your first area of reading – try Mark’s Gospel) is a tough book about a man who suffered and it is all about what his three friends thought about that suffering. Was God to blame for it? Whether it is history or a story with a point has often been debated. It is thought to be one of the oldest books in the Bible. At the end of all the debating within it (often with confused and wrong thinking, which is why I don’t recommend it as starter reading because it can be confusing reading; come to it after you have got more foundational reading under your belt)

Job encounters God who identifies Himself as ‘the Almighty’ or ‘the Mighty One’. Now philosophers will say that the definition of God has to be One for whom there can be no one greater. We will go on to see what the Bible says about that as an idea, but it is a good starting point and it is the point that Job faced God and concluded, “I spoke of things I did not understand… My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.  Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” (see Job 42:1-6)

The point is we are not talking about an abstraction here, just a nice idea to play around with; we are working towards the idea that there IS a Being as uniquely described in the Bible, who is so much greater than anything or anyone we can comprehend, and that is scary. The more we go on, the more true we will see that is but, at the same time, be given great reassurance that although fear is a natural feeling (which is why many duck away from thinking through these things) the truth is that the Bible reveals Him as loving and for us. That’s the simplest way I can put it for the moment.

For those of us who are believers, I invite you afresh to pause and worship and ask Him to teach you anew. If you are not at that place, may I simply invite you to keep an open mind and come with me in the studies ahead of us, and possibly experience something you’ve never come across before. We live in a doubting, disbelieving world, more often built on ignorance, a dry and spiritually arid place. My intent is to draw a line in the sand of this modern-day desert and say, enough of this ignorance, let’s have the courage and honesty to face it and say, let’s change it! Take a few minutes each day to come with me on this expedition.