Snapshots: Day 11

Snapshots: Day 11

The Snapshot: “Did God really say…”  Behind even just one boundary, one limitation, there lurks temptation, temptation to reject, temptation to ignore, temptation that says, “Perhaps He didn’t mean it, perhaps my way is best.” Temptation is there behind the many hidden boundaries that wise usage means are there. Temptation had to be faced and overcome or given way to, and whichever way, lessons learned. And thus God stood back while a tempter came, the test faced, and the Fall experienced, and life would never be the same again. Yet failure never ends there with God for He foresees and plans accordingly and never gives up on us. A Beginning. Do I need to ask His forgiveness for where I gave way and ignored His boundaries?

Further Consideration: Temptation, a dictionary says, is the offer or wish to do or have something that you know you should not do or have, something that is wrong.  The sting of that sentence is in the last few words – something that is wrong, for the whole thing about temptation is that we are provoked to think (either by our own wrong thinking or by someone else suggesting it to us) that either a) the thing isn’t actually ‘wrong’ or b) even if it is, it doesn’t matter, I can get away with it without harm following.

That was exactly what we find in Genesis 3 when the tempter questions Eve as to whether eating the fruit was really wrong. Is that what God said, is that what He meant? And then that followed by, “You will not certainly die.” i.e. it will be all right, what He said won’t happen, and then a reason is given why it is good to ignore what God said. Isn’t that exactly how it is today? It’s OK to have a few drinks, it’s OK to try a few drugs, it’s OK to sleep around, it’s all right for you to do what feel good for the moment, it’s OK to ignore what were once Christian inhibitions, limitations, restrictions. It will be all right.  Deception!

Deception, a dictionary says, is ‘hiding the truth, causing someone to accept as true or valid what is false or invalid’. That is what the enemy seeks to do to spoil our relationship with God and make us think we don’t need all the good God promises us if we turn to Him. The biggest lie is, “You are all right on your own. You don’t need God.”

The most amazing thing about all this, is that even when we do give way to temptation and we fall, that is not the end of it. When we come to our senses and tell God we are truly sorry He doesn’t even blink, but instantly forgives us and welcomes us back with open arms. he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” (Lk 15:20) How wonderful! But hold on, He also wants us to learn from our failure so we won’t do it again. It’s not just the one-off, it’s the habit, the attitude. Don’t tolerate them. The temptation is to shrug it off

7. Beware Deception

Meditations in Colossians 2: 7:  Beware Deception

Col 2:4   I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments

In two previous meditations we have commented upon the struggle that Paul and other Christian leaders would have had against heresies in the first century. It is well to be aware of these although Paul never refers to them directly.

One of the primary heresies that arose in a variety of forms was that of Gnosticism. For the Gnostics, salvation came through gnosis, knowledge – a mystic knowledge revealed by the God of the New Testament (the good God, as against a bad God of the Old Testament) to the teacher of the sect. This is why Paul and other New Testament writers so often emphasise knowledge coming through Jesus, e.g. “we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God,” (1:9,10) and “the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge,” (2:2,3) and “since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.” (3:9,10)

When Paul starts this verse, “I tell you this,” the ‘this’ refers to the struggle he is involved in (2:1) to bring full understanding to the church of Christ who is the expression of God’s knowledge and wisdom in operation. (2:2) It isn’t some vague mystic knowledge that only comes through mystical experiences but it is publicly displayed for all to see – the plan of redemption through the Son of God, formulated from before the foundation of the world.

His warning is against those who “may deceive you“. Deception is one of the main weapons in the enemy’s armory. We see deception in the earliest pages of the Bible when the serpent deceived Eve and, yes, it was “by find sounding arguments”. Remember – “Did God really say, `You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” (Gen 3:1) and “You will not surely die, for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Gen 3:4) Arguments that involved lies (you will not surely die) but sounded so right with partial truths (you will know good and evil).

A few verses on Paul says, “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.” (Col 2:8). We’ll look at that more fully when we get to it, but the warning is again there to beware deception. As we noted in an earlier meditation, teaching in the church is essential to have right understanding and to counter the errors which come up again and again throughout history, the same old ones again and again. There is no such thing as a new heresy; it will always be found in the past.

Jesus himself brought the same warning: “Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, `I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many,” (Mt 24:4,5) and, “false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect–if that were possible.” (Mt 24:24)

Paul wrote to the Romans, I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people.” (Rom 16:17,18) To the Ephesians he wrote, “For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person–such a man is an idolater–has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient.” (Eph 5:5,6)

See the means of deception in these verses:  hollow and deceptive philosophy – that which does not have its origin with God; claiming to be Christ – you’ll know him when he comes in the clouds (Rev 19); signs and wonders – not everything comes from the Holy Spirit; smooth talk and flattery – appealing to your pride; empty words – words that appear to convince but fall under scrutiny. In a whole variety of way we can be led astray, led away from the truth into error and once in error, into unrighteousness. The counter to all these things is twofold: first to hold firmly to the word, to read it and study it in God’s presence to come to the understanding that Paul talks about in this letter; second, to maintain a real relationship with the Lord through the Holy Spirit where we know His grace and His peace. When something lacks the grace of God, question it. When your peace goes, check with the Lord why.

We are in a battle as Paul told the Ephesians: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place.” (Eph 6:10-14)  The battle is to hold the ground of truth, the truth, the truth of the Gospel of grace. The enemy will use the strategies of fear and doubt, of temptation and of deception. Our role is simply to resist by being wide awake to the possibilities, and equipped with the word and the Spirit. May we stand strong in Him at all times, resisting anything that would seduce us away from Him and from what we know to be right.

34. Avoid Deception

Meditations in 1 John : 34 : Avoid Deception

1 John  3:7,8   Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. He who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning.

Again, here’s another ‘wave’ coming in yet again. There was a brief mention of deception right back at the beginning: “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” (1:8) but the main reference prior to our present verses was, “I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray.” (2:26) and now he turns the warning into a command: “do not let anyone lead you astray”

Now those are the main verses that are obviously about deception but actually so much of what John has been saying is about this subject. A person is ‘deceived’ when they have been led to believe something that is untruth. A con man may deceive you that he was a good, honest person with your best interests at heart, when in reality he was out to fleece you of your money. Satan deceived Eve by getting her to believe that everything would be all right if she sinned. He first challenged what God had said: “He said to the woman, “Did God really say, `You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” (Gen 3:1) and then he got her to believe it would be all right if she disregarded God: “You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman.” (Gen 3:4). By his persuasive talk he deceived here into thinking that disregarding God’s commands (sin) was all right – but it wasn’t!

Twice above, we have seen John speak about those who might “lead you astray” meaning those who try to get you to veer away from living according to God’s commands and do your own thing. That is what ‘deception’ is all about and the moment we see it in these terms – veering away from living according to God’s commands – we suddenly realise that this is what John has been on about throughout this letter.

Right back at the beginning: “If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth,” (1:6) there it was!  If we say one thing but do another, we have been deceived – and we’re trying to deceive others!  He repeated it a bit later: “The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” (2:4) There it is again – someone saying one thing but doing something that runs contrary to what you would expect from that thing. Deception!   He follows it up in a different form: “Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness.” (2:9)  Exactly the same: saying one thing but doing what is contrary to what you said.

After some more teaching, he varies it slightly: “No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.” (3:6) It’s more by implication here. Living in Christ and sin don’t go together so if you say you are in Christ (implied) but carry on sinning, you are deceiving yourself.

This is John’s message that comes again and again into that period in which he lived when some people said they were Christians but clearly lived lives that were not. John has recently been reminding us that if we are ‘in Christ’ then we will be like him, e.g. “Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.” (3:3). So now he says, “He who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.” (3:7). We have already noted a number of times that to be “in Christ” means that with his Holy Spirit living within us, we will start to be like him; it is a process that starts when we are born again and continues throughout our life, with the Spirit working within us. The person who now lives according to God’s commands and is led by God’s Spirit – “who does what is right” – is clearly a righteous person, a person ‘in Christ’.  We can only claim to be righteous if God has made us so.

Yet again he makes a contrast to drive home the point “He who does what is sinful is of the devil” and he explains why that is so:  “because the devil has been sinning from the beginning.” It is just the same as the other side of the coin when he said those in Christ will live righteously. Now he’s pointing out that the (ongoing) sinner is like he is because he/she follows Satan and Satan has been a Sinner from the beginning when he rebelled against God.

If you like, John’s teaching is learning to distinguish between chalk and cheese, good and evil, right and wrong, and realise that they cannot both exist in the same person as a driving force. Yes, we’ve seen we make an occasional mistake, we may get it wrong from time to time, but it is the overall life-drive that he’s talking about.  You cannot be given over to self-centred and godless living at the same time as being committed to Christ. They are obviously mutually exclusive. It doesn’t matter what a person says, it is what they actually do that counts. A person might be nice, might be good, and say they are a Christian, but if, essentially, the rest of their life (apart from Sunday mornings) is self-centred and godless, they are deceived and if they try to get us to agree that their lifestyle is valid and in accordance with what they say about their beliefs, they are trying to deceive us! This is the message that John is bringing again and again through his letter.

25. Hold On

Meditations in 1 John : 25 : Hold On

1 John  2:24,25   See that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. And this is what he promised us–even eternal life.

Remember the context: John is encouraging the believers to resist the deception of lies and distorted teaching that was arising in the first century. He has reminded them that they have the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, who has both anointed them and indwelt them, and He will help them remain in the truth. But the fact is that we as individual believers still have free will and we can make choices and we can choose how we will live. We can choose to be Christ-like in attitude, in word and in action. We can choose to obey God’s commands. Choice still plays a large part in our lives. We can choose to pray – or not. We can choose to read the Bible – or not. We can choose to go to church – or not. We can choose to worship – or not. We can choose to be a witness – or not. Oh yes, at every turn the choices are ours and God will not force us. It is a mystery why one person chooses to be all out for God and another chooses to be half-hearted (yes, we even choose that.)

The New Testament is full of instructions that require us to make a response. Again and again we see such instructions and we should imagine them having the word ‘You’ in front of them. For example, “(You) Be joyful always; (you) pray continually; (you) give thanks in all circumstances.” (1 Thess 5:18) That would remind us that such instructions are written to us individually and individually we need to respond to them.

Thus now, we find John giving such an instruction that we might render, “(You) See that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you.”  Another way of putting that might be to say, hang on to all you have heard of the Gospel and of the apostolic teaching, and make sure it genuinely remains the expression of the active outworking of your lives.

This sounds such a simple exhortation, yet it is such a fundamental and important one.  To the church at Ephesus, the first of the seven churches in Revelation 2 & 3, Jesus declared, “You have forsaken your first love.” (Rev 2:4) They were no longer what they once were. This happens because we change our thinking. The word ceases to be alive to us as it once was. We no longer hold to the truths we were taught as young Christians and are more laid back in our appreciation of them. In such ways we fail to hang on and ensure we hold to what we “have heard from the beginning,” so that no longer does it remain in us in the same way. It is so easy, as we see the passing of years, to let this happen. It is a vital call that John brings here, one that we all need to heed. So, let’s ask the question: are we ensuring that what we have heard from the beginning still remains in us? Is it alive and as vibrant as it was when we first received it?

John then says something which is seriously challenging: “If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father.”  The implication is that if we don’t hold on to the truth we don’t remain “in the Son and in the Father.”  Put aside arguments about whether or not you can lose your salvation, is it possible for you and me to lose contact with Jesus and with the Father, and thus cease to commune with them?  I believe the answer is undoubtedly yes. How many people that you come across, started out so strongly and were wonderful examples of all-out-for-God committed Christians, yet as the years passed, times with God early in the morning got squeezed out with the busyness of life and awareness of the Lord’s presence faded? I am not pronouncing on your eternal destiny but I am asking about the reality of our daily walk with the Lord?  Is it still like it once was? The most terrible of the indictments of the seven churches of Asia Minor, was that of Laodicea: “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other!” (Rev 3:15)

Half-heartedness is the greatest bane that can settle on the Church. It is so easy to let it settle on you in this materialistic age, in this age that is so busy and active. It is so easy to let it settle when we start getting jaded with modern church life that so often lacks reality. How easy it is to become cynical and then we step back and instead of letting our feelings stir us to challenge the church and the world, we let them neutralize us and we become ineffective, church life becomes repetitiously boring, and the world is untouched by us.

John has something more to add: “And this is what he promised us–even eternal life.”   When the true life is flowing in us it is eternal life, it is the very life of Jesus, of his Holy Spirit, and that life brings life and activity that is not merely following rules or performing rituals, it is responding to the prompting and energizing of the Spirit within. This goes with the thoughts about communing with the Son and the Father. When we commune with them, we are open to them and the Spirit is able to energize, guide and direct us. THAT is life.

64. Alert

Meditations in 1 Peter : 64: Alert

1 Pet 5:8a Be self-controlled and alert.

Dictionary definition: “alert – watchful and ready, as in facing danger.” Dog owners know this. They are sitting quietly in the evening with their dog asleep at their feet and suddenly the dog is awake with its ears up – alert from a sound it has just heard. Is there an intruder? In World War Two, in Britain at least, there would be “an alert” and sirens would go off to give warning that enemy bombers had been sighted and the populace should go to air raid shelters. The same thing has been seen in old war films on airfields or ships at sea. An alert is sounded which presages the coming of an enemy and a call to get ready to counter them.

Peter is doing the same thing for the verses continue, “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” We’ll consider Satan as our enemy in the next meditation but for the moment let’s focus on the general need to be alert.  Some people might like to portray the Christian life more like a picnic, where everything is nice and peaceful and there is not a worry or care in the world. Unfortunately that is not how the world is.

There are two things in the world – that God has permitted to exist – and they both detract from the picture of peace and tranquillity. They are Sin and Satan. Sin is simply that tendency to be self-centred, godless and unrighteous. It is something each one of us inherited but now we are Christians God has given us the power – in the form of His Holy Spirit – to overcome Sin. Also the demands of the Law, which always accentuates the need to strive and creates the inevitable outcome of failure, have been removed in that we live lives that are loved and accepted in Christ and which are about relationship and not rules. But Sin is lurking there in the background to express itself the moment we become lax in our thinking and behaviour.

And, yes, Satan is our very real adversary as we’ll see in the next meditation, and he seeks to bring us down by various devious strategies. It is because of these that we need to remain in a state of alertness. The first strategy is that of deception where Satan attacks our thinking and seeks to distort the truth or deny the truth. If he can work in our minds and make us feel we are unloved, he’s won. If he can make us feel we have to work to appease God, he’s won. If he can get people not to believe in God, he’s won. Indeed he seeks to play on our self-awareness and turn it into self-centeredness and, in so doing, make us forget about God and so make us godless.

When he does that he can lead us then into the second strategy, which schemes for our downfall, which is temptation. In this he seeks to lead us into behaviour that is contrary to God’s design for us and is, therefore, unrighteous. Righteous behaviour is simply that which conforms to God’s design for us, His will. Unrighteous behaviour, which is contrary to that, always leads in the direction of destruction, which is what Satan is aiming for. He looks for any opportunity to lead us astray and away from the truth, and then into a wrong behaviour and wrong lifestyle. No wonder Peter calls for us to be alert – on the watch for the uprising of Sin and the sneaky approaches of Satan!

In that famous passage on spiritual warfare in Ephesians chapter 6, the apostle Paul eventually says, “With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.” (Eph 6:18) The exhortation comes near the end of the passage about spiritual armour and standing against the enemy. The call is to be aware of the enemy’s activities and to be alert against them and to pray to counter his works.

But there is a bigger call to be alert in the New Testament, and it is in respect of being aware of the times in which we live, especially in the light of Christ’s return. Jesus himself, speaking of the last days declared, “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come.” (Mk 13:32,33). That time, described by Jesus, is presaged by enemy activity and the call is to be alert to such a time.

The apostle Paul reiterated the same thing: “While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labour pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled.” (1 Thess 5:3-6)  Everyone else may duped into complacency, but we are called to be alert to what is going on and ready to receive Jesus when he returns.

In the context of the ‘Last Days’ teaching, Jesus told the parable of the five virgins (Matt 25:1-13) which concludes with, Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.” There it is – keep watch, be alert, look out for and be aware so that you may adjust your life accordingly. That is what this call to be alert is about. It is that we may see the coming enemy, or see the coming days, and take the appropriate counter-measures, to reject the enemy’s advances and get ready to meet Jesus. That is the significance of this call. May we heed it!

 

37. Like Animals

Meditations in Ecclesiastes : 37 :  Like Animals

Eccles 3:18,19 I also thought, “As for men, God tests them so that they may see that they are like the animals. Man’s fate is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; man has no advantage over the animal. Everything is meaningless.

When you lose contact with God, you lose contact with reality and when you lose contact with reality it means you lose contact with the truth. You may still retain partial truth, but away from God you are prey to negative thoughts, half truths and utter deception. Three dangerous little words: “I also thought.” How different from the strong words of the prophets who were able to say, “God said…. and God showed me….” It is a sad thing to watch an elderly person lose their grip on reality. Solomon was never a prophet but he was known to be the wisest man in the world – while he stuck with God, but once the deception of idolatry entered the royal palace it was a downward slope, and he’s left thinking his own thoughts, not God’s thoughts!

We have to be careful here for indeed all Scripture is inspired (see 2 Tim 3:16) but sometimes that means God inspired or nudged the writer to write, not that what they wrote was absolute truth. We see this in the arguing of Job; some of it is distinctly off the rails – but it is still useful to teach us! What Solomon says in these verses is basically true, but the sense of it is negative and it is only half truth. Let’s explain.

As for men, God tests them so that they may see that they are like the animals. In ONE sense this is true. In many others it is false. It is the one sense that Solomon is focusing upon. So what is he saying? He is saying that when pride takes a turn and we think we are so great, we need to see that we are just on the same level as all animals. Why? Man’s fate is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; man has no advantage over the animal. There is it; we are on the same level as the animals in that both we and they are all going to die. That is a common feature of every living creature.

See how he continues: “All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return. Who knows if the spirit of man rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth?” (v.20,21) There he moves in the same thinking – we’re all going to die and what is worse, we don’t know what is going to happen then, so like the animals we don’t know our eternal future.  Well of course this was Solomon speaking without the revelation that we now have in the New Testament. Don’t join in Solomon’s ‘Doubt Club’ for that is not where we are today. The New Testament is quite clear that when we receive the Lord Jesus Christ into our life we receive eternal life and that means a life that goes on after death, a life in heaven with God.

But look at the negativity that Solomon is left with: “So I saw that there is nothing better for a man than to enjoy his work, because that is his lot. For who can bring him to see what will happen after him?” (v.22)  Just try and get some enjoyment out of your work today because you don’t know what will happen when you leave this earth. That indeed is what many people are left with – godless people, unbelievers. Try to get the most out your work; that all you can hope for. Well fortunately there is much more we can hope for.

In the beginning we are told that God made us in his own image (see Gen 1:26.27). Now what does that mean? What characteristics or abilities do we see in us that makes us anything like God and which differentiates us from the animals?  We have the abilities to communicate, think, reason, invent, create, write, work, order, purpose and plan. Put another way, He has given us self-consciousness, imagination and conscience, and ability to grow and develop. Go back over these things and catch the wonder of who He has made us to be.  So this doesn’t just leave us with mundane work; this opens up a panorama of possibilities of doing things for pleasure and to please others that means far more than struggling for survival.

We are fortunate to live in a part of history where these things are beginning to come to fullness and we have opportunities to do far more than only work. Meaning in life comes with a sense of fulfilment as we allow God to lead us to become the people He’s designed us to be. Yet there does need to be a warning. We can do all these creative things and yet still not find meaning for that only comes when we are in harmony with God. That IS how He’s designed us to work best and anything less than that means we struggle for meaning just as Solomon did in his latter days. Let’s ensure we avoid the ‘aged-Solomon syndrome’!

34. Earthly Wisdom

Meditations in James: 34 : Earthly Wisdom

Jas 3:14-16     But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

Deception is a strange thing.  Here, for instance, is a ‘wise’ man.  He is a business man.  He spends all hours at work.  He makes phone calls and he talks with his employees and he plans and schemes and makes profit.  He is an ambitious man and he pushes out the boundaries of his company and takes over some smaller companies.  He builds a new head office and people marvel at his business acumen.  He builds bigger and bigger.  He has a veritable empire. Along the way he sees his competitors and is envious of their activities. He plots and plans and schemes and takes them over, takes what he wants from their businesses (strips their assets) and then casts them aside.  He holds big parties, he meets with the media, and he boasts of his great accomplishments.  He laughs at the thought of God.  He has three houses, a large yacht, a Lear jet, and homes abroad.  He has everything, and then he dies.  In death he finds himself standing before God and realises he is standing in tattered rags and that he has nothing. When asked what right has he to be there, he realises before the openness of God, that he has no answer, he has nothing.  This story is exactly what Jesus described in his parable of the rich fool (Lk 12:15-21).  He starts it with the words,a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions (v.15) and finishes it with, This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God (v.21).

We might have thought the man in the story was a wise man, storing up material prosperity, but James thinks otherwise.   Note each of the characteristics of this man as described: if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. These are the characteristics of the world.  These are what the world accepts and even applauds.  These are thing things the world expects from the great and the glorious.  Listen next time when a great entrepreneur, or a pop star, or great politician is on TV.   Listen to their words and observe the characteristics of them.  They think they are wise because, after all, they have arrived haven’t they?  But arrived where?  At a place of spiritual poverty!

Observe James’ description of this sort of ‘wisdom’ that the world applauds: Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. This is not wisdom or the way that comes from God.  This is actually not wisdom at all.  True wisdom only comes from God.  This ‘wisdom’ (which is no wisdom!) is earthly; it has its origins in the selfish, self-centred, godless minds of people who care nothing for God and are only concerned for themselves.  They are unspiritual; there is a complete absence of anything spiritual in their lives.  Their spirit is dead; there is no movement in respect of God.  They are deaf to His words to them and their heart has no concern for Him. They are in fact energized and motivated by the devil.  Now that is strong language you may think, but that is what James says – and so does John: We know that …. the whole world is under the control of the evil one.” (1 Jn 5:19).  If you do not surrender your life to God, then you are left in the hands of the Lord’s chastising angel, Satan, and he plays on the sinful desires in each unregenerate person, driving them onwards to bigger and better things with their ‘worldly wisdom’, and towards destruction.  The richer they get, the poorer they get, but of course they don’t realize it until they stand before God with nothing.

Note also what James says accompanies this sort of ‘wisdom’: For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. Envy and selfish ambition are the driving forces of this so-called wisdom and wherever it is, when you look into what is going on, you find ‘disorder’.  Disorder is confusion and upset like you have when there is anarchy.  Here is this man working out his schemes and causing upset in other people’s lives and businesses. He is a law unto himself and he ploughs through other people’s lives and activities like a bulldozer, leaving havoc and mayhem in his wake. He causes upheaval on the earth.  Moreover James speaks of every evil practice.  The way this man thinks and works is evil.  Evil just means it is utterly wrong.

Now you may have been reading all these descriptions and my story above, and have thought, “Well I’m glad I’m not like that!”  Well perhaps you aren’t as big a person as the man of my illustration but, in all honesty, is your way of thinking somewhat similar to his?  What genuinely motivates your life?  Is it a genuine desire to please God, and to do things God’s way, or do you struggle and strive, thinking, planning, reasoning and working all hours to achieve material prosperity?  Are you sometimes a little careless about moral integrity when you cut corners or don’t entirely speak the truth in business? You see you may not do it to the extent of the man above, but if you do it even a little bit, there are adjustments to be made according to James.  Check it out.  Be honest.  What is your life like?  Can you honestly stand before God and say you never operate with the ‘worldly wisdom’ we have been considering today?  Ensure that you can!

8. Uncovered

MEDITATIONS IN ISAIAH – No.8

Isa 3:18 In that day the Lord will snatch away their finery: the bangles and headbands and crescent necklaces

Deception is a deadly thing. Jesus once told a parable about a rich farmer who kept building bigger and bigger barns to store his wealth (crops), and who concluded, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” (Lk 12:19) but he didn’t realise he was at the end of his wasted life: “But God said to him, `You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” (Lk 12:20). Affluence is very deceptive. It can make us feel secure and in our (false) security we forget God and forget our spiritual wellbeing. Before we know where we are, disaster strikes and our lives collapse (see also Jesus’ parable of the two house builders – Mt 7:24-27).

After the verses we considered in the previous meditation, Isaiah goes on to speak against different groups of people. As we noted he speaks against a general group first of all, the wicked: “Woe to the wicked! Disaster is upon them! They will be paid back for what their hands have done.” (v.11). Now we tend to think that ‘wicked people’ are really evil, but I suspect from what follows that it would include large numbers of our own society. “Youths oppress my people.” (v.12a) In some parts of Western society, certain parts of towns are ‘no-go areas’ because of youth gangs. “Women rule over them.” (v.12b) When God had ordained men to take the lead, the prophet speaks against the women who had taken control. How many people would this word upset today in the West? “The LORD enters into judgment against the elders and leaders of his people.” (v.14). Young people and then women and now leaders come under God’s spotlight.

See how the Lord comes to them: “The LORD takes his place in court; he rises to judge the people.” (v.13). Our guilty consciences may make us feel that this is a bad picture but it is a picture of the Lord who comes to assess guilt or innocence and it is only the guilty who have cause to fear. Justice is about fair and rational assessment of the truth. The innocent have nothing to fear. Indeed the innocent can rejoice that injustices are about to be dealt with!

Sometimes people have funny feelings about God’s judgment, speaking harshly about Him, but look at see what He is moving against: “It is you who have ruined my vineyard; the plunder from the poor is in your houses. What do you mean by crushing my people and grinding the faces of the poor?” (v.14,15). His vineyard is a picture often used of the nation, God’s people. He is speaking against those who have robbed from the poor, who have trodden them down. Wouldn’t we all cheer at this?

But then he comes back to the women: “The women of Zion are haughty, walking along with outstretched necks, flirting with their eyes, tripping along with mincing steps, with ornaments jingling on their ankles.” (v.16). These are the affluent women of Jerusalem, the modern affluent girl power, full of pride, sexual desires and indifference to God. Affluence, we said above, is deceptive and these women are typical of the attitude of the people of Jerusalem and Judah. They think they are something and they care nothing about the poor who were referred to earlier. Ms Materialist cares nothing about God – or about others. Self-centredness is the name of the game.

Now we have considered in previous meditations the Lord’s intent, which is to draw His people back to Himself. In their folly they have made themselves weak and a prey to other nations and other ideologies, which is why they worship idols from elsewhere. The only way to bring them to their senses is to strip away their finery, strip away their material wealth and wellbeing. We can often cope with a reduction in our wealth, but the removal of our wellbeing really brings us down and brings us to our senses. So how is the Lord going to deal with them? Therefore the Lord will bring sores on the heads of the women of Zion; the LORD will make their scalps bald.” (v.17). Oh my goodness, He’s going to attack their beauty and their makeup! He’s going to remove their fashion accessories by which they hold so much store! See verses 18 to 23 for a list of their finery with which they adorn themselves and which deceive them into thinking they are great and they are secure. He’s going to remove it all to bring them to their senses!

We need to understand here, or remind ourselves if we took in the previous meditations, that the Lord’s intent is to bring this people into a place of real blessing, instead of this surface, counterfeit. It is not only what people look like on the outside that makes them rich, it is what they feel like on the inside, how they think of themselves, of God and of others. A self-centred, self-serving people are not rich, however many bits and pieces they have to adorn themselves or their homes. It’s not wrong to have money and possession, but if we obtain those at the cost of losing our soul, we have indeed become very confused and deceived. In the materialistic day in which we live, we would do well to really thing about these things!