57. Drowning in the Sea (Recap)

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 57. Drowning in the Sea (Recap)

2 Sam 22:4-6  “I called to the Lord, who is worthy of praise, and have been saved from my enemies. The waves of death swirled about me; the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me. The cords of the grave coiled around me; the snares of death confronted me.

Recently: In the last seven studies we have been considering aspects of the culture we find in the West at this time in history, aspects that threaten our very spiritual lives if we allow them to overwhelm us, and I likened this to being drowned by these things. Now to draw these threads together to better enable us to see the big picture, let’s consider the analogy of the sea as a description of the culture that we live in. We said near the beginning that ‘drowning’ is the negative outcome of being out at sea, but alternatives are that we swim, we sail, or we surf. In other words the sea has the capability of killing us by drowning but it also has the capability of being used for enjoyment, business or travel, all legitimate pastimes or experiences. The analogy of the sea is also useful when we consider it is often tumultuous, there is constant movement and change and it can be threatening. (Jude used a similar analogy – Jude v.13)

What this says is that a godless culture is always bad and harmful, tumultuous and changing, but ‘culture’ in itself is neutral and so all of these things can be positive if they are godly, i.e. we enjoy them within the confines of God’s guidance and direction and we avoid excesses. These things we have been considering are not bad in themselves, but they are bad when we use or experience them in a godless fashion. When that happens they change from things provided by God for our blessing, into things that have the potential to destroy us. Let’s examine each of them again briefly to see these things.

The Possibilities of Materialism: Now the truth is that God has provided everything material and spiritual for our blessing. When we speak of materialism we tend to mean a life that excludes the spiritual and excludes God. All material things, we say again, are potentially things for blessing. Used in excess, most things become harmful. The ‘world’ is materialistic (godless) but we as Christians should always hold a balance that accepts, is aware of, and operates in, a spiritual dimension as well as a material dimension. Our spiritual lives are threatened when we forget or fail to operate within that balance and almost invariably it will be the spiritual side that will suffer. Having said that, there have been those who reject the material dimension and speak of it negatively, forgetting it is God’s provision for us to be used wisely and thankfully (Jas 1:17, 1 Tim 4:3,4). However our greater threat is likely to be we get caught up in materialistic living and that is a life where we forget the spiritual dimension that we are called to experience, live in and serve in. The call is therefore not to let enjoyment of the material world become the all-important thing in life but maintain a balance whereby we operate in, experience and enjoy both realms.

The Danger of Unreality: Being creative, which includes writing books, making films and so much more, is part of being made in the image of the Creator, but fiction is always fiction and we must never forget that. Even more we must always remember that the human author, film-maker etc. is a human being who may or may not be conveying an incomplete picture of what life is about. ‘Romanticism’ tends to view life unrealistically through rose-tinted glasses while ‘realism’ tends to point out only the harsh realities of life. Often a book or film will express one of the other but rarely both together, and therefore we should always remember what the author or film-producer is aiming to do and, in our minds, refocus in the light of the truth about God, and us as sinners with the possibility of redemption, i.e. remember what is and what is not ‘real’.   The danger is always that if we are regular readers or regular watchers of TV, videos and films (and computer gamers, for that matter) we can get swept up in what we have seen/experienced and lose contact with reality, how life really is. The temptation that the enemy puts before us, is to believe the lie that I can live in that unreal ‘reality’ and forget that actually there are always consequences to be born with such things in the real world.

Holding Knowledge Lightly: Knowledge in itself is neutral. The problem with ‘knowledge’ is that sometimes what we think is real or true is not, it is merely an opinion or a hypothesis that may yet change. Knowledge becomes dangerous when we allow untrue knowledge (rather like ‘fake news’) to determine our outlook on life, our perception of what is or is not real and true. It is also dangerous when we allow knowledge to boost our egos or more specifically our pride. Pride always means a loss of perspective, making us think we are greater, more powerful, cleverer, than we are. Pride also questions whether we need God.

There is a saying, “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing,” which the Internet suggests means, “a small amount of knowledge can lead to overconfidence, leaping to invalid conclusions based on what you do know without taking into account the things that you don’t know.” The wise person knows that the more you do know the more you should realise how little you know, and thus will maintain an outlook of humility. Failing the understand these things means we can become overwhelmed and even intimidated by big people, big theories and big figures. At such times a healthy dose of reading the scriptures and remembering that God is THE big person who is all-knowing and all-wise, is a wise approach. He alone should be our ultimate source of wisdom. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” (Psa 111:10) and, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” (Prov 1:7) Never let go that perspective.

The Life of Social Media: The use of social media and social networking, we observed, has many benefits to our lives today AND many curses. In the light of the many fears that are being raised by a variety of professionals, we would be wise to take note of not only the warnings of abuses and harms that can ensue but also the very real fear of addiction to usage. There is also the concept of the loss of reality that can arise, in both security and knowledge terms that we noted can distort the reality about ourselves and the world around us. Really an extension of the previous paragraph.

A Confusing & Uncertain World:  In both the USA & the UK and indeed many other ‘Western’ countries, Christians are now clearly in the minority and since our nations have largely rejected God we have lost a moral base and no longer believe in absolutes – values or principles which are regarded as universally valid – and so relativism rules which says that knowledge, truth, and morality exist in relation to culture, society, or historical context, and are not absolute, i.e. right or wrong depends on every unique situation and will be different for every situation. At least that is what is said except the moment someone harms ‘me or my family’ and which point we scream, “that’s not right, where are the police, justice needs to be done, someone needs to pay for this!”

So we live with the ‘law of exceptions’ that says, “well, yes, generally it is wrong for someone to steal but perhaps there are exceptions, such as when someone is on the point of starvation,” or “well, yes, it is wrong to kill another person, but perhaps there are exceptions such as when a SWAT team have to take out a terrorist carrying a bomb.”  Ever since Hiroshima we have accepted that killing a large number of people is an unpleasant fact of life to save a much larger number of people from an ongoing war. Perhaps as Christians we might say that we recognise that in a fallen world sometimes an evil is necessary to prevent a greater evil – but it is still evil. But these are ethical dilemmas, necessary evils from living in this fallen world, but that is very different from the blatant misrepresenting of truth, telling outright lies etc. that have become almost a fact of life in recent years across the global communication and media networks.

Coping with ‘the sea’: Surfing or sailing on the sea of modern culture is appreciating the wonder and goodness of so many aspects of this world. Culture is sometimes defined as “the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society,” i.e. the way societies think and then act. For us as Christians things like self-awareness, understanding, knowledge, wisdom and discernment must be major tools in our armoury as we seek to cope with the things these last studies have been dealing with.

Helps? Realizing that

  • we don’t have to comply with the pressures of peers and advertisers to get the latest piece of hi-tec,
  • rejecting the false and unreal perspectives that are often put before us,
  • rejecting the intimidating atheistic voices that seek to challenge with their skewed and incomplete ‘facts’, hypotheses and opinions,
  • taking control of thoughts about myself and others from Christ’s perspective and not that of my Facebook friends, and
  • refusing to be swayed by those who shout loudest in the noisy media market place of political, theological or simply ideological ideas.

Understanding & Living in Christ: Remaining above the surface of the water (culture) is what happens when we take hold of such truths as, God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,” (Eph 2:6). The threefold thrust of that is that:

  • we are to see ourselves as intimately united with Christ,
  • in a place where we are (with him) to rule over our circumstances, and
  • where we are above – and therefore can see clearly – the shambles of the world below us.

In the light of all this, we might do well to finish this study with Paul’s prayer: “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.  I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.” (Eph 1:17-19)  Amen!

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53. Trials & Tribulations

Meditations in 1 Samuel  53. Trials & Tribulations

1 Sam 27:8,9      Now David and his men went up and raided the Geshurites, the Girzites and the Amalekites. (From ancient times these peoples had lived in the land extending to Shur and Egypt.) Whenever David attacked an area, he did not leave a man or woman alive, but took sheep and cattle, donkeys and camels, and clothes. Then he returned to Achish.

Remember in all that follows, David is simply trying to survive. He is on the run from the king of Israel who is determined to hunt him down and kill him and so he has fled to neighbouring Philistia where Saul will not come because the Philistines were a strong adversary.  He has managed to get Achish to allow him to live in Ziklag, a little distance away, and so we now see David using his men as raiding parties against people who were not Philistines but who were those against Israel. The Geshurites lived south  of Philistia and were a people not conquered by Israel at the time of the taking of the Land. The Girzites aren’t mentioned anywhere else in the Bible but we must assume they were a similar people. The Amalekites had long been enemies of  Israel and Saul had been instructed to wipe them out but had failed to do that completely.

David is living on a knife-edge. He has to be careful to stay on Achish’s good side and so when Achish enquires where David went raiding he told him areas of Judah and Israel: When Achish asked, “Where did you go raiding today?” David would say, “Against the Negev of Judah” or “Against the Negev of Jerahmeel” or “Against the Negev of the Kenites.” (v.10)  To maintain this lie David had to completely eradicate any group he went against: “He did not leave a man or woman alive to be brought to Gath, for he thought, “They might inform on us and say, `This is what David did.’ ” And such was his practice as long as he lived in Philistine territory.” (v.11) It was literally the only way he could survive and as a result, “Achish trusted David and said to himself, “He has become so odious to his people, the Israelites, that he will be my servant forever.” (v.12)

However it got even more dangerous: “In those days the Philistines gathered their forces to fight against Israel. Achish said to David, “You must understand that you and your men will accompany me in the army.” David said, “Then you will see for yourself what your servant can do.” Achish replied, “Very well, I will make you my bodyguard for life.” (28:1,2) It gets even worse as the Philistines prepare to attack Israel and as much as David is on the run from Saul we know he did not want to raise a hand against him and so as we move on we find, “The Philistines gathered all their forces at Aphek, and Israel camped by the spring in Jezreel. As the Philistine rulers marched with their units of hundreds and thousands, David and his men were marching at the rear with Achish. The commanders of the Philistines asked, “What about these Hebrews?” (29:1,2) The good news, as we shall see, is that the commanders of the Philistines were naturally unhappy about having David behind them as they go to fight Israel.

Achish argues on David’s behalf (29:3b-5) but has to give way to his commanders and so somewhat apologetically explains it to David  (v.6,7) and David pleads innocence (v.8) and Achish has to press him further to leave which he does (v.9-11). When David gets back to Ziklag (30:1) he finds that Amalakites have plundered the town and taken all their women and children (v.2-4). To cut a long story short David and his men pursue them, overcome them and bring back their families but we should perhaps note David is still seeking the advice and direction of the Lord: Then David said to Abiathar the priest, the son of Ahimelech, “Bring me the ephod.” Abiathar brought it to him, and David inquired of the LORD, “Shall I pursue this raiding party? Will I overtake them?” “Pursue them,” he answered. “You will certainly overtake them and succeed in the rescue.” (v.7,8)

What is also interesting is how when they return David uses the plunder they capture from the Philistines: “When David arrived in Ziklag, he sent some of the plunder to the elders of Judah, who were his friends, saying, “Here is a present for you from the plunder of the LORD’s enemies.” (v.26)

I have headed this study ‘Trials and Tribulations’ because this is a time in David’s life which I am sure he would not have wished for that was trying and difficult. The difficulty was that he was still a warrior and Israel were still his people but he was living with the enemy. However there were other enemies and so he seems to have used his time to deal with them in such a way that it remained a secret and it still appeared to his hosts that he was fighting against Israel. This life of almost two lives nearly brought him to the place where he might have had to fight against Israel but was fortunately saved from that by suspicious Philistine leaders. He then finds that one of his other enemies have come and plundered his home town and has to go and complete the job of dealing with them,  Finally he uses the plunder to bless his friends back at home in Israel.

It is a highly convoluted and unnerving experience. What can we learn about David from all this? Well he never went against his own people and so remained loyal to Israel during this time. In fact he went further and continued to deal with some of their old enemies who had continued to be a thorn in their side. Amazingly therefore, he continues to act as a commander of an Israelite fighting force even while living under the feet of one of Israel’s primary enemies. In it all we see he is still loyal to the Lord and seeks His wisdom. He is also loyal to his friends in Israel.

There are good things in the midst of this confusing time of his life. Let’s just accept it, life is sometimes confusing and not because of wrong things we have done. David is not on the run because he has done wrong things, quite to the contrary in fact. It is, as we’ve noted previously, a fallen world where people ad circumstances seem to pile up against us. Remember in it, the Lord is there with you and calls you to remain loyal to him, however confusing things may appear to be. Hang in there! Confusing circumstances do not mean He no longer loves you; they just mean the enemy is having a little rant for the moment. As we said, hang in there! You might be a king  – a ruler over the circumstances – tomorrow!

5. Confusion

Meditations in Acts : 5 :  Confusion of Prophecy

Acts 1:8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Before I start in here, I think I need to make a statement for clarity sake. I have known the Lord for well over forty years and I’m sure I love Him more today than ever before. Moreover I am blessed by His word and am utterly convinced He is totally faithful and unchanging and His love for me is absolute and unchanging. Now I need to say those things for those who might read what follows and think that I am now doubting the Lord. I am not! I am certain of Him!

But there is something else I have come to see – well two things really, two related things. The first is that so often when we read the Bible, we read it with such little thought and miss so much. The second is that when we read words like we find in verse 8 today, we just don’t realise how confusing they probably were to the disciples. Now I am sure that there are some prophecies that are simple, clear cut and quickly fulfilled, but I’m going to suggest that these are the minority! I have no question about the Lord’s truthfulness when he said through Amos, Surely the Sovereign LORD does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets.” (Amos 3:7). I think understanding the overall plan of God is a lot easier than understanding individual prophecies.

I’ll start justifying what I’ve just said out of personal experience. I have operated in the prophetic role and watched a lot of others operating in it for many years, and as I have watched people receiving prophetic words I am utterly convinced that 99.9999% of them are not fully understood and the things that they will involve are just not thought about. So why does God speak these things if we are so clueless at understanding them? Because He loves us and wants to share His heart with us. Every prophetic word is an expression of His love, even if we don’t fully understand it. If a father or mother says to their little child, I love you and forgive you, that child will only catch a glimmer of the reality of that love which, under certain circumstances would lay down its life for the child. So it is with God, and His ways are so complex that He doesn’t tell us all the details of what He says is going to work out. Why? It’s because we wouldn’t understand what will be entailed in its fulfilment and we wouldn’t understand His grace that would be there to see us along the path to fulfilment – and so we’d worry!

In the Old Testament the story of Joseph and his dreams (Gen 37-) is a classic illustration of this. If you had told Joseph that to become the Prime Minister of Egypt he was going to have to be sold into slavery and then put in prison with little hope of getting out, I don’t think he would have been blessed.

So now we come to Jesus’ words describing the future of the early church. “God’s power is going to come on you.” Wow! We’re going to be great individuals – maybe just like the Judges when the Spirit came on them and empowered them. Wow!

“And you’ll be my witnesses.” OK.

“In Jerusalem.”  Wow, hold on; not so OK! They’ll be out to get us there!

“And in all Judea.” Oh, thank goodness, away from Jerusalem!

“And in Samaria.” Hold on; they’re aliens and we don’t like them; they’re a mixed race people, not real Jews. That’s not so good!

“And to the ends of the earth.” What?

How is that going to happen? Well I’m not going to tell you now but I’m going to allow persecution to come and many of the church are going to flee from Jerusalem and will end up all over the place. Actually if you read the early chapters of Acts – after chapter 2 – it’s not very comfortable. In fact it is downright hostile!  Oh yes, all of this is going to be fulfilled but it’s what he doesn’t tell them that is the tough stuff because this is what it is often like being a believer in this Fallen World.

Now do you see what I mean when I say we don’t know half of it when we get a prophetic word? The Lord seems to delight in telling us ‘end products’ but misses out the means to get there. Oh yes, His grace will always be there for us, but do you remember what we said in the previous meditation?  He’s working to teach us to trust Him even when we don’t understand what is going on, and the truth of it is, that there’s a lot of that! You’re not going to learn to trust until you’ve been through circumstances that necessitate trust!

Supposing Jesus gave us a detailed itinerary for the next month – this is what is going to happen tomorrow, and then this on the next day…. and so on. Not a surprise on the horizon. We’d probably become a bunch of Jonah’s and emigrate as fast as we could! Or once we’d settled to what was coming, we’d be able to say, “It’s OK this is only going to last until Wednesday. I can handle it on my own until then.” But that defeats the object. The Lord is teaching us to stick close to Him and trust Him. If we knew what was coming in detail, we wouldn’t need Him. So just relax; He’s there and He’s there for you and if He’s said what is coming, rejoice in it, but still realise that you are still going to have to turn to Him for His grace along the way. That’s what this is all about! Have fun!

17. Confidence in God

MEDITATIONS IN ISAIAH – No.17

Isa 8:16,17 Bind up the testimony and seal up the law among my disciples. I will wait for the LORD, who is hiding his face from the house of Jacob. I will put my trust in him.

When one observes the changes taking place in the world, and the signs of instability and insecurity that there are, it means that sometimes the world appears very confusing. Add to this the Christian perspective where we wonder what God is doing, and it becomes even more so. It is often a very unsettling and confusing place, this world in the early part of the twenty-first century. It was no different in Isaiah’s day.

Isaiah saw, with God’s revelation, that Assyria was about to come and invade the nation (8:7,8) but he was warned by the Lord not to think in the same way as the godless people of the land thought: The LORD spoke to me with his strong hand upon me, warning me not to follow the way of this people. He said: “Do not call conspiracy everything that these people call conspiracy; do not fear what they fear, and do not dread it.” (8:11,12). Conspiracy meant scheming and plotting, whether from inside the nation or outside it. The gossips of the land, possibly the travellers and merchants who travelled the lands, brought news that there was plotting in the north against the south. It’s all right, says the Lord to Isaiah, you don’t need to worry about the plots of men: The LORD Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, he is the one you are to fear, he is the one you are to dread.” (8:13).

There is within this almost an implication that what is happening in the north is something instigated by the Lord. They will only do what the Lord wants done. He’s the originator of these things, the One to be feared. Because of this, those who are righteous can take comfort in that, “he will be a sanctuary.” (8:14a). If the Lord brings these nations from the north, He will also look after His righteous ones and be a refuge for them, but that isn’t necessarily so for everyone else: “for both houses of Israel he will be a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall. And for the people of Jerusalem he will be a trap and a snare. Many of them will stumble; they will fall and be broken, they will be snared and captured.” (8:14,15) i.e. The Lord will make these unrighteous ones stumble and fall and be broken, snared and captured. What a summary of what will happen!

It is at this point that Isaiah makes his own declaration: “Bind up the testimony and seal up the law among my disciples.” (8:16) i.e. my disciples will hold onto the scrolls that carry both the testimony and the law so that whatever happens to the land, this will be preserved for future generations. The ‘testimony’ refers to what the Lord has done for Israel. It started, as we noted previously, with the Ten Commandments: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” (Ex 20:2) and is found in many other places in the early books of the Bible. It is a record of the Lord’s dealings with His people. Most of Exodus, parts of Numbers and much of Deuteronomy, speak of the Lord’s dealings with His people. This is the testimony. The Law is that found in Exodus in small measure, Leviticus in large measure, some in Numbers and a large amount reiterated in Deuteronomy. All of this, says Isaiah we will hold on to and preserve, whatever happens.

Then comes his own personal testimony or declaration: “I will wait for the LORD, who is hiding his face from the house of Jacob. I will put my trust in him.” (8:17). In other words, the Lord may be hiding Himself from this people so they know little of Him (because of their godlessness and unrighteousness), but I will seek to remain faithful to Him and will simply wait for Him to work out His purposes with this people. I’m going to trust Him. All that I know of Him means I am able to rest in His love and His righteousness, knowing that He will do right.

Do you see what we have here? Isaiah is an insider. He understands what the Lord is doing because he has heard the Lord. He understands the confusing things that appear to be happening between the nations and realises that it is really the Lord at work. Moreover, what he knows of the Lord gives him confidence to be able to just trust in the Lord, to trust that it will all work out for good in the long run.

He goes on: “Here am I, and the children the LORD has given me. We are signs and symbols in Israel from the LORD Almighty, who dwells on Mount Zion.” (8:18) i.e. I and my family point to the Lord and reveal His purposes for the nation today. We are part of the Lord’s great communication process. We stand out and speak to the nation of the Lord’s purposes; we are part of His plan to communicate to this people to seek to draw them back to Himself.

Look, he goes on, “When men tell you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living?” (8:19). This people consult the occult. Whatever are they doing? They are the people of God; they should be consulting God. That is just a sign of their stupidity! Look, he continues, get back to your origins as the people of God, “To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn.” (8:20). Get back to the records of God’s dealing with us in earlier generations; get back to His design rules for us, measure everything according to this and (implied) if it doesn’t measure up, or if it contradicts the records, throw it out! If you don’t do this, he explains, you’ll end up in a mess (8:21,22).

You see what is at the heart of the lessons here: we have the records of God’s dealing with mankind in His word, the Bible. Read it, study it and understand what it’s about. There is no need to live in chaos and confusion, in pain and hurt, worry and anxiety. The Lord has made it plain. All we have to do is read it, and absorb it and we’ll realise that it is true and we can follow it. God HAS given us all we need already, because He loves us. Just pay attention to it, and come to Him and receive His blessing. That’s the lesson here!