45. Recap 3B

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 45. Recap 3B

Eph 2:6,7  And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.

Jesus transforms life: As we moved into the final Part, looking to apply practically the theory of the previous Part, we observed the barrenness of religious life in Israel until Jesus came bringing life transformation through the power of God. That was a challenge for us today, to become a people who don’t simply act as spiritual sponges absorbing the word through sermons Sunday by Sunday, but who are to genuinely become the ‘body of Christ’, learning to minister one to another and then to the world outside.

God & People of Communication: We moved on into thinking about us being a people of revelation, expressing Jesus to the people around us as we learn to listen to him and then convey what we hear to one another, to strengthen, encourage and comfort one another.  I gave illustrations of listening to God. We pursued this whole subject of learning to listen to God and gave a further variety of illustrations. We confronted the fact that the word, ‘said’ comes up again and again in respect of God in Scripture and considered the God who communicates and still wants to speak to His gathered people.

Guidelines for Personal Prophecy: We laid out ground rules that personal prophecy today is to strengthen, encourage, and comfort, and we are to keep it simple and express love in accordance with God’s written word. Our words should come with humility and deference and without dogmatism, in everyday English, without dressing it up, and being open enough to check how our recipients are receiving it and leaving the outcome in the Lord’s hands.   In such ways we can be available to the Lord to bless others.

An Imaginary Example: In the following four ‘studies’ I gave an imaginary example of a prayer meeting and what came out of it so that we might see the fruit of listening to God and then following up with raised faith levels to see how He wants to work out the answers to that praying.

Living in the Fallen World: To bring a balance to what could potentially become triumphalist teaching, we considered the reality of living in this fallen world where things go wrong, which can often bring confusion, pain and questions. We considered the matter of discipline which can be painful but is always for our good in the long-term.

Exercising Authority: Back on the main track we considered how, being seated with Christ in the heavenly realms, as he rules at his Father’s right hand, bringing in the kingdom of God on the earth, we may be led by him to exercise authority as through prayer we may proclaim, testify, command, bind or loose and pronounce the will of God. To catch the bigger picture, we reminded ourselves of the ‘creation mandate’ where we have been called not only to fill the earth but to reign over it and subdue it, and we saw that this includes the vast majority of activities that we call ‘work’.  This not only means that we seek to do well in our work, but we look for ways that the Lord might want to work in it sand through it.

How Jesus ruled: Considering the subject of authority, we considered various ways that Jesus ‘ruled’ while he was on earth – having control over the physical world, which included bringing healing etc. – but also in the way he controlled himself and his tongue and his emotions. When we apply them to ourselves we see areas of life for us to work into as he leads us.

Being a Relevant People: We expanded and clarified our thinking about being a relevant people in the midst of today’s world, as we reminded ourselves of the outworkings of that imaginary prayer meeting and all that followed. The outworking of all this, as we are led by Jesus, means lives are touched and changed and circumstances can be transformed, and God is glorified as the kingdom is expressed.  We noted that it isn’t just supernatural gifting but also expresses the nature and character of Jesus to bless the world around us through our ‘good works’.

Being a Distinctive People: Finally, we considered our distinctiveness that is holiness, being utterly different in the mold of the Lord, specifically as we express love, unity, truth, and goodness or, more generally, the ‘fruit of the Spirit’.   In these ways we are to grow as a body that is led by the head, Jesus, who is seated at his Father’s right hand in heaven, bringing in the kingdom of God on earth.

And So? How can we sum all this up?  This third phase, if we may call it that, of Jesus being glorified when he is lifted up, of him ruling at his Father’s right hand in heaven, is all about how, when we allow ourselves to be led by his Spirit we will become a people who don’t only express the character of Jesus but also the works of Jesus. It will be not only by what we have historically called ‘sharing the gospel’ (presenting the truths of the New Testament about who Jesus is and how he has come to bring us salvation) but also by being his ‘body’ today, being led by his Spirit as he rules in this world in the midst of his enemies, to express God’s kingdom in the midst of the effects of the fallen world around us.   As we do this, lives and circumstances will change. The only question is, will we rise to be this people the scriptures describe?

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45. Awesome Speaking

God in the Psalms No.45God who speaks awesomely

Psa 29:3 The voice of the LORD is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the LORD thunders over the mighty waters.

Sometimes there are things in life that you simply take for granted, breathing for instance, or life itself, or colours or taste, a whole range of things. For those of us who study God’s word, the thing we probably take for granted most and accept without thought is the fact that God speaks. In an earlier meditation we did indeed pick up on the fact that God is a God of communication, but today’s verse goes beyond that. When God speaks, things happen. In this respect He is very different from us. We can use words and nothing changes (if it’s in respect of people, to people, they may change), but when God speaks so often, it is a command and when God commands, the world changes. God speaks and material things change. How does he do that? It’s beyond our finite minds. He’s God and when we say He’s all-powerful, we mean it. He only has to speak it and things change.

In this psalm, David perhaps is under cover watching a thunder storm. He sees the thunder as God speaking. He starts the psalm with a call to ascribe to God glory and strength or power. It’s like he’s saying, you need to see God as He really is, acclaim Him for who He really is. Later in the psalm he says, And in his temple all cry, “Glory!” (v.9). The end result of thinking of these things is that the people will give glory to God. Why? Because they will have seen His might and His majesty as they look on Creation and see the works of God. Seven times he refers to the voice of the Lord”. God speaks and it happens. At Creation, each act of creation was bought about by God saying,Let there be…” (Gen 1:3,6,9,11,14,15,20,24,26). The same thing: God speaks and it happens. In this psalm today, David sees the Lord speaking and thundering (v.3), breaking trees (v.5), even the oaks (v.9), and shaking the desert (v.8). Yes, for the materialist this is purely the work of nature (don’t let’s give it a capital ‘N’ for that seems to suggest personality), temperature changes that brings about thunder and rain and lightening. For David, this is the voice of God at work, a mighty voice having mighty effect.

Have you ever stood in a thunderstorm with a sense of awe? We’re told that one lightning strike can carry enough electricity to power 10 million homes for one month, and there you are standing there with deafening thunder and lightening strikes of incredible power ever few seconds. If that isn’t awesome, what is?  Of course scientists can observe temperature and pressure changes but why should they happen? Don’t be silly, says David, just recognize here the power and presence of God in His Creation. He speaks and things happen.

The struggle to understand ‘providence’ is the struggle to see the hand of God and hear the voice of God. Was God in this flood or that hurricane?  We’ll never be able to answer that confidently this side of heaven. The Bible suggests, at the very least, He is behind it sometimes. There are Biblical examples of God bringing ‘natural’ effects to bear to destroy enemies. Whether it’s all or some, we could be in danger of missing the point: God can speak and this can be the effect. He can do it and sometimes, at least, does do it. That makes Him awesome, that brings a proper perspective in life. In the early years of the 21st century we have seen a considerable number of such ‘natural catastrophes’. What they tell us is that we’re powerless. Let’s give Him proper respect and worship.

4. God of Partnership

Lessons from Israel: No.4 : God of Partnership
Ex 3:9,10 9And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. 10So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.    11But Moses said to God, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” 12And God said, “I will be with you.

We are in this series, we said, looking at the lessons to be learnt from God’s dealings with Israel, going right back to Moses, and we have been seeing the initiating of contact by God, the Lord revealing Himself as the God of history who had had dealings with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob previously, and who was here now for Israel who were suffering in captivity in Egypt.

Now the previous meditation and this one are very closely linked. We saw in the previous one that the Lord sees all that happens on the earth and is moved to come to bring deliverance. Now we see HOW he will bring that deliverance. I think so far, Moses would be feeling first amazed at this experience, then in awe at the recognition of who it is who is speaking to him and then possibly very glad that God intended to come and deliver his people, the people he left forty years ago, out of the slavery in Egypt.  So far, so good! Indeed when the Lord reiterates what has happened, it’s still all right: “And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them.” (v.9). Yes, the Lord sees and knows, so it’s going to be all right now!

But then the bomb falls: “So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.” (v.10) What? Hold on! Hang about! I didn’t see that coming! Where did that come from?  Those are the various responses we might give today. Moses is not excited by this thought; in fact he thinks it’s definitely not a good idea: “But Moses said to God, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” (v.11) Moses is a smart guy. He’s been doing the maths on this in his head. Pharaoh, big powerful world leader, me, small insignificant shepherd. Power plus insignificance doesn’t work.  Well no, it doesn’t, but God’s going to balance up the equation: “And God said, “I will be with you.” (v.12). Pharaoh versus an insignificant shepherd = disaster (for Moses!). Pharaoh versus the insignificant shepherd + God = disaster (for Pharaoh!).

Now that is a completely different ball game – except Moses isn’t convinced yet, as we’ll see in the next mediation, because he really doesn’t yet know this One who is speaking to him out of a burning bush. He really doesn’t know if he can trust this voice and it’s all very well for that power to have been there centuries before to enable old Abraham to have a baby, but is that power big enough to deal with a seriously nasty ruler? It’s probable that those were the sort of things going round in Moses’ mind, because they are the sort of things that go round in ours, and Moses was no different from us.

So now we come to the crucial question that must be lurking in the back of any thinking mind: why does God want to bother to involve Moses? Why doesn’t God just get on and judge Pharaoh and just take Israel without asking? He’s got the power, so why not do it the easy way? Why involve an insignificant shepherd?

I suspect the answer is to do with communication and visibility. Communication is the fuel for relationships and the Lord is always looking to build relationships with the human beings that He has created. Love always wants to express itself and God wants to express Himself to whoever will listen, come near and get involved. He’s got Moses’ ear but perhaps Pharaoh would not be able to hear God, because he was so self-centred. By visibility, I mean God making Himself known. By the end of this whole episode in history we are going to have learnt a lot about God. The Bible is all about God communicating with people and revealing Himself to people by the way He acts. By the end of all this there is going to be a story to be told – a long story and a story that will get passed on and on, and every time it does, someone else is going to learn some significant stuff about God. So God is going to use an insignificant shepherd to bring the most powerful ruler around to his knees. oh yes, this is going to be a story worth telling – apart from what it is going it achieve, this is going to be important. Do you remember what Paul said? “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.” (1 Cor 1:27)

In the New Testament, Paul refers to us as “God’s fellow workers.” (2 Cor 6:1) Today God continues to work alongside us, using US to bring about His purposes on the earth. Yes, He could do it all on His own but He chooses to reveal Himself through His people. Remember though, whenever He calls you to do anything, He doesn’t ask you to do it alone. The message is still the same: “I will be with you.” His power and presence is always with us. Indeed He’s said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (Heb 13:5) which evokes the response, “So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.” (Heb 13:6) Let’s remember that.

1. Jesus – the Word

Meditations on Jesus in John’s Gospel : 1 : Jesus, the Word

Jn 1:1,14In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God …The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.

We used to have a film-strip for children called The Green Bear, a delightful story of a bear who wanted a friend. At one point there is another creature who hires himself out to be a friend for short periods of time. The Green Bear didn’t really feel this was enough and the other animal turns to him with irritable words that became indelibly printed on the minds of our family, “Well, I’m talking to you aren’t I!” Talking wasn’t enough. It is a start, but it’s not enough; we want something more.

What is a word? It is a building block of communication; it is an expression of speech, the means we humans use to convey our thoughts to one another. The Greeks, two thousand years ago, used the word in respect of all of creation to mean the rational principle that governs all things, the Logos. In daily life it meant both the thought and the speech expressing the thought. Thus John when he was writing wrote not only to the Jews but to the wider world, for whom the main international language was Greek.

He says that in the beginning of all things – because as human beings we have difficulty imagining eternity with no beginning – there was this Word, this expression of God, this something behind everything that holds everything together, and this something, this expression of God was God, just as we might say my speech is me perhaps. But there is something different here, because words are separate sounds that disappear, and are no longer heard, except in the memory. This Word, this expression of God, remains as an entity, an ongoing expression that is part of God. In heaven, as this Gospel tells us later, there was God the Father and His expression, the Son, the Word. But again, unlike us and speech, the Father and the Word can communicate backwards and forwards between each other, there is a living, loving relationship between them that is real.

We struggle with these concepts because we’re told God is Spirit and we can’t really grasp what God and His Son, the Word are, what being Spirit that had always existed, really means. These days I think of ‘spirit’ as ‘living personal energy’, or ‘energy with personality’ if you like. So God is the Supreme Being who is living, personal energy who thinks, acts and moves.

But then the Word became flesh. How? I haven’t a clue! How can Spirit turn into flesh? I don’t know. All I know is that when God made man He breathed spirit (breath) into him (Gen 2:7), so part of us is spirit anyway. How they interact is a mystery which we struggle to explain. But the Word who is God becomes flesh. He does it to communicate with us in the fullest way possible. The writer to the Hebrews wrote: “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (Heb 1:1,2)

This is the staggering truth, that God has spoken to the human race, not just by words into our minds (which I think He does all the time), not just through Hebrew prophets (who were incredible in themselves as to their openness to ‘hear’ God), not just with a one-off call from heaven, but by coming and living in human form on the earth for some thirty three years.

Communication, it seems, is an essential part of personality and God is a Being with personality and so He communicates. He communicates with Himself (we talk to ourselves, think thoughts to ourselves) but that is not enough. He expresses Himself outwards by creating living creatures who are capable of communicating, and having done that He communicates with them. That’s what the Old Testament record is.  And then He communicates in the fullest way possible – He comes in human form! Wow!

 

But one more thought before we move on in this series. Many words have different meanings. So for example, take the word ‘palm’. That word can mean a tropical tree, or one side of the hand, or the act of concealing something slight of hand. It has those three meanings. When we come to this “Word” that John speaks about, it also has many meanings and it will be those we will be examining in this series. Jesus as we will see is Creator of this world with the Father, he is also sustainer of this world, he is also redeemer of this world, so this “Word” has a multitude of meanings or functions or roles. Yes, above all else he is the Son of God, but having said that we see that he is so much more. Watch for these things as we consider them in John’s Gospel.