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.

Snapshots: Day 63

Snapshots: Day 63

The Snapshot: “Do not be afraid. Stand firm.” (Ex 14:13) Israel are in a mess. The sea is before them and an angry and vengeful Pharaoh is coming behind them – and it’s all God’s fault! And Moses says, “Do not be afraid”? You’ve got to be joking! This is a scary situation. Just like being in a small boat on a capricious lake in a vicious storm, when God seems asleep (Lk 8:23). Why do we have crisis moments like this?   Why is it that sometimes the guidance of God appears to be going pear-shaped? Just so that we can learn that He is still with us, is still in control, is still working out His purposes which will succeed. Father wants His kids to learn to trust Him for all these things, but it is a process, often a slow process. Grumble or grow, are the two choices. Choose well.

Further Consideration: I feel almost in despair at times over the Christian world. A member of the church rings me up to ask me to pray for members of their family who are in a mess. Not wanting to be discouraging I say I will pray but deep down I know the only meaningful prayer for these people who have been living godless and unrighteous lives is, “Lord, please save them.” Then and then only will they start putting their lives straight and peace, order and blessing will start to flow. Until then, we may ask God to bless them – and He might well do that – but all that means is He will stick on a plaster and they will carry on living godless and unrighteous lives and getting in a mess.

This is very different from the mess that Israel are in at the present point of our meandering through the Scriptures. They have just received an amazing deliverance and are on their way out of Egypt but the cause of their past slavery threatens them yet again. In fact the present threat is worse than they knew before because Pharaoh is now determined to kill them. I say it is different and yet in both cases the past needs putting to death.

The New Testament is quite clear: when we turn to Christ we are to die to the old life, described by the apostle Paul as, “gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts,” (Eph 2:3) and in Rom 6 he uses the language of death and resurrection to describe what has happened to us. In Israel’s case Pharaoh is about to be put to death, that is the only way to completely free Israel from their past in Egypt. When Paul says, “count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus,” (Rom 6:11) he means, consider yourself dead to that old life – of godlessness and unrighteousness – but now tuned in to living with God. There can be no half and half. Be transformed, live it, experience it and stand firm in it for it is what Christ has earned for you on the Cross. Hallelujah!

3. Expand

Studies in Isaiah 54: 3. Expand!

Isa 54:2,3 “Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes. For you will spread out to the right and to the left; your descendants will dispossess nations and settle in their desolate cities.”

Wow!  As I said yesterday, how easy it is to just skim read scripture and fail to let the Lord speak through it. I have a list of seven expressions of unbelief in the Christian life and shallow reading of Scripture expecting nothing of it, is one of them. these present verses leave me pondering: “Think big”. I wonder how many of us never think big, how many of us, just settle for normality, ordinariness, no change, and have no vision for the future.  Take these verses with verse one, “barren woman, you who never bore a child…. you who were never in labour … desolate woman,” and you have an amazing picture.

Hope: It’s like Isaiah says, “I know you are barren; I know all the hopes and dreams have come to nought, of you becoming a nation that would impact and change the world as it revealed the goodness and glory of the Lord to the world; I know that the wonder and excitement of that one time when the Queen of Sheba came to Solomon with such promise, has now evaporated so that much of the time the glory of the Lord is unseen through you; I know that is how it is, but get ready, God is about to change all that so that you will have plenty of ‘children’, plenty of those who will come into the family of God, many who will encounter Him, know Him, be called His children – because of you.

The Big Tent: When you are a childless couple you need very little accommodation and, in their time, a small tent, and so when he talks of enlarging your tent, lengthening cords, driving in bigger stakes, it is conveying a picture of an expanding family, it is the picture of growth & blessing, it is a picture of utter transformation. That is what this is all about. Now there are two things about this, as we read these verses: first, how we respond to them and, second, what do they actually mean, how were they fulfilled?

Our Responses: I asked earlier how many of us never think big, how many of us never have a vision for growth and change in the future?  The trouble is that when ‘barrenness’ is all you have ever known, it is very difficult to have a change of thinking. In our changeable climate in the UK, I have watched in the past when days have stretched into weeks when the sky is grey and it continues to rain – and it is summer! It becomes almost impossible to believe that tomorrow the sun might shine; we settle into a ‘more rain’ mentality.  I’ve also noticed it in respect of the neighbours when overtures of friendship have been rebuffed time and again, and so we now have little expectation of any possible change with them.  But I remember one couple for whom this was true and the years went by with the ‘woman next door’ always looking grumpy, never responding to a cheery, ‘Good morning!’, never giving any indication of wanting to make contact with anyone, let alone you. But then suddenly, one day, with no warning at all, she simply stopped and started talking over the fence and everything changed.  I can remember people who have appeared totally hard against the Lord for years, and then suddenly, again with no warning whatsoever, suddenly they turned, started asking questions and then came to the Lord.

But how do you respond when God speaks – whether it is through the preacher on Sunday morning or through someone bringing you ‘a word’. Is the response, “Oh, that’s nice” or is it, “Wow, God has spoken to me!”  With Isaiah, I wonder how people responded to this? “Oh well, at least it’s not one of his ‘gloom and doom’ prophecies.” You bet it’s not, it’s an incredible hope-inspiring word, a bit like a word that comes early morning, “Get up, the sun is about to rise!” What do we do? Get up, get out there and watch the sky changing until that red fire gradually appears over the horizon and transforms the dark landscape. Do we watch the people around us in life, for signs of the Lord moving and speaking to them, preparing them for you to speak to? If God says, “You will have a child,” do you prepare a nursery? When He speaks words of vision about extending your home, do you start drawing up the plans?  When He says “enlarge the place of your tent,” do you start thinking big and asking, “What do I need to do, Lord?”

Fulfillment? We said the second thing to consider is just how this word was fulfilled. Well there was little sign of it in the following centuries; in fact, life got worse in Israel and eventually came the Exile, after which the spiritual life of Israel still seemed to do little to impact the wider world. If was only when Jesus came and left and then the Holy Spirit was poured out that suddenly there were new children of God in abundance – and it did come through the family of Israel, for all the first Christians were Jews. Since that time the kingdom of God has continued to expand, the family of God has continued to grow, mostly through the Gentiles. Yet there are indications in Scripture that at the end the Jews will be used to bring a further harvest and truly their ‘household’ will require a ‘bigger tent’.

Overcomers: But there is another dimension to this transformation that goes far beyond mere growth. Look: “For you will spread out to the right and to the left; your descendants will dispossess nations and settle in their desolate cities.” (54:3) There are many verses in the prophetic scriptures that indicate that God’s intentions for Israel are that, instead of being the underdogs they will be the overcomers. In fact it was right back there in the Law: “If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations on earth. …. (Deut 28:1) … “enemies who rise up against you will be defeated before you. They will come at you from one direction but flee from you in seven.” (v.7) “Dispossess nations” has echoes or reminders of the taking of Canaan at the original Exodus. God did it for them then, He can do it again in the future. “Settle in their desolate cities” suggests that when the ways of the Gentiles fail, Israel will step in and show God’s alternative way.

Surely within these things, for us in the present, there is the suggestion that we who are seated with Christ in the heavenly realms (Eph 1:20, 2:6) while he rules in the midst of his enemies (Psa 110:1), are to know the same enabling in the Lord whereby we conquer sin and, working with Christ, triumph over his enemies that he will one day put under his feet completely (1 Cor 15:25). Our enemies are not physical but spiritual or moral or ethical. His enemies (1 Cor 15:25) are anything that is contrary to, in rebellion against, or detracting from, the will of God. His intent is that ‘in Christ’ we reign over such things. Dare we believe that? Dare we work for that? May it be so.

56. Are we ready to fight?

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 8 – Counter Attack

56. Are we ready to fight?

1 Sam 17:38   Then Saul dressed David in his own tunic. He put a coat of armor on him and a bronze helmet on his head. David fastened on his sword over the tunic and tried walking around, because he was not used to them.

Two men:  Several decades ago, a raspy voiced American, Ern Baxter, caused waves in the UK when he spoke at a Dales Bible Week with a week-long series, entitled, “The King and his Army” and in that series contrasted Saul and David.  Saul, he typified as ‘head and shoulders’ church government  (Saul was a “head taller than any of the others” 1 Sam 9:2) Saul was tall and broad and good looking, a potential fighter-leader which is what the people wanted, someone who looked good, and he relied on human wisdom and human strength. David, he typified, as a ‘heart man’, a man after God’s own heart (1 Sam 13:14) Those two descriptions have probably stayed with all of us who heard those talks back then, and they are as applicable today as back then.

The Contrasts: When we come to fight to regain our Christian heritage in the West, we have to ask ourselves, will be rely on the Church looking good with its pomp and ceremony, its rites and rituals, or will we be the people who are moved by God’s heart and God’s Spirit, to reveal the life, love, power and authority of the ‘body of Christ’?  When David turned up at the battlefield full of faith and was directed to Saul, Saul was still in ‘human-thinking-mode’. You want to fight a battle? You need armor. You have no armor. Take mine. Except David doesn’t fight in armor, he has no need of it.

The armor the world uses is the media, politics, ‘handling people’. The armor we use is truth, righteousness, the Gospel of peace, faith, our salvation and the word of God itself. (see Eph 6) But then consider Jesus’ advice to his disciples: “be as wise as serpents and yet as harmless as doves.” (Mt 10:16 JBP) or “Be as cunning as a snake, inoffensive as a dove.” (Msg) I expect we can go along with the ‘wisdom’ bit, but how about appearing as harmless or inoffensive? Is that a description seen in some Christian activists? I suspect not, in which case there is room for change!

Waging Christian War: “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Cor 210:3-5) The J.B.Phillips paraphrase version is enlightening: The truth is that, although of course we lead normal human lives, the battle we are fighting is on the spiritual level. The very weapons we use are not those of human warfare but powerful in God’s warfare for the destruction of the enemy’s strongholds. Our battle is to bring down every deceptive fantasy and every imposing defence that men erect against the true knowledge of God. We even fight to capture every thought until it acknowledges the authority of Christ.” Yes, our battle is not physical, it is spiritual and the moment we recognize that we realize that to fight spiritually means prayer. The ‘enemy’s strongholds’ are simply set ways of wrong thinking. People get locked into ways of thinking, or attitudes which in the cold light of day – or perhaps seen from a decade looking back – leave you gasping.

Aspects of the Present War: In both the United States and the United Kingdom, in the past three years, events have unfurled that I believe will leave historians in ten years gasping. Let me try and identify some key features of the present battles without taking sides:

  1. The Opposition party is our ‘enemy’ and we hate them. In the last two years enmity has grown up, a hostility, that is worse than seen before.
  2. Truth is being challenged and social media being used as never before to express scenarios that are factually false, i.e. Fake news has become the currency of political warfare.
  3. Fake news means lies and lies mean unrighteousness. Unrighteousness is being used in order to obtain what otherwise might sometimes be laudable goals.
  4. The combination of these things means a loss of integrity, seen in the way there has become an openly declared mentality that says, “If we don’t like the results of the last election or referendum, let’s work to reverse it.” Nothing like this has been seen or heard previously in my lifetime.
  5. The barrage of opposition that is then seen in the way this is worked out includes postulating fearful outcomes, making dubious forecasts (which are often proved to be false), making false statements about others in order to bring them down.

Whatever our political outlook, honesty demands that we see these last few years as having expressions of unrighteousness that seems unparalleled in our times. Where they will lead us only time will tell. By-products of all this on both sides of the Atlantic are, according to the polls, fear, anxiety and uncertainty, world-weariness and a desire to just give up in many.

Opportunities: In the spiritual world, whenever the world takes a nose-dive emotionally with a loss of confidence, this is an opportunity for the Gospel to be heard and received. Historically at such times, it has been shown that the world opens up so that God seems freer to bring revival. Prophecies have suggested that we may be moving towards such a time. One prophecy circulating around the world in Christian circles, brought just at the end of 2018, indicated a need for us in our warfare to do three things:

  1. Learn to listen to God as we never have before – we need His guidance, His strategy.
  2. Be aware of the world’s ways and reject them
  3. Learn to use divine authority and learn to receive divine provision.

Now even if these hadn’t come from a credible prophet, I would suggest they are three good guidelines to be followed in our spiritual activities, as I have said in these and previous studies numerous times.

Key Points Recap? Let’s summarize and then examine the key points:

  1. There IS a battle and it is a battle involving truth and righteousness (righteousness is all about living God’s way) and it is spiritual.
  2. We fight by holding to the truth as revealed in the Bible, seeking God for wisdom and maintaining the fruit of the Spirit – and leaving the rest to God!

Searching for Truth: When it comes to truth, in whatever the subject under debate, our starting point is to say, “Hold on a minute, what actually is the truth here?” We need to challenge the truth or otherwise of what others are saying, not in any hostile confrontational way but in a gracious way that seeks to avoid hostility. I have sought to do this in the past in the series “Reaching into Redemption” and study no.36 ‘Islands of Belief’ and the studies that follow where I have sought this approach with a range of contentious subjects.

Considering Righteousness: Righteousness is the other area I mentioned above, over which the battle wages. It is simply living according to the way God has designed. There are two simple approaches to be thought through here:

  1. What IS God’s design for mankind revealed in the Bible – and why? i.e. what are the practical reasons for this design? In order to see why this is the best approach to live, we need to carefully think through the second, following question.
  2. What is the way of the world today that goes against that, and what fruit is being observed in life in the West because of that, i.e. what harm is being done in the lives of individuals because of that modern way of living? With this second one it is legitimate to ask, is this lifestyle one you could say is a good example to be followed and one you could advise young people to follow, and if not, why not?

If we can provoke honesty to see the weaknesses and failures of modern lifestyles, we will be part way towards possibly helping people face the truth, seeing an alternative to what they have that will be better, and then their need of help to be set free from the old to a new life. There is nothing magical or super-spiritual about this approach but is simply one that calls for honesty and integrity in facing the truth about life.

55. A Time to go on the Offensive

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 8 – Counter Attack

55. A Time to go on the Offensive

1 Sam 17:10,11   Then the Philistine said, “This day I defy the armies of Israel! Give me a man and let us fight each other.” On hearing the Philistine’s words, Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified.

Hostile Neighbors? Israel in history, especially in the Old Testament, can be seen to be a demonstration of various things. We could focus, negatively, on the fact of their apparently continual habit of getting it wrong, of rejecting or rebelling against God, and when we do I also remind us that in that they were merely demonstrating what we as a human race are like. They were not especially bad; they just reveal the reality of sin that is true of all of us. But for this present exercise, Israel reveal to us what it meant to be a special people, God’s people because, as far as their neighbors were concerned, they were enemies.

Now I am not sure if I can find anywhere where the Scriptures say it was specifically because they were God worshipers, and it may be that in those primitive times, one expression of the Sin of mankind simply meant that one nation beat up another nation. Having said that, it seems more than a coincidence that Israel had more than their fair share of getting beaten up. (We should remember in passing that Jesus said, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword,” [Mt 10:34] which opens up the whole area of division between believer and non-believer).

But this all goes to show something, perhaps, of what was behind the passage that we are going to examine in this and the next two studies, found in 1 Sam 17 when Israel are being opposed by their old enemy, the Philistines. (It is clear from the Old Testament that the Lord used the Philistines to discipline or chastise Israel when Israel had turned away from Him. They were part of His oft-used method of bringing disciplinary judgment that was designed to drive them back into His arms.)

The Battlefield statistics: The beginning of chapter 17 shows us the Philistines lined up against Israel: “The Philistines occupied one hill and the Israelites another, with the valley between them.” (v.3), shown to be in the foothills to the west of Bethlehem, on the border of Israel. There is in a sense, a picture here of the divide between the Church and the rest of the world. On one hillside are the atheistic crusaders shouting their derogatory abuses about the folly of belief. With them, in much larger numbers, are the unbelievers of the world. In the UK where the real believing church is said to be only between 5 and 7% of the population, and the USA where more recent figures suggest it is only about 30% of the population who are really believers, the appearance is that we are outnumbered and the church numbers so often appear to be declining.

Outnumbered and talked down to: There is an amazing little picture found in 1 Kings at one point: “The Israelites camped opposite them like two small flocks of goats, while the Arameans covered the countryside.” (1 Kings 20:27). What an amazing picture of little Israel facing the might of the Arameans. No contest! Well, yes, actually it was, because the Lord was with Israel and they utterly defeated the enemy. A lesson not to be forgotten. But here we are in this world today and lined up against us are atheists who bring derisory words spoken the Bible, derisory words about the nature of God, and derisory words about faith and being a Christian. Note that: so often the enemy’s attack starts with words. The classic example of that was when Sennacherib’s field commander stood outside Jerusalem before attacking it (a tough task with high and thick walls and strong gates) and demeaned their trust in God (e.g. Isa 36:4-10 and then v.12-20). It was pure propaganda designed to bring down the morale of Israel.

Challenging Questions: So today the Battle is joined and the voices of the enemy shout out, “You can’t trust the Bible, it is full of errors and tales of a harsh God,” or “Creation in seven days? What are you lot on about? Everyone knows it took hundreds of millions of years of evolution to bring about what we are today!” or “How can you believe in a God who has women and children put to death in genocide?”  The trouble is there are good answers to this untruths or even half-truths at times, but so often we do not prepare ourselves  because we have never thought to read the great apologists of the kingdom who have got good answers to these questions, and our minister is too busy doing verse by verse exposition of passages we have all heard before, to teach the answers to the questions that the world has.

Occult Spiritual Warfare: Thus very often I find that, if we are honest, many of God’s people are “dismayed and terrified” just like Israel were, because we haven’t trained them and there is little hunger to search out the truth and become warriors who can combat the lies and mis-truths and half-truths of the enemy.  I didn’t mention it in the previous study but there is another whole area of deception that the enemy uses to undermine the faith of God’s people and it is that of the occult. How often I have heard people casually say, “Oh yes, I played with a Ouija board when I was a teenager but it was only a bit of harmless fun.” Think again. Or the other common one is “My husband has been invited to become a Freemason.” Really, watch out for trouble in your spiritual life because any honest Freemason will acknowledge that there is a spiritual dimension to what they do, even though many would prefer to ignore it.

Ignorance of spiritual warfare and a failure of the Church to teach on it, means that many have lives that are blighted without them realizing it, having failed to repent of past dealings with the enemy and thus allowing themselves to be open and vulnerable to him. There are a number of really good ministries that help people be set free from their past, but the trouble is that most of us either don’t realize there is a spiritual battle going on or don’t realize they are walking wounded because of it. There is a strong case to be made for either in-house counselling or invited-in counselling. If we think this is all exaggerated talk, that is a sign that we have been subject to one of the enemy’s attacks I spoke of two studies back and have been lulled into a place of unbelief and placid acceptance of his deceptions.  Ask Him to open the eyes of your understanding, and touch and challenge your heart

Remove the Grave-clothes: What I have just been advocating is the equivalent of Jesus words at the tomb of Lazarus: “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.” (Jn 11:44) You and I, if we are truly Christian believers, are not dead – we have died with Christ but we have also been raised with him (see Rom 6). Grave clothes are anything which hinders our present movement as resurrected children of God, anything that thwarts the will of God, preventing us living and working as the body of Christ today. ‘Grave clothes’ are unbelief, complacency, indifference, ignorance, self-concern, lack of concern for the glory and honour of the Lord, cynicism, pessimism, anything that stops us living according to His word and at the prompting of His Spirit. If you struggle with these things, talk to your leaders or mature trusted Christian friends and ask them to help get them off you. Don’t be part of the problem of this world, start being part of the answer to it.