1. God who gives

Grace Short Meditations: 1. God who Gives

1 Cor 4:7b  “What do you have that you did not receive? 

I want to move on to consider a word that has many meanings but which, I suspect, is really very little understood by us Christians, let alone the world outside, a word that has the potential to transform believer and unbeliever alike. It arises mostly, it seems, in the context of salvation and while I do not in any way want to diminish that concept (and we will look at it in the context along the way) I want to suggest that it is much, much bigger. I am going to suggest that ‘grace’ is actually anything that comes from God as a free, undeserved gift to us human beings. Please note the word ‘anything’. Let’s consider that as our starting point.

We used to have children’s books titled “Don’t thank me”, I believe they were called. They went something like this: Be thankful for milk – thank the shops for providing milk – don’t thank us we only keep it, thank the farmer who provides it – thank you farmer for sending us the milk – don’t thank me, thank the cows who provide the milk – thank you cows for producing milk – don’t thank us, thank the …and so it goes on back to God.

The truth is that we exist because of God (Heb 1:3) and all good comes from God (Jas 1:17), everything we have has come from outside us, ultimately from God. 

Paul’s quote, as our starter verse, comes with great clarity in the Message version: For who do you know that really knows you, knows your heart? And even if they did, is there anything they would discover in you that you could take credit for? Isn’t everything you have and everything you are sheer gifts from God? So what’s the point of all this comparing and competing?”

So you are clever, you are bright, you are handsome or beautiful. How much of that did you contribute to? No, you might have used it or developed it but all the good of you, that was a gift. Some of us wear these things like beautiful clothes that show us off but we fail to realize what is the origin of them. In the Old Testament, Nebuchadnezzar felt he was all powerful: “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?” (Dan 4:30) It was only after he had been through a bout of madness did he face the reality of the greatness and goodness of God. All that we have is the gift of God. We didn’t earn it, it was given to us freely. That’s what grace is. Have you ever seen it that big? Grace is EVERYTHING that is good that comes from God to us, freely given, not earned or deserved. Can we ask the Lord to help us see that as we’ve never seen it before?

Snapshots: Day 173

Snapshots: Day 173 (starting the story of Samuel)

The Snapshot:Peninnah had children, but Hannah had none.” (1 Sam 1:2) Polygamy, a common cultural practice, although not banned in the Bible, is clearly shown to be a breeding grounds for problems. In this case, one wife can have children and the other cannot. Guaranteed heartache! And yet it is this ‘fruit of the Fall’ that is used to bring about a new change in leadership in Israel, a temporary change from Judges to Prophet and later kings. Everything that follows hinges on these seven words. So often things happen in this Fallen World that we think are bad (and they probably are) but God weaves His purposes into them and brings something really good out of it. Don’t take for granted your circumstances. Give them to God and ask Him to use them, whatever they are.

Further Consideration: If you watch TV series’, mostly made in the US or Canada, but some in Australia, and if you analyze what goes on, you find that most of the plots involve relationships. Yes, the circumstances surrounding the people may change, but ultimately the big issues that the writers use to grab our hearts and our ongoing attention is to do with relationships. They can be family relationships that involve loss of a loved one, the breakdown of the relationship, the differing goals and ambitions within the relationships, these are the things that provide the substance of the plots.

Whether we are a couple in a relationship, a husband and wife, or children, the biggest issues of our lives revolve around our relationships. The stresses of relationships come because of the Fall, because of personal sin or the consequences that occur in the world because it is a fallen world.   Therefore, as Christians a primary focus of God’s attention on us is, I believe, how we cope with the pressures that come with relationships. If we lived alone on a desert island we would have none of these pressures – but we would be poorer for it.

How we impose our lives on others (as Peninnah did on Hannah) can impact ongoing history. What we do in life – especially in respect of these relationships we’ve been considering – can have long term effects, some of which can be very negative. Any pastor who is open to his people will know there are myriads of stories of the struggles people have with life today, because of what happened in the past in some particular relationship. And it is at that point that we have to reiterate, there is hope with God because He is always working to redeem our lives and bring good where there has been bad. Difficult relationships have often been the motivating forces that have stirred people to rise up and achieve great things in the world. Let Him do that for you. 

1. Introduction to Glory

Glory Out of Failure Meditations: 1. Introduction to Glory

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12. Place of Trust

Wilderness Meditations: 12. The Place of Trust

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Reality brings Worship

Wilderness Meditations: 2. Reality brings Worship

Ex 7:16 Let my people go, so that they may worship me in the wilderness

Back to Basics:  In 1647 the Westminster Larger Catechism, a series of question and answers for teaching believers, started out: Question 1: What is the chief and highest end of man? Answer: Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him forever. The truth is that ‘glorifying God’ is the right and natural response of a man or woman who has encountered God and realised how wonderful He is. Many Christians today, I believe, have lost sight of His glory and although some utter words that we call worship, it is only a very few who really pour out a heart response that is the automatic natural response of encountering God.

Decline in Thinking: The enemy has been at work over recent centuries and most of us have not been aware of it. One writer plotted the inadvertent ‘descent of man’ and his corresponding thoughts about God through a variety of thinkers and scientists: Copernicus discovered that the earth was not the center of the universe. We are but a speck of dust in the cosmos.  Newton provoked investigation into the age of the earth. Today it is considered 4.54 billion years old. Mankind is just a marker at the end of existence. Spinoza, taught us that to the extent that we are physical beings, we are subject to physical laws, all of which have the character of necessity. Determinism followed. No freedom.  Marx argued that the whole of human history was shaped by economic forces.  Darwin, concluded that human beings were just one branch of the primates. Freud, maintained we are driven by sex instinct and the death instinct. So we are all accidents, there is no meaning, no God, no man made in the image of God. That is how ‘thinking’ flowed through the centuries and this is what is taught today, this is the ethos in which our children are brought up, not that God created all of what we know, every atom and molecule in existence and us in His image.

And then Covid-19 and Wilderness. Suddenly people are going online to investigate church, the conduit to God. Suddenly people are going online for services, suddenly more Bibles are being sold. It would appear that Solomon’s words, He has … set eternity in the human heart,” (Eccles 3:11) are rising to the surface of our consciousness in a new way – there is more to life than material things. It is early days, but is it the start of a new seeking after God? When leaders and scientists are changing their minds so often, who is there to bring certainty? God perhaps.

Resist Oppression: The people of God were oppressed by Pharaoh in Egypt. He held them in slavery. The apostle John was under the distinct impression that that is how it is with Satan and the unbelieving world today: the whole world is under the control of the evil one” (1 Jn 5:19). But we have been set free from his oppressive slavery. And yet, so often, the enemy seeks to oppress the people of God living in this fallen world with negative thoughts and feelings, but God says to him, “Back off! Let me people go so that they may each day worship me IN this wilderness!”

Will you rise up and cast off the negatives that the enemy brings through the media and others, cast off thoughts of conspiracy theories and all the rest of the rubbish he would use to pull us down into confusion. We ARE the people of God!!!!! He has delivered us out of Egypt. He’s with us. Worship Him! Do what you’re made to do, upset the enemy with truth. Worship the Lord God Almighty! This is a place of worship!

Regaining Perspective: The truth is that God and God alone is worthy of worship. It doesn’t matter where you are, in the valley in the shadow of death or on a mountaintop bathed in sunshine and hope, that fact remains exactly the same – God is worthy of our worship. Failure to worship indicates a failure to realize who He really is, the all-mighty, all-powerful, all-knowing, all-wise, eternal, never changing, Creator of all things, Lord of all things. Merely because He does not tower over the world bellowing, “I am God, worship me you puny beings,” merely because He does not scare us into oblivion with His might, His holiness, His awesomeness, don’t think that He is not worthy of your adoration. If the experience of lock-down has caused you anxiety, if it has left you wondering and fearful, if it has left you devastated at the loss of a loved one or even a job or a business, don’t let your anguish dominate you and pull you down so that you almost feel like giving up life itself.

These realities are painful but they are not the whole picture and to be able to see that, maybe we are going to have to wait until we come out the other side, come out of the valley in the shadow of death and be able stand once again on the heights and look down and see the full panorama – and wonder. And when we see the end result we will bow and worship. So, as a child of God, why not bring that future into the present and by faith worship Him – He does know what He is doing in the midst of the Pandemic brought about by human failure. He is working for our good and the good of the world in the midst of it.

It may appear dark under the shadow of death sometimes, but let Him lift you up by the Spirit to be above it and catch the big view so when you come down again, you can worship here in the wilderness while we wait the outcome. As you do it, watch how your spirit will be lifted. Worship brings the reality to the fore and that dispels the half-truths. Do it.

1. Welcome to the Wilderness

Wilderness Meditations: 1. Welcome to the Wilderness

Num 20:4 Why did you bring the Lord’s community into this wilderness?”

A Type? For a while now this picture of ‘wilderness’ has been with me and I know it has been taken up more than once by others in these days. In my early Christian years, I studied ‘types’ and looking up my notes I observe I wrote:

“ we see Israel’s wilderness experience especially in Exodus & Numbers. It was entered at the direction of God after the Passover with the enemy of the world left behind after the crossing of the Red Sea. As a “Type” it is illustrative of the life of the called-out child of God, separated from the world (Egypt) and Satan (Pharaoh) (see 2 Cor 6:16 -18) and is entered only through death to self (see Rom 6:2,11 / Col 2:20) It was supposed to be a limited experience through which they were to pass through in order to enter the Promised Land.  We too are called to go on to maturity (see Heb 6:11-14/ Eph 4:13-15). It was a place of knowing God’s daily provision for basic needs e.g. food, water, general guidance.  We need to learn to: i) feed on him to be strong (see Jn 6:57 / Heb 5:14 ), ii) drink of the Spirit (see Jn 7:37 -39) iii) receive his guidance (see Gal 5:25 ).”

But More: As a ‘type’ I think that is all correct and yet the quick use of a concordance shows that the wilderness appears many more times and provides us with extensive resources for meditation, each instant saying something different to us. A wilderness tends to be a place of trials and hardship, with difficulties of provision and navigation. In this year of 2020, many believers, if not all of us at some time or other, have struggled with the restrictions imposed on our lives by the Covid-19 Pandemic. Doctors worry that the effects of mental stress may turn out to be almost as great as the effect of the virus itself.

Why the Wilderness: Why did you bring the Lord’s community into this wilderness?”  Now those words were spoken by the people who challenged Moses under trying circumstances, having travelled as far as Rephidim in the ‘Wilderness of Sin’.   His response was not to give an answer but to fall on his face before the Lord, and then the Lord turned up with a miracle of provision.  

There is a mystery of why Moses led them on the route he did through desert wildernesses and through inhospitable mountains instead of taking the much shorter ‘Way of the Land of the Philistines’ north and east along the coast. Maybe it was fear of the Philistines, maybe the route they took was much better known by Moses, originally to the old Egyptian turquoise and copper mines in western Sinai, maybe because it was an area with which he had become familiar in his shepherding years. Having said all that, it was a route designated by God that took them to the divine encounter on Sinai and the establishing there of the covenant of Ex 19. They were in this wilderness because God had led them there. Having said that, it was supposed to be only of limited duration and throughout their journeyings they would learn much about the Lord, about His intentions towards them, and His care for them. Without the wilderness experience none of these things would have happened.

And Today?  But the question was provoked by need. In this case it was of water, but in our case when people struggle to cope with the effects of lockdown it is a very varied need – for reassurance, for reasons why lockdown, for peace, for grace to cope, for wisdom to cope, and so on.

Many Christians have pondered, “Did God bring this about?” but the better question is, “What does He want to teach us through this time?” Maybe He did it by lifting off His hand of restraint and protection from scientists in China who then got it wrong, but even so, what have I learned so far from this time? What will I yet learn from the uncertain days ahead? Can I turn this from a time of questioning God to questioning me, as He seeks to bless and teach me to walk with head held high through these new days. Some questions to be asked and answered. The lessons of Israel in the wilderness are equally true for us today. As we said above, they would learn much about the Lord, about His intentions towards them, and His care for them.

And us? So the question must be asked, have I a teachable spirit? Have I just struggled, whether in the Pandemic lockdown or any other ‘wilderness experience’, and felt miserable, or have I used the time as an opportunity to draw nearer to the Lord, to sense His presence, to learn more about Him? Have I learned something about the resources that His word speaks about that maybe I have been casual about previously? Have I learned to draw on those resources? Have I learned to be a resource for other people who don’t have these resources?   

And So? And so God may not have directly brought this plague which appears more likely to have originated in the sin of mankind, but He will surely make use of it, to reveal the hearts of men and women (and that includes us), and to offer them His presence in a place of trial and difficulty. It may be of mankind’s making but it may yet be used to reveal the glory of the Lord.

23. Guilt by Emotions

The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 23. Guilt by Emotions

Mt 5:22  But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment.

Jas 4:2 You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God.

Moving On: We have just considered the problem with ‘desires’ which may be good or bad, and desires involve emotions but there are some emotions that do not necessarily involve desire, such as anger. Now a simple dictionary definition of anger is ‘a strong feeling of annoyance, displeasure, or hostility’, and some might add a motivational addition, ‘because of something wrong or bad’

Causes: Anger may be a spontaneous reaction to some action or event caused by others, or it may be a more long-term feeling that almost becomes an attitude. Anger may be legitimate (God gets angry over sin) or not legitimate.

Wrong Causes: If a child is slow to learn, your frustration or lack of patience with them may be seen in anger vented by you. That is wrong anger and, oh yes, needs repentance. Then there is another common cause of anger to do with children, that relatives experience.  It involves gift giving and their responses to it. Now that is mostly just a case of appreciation and in a day when many children (in the West at least) have many toys, appreciation is so often lacking. That is our loss by over-indulging our children (often because we feel guilty that we are not keeping up with what others do. It’s time Christians started leading the way to counter the consumerist mess). Essentially it is only polite to say thank-you for a gift but when someone, a child or adult, fails to give thanks (and we’ll deal with in respect of God in a later study) it is simply a sign of their poor socialization and lack of teaching by their parents, and that a matter more for pity than of anger.

Probably unjust anger between parents and children is one of the most common forms of anger today, but more often than not, it is a sign of lack of self-control in the parent, maybe because they have failed to learn to gently discipline and teach their child from their earliest years, so now the child is willful and disobedient. Anger in such situations becomes a tool to try and dominate the child’s willfulness, and that does little to remedy the bad situation. Discipline in this situation, please note, is not so much about punishment as about correction and guidance into right attitudes and behaviour which, as we said earlier, needs to be addressed from the very earliest years.

Right Causes Wrongly Expressed:  When there has been physical abuse (wife-beating say) or sexual abuse (of a parent or more commonly today, step-parent) the guilt, shame and fear that often build up in the abused can easily turn into long-term anger. God is angry over such behaviour. We might suggest that this is just one form of prevalent injustice and where injustice continues and is not addressed, it almost invariably results in anger by the oppressed.

In 2020 the classic case of this was in respect of a black American killed at the hands of the police (one by-standing policeman being colored). This resulted in a wave of ‘protests’ in both the USA and the UK and some other countries around the globe when anger was vented in a major way.  This killing was wrong on at least four counts: i) it was  the over-use of force that resulted in an unlawful death, ii) it appears to have been a clear case of racism (which is always wrong), iii) it was a follow-on from numerous other deaths of black men at the hands of white police, an ongoing thing that has thus far not been addressed, and iv) it happened in an environment that has been allowed to run for over three hundred years and where change has been incredibly slow to come.

But the anger that we saw being vented in this case, was more likely to be just a further instance of anger that is stacked up in modern society that has been stoked by ‘identity politics’, a form of politics that has come into being in the last decade in the West where political people have sought to create a mindset of oppression of minority groups where inequality is sometimes prevalent and the powerful are seen as self-serving and unjust, or indeed that they permit injustice to prevail. (I have previously referred to abuses in the financial sector of modern western nations in the past twenty years). These injustices fuel anger but when this ‘identity politics’ has grown in such measure it also sees a lash-back by those, often in the majority, who feel their concerns are lost in this political maneuvering.

We have thus seen in a number of Western nations, but predominantly the USA and the UK, a toxic divisiveness in society that is expressed as anger and outright hostility against those who are ‘not with us’, over perceived truths, untruths, fake news, and injustices (real and imaginary). In the Covid-19 environment it is seen as hostility against government strictures that have been issued in order to control the virus. Christians have thus been drawn into these culture wars and I have heard ungodly and unrighteous expressions of this anger which has been allowed to permeate even the Christian culture. IT IS WRONG.

Countering these things: How do we deal with these things? Some Christians should involve themselves in politics if they feel they are so called. Above all else we should be purveyors of truth, love and goodness and we need to apply these things to all we see going on around us. We need to reject the vast majority of horror stories that come out, reject the conspiracy theories, refuse to join in chat-room assassinations, control our fingers on our cell phones and only communicate goodness. Yes, we should write to authorities complaining, but also expressing thanks and goodness. And above all, we should reject the fears, the tension, the angst that the enemy is using to destroy our nations in the present day, and seek the Lord, learning to commit all these things to Him in prayer and move according to the wisdom that He brings us.

Anger may be unrighteous if handled wrongly or if it springs from untruth. Anger over injustices should be channeled into prayer and righteous, godly responses. I believe this is a major area where Christians have been led in wrong-standing before the Lord. May we wake up and stop siding with any righteous cause that it being handled unrighteously and seek the Lord for a righteous response before He comes to bring even more disciplinary judgment on our nations. It is a time for repentance in this area.

5. Off-loading Blame

The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 5. Off-Loading Guilt by Off-loading Blame

Gen 3:12 (Msg) “The woman you gave me as a companion, she gave me fruit from the tree, and, yes, I ate it.”

Misconceptions: There is perhaps no subject like guilt to create misconceptions, wrong ways of thinking, and so in this and the next few studies we are going to eyeball some of these. The first misconception we need to consider is that off-loading absolves from blame – it doesn’t!

Wrong Belief: We have touched on this before but we do need to slowly consider this because it is something that is so common in modern life and Christians are not immune from it. It is the belief that if I can give a reason for my perceived wrongdoing, especially one that off-loads the cause of it onto other people, then is absolves or clear me from the guilt of it. We see this so clearly in the case of the Fall. Adam has been told not to eat of this particular tree, we assume Eve knew about the prohibition, but she went against it and then got him to go against it. They both did what God had said not to do. They were guilty.

Confrontation: But then God confronts them with their changed state, they have become self-aware in a new way: “Who told you that you were naked?” (Gen 3:11a) Guilt always changes our state. However we appear, we all know, deep down at least, that what we do is wrong, which is why we move into a defensive, self-justifying mode.  There can only be one reason for this and so God makes them face it: Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” (v.11b) If we are to prosper in life and in eternity, we need to be confronted with the things we’ve got wrong; we can’t take them to heaven!

Justifying: Then we get Adam’s excuse: The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” (v.12) I can’t help feeling if I had been God I would have laughed at Adam and retorted, “Adam, you’ve got to be joking! Are you saying it’s my fault because I gave you the woman, that if I hadn’t given her to you, she wouldn’t have been there to lead you astray?” But it continues with the women when the Lord questions her: “The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” (v.13b) There is almost behind her offloading, the objection, ‘well this is your world God, you made the snake, he was the one who led me astray.’

Sources of Excuse: I don’t know if you see it yet, but there are the things that go to the heart of all our offloading of guilt – to blame someone else. When things go wrong, very often people blame God: ‘how could a God of love allow this to happen, why didn’t He step in and stop me doing this?’ Because He respects you too much to take away your free will. But often that is too blatant a call so we focus our bad attitudes, our bad behaviour, on other people.

Marriage Breakdown: Whether it is cohabitation or marriage, when one partner commits adultery and enters into an illicit sexual relationship with someone outside the partnership, it becomes The most fertile ground for self-deception, half-truths, and self-justification by offloading blame. My wife stopped loving me, she was no longer physically attractive, we just couldn’t get on any longer, she was taken up with her women’s groups, her clubs, her hobbies etc. etc., and never had time for me so when my assistant showed concern and care, it was just natural to find love with her.

Teenage Rebellion: My parents don’t love me, and they clearly don’t love each other, they don’t understand what I’m feeling, the struggles I have with life, so why shouldn’t I go off and try and find peace and pleasure in drugs and sex with my friends.

The Lie: There is an untruth that each person in this sort of situation (and with time and space we could find many more) cons themselves into believing: “I can’t do anything about this weak marriage relationship, this bad relationship with my parents,” and so on. Adam and Eve made choices – wrong choices. You and I have the capability of making choices. That’s how God has made us and He expects us to make good decisions – I will work on my marriage, we will take time and effort to start communicating again, listening to one another, responding in love again to one another, I will not look outside my marriage for comfort. Or perhaps – I will wait for an opportune time to talk honestly with my parents, to ask them about where they are at with me and become the catalyst for change in our family. Yes, of course we cannot do these things without God and maybe without the help of someone outside my situation – that’s why I’m here.

The Starting Point: If we are going to start taking back control and bringing change then the starting point has to be to confess to the Lord you’ve got it wrong and you need His forgiveness and His help to put things right. Whatever steps you need to take, you need His grace and His wisdom, but please stop believing the lie. The truth is that with God’s help you can bring change, you can step back from your bad attitude, words and behaviour, you can restore the relationship. Ask Him.

1. Introducing Guilt

PART ONE: General Considerations  (Parts 1-19)

The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 1. Introducing Guilt

1 Jn 1:9 (Living Bible) if we confess our sins to him, he can be depended on to forgive us and to cleanse us from every wrong. And it is perfectly proper for God to do this for us because Christ died to wash away our sins.” (1 Jn 1:9 Living Bible)

Why? Why this series? Well, I had a dream, a remarkably clear dream and one that, unusually, stayed with me when I woke. In it a friend asked me to speak at college  on ‘Guilt’, and I ended up before a class of teens with a very clear idea of what to say to them. When I was praying later, this dream came back clearly with a bigger sense of where it should go.

The Approach: My sense is that this series should have two parts, the first thinking about guilt and then seeing what the Bible says about it, and then the second considering the guilt of the modern world. I am aware that thinking about ‘guilt’ sounds heavy and not very enlightening as a daily study, but I believe it is essential ingredient for seeking to understand the days in which we live and what the Lord might be saying to the Church in these Days.  In the Second Part we will seek to confront a number of aspects of today’s world that from time to time seem to permeate the life of the Church. I thus hope it won’t be heavy but enlightening and will motivate us to pray for the Church and for our nations in these days. I am fairly sure these is not going to be studies condemning and laying guilt; in fact the exact opposite.

Definition & Importance: A simple dictionary search tells us that

“guilt = the fact of having committed a specified or implied offence or crime” while

“guilty = the state of having committed, or responsible for, a specified wrongdoing.”

We don’t like thinking about guilt – at least when it applies to ourselves – and that may be because we don’t realize that guilt is a symptom of something that needs confronting and addressing. Often it is only when the symptom appears that we realize we have the problem. One approach says that thoughts lead to emotions and feelings of guilt, the emotion of guilt, and is because we think we have done wrong. If the thoughts we have accurately record the truth of what happened – a wrong for which we are responsible – then the feelings of guilt accurately convey the truth – we ARE guilty. If the thoughts only pick up part of what happened, then it is easy to allow them to convey the emotion of guilt but the reality may be that we did not do wrong, we are not guilty, as we’ll see in the following studies.

The Process: From these simple starting thoughts we see a progression that is in fact very obvious: first there is the act of wrong, second there is the recognition that we did wrong, the thoughts that put the act into a context and realize it was wrong, and then there is the emotion or feeling. Sometimes we talk about our ‘conscience’ or, in the spiritual realm, our conviction. Now the feelings help us identify the thoughts and the thoughts help us pin down the act, and all of these things for us as Christians highlight a need for further action.

The Way Through: From the outset let’s remind ourselves of the most basic of New Testament teaching: if we confess our sins to him, he can be depended on to forgive us and to cleanse us from every wrong. And it is perfectly proper for God to do this for us because Christ died to wash away our sins.” (1 Jn 1:9 Living Bible) So we have seen two processes. First the process of diagnosis: the act, the thinking, the emotion, the conclusion (I am guilty!). Second there is the process of response: first our part, the act of will that confesses and acknowledges and repents of the wrong, then God’s action that forgives and cleanses and restores us.

John is seeking to be remarkably simple in this verse and just uses the word ‘confess’ but as we go on we will see that actually it means what I wrote above – also acknowledges the sin and repents of the sin. Simply to say, Oh yes, I did wrong, and leave it at that isn’t enough; it needs to be accompanied by a determination to repent – which means utterly change – and be done with that sin, and let God deal with me. We will need to think about these things more fully in the studies ahead I suspect.

And Us? John in his pastoral role in that first letter is extremely helpful because in the second chapter he says, “I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.” (1 Jn 2:1) His goal is to reinforce the teaching that Christians have been set free from the power of sin and yet there will be times where we will get it wrong. I would suggest that this should take away any defensiveness we may feel about considering guilt. Guilt is merely the signpost that needs to be observed, or an additional motivator to recognize, that guides us along the path of sanctification, our lives being cleaned up and changed by God.  I would hope that I am dealing with any issues that arise in my life at the present time, but I would be foolish to think that before I go to be in heaven, there will not be further issues of which at the present time I am not aware. Perhaps these studies will help us face what we have seen in the past as an uncomfortable subject and come see it as a useful tool that God can use the enable us to be more open to His moving in these times. May it be so.

2. A World at Peace?

Zechariah builds the House Meditations: 2. A World at Peace?

Zech 1:7,8a  On the twenty-fourth day of the eleventh month, the month of Shebat, in the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Zechariah son of Berekiah, the son of Iddo. During the night I had a vision

Timing: In verses 7 to 17 we move into the first ‘vision’. You have dreams when you sleep, visions while you are awake. A vision is a picture that fills your sight. In the vision there are persons, things and words. Three months have passed since Zechariah’s first ‘word’, a word without pictures. Now we are going to have picture visions that convey truths. All the visions that come now, seem to come on the same day, they flow on one after another until in chapter 7 we see that his next revelation comes two years later. Why the gap? We aren’t told but we come to realize visions only come when God brings them and we must suppose He brings them when He sees the time is right for a particular revelation to be brought. Maybe two years pass to give time for the visions of the first six chapters to be absorbed. Often we can receive a word or picture but the understanding of it takes time to come.

The Picture Setting: The vision comes and in it Zechariah sees certain things. If you stand before a painting, say, you first of all take in just what is there before you. So he writes, “there before me was a man mounted on a red horse. He was standing among the myrtle trees in a ravine. Behind him were red, brown and white horses.” (1:8) So you stand before your picture and there are figures in it, and questions arise: “I asked, “What are these, my lord?” (1:9a)

Now before we move on we have to acknowledge that in the framework of a vision everything is not always spelled out neatly, hence the need to ponder on it. There is one man on a red horse and at least three other horses it would seem, but what is to be implied is that these horses carry riders. Whether there are just three or that there are lots of horses of mixed colors is debatable. Some commentators in the past have sought to infer meanings in the colors. They are in an area of myrtle trees which is apparently a beautiful shrub or bush with beautiful flowers and leaves that give off a rich scent when ‘bruised’. Thus, some have suggested they are a picture of the church and we have a picture somewhat similar to that of Rev 1 with the lead rider being the Son of God – but that is all commentators’ speculation.

But there is something else that is confusing. In this vision there are various figures: first the lead rider in verse 8 who is simply described a ‘a man’, but then we now read, “The angel who was talking with me answered, “I will show you what they are.” (1:9b) Suddenly we find Zechariah, as he gazes on this picture has an angel interpreter standing alongside him. But then it is the leader rider who gives him his explanation: “Then the man standing among the myrtle trees explained, “They are the ones the Lord has sent to go throughout the earth.” (1:10) Zechariah may have entered the vision, as we sometimes enter a dream, stepping straight into the scenario where, in this case he is talking to an angel, but it is the lead rider who is clearly the one in authority. So the other riders have gone out and come back and reported to the lead rider who is now described as “the angel of the Lord”. Again commentators debate whether this is simply a senior angel or the Son of God. But what is important is the message they bring: “And they reported to the angel of the Lord who was standing among the myrtle trees, “We have gone throughout the earth and found the whole world at rest and in peace.” (1:11) This is the first major and significant thing in this vision – the earth appears at peace. Hold on to that because suddenly the focus changed.

The Divine Cry: We next see it is ‘the angel of the Lord’ who appears to cry out in anguish: “Then the angel of the Lord said, “Lord Almighty, how long will you withhold mercy from Jerusalem and from the towns of Judah, which you have been angry with these seventy years?” (1:12) This brings us right back to the present situation in Zechariah’s life. Jerusalem is still a burnt wreck, the land is still devastated from the plundering of Nebuchadnezzar’s army decades before – and yet the rest of the world seems at peace; no one seems to care, they are just happy with their lives, but what about God’s people, what about the Temple that is only part rebuilt, what about the glory and honour of the Lord? Now I have called this paragraph ‘The Divine Cry’ because angels on God’s business share God’s heart and therefore, even as prophets catch God’s heart, so do His angels serving Him. “So the Lord spoke kind and comforting words to the angel who talked with me.” (1:13) God comforts the lead rider as if to say, “I know, I feel as you do, but it’s all in hand!”

Anger: Now comes the message that is to be declared: “Then the angel who was speaking to me said, “Proclaim this word: This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘I am very jealous for Jerusalem and Zion, and I am very angry with the nations that feel secure. I was only a little angry, but they went too far with the punishment.’” (1:14,15) The Lord explains, first, what He feels. It’s like He is saying, Jerusalem is mine and always has been, the place where I have put my Name, and I am angry with the nations that I used (yes I used them!) who now feel at peace and are unconcerned about my people. I had been angry with Israel who rejected my word again and again, but I am more angry with those who were unrestrained in their actions bringing my punishment on Israel.

Action: So now the Lord goes beyond His feelings to what He will do: “Therefore this is what the Lord says: ‘I will return to Jerusalem with mercy, and there my house will be rebuilt. And the measuring line will be stretched out over Jerusalem,’ declares the Lord Almighty. Proclaim further: This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘My towns will again overflow with prosperity, and the Lord will again comfort Zion and choose Jerusalem.’” (1:16,17) He will ensure the Temple is rebuilt, He will ensure Jerusalem is rebuilt, and He will ensure the towns of Judah are re-established and will prosper again.

Summary: So within this little cameo, the Lord’s messengers, His angels, report a world at peace while Jerusalem and God’s temple lie in ruins and the land remains wrecked. The Lord reveals His anguish over this situation and His intent to restore the Temple, Jerusalem and the Land. It is a word of hope and a word of restoration that faces the anguish of the state of the Temple, the City and the Land as it is at the moment.

Application: Before the revealing of the 2020 Pandemic, I would suggest that in many ways the world was at peace. This is typified by an example I came across recently. In the previous study I referred to the Calvers’ book ‘Unleashed’ all about the story of Acts. On one hand they acknowledge the good things the church is doing: “Here in the UK Christians are making a huge impact through ministries such as Christians Against Poverty, food banks, and Street Pastors and Angels. The church runs the majority of toddler groups, much of the nation’s youth work, and remains pivotal on the ground.” It all sounds good, but Gavin balances it with an encounter with an old friend, “one who was such an encouragement to me in my early years of faith,” and who he describes as having been one all out for God who would talk passionately about his love of the Lord. Now, many years later, both in their early forties, he reflected, “Today’s conversation was different. He was still speaking animatedly and enthusiastically, but it was not about Jesus. It was about his new patio.” He pondered, “What had happened in the last couple of decades to see godly, eternal passion transferred to concrete in gardens? Why do we keep bumping into Christians our age who are more evangelistic about their kitchen than they are about Jesus? How is it that there is seemingly more inspiration for life in the pages of the Ikea catalogue than in the Bible? When did everything become so safe?” He expands on how our lives are taken up with getting and enjoying at the expense of the kingdom of God.

If that is an accurate assessment of so much Christian life in the West, and I believe it is, then the ‘peace’ that reigns is deception. Is that why the Lord has allowed Covid-19 to ravage the world? Is it a preparation, a time of challenging the hearts of men and women, in preparation for revival? In the previous study we cited R.T.Kendal, who speaks of how we have tolerated what is going on in the church and what is going on in the world.  In the past century of so we have, around the world, experienced various moves of God: Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles in 1906, that brought out into the open the place and role of the Holy Spirit, the Charismatic Movement of the 1960’s, that brought a fresh awareness of the existence, experience, function and role of ‘the body of Christ’ as formed and created by the Spirit, and so on (there are others) – but they are largely now just ‘history’.

These special times seem like glimmers of light from the past that have now been diffused into the life of the Church where, for the most part, they appear to have lost most of their power, their life, their spontaneity and their vitality that came with them originally. It appears that in the West at least, the world seems to have half drowned the Church and the potential of all these moves of God have been either forgotten or simply dissipated. Consider again my description of the church I suggest the New Testament shows is on God’s heart and ask again how that matches your experience? Has God allowed Covid-19 to shake up and change the Church to match His heart? Are we alert to that?