Snapshots: Day 49

Snapshots: Day 49

The Snapshot: “Why, Lord, why have you brought trouble on this people?” (Ex 5:22) Why, Moses, when God said it would be hard, do you complain? So often we complain because we fail to take hold of the truth that has been put before us. God is not hard, but the fallen world often is. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” (Mt 5:4) I don’t like mourning. I know but death does come. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness.” (Mt 5:10) I like being liked.  Yes, but the unrighteous don’t like being shown up.  But I thought being a Christian would be easy?  I’m sorry you listened to a lie. But why, and how will I cope? It’s all right, I am with you (Heb 13:5) and I am working all things for your good, even the bad things! (Rom 8:28)

Further Consideration: I believe it is one of the most important things that Christians understand the big picture of being a Christian, for only in so doing will they manage to maintain a right attitude towards the things that happen to them.

Moses lost sight of the big picture; the Lord had warned him that this would be hard going that would necessitate Him coming again and again to deal with Pharaoh, yet Moses cries out to the Lord, “Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble on this people, and you have not rescued your people at all.” (|Ex 5:23) Moses wanted it to happen instantly, he wanted God to wave a magic wand over the situation and transform it straight away, but this situation involves people and changing people takes time.

Point One: we live in a Fallen World where, because of sin, things go wrong and people say and do nasty things because they have free will.

Point Two: God does not override our free will and so permits the world to proceed as it does with things going wrong and people acting badly BUT He does expect us, His children, to act as His representatives and to be salt and light in it.

Point Three: He a) expects us to change the circumstances and b) be changed by the circumstances. We are to be one of His means of bringing change in this world while being changed into Jesus’ likeness as we do it.

So, when bad circumstances come, turn to the Lord, look for His grace and His wisdom to deal with it. When we find it difficult to cope with people around us who are not being the epitome of a good person, look to Him for His grace to love them, pray for them, and bless them. Not the easiest of tasks but possible with His enabling. Let’s not moan and groan under the pressures of this Fallen World but use such times to demonstrate the goodness of God.

38. Understanding the Fallen World

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 38. Understanding the Fallen World

Rom 8:20-22 (NLT) Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.

Accepting the Fall: I am aware that I often refer to this ‘fallen world’ which in itself refers to the Fall recorded in Gen 3 and to the fall of Adam and Eve from perfect people to sinners. Although disputed by liberal ‘believers’, the New Testament affirms that it was clearly an historical event according to the apostle Paul (see Rom 5:12, 1 Cor 15:21, 1 Tim 2:14, 2 Cor 11:3). The point about the Fall for us today, is found in the consequences, both logically and in reality.

The logic of the Fall: Apart from the fact that Genesis declares it and the key New Testament scholar acknowledges its historicity, the Fall declares something so fundamental that most of us never even think about it. As far as God is concerned, the state of living after the Fall is NOT normal. Normal for God is how the world was before mankind sinned, and ‘normal’ is what it will be when God creates a new heaven and a new earth eventually (Rev 21:1) with a new sin-free community (21:2). But here is the thing, if you don’t believe in God and you don’t believe in the Fall, all you are left with is a messed-up world that was always messed up and will always remain messed up, a very pessimistic scenario.

The reality of the Fall: As I have quoted before, one modern historical commentator has said ‘the history of the world is the history of wars’ and most people have heard of Mao Tse Tung’s quote: “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.” But it is not just nations, it is tribes and cultures and families and individuals who seem unable to live peaceably together. The curses of Genesis 3 show that life after the Fall was changed, it became more difficult, harder and harsher as God stepped back into the shadows and let us live our lives as we wanted – alone. (And yet as we saw at the beginning of these studies, He is still there reaching out to whoever will respond to Him).

Worldwide changes: The indications are that this change affected the whole of creation which is what makes Isaiah’s prophetic analogy(?) so incredible when he speaks of the day of the Messiah when, The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the cobra’s den, and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” (Isa 11:6-9) The amazing sense of peace and harmony among all living creatures there, makes us realise how different the world is now. The Bible doesn’t spell it out but there are hints of powers and forces released that cause geographical upheaval that didn’t occur before the Fall – earthquakes, moving tectonic plates, hurricanes, tornadoes, volcanoes. It is not clear and so is speculative, but it makes sense. Something else that Genesis shows us is that human behaviour deteriorates when left to itself. From a first single act of disobedience we read that before very long, “The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.(Gen 6:5)

Why am I like this? The fact is that sickness and illness developed in the world, things go wrong with our health. Even more than that our bodies develop ‘defects’. I have a particular non-problematical skin feature that I clearly inherited from my mother and from her family. Things like this get passed on down through generations. Sometimes they can be very serious. To take one example, Huntington’s disease is a rare inherited disorder involving the progressive loss of particular nerve cells in the brain, and causes a decline in thinking and reasoning skills, including memory, concentration, judgment, and ability to plan and organize. Huntington’s disease comes from a genetic disorder. (Quotes from Internet). Sometimes genetic changes can cause literal physical changes and so in the modern ‘transgender debate’ we find that there are some people, fairly rare, who are born with what possibly might be best expressed as mixed (both) sexual organs that challenge gender identity. More commonly in the gender debate, which we’ll consider as a separate subject, we find people whose psychological and emotional identity does not correspond to their biological sex.  This often creates the question, “Why am I like this?”

The truth about causes: The answer to this question is NOT, “Because you have sinned, and it is God’s punishment.” It is also NOT, as some Christians who struggle personally with these things say, “God made me like this.” No, He didn’t. What we are talking about here are consequences of the Fall, of the world going wrong. The fact that God allows the Fallen world to work like this is no more and no less than like a frustrated car mechanic watching a person run their car into the ground from lack of proper maintenance, who has been told to mind his own business and let the car owner get on and do what he wants. There may sometimes be a causal link between sin and a bodily breakdown – as we’ve suggested before, long-term alcohol abuse can result in organ damage, e.g. to the brain and nervous system, heart, liver and pancreas. Medical authorities maintain there are clear scientific links between smoking and lung cancer. Personal injuries may be caused by personal negligence. However there are times when things happen out of the blue with no apparent cause, because that is what sometimes happens in a fallen world. In respect of diseases it may be that an individual makes themselves vulnerable to catching a particular disease, but often such things happen simply because we are part of the fallen human race, not because I am more of a sinner than my neighbour. (see Jesus in Lk 13:4).

The truth about behaviour: When we come to consider behaviour, attitudes and outlook in respect of gender issues, which has been so much forced into the open in the last twenty years or more, as with any other behaviour, attitudes and outlook, we arrive at a major debate which, I believe, has not been resolved intellectually or scientifically. Feelings about gender are flexible (and we’ll consider this more fully in the next study) and science has not been able to determine so far what are the definitive causes for the ways individuals feel about themselves, but however we feel, there is still a large measure of freedom as to how we act out those feelings, and therefore choice is still there in some degree.

To take a silly, nongender-issue example, on a bad day I can wake up and feel physically very low. There are probably good physical reasons why my emotions flow in that direction. However, if I am wise, I keep my mouth shut until body and emotions pick up; it is that simple. Whatever our propensity, we still do have a measure of choice as to how we will act. The Fall did not take that away from us. Genetically, we may be predisposed or inclined in one direction, but we are never forced down a particular path. As Christians especially, we can seek the Lord for grace and thus choose with His help how we will act. Taking my eyes off me when I am feeling low about myself, and simply saying in actions, how can I help others, refocuses our lives and our actions as well as our mind and emotions, so that His resources can then flow in me.

Fallen People: Now this is very significant when it comes to the way we think about other people, particularly people who are not ‘like me’! First, we would do well to see that every one of us human beings struggle in some measure with some ‘foible’, as I referred to our quirks or personal idiosyncrasies, our ‘feet of clay’ as I have on occasions referred to it before.  But those aren’t just ways of thinking, the things we struggle with can be physical or emotional. This needs to be our starting point, this recognition that because this is a fallen world we are all in some way or other ‘broken’ or ‘damaged’. The more I have revelation about my life the more I see what a broken person I was (and still am in a measure), falling short of perfection, falling short of grace and goodness sometimes. Look, every time we have spoken a harsh word, thought an uncharitable thought, put self before others, acted less than perfectly, we have identified that we are fallen people.

Redeemed People: But when we look at ourselves and others around us, we have to come back to the heart of this series so, second, we need to remind ourselves that although we are fallen and imperfect, God is on our case. He has provided a new life for us in Christ through His Son’s death on the Cross, and He has provided His own Holy Spirit for us, to indwell us and help us, and so although we do so often struggle with coping with these inadequacies, these blemishes, these signs of being broken, He still loves us, is there for us and is there gently working to change us, in His way, with His wisdom, with His power, in His time. Hallelujah! We will be changed, it will happen, partly this side of death and completely in eternity.

Beware jumping to conclusions:  Once we get to and see the redemption idea, we can be reassured about ourselves and then we start looking at others and start thinking about how they could be redeemed, how they could be changed and so there, third, if we are not careful, we start getting judgmental; we forget so many of these truths and revert to, “why are they like that, it is wrong, they are wrong,” and other short-sighted ungracious, insensitive thoughts that are moral assessments that may be part-truths but forget the big redemption picture.  Keep it simple: God loves them.  Start from that point and show them His love by the way you unconditionally accept and love them. Watch Jesus’ example in the Gospels as he interacted with ‘sinners’. That doesn’t mean you agree with their lifestyle or life-outlook, but that you want to be there for them in case God wants to use you in their particular ‘redemption process’. Much grace needed. Let these truths sink into you, anchor you, and maybe restrain you, but may they help us each to be part of His redemption process within us and in others around us.

45. Recap 3B

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 45. Recap 3B

Eph 2:6,7  And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.

Jesus transforms life: As we moved into the final Part, looking to apply practically the theory of the previous Part, we observed the barrenness of religious life in Israel until Jesus came bringing life transformation through the power of God. That was a challenge for us today, to become a people who don’t simply act as spiritual sponges absorbing the word through sermons Sunday by Sunday, but who are to genuinely become the ‘body of Christ’, learning to minister one to another and then to the world outside.

God & People of Communication: We moved on into thinking about us being a people of revelation, expressing Jesus to the people around us as we learn to listen to him and then convey what we hear to one another, to strengthen, encourage and comfort one another.  I gave illustrations of listening to God. We pursued this whole subject of learning to listen to God and gave a further variety of illustrations. We confronted the fact that the word, ‘said’ comes up again and again in respect of God in Scripture and considered the God who communicates and still wants to speak to His gathered people.

Guidelines for Personal Prophecy: We laid out ground rules that personal prophecy today is to strengthen, encourage, and comfort, and we are to keep it simple and express love in accordance with God’s written word. Our words should come with humility and deference and without dogmatism, in everyday English, without dressing it up, and being open enough to check how our recipients are receiving it and leaving the outcome in the Lord’s hands.   In such ways we can be available to the Lord to bless others.

An Imaginary Example: In the following four ‘studies’ I gave an imaginary example of a prayer meeting and what came out of it so that we might see the fruit of listening to God and then following up with raised faith levels to see how He wants to work out the answers to that praying.

Living in the Fallen World: To bring a balance to what could potentially become triumphalist teaching, we considered the reality of living in this fallen world where things go wrong, which can often bring confusion, pain and questions. We considered the matter of discipline which can be painful but is always for our good in the long-term.

Exercising Authority: Back on the main track we considered how, being seated with Christ in the heavenly realms, as he rules at his Father’s right hand, bringing in the kingdom of God on the earth, we may be led by him to exercise authority as through prayer we may proclaim, testify, command, bind or loose and pronounce the will of God. To catch the bigger picture, we reminded ourselves of the ‘creation mandate’ where we have been called not only to fill the earth but to reign over it and subdue it, and we saw that this includes the vast majority of activities that we call ‘work’.  This not only means that we seek to do well in our work, but we look for ways that the Lord might want to work in it sand through it.

How Jesus ruled: Considering the subject of authority, we considered various ways that Jesus ‘ruled’ while he was on earth – having control over the physical world, which included bringing healing etc. – but also in the way he controlled himself and his tongue and his emotions. When we apply them to ourselves we see areas of life for us to work into as he leads us.

Being a Relevant People: We expanded and clarified our thinking about being a relevant people in the midst of today’s world, as we reminded ourselves of the outworkings of that imaginary prayer meeting and all that followed. The outworking of all this, as we are led by Jesus, means lives are touched and changed and circumstances can be transformed, and God is glorified as the kingdom is expressed.  We noted that it isn’t just supernatural gifting but also expresses the nature and character of Jesus to bless the world around us through our ‘good works’.

Being a Distinctive People: Finally, we considered our distinctiveness that is holiness, being utterly different in the mold of the Lord, specifically as we express love, unity, truth, and goodness or, more generally, the ‘fruit of the Spirit’.   In these ways we are to grow as a body that is led by the head, Jesus, who is seated at his Father’s right hand in heaven, bringing in the kingdom of God on earth.

And So? How can we sum all this up?  This third phase, if we may call it that, of Jesus being glorified when he is lifted up, of him ruling at his Father’s right hand in heaven, is all about how, when we allow ourselves to be led by his Spirit we will become a people who don’t only express the character of Jesus but also the works of Jesus. It will be not only by what we have historically called ‘sharing the gospel’ (presenting the truths of the New Testament about who Jesus is and how he has come to bring us salvation) but also by being his ‘body’ today, being led by his Spirit as he rules in this world in the midst of his enemies, to express God’s kingdom in the midst of the effects of the fallen world around us.   As we do this, lives and circumstances will change. The only question is, will we rise to be this people the scriptures describe?

4. Peace can be lost, regain it

Short Meditations on Peace 4. Peace can be lost, regain it

Phil 4:6,7 present your requests to God. And the peace of God,… will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

In the previous meditation we said that peace is there as the environment in which we live or, to use another picture, it is like the scenery in the background on the stage of our lives but, we added, it can be disturbed.

Why? How? The answer to those two questions is because we live in a fallen world, a world that goes wrong, and has gone wrong ever since the Fall (Gen 3). From then on, the presence of Sin in the world meant that our wrong actions harmed the world or disturbed the world and so today everyday life can be worrying and worry destroys peace.

Today life for us is extraordinarily easy in comparison to living in the first century. Today we drive to the local supermarket and get our food. If we are in difficulties, we probably get state benefits. Health care is on hand but nevertheless things still go wrong in life – and we worry about what might happen. Illnesses come, accidents happen, the economy takes a turn for the worst, global warming means we have extremes of weather; we live in a fallen world where things go wrong.

Now as children of God we need to know that our Father in heaven is there for us to guard us and guide us, protect and direct us and keep us from harm. Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “Deliver us from the evil one”. We are to remember that our Lord is there working on our behalf for good at all times (Rom 8:28). We’ll say more about that in a later mediation.

But then there are, shall we call them, more normal uncertainties – taking an exam, for instance. There is going to a doctor about a pain we’ve prayed against but which wouldn’t go.  What is it, what might have to happen? The need for peace. Then there is the next door neighbour who plays loud music late at night and who you don’t think will be open to a reasonable plea for change. The need for peace. Then there are the delays on the way to an important appointment and it looks certain you will be late. The need for peace. Often they will be things out of our control, things not going as they should, things causing problems or difficulties – worry. The need for peace.

How does peace come? We pray. As we pray nothing changes as far as the circumstances are concerned but within us comes this peace, an almost unaccountable peace, and yet it is the sure knowledge that the Lord has heard and He is in control and it will be all right. Peace often doesn’t depend on the outward circumstances, the outward appearance when it comes to spiritual issues, it comes from the Lord who is in control and who is never stressed but who always has peace.

2.1 A Fallen World

Short Meditations in Psalms: 2.1  A Fallen World

Psa 2:1   Why do the nations conspire (or rage) and the peoples plot in vain?

It is a basic spiritual fact, often forgotten by Christians and denied by non-Christians, that we live in a ‘Fallen World’. A world that is different from the way it was when God first made it. Unless you accept this explanation of the state of the world you are left drifting into a depressed and hopeless state about mankind that, in the words of some of my Law students in the past, are just ‘not nice’. An amazing understatement!

Has it always been like this, are we just a bunch of degenerating animals portrayed so graphically in ‘Lord of the Flies’? Is this how it will always be? The Humanist Manifestos have spoken with such optimism about our man-controlled future but seen next to the history of the last hundred years or so, and what is happening in the world today, must be condemned as some of the most unrealistic writings of pretentious dreamers.

If we take this first verse in isolation it might be thought to have nothing to do with God and that’s how we’ll consider it for the moment – the rest will come in the next verse. One thing we Christians are often not very good at, is understanding history. I confess that it was not a subject that grabbed me at school but in more recent years I have come to see the value of understanding much of it.

For instance over the last couple of years I have done a reasonable amount of study on the origins of the First World War which seems particularly apt in the light of this first verse. Our verse speaks of nations conspiring and plotting. Examine the period of history leading up to the start of the First World War and that perfectly describes what was going on. Indeed go on a couple of decades and then study European history in the run up to the Second World War, and you basically find exactly the same.

“Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun” is one of the most famous slogans from Mao Zedong, and coming in 1927 between the two World Wars it summed up godless mankind’s thinking, exhibited so clearly in both those wars. Violence is how to get what you want!

But what is it that drives humanity to these extreme expressions of self-centredness? The Bible calls it ‘Sin’, the propensity of every single human being to be self-centred and godless. This is why nations fight and couples fight and children fight.

We’ll consider the ‘godless’ dimension in the next study but for now recognise that self-centredness is at the heart of every upset in the affairs of mankind, and that starts with me.

3. Living in a Fallen World

Meditations in Ruth : 3. Living in a Fallen World

Ruth 1:3-5  Now Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, died, and she was left with her two sons. They married Moabite women, one named Orpah and the other Ruth. After they had lived there about ten years, both Mahlon and Kilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband.

We have an expression don’t we, that “everything went pear shaped”. Well that certainly applies in this story. This family settle in Moab. There seem to be no suggestion of it being a temporary stay, ‘Just until the famine passes’. No, they settle and the sons marry Moabite women and ten years later they are still there. (Perhaps ten years is not a long period when you are waiting for the economy to pick up and a famine to be overcome.).

Part of this is down to Naomi. Whether she went there at her husbands behest or she was the one who instigated it, we don’t know but we are simply told that after they settle in Moab her husband dies and it is then that her sons marry Moabite women and that they then live on there some ten years. The moment her husband died she could have said to the boys, “We must go home. If you are going to be married you ought to have good women from Israel.”

No, there may not have been a specific prohibition against marrying Moabite women but the Law was certainly very negative against Moab: No Ammonite or Moabite or any of his descendants may enter the assembly of the LORD, even down to the tenth generation. For they did not come to meet you with bread and water on your way when you came out of Egypt, and they hired Balaam son of Beor from Pethor in Aram Naharaim to pronounce a curse on you.” (Deut 23:3,4)  They were clearly prohibited from coming into the godly assembly (which is maybe something we should remind ourselves of later in this story), and so if you married one you would always be an outsider. However that does not seem a consideration when they are in exile because of a famine. They have lost their roots and they do just what seems expedient.

Beware doing what seems expedient in the circumstances! It was what Sarai urged Abram to do when she appeared not to be able to conceive, to go and take her maidservant and have a child through her. The whole Israel-Arab conflict has resulted from that foolish action. Expediency ignores the will of God and fails to seek the Lord. ‘What seems right’ should always be measured in the light of the word of God and the will of God and should be subject to the Holy Spirit’s direction.

Saul was another one who did what he considered was expedient.  He offered sacrifices when Samuel appeared to be late in turning up but he wasn’t of the priestly family and had no right to do such a thing (see 1 Sam 13:8-14). Years later after Samuel had died, again Saul did what seemed expedient, he sought out a medium when there seemed no one else to bring God’s guidance, despite the Law prohibiting (Lev 20:27, Deut 18:9-13) this sort of thing (see 1 Sam 28:4-)

Ignoring the will and word of God and doing ‘what seems expedient’ always causes problems. Within ten years these two couples (who remain childless) are reduced to two widows. Naomi is now in this foreign land with no husband, no sons, and just two daughters in law who are foreign women, coming from families that will have their own ‘gods’. It is not good!

Now our temptation at this point is to try to see who is to blame and whether it was God who brought these misfortunes (we have already done the first thing). We see the same thing in Jesus’ disciples: “As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (Jn 9:1,2). In the book of Job we find a similar thing in respect of Job’s comforters who declared, ‘when things go wrong it is a sign of God’s judgment on sin. Things have gone wrong for you, so it must be that you are a sinner.’

Well, things go wrong because people sin – yes, sometimes, but sometimes it is because others sin or it’s just living in a fallen world. There is no doubt that since sin entered the world through Adam and Eve, and they fell from the perfection and purity that they exhibited as God’s perfect beings, that ongoing sin in mankind seems to have a variety of effects so that the world simply, ‘goes wrong’, and there are upheavals in ‘nature’, sickness strikes randomly, accidents happen and things go wrong in relationships and there are wars, family upsets, etc. etc. Of course there is also Satan working in the background to bring destruction and promote sin.

Does God bring judgment? Yes, He does. Does God bring discipline? Yes, He does. Was what happened here specifically the act of God? We are not told. What we can surmise is that at the very least the protective hand of God was no longer over this family. In the same way that we find in Romans 1 Paul declaring that in three instances “God gave them over to…”  (Rom 1:24,26,28) and we see that God lifts off His restraining hand from society so that sin runs rampant and acts as a form of discipline. So, according to the Law of curses and blessings (Deut 28), behaviour does provoke the activity of God that may involve His specifically declaring good – blessings for obedience – and also there appears His activity that brings bad – curses for disobedience – and that may come as specific acts of God or at the very least God removing His hand of protection or blessing.

The uncomfortable truth is that God has given us free will and where we exercise that negatively we have to live with the consequences that flow out of it:A man reaps what he sows.” (Gal 6:7)  But is that the end? No, God will still be working to bring us back and bring good out of it, as we will see in the coming verses and chapters of this book.

40. Greatest Assurance

Meditations in Romans : 40:  Greatest Assurance

Rom 8:28   And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

I always believe that this verse has got to be one of THE most assuring verses of the New Testament. First of all, let’s note that it flows on in Paul’s mind from all that he has been saying and hence it starts with a link word, “And”.  The flow of Paul’s argument goes right back to when he was speaking about us being sons of God (v.14) and therefore heirs (v.17) as long as we take the sufferings as well as the glory (v.17). Having mentioned suffering he contrasted it with the wonder of what is coming (v.18), noting that the world is groaning and waiting for us to be revealed as God’s sons (v.19-22). We too groan inwardly as we wait for the time when we will be changed in heaven (v.23). In the same as we groan inwardly so the Spirit does when we don’t know how to pray. The picture is of a world and a life that is waiting incomplete, a world that is often uncertain that leaves us wondering what God’s will is. THIS is the context for our present verse.

Against the uncertainty of this Fallen World, Paul now balances it with a wonderful assurance for believers, that whatever is going on (which we may not understand!), God will be working for our good. Let’s note this verse bit by bit because it is so amazing. We note first it is about God working and we note that He is working “in all things”. There is nothing in your life or mine where God is not active. God is never passive. Jesus said, My Father is always at his work.” (Jn 5:17). We may not discern His activities and we may not catch His voice but He is always moving and acting on our behalf.

And it is always for our good! There may be various elements working in our lives. Things happen because of what we say or do. Things happen because Satan or someone that he uses intervenes. Things happen because God intervenes. Our motives may be selfish, Satan’s intentions may be harmful, but God’s intentions are always for our good: “God works for the good.”  God always works to bring good, not bad – because He IS love (1 Jn 4:8,16). The Bible shows that God weaves His actions into the actions of humanity, sometimes even using Satan, to bring good.  Sometimes, as we’ve just noted, as we’ve noted WHO may be involved in our lives, things start out badly as self, sin or Satan are at work, but despite that, God in His wisdom will be working into the situation to somehow bring good to us, His children.

Yes, the target of God’s loving goodness, in this context at least, are “those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Now don’t sink into some subjective wonderings about, “Do I really love Him?”  Love isn’t just a nice warm, fuzzy feeling, it’s commitment. When you came to Christ you committed yourself to Him and, perhaps, initially you had feelings of gratefulness but you might not have identified that as love. But the fact that you are a Christian means you love God. The other side of the coin is that you are what you are because God called you with a purpose. You eventually surrendered and were born again because the Holy Spirit was working to convict you, but He was calling you to God, to come to a place when you knelt before God and surrendered your life to Him. His purpose? It was to save you, redeem you, change you, forgive you, cleanse you, and then take you on in a lifetime adventure of change as a son of God!

Now there is about to follow a most amazing overview of the process of God and we mustn’t rush it and therefore we will leave it to the next meditation. In the meantime if you are someone who sometimes worries about what is going on in your life, remember that your loving heavenly Father is working there in the background of your circumstances to bring good to you, either through the circumstances or despite the circumstances. And God never fails!  Let that truth sink in. Amen? Amen!

4. God is Light

Meditations in 1 John : 4 :  God is Light

1 John  1:5   This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.

This verse is so powerful in the light of the condition of the world (sorry pun not intended!) that we must ponder on it and not move on. Ask people what they think of God (outside the church) and mostly they assess Him on the basis of what they see of the world.  What do they see? Violence, illness, infirmity, injustice, earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and so on. Not a very good picture and so they say, “Well God can’t be a good God if He allows all this!” Now of course that it s a very short-sighted assessment and it does not take into account that we live in a Fallen World where the free will of mankind is expressed through sin and that sin creates the picture we’ve just observed.

So then they look away from the world and may look into the Old Testament, and then say, “I don’t like this God. He is harsh and judgemental.” Now again that is an incredibly limited and short-sighted view that ignores the teaching and illustrations of the Old Testament that God is loving and good and makes a shallow assessment of those times when God does bring discipline and correction in the form of judgement. Through the eyes of self-centred and godless Sin, the twisted and distorted mind makes poor assessments.

Even when you examine world religions (and I exclude Christianity and Judaism from this assessment) you find a fearful mankind who feel it is necessary to appease in some way this fearful God they seek to worship. Even in world religions Sin distorts thinking to suggest a harsh or angry holy God who is at a distance because he is utterly holy and we are not. (What holy means in their context is questionable).

Now John has been writing succinctly and graphically about Jesus, who he is and how he has come, and how they have been eyewitnesses to all he said and did. So far he has simply focused on the nature of the One they have encountered, this One who has come down from heaven, but now John indicates that Jesus came with a message which he conveyed to them. We may say, in terms of his goals and the significance of them that Jesus’ ministry was in two parts: the first part was revealing the Father to his disciples, and the second part was dying on the Cross to take our sins and the punishment for them. It is the first part that John refers to now. During his three years of ministry Jesus was constantly revealing or reflecting something of the Father through all he said and did.

So what did he do? Jesus himself summarised it at one point: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.” (Mt 11:5) That was pretty good! At the beginning of his ministry Jesus had applied the Isaiah prophecy to himself: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Lk 4:18,19). On the day of Pentecost, the apostle Peter under the anointing of the Spirit summarized Jesus ministry: “Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him.” (Acts 2:22) Later on to the first gentile believers he preached the same thing: “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.” (Acts 10:38)

It would be a foolish person who would deny that all of this says that Jesus came to bring good from God – because if, as we’ve seen previously, Jesus is the image or reflection of God, then what he does is what the Father does (Jn 5:17,19). Now again and again light and darkness are used as illustrations of good and evil. Jesus’ message that John and the others had received is that God is good and there is no evil in Him.

In his Gospel John wrote, “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.” (Jn 3:19-21)  Note that those verses follow the more famous ones: “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.” (Jn 3:16) That famous verse summarizes it all! God is good and His goodness is an expression of His love and His love was expressed by sending Jesus to die for us so that sin would not destroy us but that we would be saved and experience eternal life with Him. That is NOT the description of a harsh, unkind, evil God! No, God is exactly the opposite to those things, and that was the message that Jesus brought and was the message that John was now conveying. Hallelujah!

202. God’s Concession

Short Meditations in Mark’s Gospel: 202. God’s Concession

Mk 10:5-9   “It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied. “But at the beginning of creation God `made them male and female…. they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”

We live in a Fallen World where second best has to prevail. We also live in a world where I marvel when I hear people say that God is hard. Think about what we find in our verses today. Jesus acknowledges that the Law did speak about giving a certificate of divorce, but then he gives a devastating reason why Moses gave that Law, presumably at God’s behest.

This law allowing divorce came as a concession from God because He knew that people’s hearts would be hard and that divorce would be a preferable option to the alternative – whole scale adultery. Hardness of heart is the only reason for divorce ultimately. Let’s examine that.

A person with a hard heart is set on the course they have determined. In Christians circles divorce should never occur. Temporary separations maybe, but divorce never!  Why do I say this contrary to the modern trend where I am told there are as many divorces inside the church as outside it?  Within the church we are supposed to be a community committed to God and open to God’s grace and there for one another when we get into difficulties. So why do couples part? Mostly, I suspect, it is either because one party is committing adultery or the couple have allowed themselves to get into such a place of hostility that they seem unable to makeup.

Adultery is understandable because people fall to temptations. that is not to excuse it for it is sin and utterly wrong. If we, the modern church, believed the word of God, we would excommunicate such a believer as Paul did (1 Cor 5:1-13, esp. vo13) with the objective of bringing him to his senses and repentance. The grace that is then needed is for the partner receiving him (her) back.

But what about the hostile couple?  How did this come about? It came about because of a shallow relationship with Jesus and with the church and the couple allowing, bit by bit, division and dissension to build up. Grace is needed to restore this relationship and it is only a hard heart that refuses the wisdom and grace of Christ that comes through the elders of the church.

So when there is a refusal to receive counsel, a refusal to receive God’s grace and healing and repentance, then there is hardness of heart and thus divorce follows but, says, Jesus, God’s desire is that the couple stay together and (implied) resolve all the difficulties that has brought them to this point.

32. Ongoing Evil

Meditations in Malachi : 32.  Ongoing Evil

Mal 3:15   But now we call the arrogant blessed. Certainly the evildoers prosper, and even those who challenge God escape.’ “

There is an inherent problem living as a righteous and godly person in an unrighteous and ungodly society or nation. In challenging the people of God with the word of God, the prophet acknowledges this difficulty. It is just a variation of what we have already considered earlier, but it does highlight certain specifics that the wise Christian should be aware of.

Fact one: we live in a fallen world and large numbers of people (in the USA and UK this is now the clear majority) do not acknowledge God and live out their lives as they see fit, not as God sees is right. That is the unpleasant truth of living in the twenty first century. But having said that, it has always been that way! That is why Jesus told the parable of the weeds (Mt13:24-30, 36-43) and the parable of the fish (Mt13:47-50). Both parables remind us that good and evil live alongside each other and that a final judgement will only come at the end.

Fact two: God rarely seems to tell us when He is going to turn up. This means uncertainty. Will it just get worse and worse or will He come and change it?  That depends on exactly where we are in God’s economy. According to the book of Revelation the last day appears to be preceded by unparalleled godlessness and unrighteousness, but are we actually in those days? Only the Lord knows. If we are not then, considering Church history as a whole, we may expect the Lord to turn up with revival and turn many people to Himself. There have been many prophecies and much praying over the last half century that suggests that that will be, but the truth is we don’t know when. Lots of people have tried to put a positive spin on the state of the church and the state of the nation, but the truth is that God has NOT come in sovereign power in revival in this century at least. Yes, there were various ‘renewals’ in both the USA and the UK in the 1970’s to 1990’s but we have not seen that sovereign move that has been seen in earlier parts of Church history – and we still don’t know when it will come.

Fact 3: Jesus anticipated these feelings of frustration because, when teaching on prayer, using the parable of the widow and the judge, he concluded, And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Lk 18:6-8) Note the final words. What is he saying? Pray your heart out and keep on praying, but at the end of the day, regardless of whether you think you get answers or not – remain faithful!

So let’s remind ourselves by looking at the verse above, what it is that we have to contend with and stand against. First, says the prophet, “we call the arrogant blessed.”  In an ungodly society values get distorted and we esteem those who are proud and arrogant. I’m sure you can think of public figures (often politicians) who are loud, brash and self-esteeming – and who, as a society, we applaud. Second, he says,the evildoers prosper.” Those who are living unrighteously and are making big money seem to not only be getting away with their unrighteous and ungodly outlook on life, but they seem to be doing well out of it! Third, he says, even those who challenge God escape.” Are the names of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens familiar to you? They should be for they are two of the leading crusading atheists who have been pumping their anti-God propaganda into the world for the last few years – and apparently getting away with it.

So, go back to the first ‘fact’ and remind yourself that so often God allows the ungodly to persist for two reasons. First because there WILL come a final reckoning either at the end of a person’s life or at the Last Day and, second, because the Lord wants to give each person every opportunity to repent and turn to Him before their times runs out: “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Pet 3:8,9) So, don’t get frustrated with the unrighteousness and ungodliness you see around you. Pray your heart out and “overcome evil with good.” (Rom 12:21) Regardless of what others are doing, YOU “let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Mt 5;16)