1. Thinking about Change

‘Purposing Change’ Meditations: 1. Thinking about Change

Mk 10:51 What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him. The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”

In a previous series we focused on prayer – watching and waiting. However (and this doesn’t annul that) for a while now I have the feeling that the Lord wants to bring change – today – through you and me. This is not so much the revival or renewal of the church, more a case of Him wanting to do stuff in and through His people. We are, after all, called to be lights to the world (Mt 5:14) and the salt of the earth (Mt 5:13). Perhaps there will be changes that He will bring in and through us as part of preparing the way or maybe even as we reach out He will use these things to start bringing renewal.

For some of us we’ve yearned for change – perhaps in us, in our loved ones, in….. whatever. So, can we focus on how Jesus might want to bring that change using us? Jesus challenged the blind man with what seems an obvious question but it’s saying, “How big is your faith in me? Can I change the impossible?” Well, can he?

We don’t like change (well most of us don’t!) and yet perhaps a further truth is that if we think about it, there really ARE things we’d like to see changed. We’d like to see changes in ourselves, or our loved ones saved, our prodigals return, our work place become godly, and so on. So why don’t we do things to change these? The answer may be that we have tried but nothing changed, we have spoken but our words have been rejected. So do we give up? May I very gently suggest, no.

What I sense should be the primary purpose of this particular series is that we slowly and surely look at this whole subject, perhaps see it as a project that with God’s help we can work on. We will think about the possibility of change coming, what it requires of us, how we can prepare the ground, how we can start making small steps of faith. Sometimes we want a magic wand being waved so it all happens immediately but that is not how Jesus went about training and preparing his disciples. It took time – three years of time, and then it needed the coming of the Day of Pentecost to energize them and get them out into the streets and in a state to cope with the coming opposition. No, it was a long-term project. Now I don’t want to put you off, but suppose it takes two years to bring about some of these changes. Yes, it may take a much shorter time – it could be tomorrow, next week, or next month, but if it takes two years, the important thing is that the changes HAVE COME.  

In the days ahead, I hope to think into these things but for the moment, to start us off, we must come back to this blind man before Jesus: “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him. The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”  It sounds almost a silly question but there are two realities to be observed here. The first reality is the one we’ve already been referring to, that of not liking change. I once knew a dear Christian lady (she has gone to be with the Lord now) but talking about her severe life-long disability and what would happen if Jesus healed her, she confessed it would be earth shattering. Her whole life had been lived around this disability and if it was no longer there, she would be free to live a completely different life – and that scared her. We will come back to this again at some point because it is so important, but do we want changes that might totally change our lives?

The other aspect is, and again we’ll look at it some more in the future, we may have grown so used to the current status quo that we cannot envisage it changing, and so there is a question of belief (or unbelief?) hanging over these thoughts. So I’ll state the battleground again, for that is what it is: we’d like to see changes in ourselves, or our unbelieving loved ones saved, our prodigals return, our workplace become godly, and so on; that’s it! So may we pray and think and listen in order to allow the changes that the Lord is saying he wishes to bring? Why did he come? “To proclaim good news to the poor…. freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Lk 4:18,19) Can we be freedom bringers? We’ll see.   

15. To Know

Short Meds in ‘Living the Life’: 15. To Know

Eph 1:17 “so that you may KNOW him better.”

This was at the heart of Paul’s praying for the Church. As we go into the second half of January I want us to focus on our faith, things that shouldn’t just be for theologians or Bible commentators but should be part of the library of knowledge of every Christian that can act as a resource to help them to stand strong, walk more purposefully, and run the race more dynamically to the end. They are all about knowing God, knowing His plans, knowing what He has for us, what He has done for us, and is doing in and through us and will do for us as we go with him into the unknowns of the year ahead. 

But let’s take in this verse more fully. This was the apostle Paul who was saying to the Ephesians that he had been praying for them that Jesus would give them the Spirit of wisdom and revelation.” Note the positive, the definite article – “THE Spirit of….” All of the main versions have it; it is no accident. The suggestion must be that the Holy Spirit imparts wisdom (the know-how) and revelation (disclosed knowledge) to us, “so that you may know him better”. In other words knowing how it all works and being given insight behind the spiritual scenes, so to speak, will mean that we come to know, not only Jesus himself but all that he has for us. 

That ‘what he has for us’ is then spelled out in the next verses: “(i) the hope to which he has called you, (ii) the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and (iii) his incomparably great power for us who believe.” (v.18,19)It is almost like Paul works backwards here as he spells it out: hope, which is about the future (tomorrow onwards) which is actually the inheritance, the birth-right of all children of God which is expressed as power to live and take us into eternity. ‘Knowing’ thus means experiencing him, knowing his life flowing in us that is being worked out in daily living.

So the life we live we live today is not about human endeavor, human effort, human activity, seen as rituals in church, rules to be followed and good things to be done, all motivated by the human mind, but our lives are Spirit-envisioned and Spirit-energized activity. But how does such thing work out in practice? I think it is what we have said so many times before, having hearts that are directed towards God, open and available to God, and obedient to God and which seek God in such ordinary things as praying and reading His word on a daily basis and asking the Spirit to fill us afresh daily. It is then that these things flow naturally in us.   

9. Faith Expectations

Ways of Seeing Meditations: 9. Faith Expectations

Acts 12:5 Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.”

Recap: We have been considering how we view impressive buildings or impressive people, and then how we view ourselves. We have rejected doing good or performing spiritual acts as ways of gaining self-esteem or building our self-image. In the previous study that took us on to considering how we pray, but now we want to consider another aspect of the way we view prayer. Yesterday it was seeing it as a spiritual activity to be done as part of our relationship with God, but now I want us to face the uncomfortable question of how we see what we speak. Do we just utter words or are we declaring words that will change the world, change the circumstances?

Jesus’ Example: I first observed the significance of how we pray when I noted something in John’s Gospel. At the feeding of the five thousand, John records, Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated.” (Jn 6:11) Later, after Jesus and his disciples had gone back across the lake, John records, Then some boats from Tiberias landed near the place where the people had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks.” (v.23) He doesn’t say, “the place where Jesus had performed the miracle,” for it seems he has something else in mind. He doesn’t even say “where Jesus had broken the bread and fed the crowd.”

The strange words that almost seem out of place are “after the Lord had given thanks.” Before a meal the head of the family would have given thanks for the food. John doesn’t record the Last Supper words about bread and wine (the other three Gospels have covered it adequately). Luke includes that (Lk 22:17,19) but also the account of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus and it was only when Jesus gave thanks and broke bread that they realised who he was. It almost seems as if there is something significant about the way Jesus gave thanks. What could it be?

Watch how leaders, for example, pray at the beginning of some Christian activity. There are those who just instantly plough in with words, and that is all they are, and ‘pray’. There are others who pause to acknowledge the presence of God, the One to whom they are speaking and only then do they speak. There is far more of a personal sense, a sense of intimacy, of relationship, with this latter group and I think, in that, they emulate Jesus. Prayer was not formality for Jesus, it was a time when he spoke personally, intimately with his Father in heaven. Giving thanks was no mere formula, it was a sacred act of Son to Father, the Son of God to the Almighty One, ruler of heaven and earth.

Expectancy: How do we view prayer? We have just suggested prayer as a time of intimacy with the Father, but how do we see what we are praying? Is it simply uttering words and hoping for the best – but not having too high hopes?  In our starter verse, the church was surprised when Peter turned up, while they were still praying. No, it can’t be Peter, that would require a miracle. But it is. You prayed, you asked, and God did it. Why be so surprised? Because we don’t believe it can be that easy. Sometimes it’s not, and we need to keep praying and persevering as Jesus taught in his parable of the unjust judge, to show them that they should always pray and not give up.” (Lk 18:1) but I also believe the truth is that God loves to bring us to a place of simple believing where we pray and rest and rejoice, like little kids trusting DAD.

Intimacy plus Expectancy: Little children expect answers when they ask. When Christmas or a birthday approaches they may come out with a list of things they want. Money permitting they may well get them. As they get older they come to realise they don’t always get their demands. But the childlike faith of small children is challenging. When prayer is indeed an intimate experience with the Father we find that we start to catch Father’s heart, and prayer is not so much a shopping list, as a list of things we believe the Father wants to bring about.  It’s fine to be childish as we grow in faith, chattering stuff at the Father, but as we grow, we can learn something deeper.

The apostle Paul taught, pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests,” (Eph 6:18) or as the Living Bible puts it, “Pray all the time. Ask God for anything in line with the Holy Spirit’s wishes.”  The emphasis is on being led by the Spirit. When we combine this with the Father’s love, this intimacy inspired by the Spirit, focused on the Father, coming in line with the rule of the Son reigning at the Father’s right hand, we may expect faith to rise in us, a sign that we’re on the right track and we may expect to see what we are praying coming about. If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!(Mt 7:11) or as Luke records it, no doubt on another occasion of Jesus’ teaching, If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” And Us? Can these things thus mature our praying to have an intimate element which in turn develops a higher level of expectancy so that when we pray for someone to be released from prison (of whatever sort), we will not be surprised when they turn up at the door, delivered.

2. It starts with Abram

Glory Out of Failure Meditations: 2. It starts with Abram

Gen 12:2,3,10 (ERV) I will build a great nation from you. I will bless you and make your name famous….. I will use you to bless all the people on earth…. During this time there was not enough food in the land, so Abram went down to Egypt to live.

Where we are: We are looking at the basics, the fundamentals, the realities of the Christian life, things that should be familiar, things that should be foundational in our lives but which sometimes get forgotten, the basics that remind us that each of us who calls our self a Christian, a child of God, comes from a place of anonymity, a place of failure and are taken by God and made someone with a significant identity and full of His glory. That is what these studies are about.

Abram: Prior to Abram, prior to chapter 12 of Genesis the picture is not very personal and these lessons aren’t very clear, but when we come to Abram (which means ‘exalted father’) whose name was later changed to Abraham (which means ‘father of many’) when he was ninety-nine years old (Gen 17:4-6), this all changes. This is a very personal and detailed story. I hesitate to use the word ‘story’ because that can imply something made up and so perhaps the word ‘account’ would be better in that that simply describes what happened in history, and history this surely is. Everything about this account of this man is significant. Let’s start noting some of these things.

A Family Man: His father, Terah, is named as are his two younger brothers Nahor and Haran and his nephew, Lot, son of Haran. (Gen 11:17) They live in Ur, a city of Mesopotamia, that we refer to as ‘the cradle of civilisation’, and the location of the Garden of Eden (see Gen 2:14). Like many families it has its tragedies. Haran, the youngest son, dies. Sarai, Abram’s wife, is barren (Gen 11:30). There must be, as there always is in such situation, heartache. And yet, somehow there is hope. Somehow God has communicated with this pagan and given him the hope that He will make him into a great nation, (Gen 12:1) and a nation starts with one child. Somehow this hope is linked with making a fresh start in another land that God says He will show him, (Gen 12:1) and so he goes.

And So?  There is the essence of the story, the foundation from which all else follows. The story is about family and land, the former being the thing that must be driving Abram, the latter appearing the environment on which the former relies. So he goes, there is a land to be found and presumably to be taken. It is all very unknown but he goes. This, we think initially, is what makes him the notable man of faith that he is, heralded in the gallery of faith in Heb 11:8 that we so often turn to.

God Revealed: But this isn’t only Abram’s story, this is God’s. This story reveals God. He is first of all there – something we can take for granted. Second, He is a communicator and, third, He has a plan and that plan is worked out through a childless couple, and so eventually we will see that He is a God who changes the course of nature so a childless woman and a childless couple, both way beyond child-conceiving age, have a child. Later on Abraham will know that this God can be called ‘The Lord Will Provide’ (Gen 21:14). Now so often we anchor our thoughts about the God who will provide in the account about Abraham going to sacrifice Isaac, but actually everything about the story about Abram-Abraham is about God providing. God provides hope and a vision and then much, much more which we will see in the next study.

You and Me: But these fundamentals that we have just been observing are equally true of us. I will assume you are a believer. Recollect how that happened. Somewhere in your history, you either started having questions or believers started imposing themselves in your awareness, maybe even sharing the good news about Jesus with you. This was God reaching out to you by His Spirit. Eventually came conviction: you were to ‘leave the land’ of your old life which you came to see was desperately wanting. You bowed the knee, you prayed and handed the reins of your life over to God, believing in what He said about Jesus dying for you.  You ‘died’ to that old life, as Paul says in Rom 6 and were given a new ‘land’ to live in, He “rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son.” (Col 1:13)

Observe the Characteristics: Note the nature of all this. You lived in a land of darkness, of unbelief, of godless self-centredness. Nothing you had was really of any merit and yet God called you and, amazingly, you heard and responded. Note – He initiated it. When you eventually surrendered to Him, He provided forgiveness and atonement, and a place in His family – you were adopted. You came with just a sense of failure and inadequacy, recognizing your need. God provided everything. He is a provider. So why do we think we have to twist His arm to bless us? “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Mt 7:11) Have you ever seen your life like this? Have you ever realized it is all about God providing and you receiving? When we do, it brings a whole new sense of relaxation. We’ll see some more of this as we continue the story of Abram in the next study.

15. The Place of Adjustment

Wilderness Meditations: 15. The Place of Adjustment

Acts 8:5  Philip went down to a city in Samaria

But:  OK, so I said that study no.14 was the last one in this series, but one thing about the Internet is that it allows you to add further material to what you have already put there. I thought it was, until two thoughts appeared on the horizon of my mind today which called to have a place here, that seem to speak strongly into the present day. Then came another; I think the Lord wants to say something to us. So, we’ll extend the series and I will be wise enough not to say they are the last ones. I think they are, but who knows……

Knowing the Times: It was the men of Issachar, who were described as those “who  understood the times and knew what Israel should do,” (1 Chron 12:32) so perhaps we should start by looking at the times we are in. It is the Autumn / Fall of 2020, and the Pandemic has come, gone, and come again. We experienced lockdown, it was eased, and now as numbers of infections are rising again, lockdown is occurring in various towns and cities around the UK. It’s happened in England, Wales and Scotland. The future is as uncertain as ever. We have characterized this time as a wilderness, a place where we would not naturally wish to dwell, a place of unknowns, a place of limitation.

Watching Church: And it has been a place where Church has had to change. The Internet has played a bigger role in church than ever before. Someone asked me only the other day what I felt about the uncertain time ahead where scientists and the government (behind closed doors) are speculating on the number of deaths doubling in the months running up to Christmas. Concern is rising again. In the US the pandemic news has been submerged by rumblings about the Presidential election in November and more recently by the horrific fires down some of the western states. Uncertainty continues to reign in many places, it seems.

Unexpected Changes: So the first of these two additional thoughts focuses in on the accounts of Philip in Acts 8.  That chapter starts, “On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.“ (v.1) I see a number of my Christian friends in the States getting wound up about not being allowed to hold services indoors. That anti-authority outlook, that also ignores the science of the pandemic, has the privilege of not being in a part of the world where authority says it is illegal to be a Christian! But it was persecution that got the church moving – all except the apostles and they nearly got left behind in what God was about to do within that situation (see later when Peter and John had to go and see what God had been doing without them – v.14!). Let’s not say that God made the persecution happen, and I won’t say God made the Pandemic, but let’s simply note that He carried on working despite it and, yes, maybe within ways that the persecution / pandemic brought about. Jesus had, after all, said that that they were to be his “witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth,” (Acts 1:8) So step one is that persecution has the church fleeing from Jerusalem into Judea and further north into Samaria.

A Wilderness Place:  Now there is nothing in the text about Samaria being a wilderness as such, but for the average Jew, the Samaritans were definitely off the grid of acceptability. I don’t have time and space to cover this in detail but simply to remind us of the surprising conversation Jesus had had with the Samaritan woman at the well (see particularly Jn 4:9). Think of whatever group of people you don’t feel comfortable with and there is your equivalent. The only reason Philip went there is the persecution in Jerusalem. He and many others had been forced out of his comfort zone. It wasn’t ‘his land’, these weren’t ‘his people’ and they didn’t believe the same things he believed and didn’t act like good Jews (even now Christians, even more different) acted.

Bang! So here he is in this ungodly place but something in him has him sharing with some of them about Jesus being the expected Messiah (v.5). He attracts a crowd and then, pow, stuff starts happening. “When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said.  For with shrieks, impure spirits came out of many, and many who were paralyzed, or lame, were healed. So there was great joy in that city.” (v.6-8) We aren’t told initially what the ‘signs’ were that he performed or how it came about – that is irrelevant, and God will do it in a different way with you – but it is spelled out as the verses continue. Healing and deliverance ministry in a big way! No wonder there is great joy in the city! Now here’s something. If I was a betting person (and I’m not) I would bet that no longer does Philip feel this is a wilderness experience. Now he will be so caught up with what God is doing through him that he’s just filled with joy and, I suspect, praying, ‘More Lord!’ He no longer cares about this being a different land, an alien people!

And Us?  Can you see the parallels? The Pandemic has pushed us out of our comfort zone. We have been rubbing shoulders (well at a social distance!) with people we’ve not been comfortable with before and doing things we had never thought about a year ago.  Many of us have viewed the Pandemic / Lockdown as an alien time, and so it is, but that does not make it a time when God cannot move. We need to adjust our thinking, especially if it carries on through Autumn and Winter. Persecution or Pandemic? It doesn’t matter. Give God your space and dare to cross spiritual boundaries while still adhering to the Law, and then watch out, God might be turning up!

4. Handling Finances

Wilderness Meditations: 4. Handling Finances

Psa 78:19  they said, “Can God really spread a table in the wilderness?”

Past Uncertainties:  Writing this in the run up to Fall in 2020, we can look back to the months of lockdown, and see the months of uncertainty about how the virus is passed on, whether you remain immune once you’ve had it, whether younger people are less vulnerable, what are the outcomes after you’ve had it, will you survive if you catch it, is testing important and does it work, and when will a vaccine be available?

Future Wonderings: Those were the survival uncertainties but as we gaze into the future (and if you read this in years to come you’ll know some of the answers) there are the consequences of the Pandemic, the economic consequences, that will be seen in respect of rebuilding businesses and even entire industries, coping with mass unemployment, changes in medical provision, changes in education provision, that are impacted by the financial mess left by the Pandemic and the things governments all round the world had to do to help people, firms, businesses etc. survive, that have left a financial and economic wilderness. This is the perspective from this time and in many ways the picture looks more like a lunar landscape than those lush green lands we’ve known in the past. If this perspective is half-way true, then we who are the people of God have the greatest opportunity before us we’ve ever known, but it does involve us first of all learning the reality of the God who provides.

Financial Provision: I think financial provision is a bit like healing – sometimes God involves Himself and sometimes He leaves us to play our part.  Take healing as an illustration. If we abuse our bodies with over-eating, alcohol excess, or drug abuse, or simply never take exercise, we should take responsibility for our state. Repentance may open the door for the Lord to step in or maybe He will require us to get human help or start exercising self-control (Gal 5:23, Titus 2:6, 2 Pet 1:8).

When it comes to finances and the Christian, the starting point has to be a right attitude. When Jesus taught, You cannot serve both God and money,” (Mt 6:24) he was saying you always need to put God above getting money and, as we’ve already seen said that when we seek God’s will and put it first, THEN the Lord will provide for all we need. (Mt 6:33) Note ‘need’ not ‘want’. Having a generous heart towards others in need (2 Cor 9:6 etc.). In fact caring for those less well off is also part of the package (1 Jn 3:17) and in the days to come these elements may prove to be essential:

  • that we put God before finances, putting our trust in Him and in His will,
  • that we learn to be wise and not extravagant in the way we use our money,
  • yet we are generous towards others,
  • and we make a point of meeting needs of other less well off.

God’s Provision: Now let’s assume we’ve got each of these things in place and have an open heart to the Lord, then however hard the wilderness is, we need to hold onto that confidence in Him, that trust in Him, that He will be there for us. Now I believe there are two ways of thinking we need to be clear about:

  • the way that knows God can provide without our involvement,
  • the way that knows God will enable us to see ways of provision.

Now there have been plenty of testimonies through history of the way God turns up and provides for His people – outside their activities. Sometimes that provision is putting giving on the hearts of some of His saints to provide for you. When I was a young penniless Christian, a friend and I felt it was right to leaflet the entire area at Christmas time. We did it two years running. Each year the cost amounted to what today would probably be in excess of a thousand, and each year the Lord provided to within a few pennies of the sum spent, I presume by simply putting it on the hearts of other Christians who heard what we were doing.

Some people are called to ‘live by faith – the Schaeffer’s who, last century, set up the Christian retreat called L’Abri in Switzerland (read the book by the same name to be blessed) were a family who experienced this in action. There have been many others. Perhaps asking the Lord to give you the gift of faith (1 Cor 12:9a) may open the door to a new area of service, yes, even in the wilderness. But finances can come through ways brought about by us when we are inspired by the Lord. When we know He is with us in this wilderness, when we trust Him, put Him first, look to Him, then we can find that new ideas, new creativity, new hope, can spring forth, maybe new businesses, new approaches to how we do things.

Having the debris of yesterdays that didn’t work being cleared away, makes space for the Lord to lead and inspire us if we are open to it. Don’t try reasoning it out. It starts behind the closed door of your ‘quiet time’ as you read His word, pray, wait on Him, seek His face and His will, be still before Him and listen. That is where the fresh resources come, the new ideas come, the fresh inspiration comes from the Creator God who is wiser than we are, knows how things work better than we do, can see into the future and know how various things would work, so He can guide us with what we call ‘wisdom’. It’s a new day with new possibilities. In the world it’s tough. In God are ANSWERS! 

30. Blindness – to the wonder of Salvation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

22. Guilt by Desires

The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 22. Guilt by Desires

1 Pet 1:14   As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance.

Mk 4:19 the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.

Rom 8:5 Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.

Recap: We are looking at specific ways we can get it wrong in life, not to bring guilt and condemnation but to set us free from the guilt that follows wrong. Sometimes, I believe, many of us have like a cloud of guilt hanging over us because we either struggle with a wrong ungodly desire or we think we are guilty about some desire.

Right and Wrong Desires:  Desires are a combination of thought, emotion, and physical want. Let’s consider, first of all, good desires. I have desires for my wife and as long as I don’t impose them on her when she isn’t ready for them, they are good and right desires. I have desires for food and drink, and as long as those don’t become excessive and bring about either obesity or drunkenness (I rarely drink alcohol these days!), they are good and right desires. I have desires to serve the Lord and do His will, and as long as I submit to His will and don’t do ‘my own thing’, they are good and right desires. I have desires to write as He has inspired me, and as long as I look to Him as my resource, they are good and right desires.

But then, as have subtly been suggested above, there are desires that are not good. If I have sexual desires that I am unable to control, that would push me into watching online pornography (and I have never done that and never will – stay away from it lest it destroy you) or visiting a prostitute (ditto!), then I need to take steps to break the power of those desires. How? Stop feeding them. Pray. Maybe share your struggles with a mature Christian friend, a leader if possible, and get them to pray for you. Fill your mind with good things. Determine not to accept the philosophy of the modern world that sex outside marriage is OK, frequent sex is necessary. Paul knew otherwise (read 1 Cor 7 for Paul’s wide spectrum of advice in this area).  A word to the older men among us. I have observed in three different men in my past life what I can only call a moment of infatuation, a sudden focus on a beautiful woman. In two of them it nearly drove them to make foolish decisions that could have wrecked their marriages. I don’t know what causes it, it is more than a midlife crisis, but if it is you, turn your back on it, walk away, fill your thoughts with your own partner, with other things in life.

Desires under control and in the right context are how God has made us. The right context for sex is within marriage despite what the harmful folly of the media in the West has been saying, undermining and destroying many.  Yesterday we noted, by way of introducing things that go on in the mind, Jesus’ warning that lustful thoughts are as bad as the act – not an excuse to proceed to the act! Whether it be food, drink or sex, there is within these ‘desires’ a physical element which has to be mastered. It starts by asking why we have such a strong desire, and then goes on to how we master it, because if we don’t, it will harm us and possibly others.  We’ve seen how David’s desire for Bathsheba opened up a whole train of wrong events.

But there are other desires, for example, the desire to achieve. This is what drives entrepreneurs to start up companies, provide work for others and provide good for the community. Good desires. But then the way we go about fulfilling that desire is all important. Doing it by unrighteous and ungodly means, involving bribery and corruption and self-centred effort, distorts the desire and opens the way for further wrongs to occur. The desire for money that becomes excessive (it was all right to start off the business) is what we call greed (defined as intense and selfish desire for something, especially wealth, power, or food.) and so often leads to injustice in business practices.

Possibly one of the most significant books coming out in 2020, I believe, is Morality by Jonathan Sacks. In it he documents in detail so many ways modern society is going wrong, things that so often start with wrong thinking. In an amazing chapter entitled ‘Markets without Morals’, he cites the greed and folly that brought down companies such as Enron in 2001, the greed and folly that brought about the 2008 financial collapse which was only saved by government interventions to save the banks which they saw as central to modern survival. But he notes that even afterwards in the period of austerity, the banks continued to award bonus payments to their senior staff, while never exhibiting any sense of remorse guilt or shame for what they had allowed to happen causing untold anguish for millions. Greed – sin – guilt! Accountable to God! Elsewhere he documents, especially in America, the staggering gaps between the pay and bonuses of CEOs and their workforce. In the UK we have a scandal brewing of a sweatshop clothes manufacturing industry, appearing to work under virtual slavery conditions, paying less than basic wages to workers while the top people cream off millions. Greed, avarice, injustice – rampant desires out of control. Every one of us who is in business needs to check our hearts for we may have a heavy accounting to come.

And So? Good and bad desires. Good desires in context and under control, blessed of God. Bad desires out of proper context, unrestrained, sinful, harmful, guilty, accountable to God. Contentment in God is a good antidote to keep us on track. May we not be casual about these things, may we not excuse wrong desires and practices by saying, “Well, everybody does it.” That doesn’t make it right and there will come an accounting before God if not in the sight of the world. Be careful.

9. Responding to the Guilty

The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 9. Responding to the Guilty: Expecting Repentance

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

Recapping Misconceptions: So we’ve been considering popular misconceptions in respect of guilt: off-loading does not absolve from blame, temptation may create only temporary pleasure, beware misjudging a situation, and finally rejecting a sense of guilt imposed by others but not God.

Moving On: In this subject of guilt there are various attitudes or ways of thinking that are important to consider:

– being honest and accepting when we’ve got it wrong,

– dealing with it scripturally – repenting and receiving God’s forgiveness and cleansing,

– rejecting wrong misconceptions about guilt

But then there is the critical one of how we respond to the guilty person.

Wrong Responses: As a starter we should suggest that instant responses are usually wrong responses.  Jesus before the guilty woman in Jn 8:1-11 suggested to her accusers (with their spiritual knives out!) that the one who had never sinned could cast the first stone. Someone has said that the Christian Church is the only army that kicks one of their soldiers when they are down. When someone has failed and got it wrong – and the Jn 8 woman had seriously got it wrong – we can have one of two responses: to slap them down or to seek to restore them. Jesus demonstrated the latter response.

The Repentance Element: Now repentance wasn’t the main thing John was seeking to bring out in that story but it is a necessary ingredient in such things. Again the important thing is to trust that God sees if repentance is likely to be forthcoming so we should not make prior judgments. One also notes that when the Lord is moving powerfully, he holds His people to a higher level of accountability, hence the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5. Peter didn’t pronounce the death sentence over Ananias, he simply spoke out his sin of lying and deception (Acts 5:3,4). It was only when he saw God’s judgment could he speak it over Sapphira (v.9). In a church in a state of revival, they should have known better. Similarly the saints in the church in Corinth knew the power and the presence of the Spirit and should have known better when they came to communion and when they were careless, Paul had to point out, “that is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.” (1 Cor 11:30) Repentance should have been forthcoming without prior warning.

“Stop it!”: The point is that Jesus wants to restore us to a good place but that comes through repentance. He may not actually speak the word ‘repent’ always – although he often does (see Mk 1:15, 6:12, Acts 2:38) – but he does expect it, hence his words to the woman: ““Go now and leave your life of sin.”  (see also Jn 5:14) We have seen how scripture (1 Jn 1:9) allows for us to receive forgiveness and cleansing and restoration (implied). Let’s always seek to redeem the situation and restore one another, being slowly careful how we proceed, careful about what we believe of others. Be Jesus to one another.

Action by the Church: In a recent series we noted God spoke through Zechariah indicating that sins of action and of words have no place in the church (see Zech 5). Mostly it is down to the leaders to preach and teach and set the standards of scripture before the people; that is how the church comes to understand these things. However Mt 18:15-17 lays down a process where the individual finds obvious sin in the life of another believer, and the purpose in each stage is for the sinner to repent and be restored. When the last stage says, tell it to the church,” (v.17) I suggest that means take it to the leadership so that they can take action, to check out the truth of the life of the other person, call them to repentance gently and graciously, and do all they can to facilitate repentance. If they fail, that is the point where they may need to put that person out of the church as Paul did in 1 Cor 5:1-5 (also 1 Tim 1:20) where the goal was to remove the protection of the church so that Satan would be allowed access to the rebel and deal with him and bring about repentance (which 2 Cor seems to suggest happened).

We should be very clear that dealing with a perceived sin is not achieved through gossip, but by handing it on to the leaders for their wisdom to prevail.  Some sins, such as adultery, abuse etc. are sufficiently ‘big’ that in the case of leaders they need to be stood down for the sake of the flock. Trust sometimes needs rebuilding and that often takes time, but the bigger point here must be, don’t jump to wrong conclusions, let’s not assume guilt until it is proved to be real and let’s look to restore where possible.

And So? Let’s state some simple basics:

– God does not want sin in the church.

– As human beings we will get it wrong and, hopefully, deal with it ourselves.

– Where we see it in others, don’t jump to conclusions but seek God’s humility, grace and wisdom to confront it in your friend.

– If it is a big issue, take it to the leadership and let them deal with it.

I am aware that for a large number of churches in the UK at least, this is an alien subject because of the oft-poverty of teaching and certainly the subsequent lack of authority in the church. Such leaders will have an accounting with the Lord (as I have had in the past), for their inability to deal with these things. But to think more on this, we need to go on to the next study.

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!