24. Consequences

Meditations in the life of Abraham : 24. Consequences

Gen 14:11,12    The four kings seized all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah and all their food; then they went away. They also carried off Abram’s nephew Lot and his possessions, since he was living in Sodom. 

Sometimes things happen, bad things, and we think they are just chance, but often there are causes of which we were part, and the bad things are consequences that flow from our original actions – but we prefer not to link them to our original behaviour! In the first verses of chapter 14 we find tribal warfare. There has been an oppressive king and there had been a rebellion against him (v.4).  The rebellion comprised five kings (v.2) who eventually fought against the oppressor and those other 3 kings allied to him (v.1). A year after the initial rebellion, this oppressor and those allied to him, swept the country to subdue it (v.5-7) and came against these five kings (v.8-10) and eventually took Sodom and Gomorrah (v.11). Of course in Sodom now resided Lot and he was carried away by these four kings (v.12). If Lot had remained a simple sheepherder and rancher, living out in the country, they would probably have taken no notice of him, but as they were carrying away the inhabitants of Sodom, he is taken away.

When this happened, the word got back to Abram: One who had escaped came and reported this to Abram the Hebrew,” (v.13) who is still living near the great trees of Mamre.  Abram feels obliged to step in on behalf of his nephew and so we find, “When Abram heard that his relative had been taken captive, he called out the 318 trained men born in his household and went in pursuit as far as Dan.” (v.14)  We thus see the size of Abram’s household, and how it had grown. He has enough men to muster a small army, to go after Lot and rescue him. Fortunately the outcome is good: “He recovered all the goods and brought back his relative Lot and his possessions, together with the women and the other people.” (v.16)  All’s well that ends well.

But did it have to be like that? Well you might, trying to be generous, say that Lot didn’t know there were going to be tribal wars and so it was just bad luck that he got caught up in it. Was it God’s will that Abram had to show his muscle to rescue his nephew?  Was there a better way that avoided all that upset? The answer, surely, has got to be, yes. I mean Abram hadn’t been caught up in the tribal squabbles where he was and if Lot had chosen virtually anywhere else in the land he would have been safe. We have to reiterate what we said when the division of the families took place: if Lot had asked the counsel of his uncle this might not have happened. After all,Sodom did have a bad reputation and in such places things do go wrong. If is probably too much to expect at this stage that either of them would have listened to the Lord or sought Him for His wisdom.

But do we have any excuses? When times of change come and we are forced to make decisions, as children of God, is turning to Him and asking for His wisdom honestly the first thing we do?  Perhaps some of us don’t ask because we don’t believe God speaks. That denies the evidence of the whole Bible and He is still the same God!  No, the promise is there in James, If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” (Jas 1:5)  Wisdom is the knowledge of what to do, and it IS that simple.  I have lost count of the number of times I have asked the Lord for wisdom and then suddenly ideas have flowed which showed the way – and they worked. You may not hear a loud voice, but pray and listen to your thoughts, because that is probably where you’ll hear Him.

Failure to do this means we struggle on with our own wisdom which often is not wisdom at all, and so we end up doing things which have unhappy consequences. We do need to realise that what we do, and how we live, has consequences. If you are unhappy about any aspect of your life, that it doesn’t measure up to what Christ wants for you, that it actually may fit the description of ‘unrighteous’, then realise that living like that has consequences and they are not the good consequences that God wants for you. God doesn’t want you caught up in petty tribal squabbles; He wants you to be a peacemaker, one who lives in the community bringing peace and harmony wherever you are. He doesn’t want you to be a contributor to the disharmony that so often pervades society and families today.

So, to conclude, there are two simple principles that stand out in the story of Lot so far. First our actions bring consequences. Second, we would learn to be wise in asking God for wisdom! He delights in guiding His children and if we heeded His guidance, we might avoid some of the pitfalls we tumble into.

32. Blessing or Curse

Meditations in Deuteronomy : 32 :  Blessing or Curse

(Focus: Deut 11:26-32)

Deut 11:26-28 See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse– the blessing if you obey the commands of the LORD your God that I am giving you today; the curse if you disobey the commands of the LORD your God and turn from the way that I command you today by following other gods, which you have not known

Actions ALWAYS have consequences. That isn’t a spiritual law as such; it is just how life works. I eat too much food and I get fat. It can be applied to every facet of life: what we do has consequences. When it comes to the Lord though, it takes on a new dimension.  Some people think God is a distant God who just leaves this world to get on by itself. Not so!   The apostle wrote those familiar words, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” (Gal 6:7,8) There is the fundamental spiritual principle: you reap what you sow! What Paul’s verse doesn’t tell us is whether God will take action or it will just be a ‘natural’ consequence.

We say this in the light of a new subject that Moses is introducing to Israel. The detail of this will not come until chapter 28 but it seems fairly obvious from a glance at that chapter that what we are now talking about is a promise of intervention by God to match the circumstances. It is very simple; there are two possibilities: “See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse.” (v.26)  Hullo, Israel might have thought, pricking up their ears, what is this? So he continues: “the blessing if you obey the commands of the LORD your God that I am giving you today; the curse if you disobey the commands of the LORD your God.” (v.27,28a)  There it is in its simplest form.

Even if we didn’t know what it entailed in detail, it is fairly obvious: a blessing sounds good and a curse sounds bad! The good follows obedience and the bad follows disobedience. The disobedience is likely to have another dimension to it: “and turn from the way that I command you today by following other gods, which you have not known.” (v.28b). If they turn away from God’s commands it is almost certainly because they are turning to the superstitious worship of their neighbours.  If they do that God is going to act against them.

Silly and thoughtless crusading atheists and their followers of the twenty first century talk about a harsh God who acts spitefully against Israel, but nothing could be further from the truth. Whenever God acts through a curse, i.e. a decree of bad, it is part of His process to draw Israel back into a place where they can live in the good of all that He intends for the earth. It is only sin that stops us receiving this. Read the book of Judges and you see this happening again and again. In fact more often than not it is simply God stepping back from Israel when they turn from Him, and that leaves them vulnerable to the sinful desires and acts of their pagan neighbours who then come and attack them.

For the moment though, Moses is simply setting up what is to happen when they enter the Promised Land: “When the LORD your God has brought you into the land you are entering to possess….” (v.29a) Yes, this is not for now but for once they are in the Land.  Once you are there, “you are to proclaim on Mount Gerizim the blessings, and on Mount Ebal the curses.” (v.29b) He clarifies where this is: “As you know, these mountains are across the Jordan, west of the road, toward the setting sun, near the great trees of Moreh, in the territory of those Canaanites living in the Arabah in the vicinity of Gilgal.” (v.30) Within the land there are these two ‘mountains’ that are quite close to each other and so one party will go up one and another party go up the other and the one group will declare loudly the blessings and the other party, on the other mountain top, the curses. They are sufficiently close and creating echoes so that everyone will hear. It is also like they are declaring these things over the whole land. They are declaring God’s future conditional decrees over the whole land.

Yes, do note that in passing: they are decrees by God to bring either good or bad, and they are conditional on the behaviour of Israel. Be a godly people following all of God’s guidance and your inheritance is guaranteed good!  That is a principle that is true for every person on earth. But the opposite is also true: be a self-centred and godless individual and your inheritance is guaranteed bad. The trouble is that so many people get so used to living with the bad, that they don’t even realise that it is bad or that there is a possible alternative! That is the folly of Sin!

So Moses had added yet a further command to all else that they have received and so that requires a further encouragement to be obedient: “You are about to cross the Jordan to enter and take possession of the land the LORD your God is giving you. When you have taken it over and are living there, be sure that you obey all the decrees and laws I am setting before you today.” (v.31,32) Every time there is a further instruction, there is a further encouragement to obey brought with it. Every instruction is to be seen in the context of going into and inheriting the Land. For us today, every instruction that we may find in the New Testament (and there are many) is seen in the light of all the good that God wants to bring us as the outworking of the work of Christ on the Cross.  Let’s not let Sin rob us of it!

 

57. Church Judged

Meditations in 1 Peter : 57: The Church Judged

1 Pet 4:17-19 For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And, “If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”  So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good

Talk about judgment coming on the church might send us into a nervous breakdown! Surely we say, Jesus has died to deal with all our sins and so there is no condemnation, no guilt and no punishment. Well, absolutely right in eternal terms but Scripture is clear that Christians still have to live with the consequences of what they do or don’t do. Paul’s declaration that A man reaps what he sows,” applies to us as much as to the world. We should be sowing righteousness and reaping its rewards.

If we are foolish and doing silly or wrong things, we will reap the same things as the world. A good example would be a young Christian who gets swept up with the mentality of the world and so has sex with a number of partners, as is common behaviour in the world. That Christian should not then be upset when they catch a sexually transmitted disease. Similarly a person who does not allow the Lord to deal with their unrestrained anger should not be surprised when that anger breaks loose and ends up with them in a fight and in police cells. The same is true of the Christian who is unrestrained in their drinking habits and likewise ends up in police cells. These are all simple and obvious examples of silly Christians who have not realised that Jesus will not cover up their ongoing sin, but will in fact, deal with it.

‘Judgment’ is simply an act of God to remedy a bad situation. At the extreme end (in our view at least) it may involve death. At the other end of the spectrum it may simply involve corrective discipline that makes the sinner face up to their foolish behaviour and then change it.  In the New Testament, the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira would fit the description of judgment. Did they lose their eternal destiny? There is no indication of that; simply that they were taken home prematurely. The apostle Paul had to chide the church in Corinth for their behaviour at communion and concluded, “For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep,” (1 Cor 11:29,30) which was a gentle way of saying that some of them had died because of their behaviour! He was saying, you have brought God’s corrective action on yourselves!

So now we come to Peter speaking prophetically about what is about to happen in the church: it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God.” Things are about to happen which are at the instigation of God to bring about a fresh sense of righteousness and holiness in the church. God is coming to do a cleaning up in the church! (And that is nothing to do with dusting the pews!) The Lord is about to draw a marker in the sand and say, there are standards to be adhered to if you call yourself a Christian! Live accordingly! Some commentators point out that the preposition is actually ‘from’ not ‘with’. i.e. judgment starts from, but I can see no difference in the outcome. The Lord brings correction and works outwards from the Church.

A little later, he confirms this viewpoint with the words,And, If it is hard for the righteous to be saved,” which seems a quote from the Greek Old Testament, “If the righteous receive their due on earth, how much more the ungodly and the sinner!” (Prov 11;31) but it is still a warning about what is about to start with the Church. Yes, it is also a warning to the world for, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And …. what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” If God is going to discipline and make an example of His Church, what will He do to unrepentant unbelievers? World, you need to think about this!

But then he brings it back to the subject of suffering through persecution: “So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.” It would seem that the discipline to bring cleansing and purification is, in fact, going to come in the form of persecution. One has to admit, observing the church around the world, that those countries where persecution of Christians prevails seem to have a healthier church. It is a sad thing if the church can only be holy, righteous and pure when persecution and opposition are experienced, but that so often seems to be the case.

Does God bring the persecution? No, He simply steps back and allows the sinfulness of mankind and the work of Satan, to prevail unrestrained. He uses that persecution to purify the church; that much is obvious. How much better it would be if we had the sense to put the house in order ourselves, without having to be pressurized into it by the Lord’s corrective processes.

 

4. Failure to Enter

Meditations in Deuteronomy : 4 :  Failure to Enter

(Focus: Deut 1:19-46)

Deut 1:19-21 Then, as the LORD our God commanded us, we set out from Horeb and went toward the hill country of the Amorites through all that vast and dreadful desert that you have seen, and so we reached Kadesh Barnea. Then I said to you, “You have reached the hill country of the Amorites, which the LORD our God is giving us. See, the LORD your God has given you the land. Go up and take possession of it as the LORD, the God of your fathers, told you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”

The next ‘historical reminder’ we find Moses bringing to Israel, as they wait in the area to the east of the Jordan getting ready to enter the Promised Land, is in respect of their spectacular failure to enter the land forty years ago. Now you might think that Moses was trying to build their faith in preparation for entering the Land  and so it would be prudent to forget this particular episode, but instead, I suggest, Moses uses it as a blunt reminder to Israel of the consequences of not obeying the Lord.

In the chapters of this book we are going to find countless exhortations to obey the Lord.  As far as Moses is concerned, obedience is the all-important issue for the life and very existence of Israel in the years to come. We cannot emphasise that enough, for it is something that many today almost think is an optional thing.  No, in the kingdom of God obedience to God is always the all-important thing!  The other side of this particular coin, is a recognition of the consequences of disobedience – hence this passage running from verse 19 to the end of chapter 1 is vitally important. We may prefer to forget our past failures, but the Lord allows us to remember them simply as a means of helping us avoid them in the future.

The story may be summarised as follows: after travelling from Sinai, Israel reached the southern borders of the Land at Kadesh Barnea, and so Moses had instructed them to go in and take the Land. Putting together this account and that found in Numbers 13 it would appear that the people suggested sending in spies, Moses took it to the Lord, and He confirmed it as a course of action. The spies went in and when they returned came back with a mixed report: “Taking with them some of the fruit of the land, they brought it down to us and reported, “It is a good land that the LORD our God is giving us.” (v.25) That was the good news, but the bad news was that some of them reported, “The people are stronger and taller than we are; the cities are large, with walls up to the sky. We even saw the Anakites there.” (v.28)

This caused much doubt among the listeners and so Moses had sought to encourage them: “Then I said to you, “Do not be terrified; do not be afraid of them. The LORD your God, who is going before you, will fight for you, as he did for you in Egypt, before your very eyes, and in the desert. There you saw how the LORD your God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place.” (v.29-31) but it was to no avail: “In spite of this, you did not trust in the LORD your God, who went ahead of you on your journey, in fire by night and in a cloud by day, to search out places for you to camp and to show you the way you should go.” (v.32,33)

As a consequence of this the Lord swore, “Not a man of this evil generation shall see the good land I swore to give your forefathers, except Caleb son of Jephunneh. He will see it, and I will give him and his descendants the land he set his feet on, because he followed the LORD wholeheartedly.” (v.35,36)  Because of that Israel felt the better course was to go into the land. Note; they did not repent – that is clear by the language: Then you replied, “We have sinned against the LORD. We will go up and fight, as the LORD our God commanded us.” So every one of you put on his weapons, thinking it easy to go up into the hill country.” (v.41)

The Lord saw that this was a self-centred response and warned them against doing it but when they continued they were severely beaten by the inhabitants of the land. The result was that they had wandered in the desert for forty years!

Now within this story are some very obvious lessons. First, as stated before, when God instructs, we are to obey. Maturity means we realise that whatever God instructs is for our good. We don’t need to question it; we can trust Him. Second, when we disobey – and realise our folly – we should not turn back and do what it was for our own benefit. That is self-centred and godless. Instead we should genuinely repent, confess our sin and declare our sorrow and our willingness to do God’s will – because it is HIS will!  Third, we need to realise that whatever the Lord calls us to do necessitates involving Him in it. Without Him we cannot do it. Jesus said to his disciples, “apart from me you can do nothing.” (Jn 15:5)

These are key lessons for the Christian life as well as for the life of Israel over three thousand years ago. We should learn from their mistakes. Moses recounted that episode so that they would learn – but they so easily forgot it. May we not do the same!

45. Sins Sorted

Meditations in 1 Peter : 45: Sins Sorted

1 Pet 3:18 For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.

There are a limited number of verses in the New Testament that stand out as encapsulating the Gospel. Obviously John 3:16 is probably the best known one: For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Next to that, our verse above should perhaps be a close contender. There are three parts to this verse and each part heralds an amazing truth which, put together, comprises what we call the Gospel.

It’s starting point is outstanding but tragically we perhaps take so much of what it says for granted because maybe these truths are too familiar to us. It speaks about Christ, the Messiah, the Sent One and Anointed One, the one sent with a task from God, the Son of God who left heaven and came and lived in a human body called Jesus. This Christ came and died. But everybody dies! Yes, but this person died on purpose for a purpose. His death, it is claimed, had an eternal significance; it wasn’t an accident but a carefully planned and orchestrated strategy of God. This death had to do with dealing with sins!

How we take sins for granted!  Sin has so permeated the world that we take it for granted, just like the air we breathe, and so we take sins for granted. It is sins that create the interest in TV ‘soaps’ or mystery dramas. Without sins we wouldn’t have these things. Without sins families would be happy and content and faithful, businesses would be honest and integrity the name of the game, and life would be free from threat and fear and untruth.

And what we don’t see so often is that sin always has its consequences. That, at least, is seen graphically in the TV soaps. We also fail to remember that every sin will be answerable to God and punishment awarded. If we punish criminals in courts, why should we think that the mass of sins that we accumulate throughout our lives – all the things we thought wrong, said wrong or did wrong, things we shouldn’t have done and things we should have done but didn’t – all these thing incur a penalty or punishment, but we try to forget that.

But then this verse tells us that Christ died for sins which is another way of saying, he was and is the eternal Son of God who could die in the place of each one of us, and take the punishment for any and every sin we will commit in our lives while on this planet. His death was the absolute punishment that would cover every sin. It happened once in time-space history some two thousand years ago. It doesn’t need to happen again and we can’t add anything to what he achieved.  THAT, heaven declares, is the truth, and all we are called to do is believe it.

But then there is the second phrase, “the righteous for the unrighteous.” Just in case you hadn’t taken in the wonder of what Christ did as I just explained, we are reminded that he was righteous and we are unrighteous. Note the two things. Jesus was the only man in history who did not sin: “just as we are–yet was without sin.” (Heb 4:15). He was exactly as the Old Testament offerings required – a sacrifice without blemish. He was righteous in a negative way in that he never sinned but he was also righteous in a positive way in that he did exactly what was required of God’s will. He was an obedient Son fulfilling the Father’s will, fulfilling the plan formulated before the foundation of the world.

But we are unrighteous. Sometimes, on a good day when the sun is shining and everything seems to be going well, we think we just might be righteous, but we kid ourselves. Lurking there, just waiting for the opportunity to express itself is this thing called Sin, that tendency to be self-centred, godless and unrighteous. Wrong thoughts predominate, wrong words so easily come to our lips, and wrong actions so quickly follow. Every time we criticise, gossip or judge, we have fallen into the murky depths. We are unrighteous, but then The Righteous One comes and declares us righteous in God’s sight when we surrendered to him, sought his forgiveness and his sovereign leading. Suddenly, but only then, he declares us righteous – at least in God’s sight. (We have yet to work it out in our practical lives).

Which brings us to the last phrase: “to bring you to God.” Again, because it is so familiar we take it for granted, this sense that we are alone in the universe and if there is a God He is a million miles away.  Indeed deep down we are glad of that because deep down we know we are guilty and we fear the thought that we will be answerable to God. We were separated from God by our sins and our guilt and something had to happen – something beyond us, because we were incapable of changing – and it was Christ coming to die in our place as an expression of the Father’s love. There came a time when the Holy Spirit convicted us of the truth about our lives and like a drowning man or woman we grasped for the wonder of what was being presented to us – there IS a way for you to be forgiven, there is a way for you to be reconciled to God. Jesus has done it on the Cross and now all it requires is for you to believe it. THAT is the Gospel! Isn’t it wonderful!

Just should you be reading these things for the first time and it is the first time you’ve heard these things, it can’t remain just passive knowledge. It is true and it requires a response from you, a response that acknowledges your Sin and your sins and your need of God’s help, a response that declares belief in all that Jesus has done for us on the Cross, a submission to him and a request for forgiveness, acceptance and help from God Himself on the basis of these truths. May it be so!