3. Be a Leader

Meditations on “God of Transformation: 3:  Be a Leader

Gen 37:2,5-7     Joseph, a young man of seventeen…   had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him all the more. He said to them, “Listen to this dream I had: We were binding sheaves of grain out in the field when suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright, while your sheaves gathered around mine and bowed down to it.

I suspect I have commented more than a few times, when I write these meditations, about watching people receiving personal prophecies. They may not actually say it but the look on their faces says, “Oh yes? In a million years! Who are you kidding!”  Our capacity for not believing God is often very high! (That’s a gentle way of saying we’re good at unbelief). The trouble with personal prophecies is that they come wrapped up for a person who is not yet what the prophecy says; that’s what makes it a prophecy, it speaks to the future. So we look at ourselves or we look at the person receiving a word from a visiting prophet and we find it difficult to comprehend a leap from what is now to what the word says. Especially if we have low self-esteem (and many of us do) we find any sort of elevation somewhat mind blowing, and the greater the elevation the more impossible it seems and we forget that this is God speaking and nothing is too difficult for Him (Mt 19:26, Lk 1:37).

All of these things come together in the case of young, spoilt-brat, Joseph in the Old Testament, one of the younger members of a large family, most of  whom hate him because he’s his father’s favourite and spoilt. So he has a dream. It is a prophecy and he unwisely shares it, which only goes to make the brothers hate him even more, because the prophecy has his family bowing down before him. Their personal animosities cloud their judgment and so they instantly write off what he is saying. There is a grave danger when it comes to prophetic words, of looking at the bringer and, even more, the way they bring it and then writing it off. I have seen it happen.

A women in a large meeting brought ‘a word’ and because she was a bit weird and brought it in a rather dramatic way, the leader of the meeting just quickly passed on to the next thing in worship. I confess my instinctive reaction was relief  but the moment we moved on I had one of those inner checks that said, “No, this was my word”, and so we missed it. One of the disconcerting things I have observed over the years is that when it comes to finding someone to convey His word, the Lord is often more concerned with availability than finding someone who is perfect. The number of perfect people around are few and far between, and so He takes what is available and sometimes that person doesn’t match up to our Pharisaic expectations, and we are the losers.

Thus, more for personal reasons than for anything else, the family write off young Joseph’s dreams and the drama of his life unfolds. The sons sell him into slavery and from slavery he ends up in prison. It looks like it goes from one bad place to a worse bad place. Some fourteen or so years pass before Joseph gets known as a dream interpreter in the prison. Then when the Pharaoh (for he is now in Egypt) starts having dreams and casts around for a dream interpreter,  it is not too long before Joseph is dragged out before him. He gets the interpretation of the dreams and before he knows it, Pharaoh has promoted him to Prime Minister of all Egypt, second only to himself, because he alone seems to exhibit the wisdom and revelation necessary to manage the country through the good years and then bad years of the next fourteen years. Thus at least twenty eight years have passed before his family turn up in Egypt seeking food to help them cope with the famine back home, and in the time he has changed and his role has changed and everything about him has so changed that it takes some time before he reveals to them who he is.

Now that is the story and there are two vital things to note in it. We’ve already considered the first one, that prophecy may come through unlikely vessels and to unlikely people, but God knows what He is about. The second thing though, that only comes out when you look at the unfolding story, is that it took nearly three decades to be fulfilled, and herein is a crucial point.

Very often the transformation that God wants to bring about and which He spoke about in the prophetic word, takes time to be fulfilled. So often the end result is after a process of transformation – our transformation – and that takes time. Previously in this series we considered God breaking through into the material world that He had created, and it took time. Then we considered Sarai and other barren women, and it took time before they conceived. Now we have seen the transformation of Joseph and again it has taken time. The lesson that should be shouted from the roof tops is that God loves to bring transformation but so often He takes His time with it, because He is thorough and He is working with human beings who He does not force on faster than they can go. God is not in a rush, even though we may often exhibit impatience. It is a very significant lesson for many of us. Let’s heed it.

8. Lack of Revelation

Meditations in 1 Samuel   8. Lack of revelation

1 Sam 3:1-4   The boy Samuel ministered before the LORD under Eli. In those days the word of the LORD was rare; there were not many visions.  One night Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place. The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the LORD, where the ark of God was. Then the LORD called Samuel.

I find this particular passage one of the most poignantly symbolic passages of the Old Testament. The setting, as we have recently observed, is that the young boy Samuel has been left by his mother in the care and under the instruction of Eli the chief priest. We have just pondered on the whole business of the two sons of Eli who are abusing their positions as under-priests and Eli’s failure to do anything about it. From that we might rightly assume that those in charge of the nation of Israel at this time were not in a good spiritual state.  Now look at the words that pile up in these verses above that speak to this situation.

First, “the word of the Lord was rare”  Now I have a horrible feeling that most Christians when looking at these words take them for granted but they bring a tremendous assumption to the people of God – that God is a communicator and that He speaks on a regular basis to His people. Now we are going to think more deeply about this in the next meditation but for the moment can we note this assumption, that the expectancy is for God to speak on a regular basis – but at this time He wasn’t or perhaps, to be more accurate maybe, there was no one with an ear open to Him, to hear His words. What an awful picture that would be – God speaking to His people Israel and no one taking a blind bit of notice about it, no one hearing, no one responding, a spiritually static people. How terrible! Are we different today?

But then it is repeated but in another way: “there were not many visions”. Visions are simply one of the ways that God speaks to His people and thus for our era Joel being quoted on the Day of Pentecost said, “Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.” (Acts 2:17) Prophecy, dreams and visions, all ways God communicates with His people in every age.

Who has visions? Those with eyes to see. Of course we mean spiritual eyes which makes the next words so poignant: “Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see.”  Yes, that is physical but actually it also describes exactly what he was like spiritually: he could barely see because he had allowed his spiritual vision to become clouded by old age. We aren’t told any other reason for it and it that is so, how sad: “The righteous will flourish like a palm tree ……  They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, “The LORD is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.” (Psa 92:12,14,15)  That is the challenge for those of us in older years.

But it gets worse for it continues about Eli that he “was lying down in his usual place.” Again,  now this is a physical description but again it describes his spiritual state. The call is to “Stand!” (Eph 6:11,14) not to be lying down spiritually. You lie down when are going to sleep and sleep is the way of the sluggard, the lazy person (Prov 6:9), or the person who has given up. Spiritually Eli has given up. He still knows what is right and what is wrong but when it comes to his sons, he just hasn’t got the spiritual energy to bring the changes that are needed, he is lying down on the job. “in his usual place”. Yes, again it is physical but also true spiritually; he is in the same old place he always is in, spiritually indifferent or spiritually impotent, and so nothing changes.

Then we find a word of hope: “The lamp of God had not yet gone out,”  Yes, yet again it refers to a physical lamp, probably the lamp-stand  in the Tabernacle, but spiritually it was true as well. God had not been pushed out of this situation and He had not left Israel (as we see in Ezekiel where the glory of the Lord was seen to be moving in stages away from its place in the Temple in Jerusalem, as a warning of what was about to happen to Jerusalem). There is a glimmer of hope yet in this situation. What was it? “Samuel was lying down in the temple of the LORD, where the ark of God was.”  Yes, the young boy was there. Yes, he was lying down reminding us that as yet he had not moved into a position of spiritual ministry for he hasn’t yet had his encounter with the Lord (that is coming next) – but he IS in the right place, he is there in the Tabernacle which was where, in the inner place, the ark resided, the ark that represented the presence of God.

This is why all that talk about the providence of God was so important. If change is to come about in Israel, it will happen when someone in the leadership gets in contact with God, listens and then obeys. Where are they most likely to make contact with God? Where He resides – in the tabernacle. Samuel is in the right place and so very soon God is going to initiate the contact and it will all change, the leadership will change from a blind, inactive, ineffective, worldly and dissolute leadership, to one that is holy, one that hears from God and is able to impact the nation accordingly. Now I believe that is all so clear that I really don’t have to labour the point. How is your spiritual leadership?

21. In the last days

Meditations in Acts : 21 :  In the Last Days

Acts 2:16,17    this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: “`In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.

Again I work on the basis of what I know is true for me and true for many of us who read the Bible regularly – that familiarity has robbed me of so much of the truth that is here. It is so easy to bundle up these words or Joel’s prophecy and skim by them saying, they just describe what God is now doing, and leave it at that. This is the benefit of meditation; we can slow up, pause and reflect on the words before us.

Peter is first saying to us that we are in “the last days”. Don’t confuse that with “the end times”. The “end times”, I would suggest, refers to the closing time of earth’s existence before Jesus winds it up. The “last days” refers to the period of Church history between Jesus’ first coming and his second coming. The word ‘last’ adds a slight note of urgency to it. It is a period of last chance, the Gospel has been made very clear and if you don’t take advantage of it you have thrown away any hope. If you look up uses of the phrase “last days” in the New Testament, it is clear that it is referring to the period of the life of the church, and not the closing times of history.

So, says the prophecy, in this period of time God will pour out His Holy Spirit on all people. Now do those last two words mean upon every human being on earth, or is there something else? It is fairly obvious that it cannot mean upon every human being for God will not impose Himself on unbelievers and it is also clear on the day of Pentecost that the Spirit did not fall on every person in Jerusalem, only the believers. So “all people” must surely mean from every people group in the earth; there is no people group that is excluded from God’s love and from God’s blessing. The only condition is that they hear the Gospel and believe it.

What then follows is the outworking or expression of this outpouring of the Spirit. There is an interesting threefold description of what happens which I think we normally miss. There are three clear groups of people. First there are young men and women, then there are young men only, and then there are old men only. Now please bear in mind that this is Peter preaching the first sermon under the anointing of the Holy Spirit and he reiterates words originally spoken by Joel, and although the order is different in the quote here, the content is the same. Let’s consider what these three groups do and ponder on why they are the groups they are.

The first group are young men AND women who will prophesy. It is interesting to note from the outset that the fruit of the coming of the Spirit will be revelation. All three expressions here are about revelation from heaven. So this first group will prophesy. Paul was later to say, everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort.” (1 Cor 14:3). That is the role of Church history prophecy – to build up the church by strengthening, encouraging and comforting the church – and any Christian, including young ones (!) can do that. Remember sons and daughters implies youth! Do we teach our young people to have this freedom in the Lord, to be open to hear Him and use what they hear to build up and strengthen one another and the church generally? Does this imply that no one else can prophesy? No, it simply puts an emphasis where it had not been before. Previously it had been the elders who did all the encouraging and strengthening. Now the Lord says everyone can do it whose heart is open to Him to inspire them.

Next young men will see visions. Why not young women? Well, whether we like it or not, and despite modern norms, the Bible clearly indicates that God holds men responsible for leading the church and obtaining vision. Visions are all about the future. Visions share God’s heart for the future and young men burst to achieve stuff in the future. Thus when the Holy Spirit comes, the Lord looks for submitted children, young Christians who will catch His heart, who will be open to receive fresh visions (to be tested, I suggest, by their elders).

But then old men dream dreams by the Spirit. This is still in the realm of revelation. Someone has said that dreams are built on the past, dreams tend to be less dramatic than visions, dreams are accepted by the wise and experienced in the faith. Younger men might question a dream and their young faith perhaps needs the drama of a vision coming to convince them. Old men wake up with a dream still clear in their mind and say, “God has spoken” (when He has, and it wasn’t just eating cheese last night). Their mature faith accepts such thing that much more readily.

Well here are just some reasons that I suggest are reasons why different people groups will receive revelation when the Spirit comes. When God turns up, we may expect revelation because He is a God who communicates. Have we got that truth well and truly under our belts?

But now, as we have concluded each of these last meditations, consider the preaching of this first sermon and what it says to us. If we didn’t make it clear enough in the previous meditation, let’s do it here: this preaching took the revealed word of God and applied it into the present situation. We see the present situation and are moved by God to speak. As He inspires us we consider His word and let Him shine His Holy Spirit on it, and then by His enabling we declare what it there are bring the two together to make sense of life today. That is New Testament preaching.

60. Lessons in Love

Meditations in Job : 60. Lessons in Love

Job 33:14,17,18 For God does speak…… to turn man from wrongdoing and keep him from pride, to preserve his soul from the pit, his life from perishing by the sword

Now I know the word ‘love’ is not mentioned in this chapter but I would suggest that everything the Elihu says about the way God works, describes God as a God of love.  Elihu has listened (33:8) and heard Job say that he is pure and without sin (v.9) yet Job has blamed God for finding fault with him and for making him an enemy (v.10), the way He has dealt with him (v.11), and with this Elihu has a problem (v.12)

Now the truth we know from earlier in the book is exactly the opposite: God hasn’t found fault with Job, He has praised him for his righteousness and there is no way that God considers Job an enemy.  In fact, without realising it, he is God’s emissary, displaying faithfulness on behalf of God in the face of Satan’s attacks.  There has been a wrong assessment of the situation by Job.

But then comes Elihu’s second complaint: Job says he’s cried to God but the Lord hasn’t answered him. Elihu launches into a declaration that God does speak again and again, “though man may not perceive it.” (v.14b)  The Lord speaks in a variety of ways (v.14a), in dreams or visions (v.15) or directly into our ears (v.16).  The REASON God speaks is then given: to turn man from wrongdoing and keep him from pride, to preserve his soul from the pit, his life from perishing by the sword.” (v.17,18)  When God speaks He is trying to get man to turn away from those destructive attitudes and ways of behaving so that he will be saved.  If we refuse to heed his voice we may simply end up in hell, and we may even go there through a violent means brought on by our own folly.

Another way that the Lord ‘speaks’ to us is through personal suffering that brings us to the edge of death (v.19-22), yet Elihu is aware that God sends angels as personal messengers “to tell a man what is right for him” (v.23c) and also to remind the Lord that He has provided a ransom to save this man (v.24) so that this man might be saved and restored (v.25).  Now whether that ransom is reference to the sacrifices made for sin (see 1:5) or whether it is a prophetic reference to the Lamb of God, Jesus, is unclear.  Such a man will pray and be restored (v.26) and then he will go and confess to others that he had sinned but had not received what he had deserved (v.27) because God has redeemed him (v.28).

He reiterates that God does this sort of thing, “twice, even three times– to turn back his soul from the pit, that the light of life may shine on him.” (v.29,30)  Yes, God uses this sort of thing to bring people to their senses.  We see this exactly in Jesus’ parable to the Prodigal Son (Lk 15:14-17) where the bad circumstances drive the son to his senses.

Elihu concludes this chapter with a call to Job to answer up if he has got an answer.  Now the only trouble with all this is that, of course, Job doesn’t have an answer because neither he nor Elihu know what has gone on in the courts of heaven (ch.1 & 2) and they don’t know that this actually has nothing to do with Job’s sin.  Everything Elihu has said has been absolutely correct – except it doesn’t apply to Job, because he is a special case and he is going through trials for no other reason than God has chosen him to go through them – and that because he IS righteous!

So, having looked at this chapter, there are various things we need to check out in ourselves.  Elihu maintains that God does speak to us in a variety of ways.  Are we open to believe that?  Do we believe that the Lord speaks to us personally – and if so, what have we done with what He has said?

Second, are we aware that in God’s sanctifying processes, making us more like Jesus, He uses physical suffering and circumstances generally?  Can we, therefore, when things aren’t going well, be open to learn from Him?

Third, do we realise that whenever God ‘speaks’ it is to extend our experience of salvation and keep us away from things that would harm us or draw us away from Him?  Are we so aware of God’s love that we can be utterly secure in all that happens to us, secure in the knowledge that He loves us and is working to bless us?

Finally, can we learn that lesson that we have observed previously but which arises again here, that unless we have had revelation from God we should be slow in assessing people negatively (judging them).

Moses asked the Lord, “teach me your ways so I may know you.” (Ex 33:13). In this meditation new have been touching on the ‘ways’ of God, the way He works and why He works as He does. May we learn these things!

22. A Seeking Heart


22. A Seeking Heart gets Revelation

Luke 2:25,26 Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.

Most of us have dreams. No, not the dreams-at-night type of dreams, but dreams of what might be. Sometimes those dreams just lurk there in the background of your consciousness and you’re hardly aware of them – but they’re there. For many people they’re in the form of, “If only….” They may be dreams of winning the lottery (most unlikely to be fulfilled) or they may be dreams of going somewhere or achieving something – perhaps of learning something new. Oh yes, most people have dreams, even if they’re just below the conscious level. Simeon was someone with a ‘dream’.

Simeon lived in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, the place where the Temple of God was. Simeon was a Jew and no doubt well taught. Simeon had been taught the many scriptures, in what we now call the Old Testament, that pointed to One who would come to fulfil God’s purposes of the ages for Israel. He looked at Israel in subservience to the Roman overlords, and he read the scrolls and saw in them the glory that Israel had once been. He saw that the One would come to comfort the people of Israel, and be the consolation of Israel. The teachers had differing views of the sort of person this One would be. Some said a conquering king, others said a suffering servant, because the prophetic scriptures seemed to indicate both, and they couldn’t see how he could be both, so they opted for one or the other. Simeon read these Scriptures and then it was as if someone or something – the Holy Spirit could it be? – seemed to say to him that this One would come in his lifetime. He became absolutely convinced, the more he thought about it, that this was God confirming this to him.

Now, do you see what has happened in what we’ve just described? Yesterday we described again ways that God speaks. Included in the list was through the Scriptures, and also directly by His Holy Spirit. In the text, in the verses we’re reading, the Scriptures aren’t actually mentioned, but being a righteous Jew in Jerusalem, he would certainly have been taught them. There clearly was, in Simeon, a coming together of Word and Spirit. He read it and he heard it in his spirit. That’s how it happens in Christians. This man is a pre-Christian, a Christian in all but name, for he believes in the saviour, even though he’s not there yet! He’s read of him and been spoken to within himself of him. He is utterly convinced about the Coming One.

That’s amazing because it’s more than most people today achieve, who now have all the story of Jesus available to them and yet who don’t bother to read, don’t bother to seek. Jesus was later to say, Seek and go on seeking, and you will find.” (Mt 7:7 using the ongoing tense that is there). We don’t know quite how it was for Simeon but often there is something in people that starts them looking (God speaking to them?) and so they start searching and as they start searching the search becomes more intense – and as they go on searching they come to a place of decision, a place of realisation.

If you have read through these Advent meditations, welcome to the seekers club. Whether you’re a Christian or a not-yet-Christian, welcome to the Club. As you read, pray, because as you pray you are seeking God and seekers who go on seeking always find. May this time be a time when you either find and deepen your existing relationship with God, or even perhaps for some, find Him for the first time. We’re only a few days off Christmas now. Have this most wonderful of presents. If need be, go back and reread these meditations, go and read the whole story in a Bible. Seek and find.

21. If God says


21. If that’s what God says….

Luke 2:21,22 On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise him, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he had been conceived. When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord

“Well, what I think…” How many times have you heard those words? Somehow we try to assert our individuality or create our uniqueness by opinions, as if what we think is THE all-important thing in life. Anyone who has any public role in life – whether it be a politician, TV pundit, newspaper writer, or even simple manager – constantly faces the great temptation to believe that their view is the right one. Politicians probably hold the most extreme position in this respect, when they have to follow a ‘party line’, but we all do it in a lesser measure; we all hold a particular line. I once heard a group of about fifteen men discussing a particular contentious subject with an amazing degree of unity. It was only after about ten minutes that I realized that they had all watched the same documentary on TV the night before and were now all holding the same view. The only problem with all this is when a contradictory view appears in another ‘documentary’ some months later.

With this in mind it is refreshing to observe the simplicity of Mary and Joseph. They don’t go on their own ideas; they, quite clearly, follow God’s views. God has said, through the two angels, that the child is to be named Jesus – so they name him Jesus. Next, being part of the Jewish race, having the Law of Moses, the Law given by God to Israel through Moses, they go to do what the Law required. The Law required the couple to go to the temple after a prescribed period after the birth and present an offering to the Lord. Now this is not the place (with insufficient space) to explain the sacrificial system for the Jews, simply to reiterate that it had been given to Israel to follow. Mary and Joseph therefore followed the dictum, if that’s what God says then we’ll do it.

As we look back over the story so far, we can see that this couple received their guidance from God through direct heavenly communication (the angels), through circumstances (the emperor), through other people (the shepherds), and now through the written word of God (the Law). Similarly today we receive our guidance through heavenly communication (the Holy Spirit – see Gal 5:25), through circumstances, through other people (see esp. Eph 4:11 for ministries and 2 Pet 5:1,2 – shepherds!) and through the Scriptures (see 2 Tim 3:16,17). What a wealth of guidance available to us! I wonder if we avail ourselves of it, or do we only go by what we think, our opinion, our ideas? Such people frequently go astray.

So here is this beautiful couple being led of God. The truth is that it is probably Joseph taking the lead and his capability for following dreams, as we’ll yet see before the story finishes, suggests that he is particularly good at following God’s guidance. Mary, we suggest, simply follows – she’s probably a bit younger than him as well, and following your man was the teaching of the day – and because he’s won the right to call her to follow his headship by first having laid down his life for her. See Paul’s teaching on this (Eph 5:22 -25) which is beautifully epitomized in this couple. So for Mary, she has the additional form of guidance, so alien a concept in the modern Western world, of a life-giving husband, winning her love and submission by his attentiveness to God’s voice and God’s will. Amazing! Is that not beautiful?