28. Confusion

Short Meditations for Easter on the Cross: 28. Confusion

Mt 28:5  The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified.

Today is Good Friday, the worst day in human history as mankind rejected the Son of God and put him to death on a wooden cross. When I was younger I found it a confusing day. It was a day of grief and mourning and yet I knew that in two days that would all be turned to praise and thanksgiving and worship. Forgive the analogy, but my wife used to say, “I don’t want to watch the film ‘Titanic’ because I know the ending – it sinks!” And that is a little bit what it is like, for me at least, with Good Friday. It is a horrible day, a day I would rather forget – and then I know the ending and would much rather focus on that!

So I have jumped forward on this day to the events on next Sunday morning, but what do I find? Still confusion! The two Mary’s have gone to the tomb. Face it, they were confused before they got there. They thought they could waltz into the tomb and embalm him properly, but the tomb had been sealed with a massive stone. They get there and an earthquake (angel) has rolled it away. The angel seeks to reassure them because Jesus isn’t there. They pass on a message – you’re to go to Galilee. They turn to go, and Jesus appears to them, and other records tell us they didn’t recognise him.

The truth of the matter is that all the events of this weekend are utterly confusing. Jesus had plainly told his disciples what was going to happen but when it did they fled in terror and hid behind locked doors. Saturday is a no-go day, nothing happens, they hide in misery. Sunday – he’s alive! But still they struggle to believe.

Now here is my main point and perhaps it hangs over this entire series: we as Christians with our Bibles and thousands of sermons have heard it again and again, but in so doing we lose a sense of the reality of it all; we romanticize it. No, the truth is that this weekend blows your mind away in every direction.

It is God bringing about the salvation of the world. It involves the glorious Son of God putting aside all of his glory, all of his power and all of his authority and submitting himself totally to the evil of mankind and dying on a cross as a common criminal. And then, when we have given up all hope because he is dead, the power of God is manifest in a way beyond our comprehension and Jesus is alive again. But then we start thinking back – water into wine, walking on water, raising the dead?

Why are we surprised, this is God? “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord.” (Isa 55:8).  This is the truth; I am not in the same league as Him. I just need to shut up, bow down, and worship Him. Make this a day of worship.

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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!

52. Clear Minded

Meditations in 1 Peter : 52: Clear Minded

1 Pet 4:7 The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray

Living in the West in the early twenty-first century, one could perhaps be excused for NOT being clear minded, for we are bombarded with information and opinions from every media outlet possible. Youth magazines portray a particular culture and it is a strong young person who dares fly in the face of that culture. Magazines and newspapers all portray a particular view or culture and the unwary will find their mind being shaped by those. TV, films and subsequently videos (not to mention the whole music industry), all convey lifestyles that are godless and often unrighteous. And all of these things impact our minds. The government carefully manages its agenda through the media to persuade the public to their way of thinking (which may or may not be right) and so it is no surprise that many people live in a state of confusion.

And then Peter calls upon Christians to be “clear minded.” The mind is where the battle is waged and the tactic of the enemy is to confuse and sow doubts. No wonder so many young Christians don’t know where to draw a line in the sand and so find themselves still living like occupants of the dominion of darkness rather than citizens of the kingdom of the Son.  The call to be clear minded is to first of all to be clear in your basic beliefs. If we are a Christian, can we state basic beliefs about Jesus, God and our salvation? But it is also a call to have understanding. We aren’t to just accumulate facts of our salvation, we are to understand why things work as they do, why God calls us to a certain path and why is it dangerous to walk a different path. But there is also the matter of the will. Unless we are completely committed to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, we will find ourselves prey to the enemy’s attacks. In all of these ways we are to be clear minded.

But Peter doesn’t leave it there; he also calls us to be “self-controlled.” Self control is about being able to determine your own actions and not get carried away by desires. We are not to be those driven by desires or emotions. Our control starts in our mind but is then worked out as we direct our body to do things or not do things. We shouldn’t make excuses here, for the New Testament is quite clear: When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.” (Jas1:13,14). If we allow our minds to feed on wrong thoughts, it is no wonder that Satan can help them to come to fruition by us succumbing to wrong desires. If we read novels involving sex or we watch films with plenty of sex in, no wonder our minds will dwell on sex and when a sexual temptation comes along we are then all the more vulnerable to it. Watch you mind, watch what you see and read, watch what you think and feel otherwise you are vulnerable to a fall which may result in your destruction!

Now at the end of this verse Peter provides a motivation to do these things: “The end of all things is near.” Now this was the often felt belief in the early church that the kingdom of God would come and God would wind up this earth soon.  Well, two thousand years later He still hasn’t, but it is still a good warning, because we just don’t know when He will do it!  Whether He will wait for another two thousand years, or whatever, the truth is that God is going to one day wind up all things, but more than that we all live with a limited life span and one of these days we ARE going to have to stand before Him and account for the lives we have lived.  If Jesus is our Lord and Saviour we need not fear that time, but if he is not, then there is genuinely something to be feared if not dreaded! There WILL come a time of accounting is what Peter is warning us, to help us check our thinking and our behaviour in God’s sight.

But that is about the future and at the end of the verse Peter gives us another motivation or encouragement: “so that you can pray.” i.e. the way we think and the way we behave dictates our ability to pray and talk to God. Now prayer is the most wonderful privilege we have, this access to God, but if we are confused in our thinking or if our behaviour is more appropriate to the dominion of darkness, then it is obvious that we will neither feel like praying, nor be able to pray, and that means we are in isolation from God, feeling alone and vulnerable.

These are very simple but very practical exhortations that Peter gives us. They should be easy to understand and easy to put into practice. May that be so!

Walk of Confusion

WALKING WITH GOD. No.20

1 Sam 20:1 Then David fled from Naioth at Ramah and went to Jonathan and asked, “What have I done? What is my crime? How have I wronged your father, that he is trying to take my life?”

There are times in the Christian life when preachers and others give the impression that once you come to Christ, everything will be smooth and fine and you’ll never have a problem again. If only it were! However, as we’ve commented before in these meditations, we live in Fallen World where sin predominates and therefore people are sometimes nasty (understatement!). More than that, there is a spiritual dimension to life that involves not only us and God, but angels and demons as well. Let’s now look at what was happening in David’s life to make him respond like he does in our verse above.

Saul has been given up by God because of his constant disobedience. Samuel has anointed David to be king but Saul is still there as king. After David had killed Goliath, Saul took him into his army (18:2) but so successful was he that Saul became jealous of him (18:6-8). Now clearly in what followed God was working – albeit strangely – in this situation, partly to discipline Saul and partly to eventually separate David off from him so that he could go his own way. The Lord did this by allowing an evil spirit access to Saul (when unbelievers reject God purposefully, they open themselves up to the enemy). The result of this was that Saul tried to kill David (18:10,11, 19:1,9-11). When this had happened a number of times, David went to Jonathan, Saul’s son who had become good friends with David, and complained as we see in the verse above.

Now the Scriptures clearly show us that God often works in the background to mould and change his servants, as we saw in Joseph’s life, and He does this by allowing them to go through trying circumstances where they will learn more and more to rely upon Him. Now that is easy to say in hindsight after reading the Scriptures, but often these things come into our lives without warning and they cause confusion in us. I thought God was with us? How can this be happening?

That was exactly what Gideon said when an angel came and said the Lord was with him: “But sir,” Gideon replied, “if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our fathers told us about when they said, `Did not the LORD bring us up out of Egypt ?’ But now the LORD has abandoned us and put us into the hand of Midian.” (Jud 6:13). It was confusing for Gideon, it was confusing for David and it’s sometimes confusing for us. The answer to the primes question that comes, “I though God was with us?” is, He is! This is all happening because He is! It is Him at work. For Gideon, it was the Lord judging Israel through the Midianites but wanting Gideon to deal with them. For David, it is God judging Saul but wanting David to be separated off to raise up his own men in preparation for becoming king in actuality.

But in the situation it is confusing! David’s walk to find Jonathan, is a walk of confusion, and quite often the Christian life can be that. The solution is obviously to seek the Lord and find out from Him what is going on, but of course, the silly side of us is often slow to do that!

David still had some things to learn, as do we. He asks, How have I wronged your father? That’s the wrong question. As David matured, in his psalms he is able to declare his righteousness; he came to be secure in who he was in God, even though he still had down times and wondered. The reality is that he hasn’t done anything wrong in respect of Saul; the problem is all Saul’s! The question he needs to be asking, and would get an obvious answer, is, what is happening to your father? Saul is acting irrationally. He’s fallen off the rails! Why? Because he disobeyed God, was publicly rejected by Samuel and is now vulnerable to demonic attack, that’s why. None of that is to do with David, none of it is his fault.

When things are sometimes going wrong, even though we seem to be on the bad end of the circumstances, we need to realize that sometimes it is because other people are not in a good place with God, and they are under enemy attack and they are not handling it well. The result is that we get dumped on with nasty stuff! It’s at that point that confusion sets in and our walk with God becomes a walk of confusion. Don’t worry, it won’t last long; you’ll be shown what is happening. You’ll still need God’s grace to cope, but at least you’ll understand what is going on.

If there has been a blow-up in your life, and you feel confused about the outcome, check out first that you didn’t contribute to it and that it’s not your fault. If it was, go and say sorry, but if it wasn’t just ask the Lord to give you understanding of what is going on in the lives of those who are causing the upset. It may just be that He wants you to be a peacemaker in their lives

1. Confusion

Lk 24:9-11   When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.
   
The subject of the resurrection of Jesus Christ has always caused controversy. It always will, because it makes a claim that no other religious leader has ever had made about him – that he died and then within three days, rose again from the dead. It is, of course, humanly impossible!  And that is what becomes such a stumbling block for so many. It can’t be! Such things don’t happen.
    
Non-Christian theologians of the nineteenth century caused havoc to unwitting believers by using their academic authority to say, “It can’t be!” and a whole school of liberal theology grew up and undermined the beliefs of many in the next century. It wasn’t until other theologians challenged this and basically said, “Hold on, you’re prejudging the situation. You start by saying it can’t be and so in your minds of course it can’t be. But that’s an unscientific approach. You need to look at the evidence with an open mind and ask, what does the evidence indicate?”
   
I think it was Sherlock Holmes who used to say (I may be wrong!) that when you have done away with all the alternatives, what you have left, as unlikely as it may seem, is likely to be the truth. In 1930 a solicitor by the name of Frank Morison set out, with similar thoughts as the liberal theologians of his day, to investigate the truth of the apparent last seven days of Christ’s life. He certainly had a high regard for Christ himself but in his own words he wanted to take the story and “strip it of its overgrowth of primitive beliefs and dogmatic suppositions.” He ended up writing the now-famous book, “Who Moved the Stone?,” a thorough and incredibly detailed investigation of the death and apparent resurrection of Jesus Christ, in which he becomes utterly convinced of its truth and veracity. In the closing words of the book, “there certainly is a deep and profoundly historical basis for that much disputed sentence in the Apostles Creed – The third day he rose again from the dead.”  In his care of investigation he echoes the Gospel writer, Luke, who recorded our verse today, who wrote at the beginning of his Gospel, “since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account,” (Lk 1:3).
   
In the Gospel accounts there is complete confusion over what has happened to the body of Christ which has disappeared from the tomb. Matthew’s Gospel records, “While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, “You are to say, `His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.” (Mt 28:11-15) That was a sad attempt to cover up and bring a plausible explanation to the confused events of that time, because if the disciples had taken the body the word would have crept out. More than that, if the disciples had known that they had the body and that Jesus was still dead, the rest of their lives would be living a lie as they proclaimed the resurrection again and again, with ten of the remaining eleven (Judas having died already) giving their lives for this belief and dying as martyrs.
  
Wonders of modern technology have meant that it is easy today to take, off a CD or off the Internet, the Gospels that previously had been limited to hard-copy paper. It is relatively easy, therefore, to line up the accounts next to each other and compare them. It is a fascinating exercise to merge them to produce a full picture of what happened. I’ve done it – but it isn’t an easy exercise because there do appear confusions that come from the differing accounts. If anything, it is this confusion that I find adds credibility to the accounts of the resurrection. We have acknowledged that humanly speaking it is the most difficult of stories to accept.
   
However if this was a made up myth then I would expect the writers to coordinate their writings so that there is perfect harmony and an easily understood account. It certainly isn’t that, and it is the confusion of the accounts (which we will examine) that brings authenticity to the story. If there were a series of massive explosions in, say London, Singapore or New York, the initial witness accounts would seem to be all over the place. There would be agreement over the key facts, certainly, but the differing viewpoints would throw up a multitude of questions. That’s just how it is with such an event, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ, as certain and sure as we are about it, is one such confusing event.
   
Its biggest confusion, as we have already suggested is that humanly speaking, it is the record of something that seems impossible. However if we are going to exhibit integrity and use a scientific approach to it, we need to examine the evidence, which will lead us on to the next meditation. The challenge for each of us becomes, therefore, am I willing to exhibit an open and honest mind, and carefully examine the evidence to arrive at a conclusion that might conflict with all my previously (possibly unfounded) presuppositions? This is where integrity comes in. This is where each of our hearts are revealed.  This is going to be a mind and spirit exercise. It will be a mind exercise because we will examine the evidence, consider its veracity, and draw logical conclusions. It will be a spirit exercise because it impinges on the very deepest innermost feelings and experiences that I can possibly have, and in that sense it might be scary, but it is certainly exciting.