33. God with Personality

Getting to Know God Meditations:  33. God with Personality

Mt 19:26    Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Num 23:19  God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind.

What a Mix! When we try to get a handle on just who God is, it is an impossible task. Yes, we can see the things – the many things – the Bible says about Him but even then so much of the time we are like people gazing in the jeweler’s window and perceiving lots of rings with little pieces of clear glass in, some sparkling, some not so much. To the uninitiated they are just that, colorless glass but to those in the know they are amazing diamonds. I once had the privilege of interviewing a jeweler who knew all about these things. He showed me a color grading kit, because diamonds have different colors varying from pure white (the most expensive ones) through a yellow-brown series. In his kit I could just distinguish the difference from one on the left to the tenth one on the right, but only just. He explained how jewelers like him have to go through a test where they are given 360 different colored diamonds and have to put them in order. He modestly acknowledged that at his last test he had got four wrong which is “considered quite good.”  I say all this because I believe it is sometimes like this with the Bible. One person looks and sees words, another sees and is deeply moved at the wonder.

God beyond us: Jesus, in our first verse above speaks of his Father in heaven for whom nothing is impossible.  In our scrabbling for understanding we are not sure what that means, but when we look at the context we grasp just a little.  In Numbers 23, the seer, Balaam, declares a truth about God. He’s not like us, He always speaks the truth and doesn’t randomly change His mind. (Whenever it appears that He does, it is always because the situation has changed, repentance has been seen.) No, God is very different from us and that is what makes Him scary. And yes, the marvel of the Bible is that in it we find human writers desperately trying to convey truth by the use of words and the use of many different word forms, that we referred to in an earlier study.

Personal Actions: We find again and again God is spoken of in terms of human actions. Let’s have some illustrations of this:

  • “the Lord said….. I will know.” (Gen. 18:21) A basic aspect of personality is knowing, of being aware. God knows, He is aware of every situation
  • “But God remembered Noah,” (Gen 8:1) Recollection, remembering, is an ability of the human mind and that comes from God whose knowledge includes looking back from the present and seeing what was – He ‘remembers’.
  • “God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham.” (Ex 2:24) Hearing is one of the five human senses, and so the writers seek to convey that sometimes God’s actions are prompted by His observation of us, what He ‘hears’ us doing. “I have heard them crying out.” (Ex 3:7b)
  • “And God saw that it was good.” (Gen 1:10) But it is not only hearing, this knowledge is also expressed as ‘seeing’.
  • “The Lord said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people.” (Ex 3:7a) It is this ‘seeing’ that sometimes seems to prompt Him into action, His awareness of the right time to act.
  • “The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma and said….” (Gen 8:21) All these things are expressions of living personality that is conscious and so when there is a smell, God ‘smells’ it.
  • “May God arise, may his enemies be scattered.” (Psa 68:1) God moves, God acts, He is not static.
  • “Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden.” (Gen 3:8) In the earliest phase of history, the closeness of God in the Garden meant that His movements in the material realm created sound that could be heard.
  • “I will walk among you and be your God.” (Lev 26:12) His close movement, suggesting intimacy, indicates His presence among His people.
  • “Enoch walked with God…” (Gen 5:24) A picture of two walking together suggests intimate ongoing fellowship.
  • “The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces.” (Isa 25:8) An action attributed to God to convey His activity or removing the need for tears.

Each of these ‘action’ descriptions seeks to convey the life that is the God that is there and interacting with us in this material world. When you read your Bible, watch out for more of these.

Personal Emotions: But the descriptions of God go beyond actions, they also include feelings, emotions, all indicators of personality. Here are a few:

  • “The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled.” (Gen 6:6) Instead of a hasty God of judgment as some would convey, we see God is moved and troubled and anguishes over our folly as a human race, and that has at times stirred regret in Him, but never such that He has wiped us out!
  • “How often they rebelled against him in the wilderness and grieved him in the wasteland.” (Psa 78:40) Again and again comes this sense of God grieving – which conveys being heart-stricken, if not heart broken by our folly. “Yet they rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit.” (Isa 63:10)
  • “They pour out drink offerings to other gods to arouse my anger.” (Jer 7:18) Negative behaviour creates negative responses, right responses. “He rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath.” (Psa 2:5) Wrath is anger stirred intro action
  • “do not erect a sacred stone, for these the Lord your God hates.” (Deut 16:22) Things that warp or twist us and make us less than we are designed to be, creates this strong negative response in God.
  • “as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you.” (Isa 62:5) On the other hand, there are times when good things happening create strong good responses in God.
  • the joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Neh 8:10) Delight or pleasure or happiness is often seen as an expression of God: “Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit.” (Lk 10:21)
  • “Enter into the joy of your lord.’” (Mt 25:21) In the parable, the lord is God. Jesus also spoke of his joy: “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” (Jn 15:11)
  • “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.” (Ex 34:6,7) Compassion gentle kindness, love, forgiveness all expressions of God’s emotions in respect of us.
  • “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) The motivating force, behind the coming of Jesus and his death on our behalf, was love.

Thus we have a variety of emotions that are expressions of personality, that we see in God.

And So?  Here is a storehouse of resources for meditation. Reflect on the wonder of these things, that we have dealings, not with an impersonal force, but a Being with personality (hence my earlier description of ‘spirit’ as ‘force with personality’.) You see it is very easy to read the Bible or talk about God in it, and for it to be mere words, words that convey little, impact even less, but the reality is that we have been given this book that records in the most incredibly uniform way that this Being that we refer to as God, is a being with personality who communicates with human beings who also have personality.  It is person to person that we find again and again throughout the pages of this book. Our actions, our feelings, are tainted by sin – this self-centred, godless propensity to get it wrong – but God’s actions and God’s emotions are never ‘wrong’, they are the perfect expression of a perfect being and perhaps that is something we ought to consider in more detail in the next study.

Snapshots: Day 4

Snapshots of the Bible Story: Day 4

The Snapshot: “In the beginning… God created…”: They purposefully expressed Himself, they purposefully revealed Himself, they purposefully thought of beings to whom He could express love and from whom receive love, in His likeness; purposefully and with great pleasure  they created a world of provision for mankind, of variety, of pleasure for the man He would form; purposefully formed man as a purposeful expression of love, man and woman to complement each other, people who could enjoy Him, enjoy each other and enjoy the world they had made for them. Perfect. Nothing random, no chance, no accident, but pure purpose. Be thankful and worship.

Further Consideration:  Being pedantic about God the Creator is unwise. In Gen 1 we see mention of the Spirit but it is ‘God’ (?the Father) who speaks and the changes happen. Yet in Ecclesiastes there is a beautiful yet tantalizing picture that speaks of wisdom personified working with the Father: “I was there when he set the heavens in place…. Then I was constantly at his side. I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence, rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind,” (Prov 8:27,30,31) that surely must refer to the Son, existing before Creation, now part of the Creation process. What an amazing description, “delighting in mankind”. Wow! Why else would God create mankind if not to delight in him.

To see the other side of that coin we have to turn to the Shorter Westminster Catechism that starts out, “What is the chief end of man? Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him for ever.” That was the conclusion the men of God started with, as they drew up that Catechism to be taught to their people. It starts with God. We are to glorify Him AND enjoy Him!  How many of us have that concept tucked away – you can enjoy God????? To appreciate and understand that, we have to ponder on the fact that the world – the earth – we inhabit was made by God for our pleasure No wonder we read, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” (Gem 1:31)

The whole package – this planet and us on it – was good. His provision on the earth was everything we would ever need. He gave us senses – sight, hearing, taste, smell, touch – and a superabundance of things to give pleasure to each sense. Take some time to think through each of those five senses and then the wonder of the world that makes them good. And when you have done that, ask Him to enlarge your perception of them even more, and help you be thankful even more. Contentment is good. Complacency is bad (Rom 1:21). Now, give thanks, offer praise.

Snapshots: Day 3

Snapshots of the Bible Story: Day 3

The Snapshot: “In the beginning… the Spirit of God hovered….” : (Gen 1): As the Thought and the Word expressed themselves outwards, the Force flowed from them, the Force who was one with them, the Force who was the very perfect expression of them, almighty, perfect, love, goodness, and the Force expressed the Personality that was Him, and whatever He wanted, the Force performed and brought about, perfectly expressing their will, so Thought and Word and Force expressed perfect harmony, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, as they would come to be known, the Trinity, the Godhead, just One but three in One. Ponder, marvel and worship.

Further Consideration:  The Holy Spirit is to many, a mystery and yet the Bible clearly reveals God in three forms: the Father, Supreme over all, the Son sent to earth to redeem mankind, but now back in heaven ruling alongside his Father, and then the Holy Spirit, the ‘executive arm’ if you like, of the Godhead, the power seen as He (they) move in our time-space history. “the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” (Gen 1:2) What a picture of the power of God hovering over the already existing earth, covered with water, just watching and waiting for the next move of God in the Creation saga. The Father speaks and it starts to change.

“Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” (Gen 2:7) However we view this graphic and perhaps picturesque language, we live because God breathed energy into us, apparently His Spirit. But later we find, “Then God said, “I’m not going to breathe life into men and women endlessly. Eventually they’re going to die; from now on they can expect a life span of 120 years.” (Gen 6:3 Message) We think we live because of food and drink but the Bible challenges that limited understanding.

There is a mystery beyond our understanding and, yes, only accepted by faith, that we live because He enables us to. Centuries later a writer was to declare about the Son, he is “sustaining all things by his powerful word.” (Heb 1:3) again adding to this mystery. ‘Life’ is more than meat and drink. The message is that the Holy Spirit is not only the One who moves in power expressing the will of the Godhead on earth, He is also the one who maintains ALL life, or should we say, They all maintain our life. Moses knew it: “O God, the God who gives breath to all living things….” (Num 16:22) It is both a mystery and a sobering thought, a thought that puts my life in perspective. Lord, thank you for the gift of today, of life.

18. Self-glory or…..

(We’ll put aside reflections on the Church and pick up John 7 again for the next week) 

Short Meditations in John 7:  18.  Self-glory or….

Jn 7:18 Whoever speaks on their own does so to gain personal glory, but he who seeks the glory of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him.

I sometimes conclude a prayer of petition with, “Father, may it be for your honour and glory,” or “Lord Jesus so that your name will be praised.”  I do it not only because I want that but also so that it will act as a reminder to me that this is what it is all about. We would be foolish to think that we never have mixed motives but praying like this does act as a reminder (and challenge?) that we serve the Lord of Glory, not the other way round.

The crowd have wondered how Jesus can teach as he does and Jesus declares it is from his Father in heaven (v.16) and the person who is committed to God will recognize this (v.17). But then he speaks what is a general principle but one that directly applies to him.

It is very simple, a speaker who comes of their own volition, speaks on their own behalf and, therefore, for their own glory. One who comes at the behest of another, coming on their behalf, seeks their glory or prestige. Now the clear implication in the light of v.16 is that Jesus speaks to the honour and glory of his Father in heaven and, being His Son, he speaks absolute truth and there is nothing false either in him or in what he says.

Again and again we see it in the Gospels, Jesus speaking and pointing the world to his Father. He is not there for his own glory but for the glory and honour of his Father in heaven. That is what these three years of ministry are all about – about pointing people to the Father and revealing the love of the Father for them. It is that simple. His even bigger task will be to die on the cross to take the sin of the world, but before that he is there to testify to his Father.

Perhaps this should come as a challenge to us. Our temptation may be to see the woes of the world and seek to address them through the ‘Law’ of the scriptures and seek to remedy the world’s problems in this way, but that is inadequate. Simply saying, this is how we ought to be living, is inadequate.

We have the problems we have because mankind is at odds with the Father in heaven. It is only by coming back into a right relationship with Him – made possible by Jesus’ finished work on the cross and now administered by the Holy Spirit – can lives be truly changed and problems addressed. If this is not foremost in our understanding then everything simply becomes another ‘self-help’ approach and we might as well write a book, “Following God’s laws is the answer.” Well it isn’t, it is coming back to the Father.

46. The Hidden God

Short Meditations in John 6:  46. The Hidden God

Jn 6:46 “No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father.   

It is perhaps the fact that God cannot be seen that is the biggest stumbling block to Christian and non-Christian alike. God is spirit said Jesus (Jn 4:24) and you can’t see spirit. There have been times in the Old Testament when there have been ‘visions’ of heaven but that is different from the reality and so Jesus’ statement in this verse is simple and true. The fact is that we may have seen representations of God (angels) but never God Himself – until Jesus came. “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” (Jn 14:9)

But Jesus said those words to his close disciples at the Last Supper, and they struggled with it, so here with the crowd he isn’t that specific – but he does imply that he who has come down from heaven has obviously seen the Father. Again, it is a simple statement but so simple and true. But it does require a great leap of faith – that one has come from God, and that one is Jesus.

Now, interestingly, this verse doesn’t claim divinity; it’s a little less than that, simply that he has come from God and that could be taken by the crowd in a variety of ways. It is almost as if Jesus is putting it in ways that are gentler and more easily accepted. The fact that he performed miracles, such as the recent feeding of the five thousand, lends credibility to the claim of having been sent by heaven: “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)

But this verse doesn’t lend itself to the interpretation that he was simply a man, like John the Baptist, sent with a mission. No, the clear and unavoidable implication is that he has seen God face to face in heaven and that, now as a human being, makes him unique.

That is the extent of this particular but the overall teaching of this chapter is much more than that. First and foremost it is that he existed in heaven and left it: “I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.” Second, he is constantly claiming a unique relationship with God in heaven who he existed with and calls Father. The strong implication is that he is saying he is the Son of the Father, the unique Son of God.

I think it is fair to say, looking at the Gospels and Acts, that the early disciples struggled with this idea and it took a while for it to settle in, but now we have the full canon of Scripture and have the whole New Testament before us, we should never doubt the claims that we are considering here, that Jesus Christ, was (always has been) and is (and will always be) the unique Son of God. Hallelujah!

45. Prophecy

Short Meditations in John 6:  45. Prophecy

Jn 6:45 “It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God. Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him comes to me.”

The Message version builds this verse as follows: “This is what the prophets meant when they wrote, ‘And then they will all be personally taught by God.’ Anyone who has spent any time at all listening to the Father, really listening and therefore learning, comes to me to be taught personally—to see it with his own eyes, hear it with his own ears, from me, since I have it first hand from the Father.”

There are really three parts to this verse. First there is the prophetic reference, a quote from Isa 54:13 that referred to Israel’s future, a time of blessing when God would teach the future generations. Life for the people of God includes receiving revelation from Him, teaching that would guide, lead and change them and make them be seen across the earth as the unique people of God. That was how it was supposed to be.

Second, there is reference to those who have “heard the Father and learned from Him.” The clear implication is that not everyone hears and certainly not everyone learns from Him. Hence the Message version’s, “really listening” emphasis. But this is the condition upon which the verse pivots. The first part is God’s intent, this second part is the response of those with open hearts to God, which leads on to, third, the outcome or response of such people who will take on board what they read or hear, they will turn to Jesus.

There is a sharp logic in this verse with a teaching that is easy to forget. God speaks, that is always stage one. When it first happens, before we turn to Christ, most of us don’t realise what is happening but the conviction that follows only comes because God has spoken into a receptive heart. When that conviction comes it is because we have heard God. As I say, I am sure most of us don’t realise this is what has happened, but it is. When His words penetrate our prepared hearts, we show we have heard by our response, which is always to turn to Jesus.

The apostle Paul asked the Galatians, “Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard?” (Gal 3:2) They had heard the gospel and then believed it and as a result were born again. To the Ephesians he said, “That, however, is not the way of life you learned 21 when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus.” (Eph 4:20,21) i.e. you were taught, you heard, and that provided a basis for how you were to live out this new Christian life. God’s word draws us to Christ and then Christ’s word guides us into the future. Make sure it happens.

38. The Descending Son

Short Meditations in John 6:  38. The Descending Son

Jn 6:38   For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.   

We finished yesterday with the thought that none of us is worthy, and it is the words of the prodigal that come to mind, “I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” (Lk 15:19) We, as sinners, gave up our ‘right’ to be called children of God at the Fall, but Christ has come to change that and restore us to that role – children of God (see 1 Jn 3:1), and it is that activity of Christ, that is encapsulated in this verse.

In this verse Jesus is not specific about what the will of God is – simply that he has come to do it. At the Last Supper discourse Jesus said, “If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love.” (Jn 15:10) Later he prayed to his Father, “I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do.” (Jn 17:4) Earlier he had taught, “The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life – only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.’” (Jn 10:17,18) Thus again and again we catch this sense of Jesus overriding desire to be seen to be doing his Father’s will. What he was doing was not just his bright idea, it was that which the Father had laid down before the foundation of the world and which the Son was now working through.

But there is something else here that appears nowhere else so clearly, something of immense significance: “I have come down from heaven.” Wow! There it is, the ultimate claim to divinity. Heaven was his home and he has left it to come to earth. It reveals his pre-existence, he existed in heaven long before he was born in the form of a human baby to a girl named Mary and a token father, Joseph.  Later in the chapter we find, “what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before!” (Jn 6:62) The hints continue on. In a later argument he said, “‘before Abraham was born, I am!’ (Jn 8:58) There again the ‘I am’ formula that was often used by him that subtly alluded to his divinity, his standing with the Father and his eternal existence as God.

Again and again there is a sharpness, a clarity in John that is absent in the other earlier three Gospels, that culminated near the end with that absolute clarity of purpose in writing: “these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (Jn 20:31) On every page of John there is something of this intensity that he had come to see as he remembered back to those wonderful days. Here in this verse we have one of the key gems, I believe, that show that purpose in such clarity.

37. The Father’s work

Short Meditations in John 6:  37. The Father’s Work

Jn 6:37 All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. 

The danger of meditating on individual verses is that it is so easy to lose a sense of the overall picture. The flow here is that the people in the crowd ask for the bread Jesus has spoken about (v.34). Jesus then spoke about himself as the bread of life (v.35) but declared that he knows they are not believing him (v.36). He then puts that into the bigger context of this present verse.

The first thing he is saying is that the reality is that people will not believe in him and come to him unless the Father (God) draws them, people whose hearts have been prepared and are receptive. Becoming a follower of Jesus (a Christian) is, first and last, a work of God. He (the Holy Spirit) convicts the individual and when they respond to Him with repentance He indwells them, God having justified them and then adopted them into His family. Our bit, the bit in the middle, is simply to surrender to Him and repent and seek His forgiveness. The rest is His activity.

There appears within this a sense of peace over who comes and who doesn’t, and perhaps we should rest in this ourselves, for there may be those we would like to see come to Christ – and we can certainly pray for them – but ultimately it is a work of God, a work that He brings to bear, I believe, on those He sees will be open to Him. Who that is always remains a mystery, but it should never take away our sense of optimism, that this one we have been sharing with and praying for, may yet turn and be born again.

Our part, seen in this verse, is seen in the words, “will come to me” and “whoever comes to me…” There is a significance in this which should not be missed. I recently was in a service where at the end a man responded to what had been going on and joyfully said, “I have found God in this service,” and I couldn’t help feeling, no you’ve been pointed in the right direction but we need to introduce you to Jesus.  ‘Coming to God’ is one thing but unless our seeker is introduced to Jesus and told that Jesus is his/her saviour who died for their sins, that initial excitement will go nowhere and will simply be dissipated and will result in a nominal church-going, not a transformed life.

For the person with the weak conscience or low self-esteem, Jesus affirmation that, “I will never drive away,” must come as a great assurance. Somebody said to me the other day, ”But I’m not worthy,” and I had to agree but added, “None of us is, but He makes us worthy by receiving us, accepting us then changing and transforming us, but that is a lifelong exercise.” He will not push you away, whatever.

30. Redeemed To (3)

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 30. Redeemed To (3)

Eph 2:6,7    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.

Recap Again: We are looking at the verses in Eph 2 that follow on from those where Paul describes our ‘old life’ and we said that from verse 4 he balances out those things with the things God had made us to be and is making us to be: alive to Him (v.5), joined with Christ (v.6), recipients of His incredible blessings (v.7). In the previous two studies we considered something of what it means to be ‘alive’ spiritually, and what it means to be joined with Christ, seated with him in the heavenly realms.  We move on now to the third aspect.

Incomparable:  The idea of ‘the riches of his grace’ sounds manageable until we note the word ‘incomparable’ which simply means cannot be compared to anything else, unmatched, unique, unparalleled, i.e. there is NOTHING else like it! Whatever this means it is mind blowing and because it is that enormous, that incredible, it is probably challenged by our intellect that says, ‘Surely that can’t be!” And of course you know who from Gen 3 is there in the background encouraging us to think like that. Our great danger as Christians, is that we get caught up in family life, caught up in our work, caught up in the bizarre goings-on of the world today, and we lose perspective, we forget who we are, who God is and what he has done for us, and so we live mundane lives of struggle instead of gloriously equipped lives of blessing. Let’s change that! Let’s think about what these things mean!

Familiar acts of God’s Grace:  There are certain aspects of God’s grace, His working out the effects of Christ’s work on the Cross when He finds a responding repentant heart in us, that I refer to quite often in these studies and because they become familiar they tend to lose their wonder.

First, there is the fact of our justification when we turn to Christ, the fact that God puts us legally right with Him and with justice, ‘just as if’ we’d never sinned. That involves forgiveness and the removal of our guilt so that we can be at ease with God and no longer fearful of any punishment.

Second, there is the fact of our being adopted as God’s children (Jn 1:12,14, Rom 8:14-17, Gal 3:26, 1 Jn 3:1) and we receive a new identity, ‘sons of God’ (Rom 8:15, Gal 4:6, Eph 1:5) which implies the possibility of an intimate relationship with Almighty God, a sharing of His heart, and an entering into His ‘business’ (that’s the significance of ‘sons’ in the OT).

Then, third, to enable those things to be worked out practically on a day to day basis, He imparted His own Holy Spirit to indwell us, to both empower us and be a conduit of revelation from Him to us.  Now I just said that these things become familiar and familiarity takes away the wonder of the reality, so let’s try and expand on those things and try and capture something of the wonder that is there.

Our Justification: Many see this as some theoretical, theological aspect with little practical outworking but exactly the opposite is true. The fact that we have been justified by God means that we don’t have to work to try to impress God, get Him on our side or even to forgive us – because He has already done that. How many Christians subtly still try to DO things to make themselves right with God? You can’t He’s already done it. Reading the Bible, praying, witnessing, going to church, are all good things in themselves but they are not what makes you a child of God, they are, as is often glibly said, ‘the icing on the cake’. You and I are guilt free, forgiven, and children of God.

All over the world there are millions of people who do not know that about themselves, and it has crippling effects. Only yesterday I sat in a (non-Christian) forum about homelessness and listened to a number of those from the local authority and other agencies who work with the homeless, and as they rolled out the causes, again and again they mentioned relationship breakdowns and even mental health issues, and both causes, they said (these non-Christians) were increasing daily and are often interlinked. This in a nation that is one of the most affluent in the world, that has so much and yet so little because the vast majority (possibly between 93 to 95%) are self-centred and godless. Most show little interest in God or spiritual matters, so caught up are they in materialism. On the outside, so much seems good in the nation, but look into individual lives and you find people who feel guilty but don’t know why, people who struggle with themselves and with the people around them for self-accreditation, self-approval, but constantly fail to get it. Why? Because it only comes with God’s forgiveness because of Christ.

Our adoption: Then, we said, there is this matter if our being adopted as children of God, even ‘sons’ of God. The world derides us and says how dare you make such claims, but our answer has to be that it is not OUR claim but that of the Bible and of God. This is our anchor point in life, everything hinges on this, my goals, my desires, my aims and objectives, my endeavours. Yes, I may have a job, yes I may have various roles in life – husband, father, worker etc. etc. – but actually the meaning that underpins my life NOW is that I am a child of God.

Father: Some of us struggle with the concept of God as Father, because of our earthly experiences, but dare you see Him as loving, gentle, caring, compassionate, understanding, forgiving (all things the Bible says of Him) and see yourself in a picture, as a little child snuggled up on His lap, totally secure, utterly bathed in love and peace, because that is what this idea of adoption enables us to have.

Empowered: This is what He is redeeming us to, to realise the reality of this, that His Holy Spirit really and truly does indwell us, a concept that is unbelievable by the world, that God could put a part of Himself in us, to link us to Him, and to act as a power source and channel of revelation. While the world struggles with self-help courses and so often wakes each day with a sense of dread at the day to come, you and I wake with the knowledge that we are children of God and have within us a spring of living water, just waiting to spring up afresh for today, to refresh us, wash us, to satisfy our thirst and be a life source for the day. But it is not just an impersonal power source, like adrenalin, it is HIM. But here is the challenge; if you are like me, it is a struggle to believe that reality, it is something we have to declare again and again. The Bible says it, so I must believe it. It is a reality and yet it is a reality that clashes with my old self-centred focus that so often is there. I have to purposefully pause and be still to know that He is God – here, now this moment, and He indwells me, and He’s here for me.

The Reality: Be honest, the things of the day call, the concerns of the day distract, I wake up after a poor night and feel weak, the burdens of life call to me, the lacks of church life cause me anguish – but He is here and I need reminding of that, I need to declare it afresh and then experience it, and when sometimes it is not so clear and obvious, just trust. But the truth is still here in this; on a bad day when I feel weak, suddenly, almost inexplicably, strength seems to come from somewhere, and I sense His provision to enable me to get on being the person He’s called me to be and do the things He’s called me to do. On a bad day when I feel confused and the way of the world seems even more chaotic and the church doesn’t seem to be living up to its potential, suddenly, almost inexplicably, a peace descends, and I know He is still in charge, and together we can face it. On a bad day when I am confronted with perplexing problems and paralyzing situations and antagonistic people, suddenly, almost inexplicably, a sense of what needs to be done settles in my mind and that sense of peace returns and He conveys His wisdom to see us through the maze of life.

Perhaps more than any other study I have ever written, I am left with a sense of having fallen short as we have started to ponder what these words – incomparable riches – mean, a sense that rather like the iceberg, still nine-tenths of it is still hidden. Maybe I’ll have to try to continue it tomorrow, maybe not, we’ll see.  But this is what He calls us to, this is what He is redeeming us to. I am a child of God.

37. The Father’s Testimony

Short Meditations in John 5:  37. The Father’s Testimony

Jn 5:37  And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, 

After basically rejecting John’s testimony for himself but recognising that it was for the benefit of the people, Jesus makes reference to the testimony his Father has given to him. Three times in the Gospels God the Father broke into the affairs of His Son, to affirm him.

First, at his baptism: “As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Mt 3:16,17)

Second, on the Mount of Transfiguration, While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” (Mt 17:5).

Third, in John’s Gospel after the raising of Lazarus and in the run up to the last hours, we read, Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him.” (Jn 12:27-29)

The two incidents from the Synoptic Gospels bring as double message from heaven – Son, I love you and Son, I am pleased with you. Now what is interesting is that the first of those, at Jesus’ baptism, is before Jesus has started his ministry. It is simply a bold affirmation that He is pleased that His Son has gone to the earth to fulfil the plans of the Godhead – and that He loves him.

In the second incident, on the Mount of Transfiguration, while it is clear that it comes with an instruction to the disciples – Listen to him – it is also clearly an affirmation of love and approval for Jesus himself.

In the third incident, recorded by John, when the Father says He has glorified His name, it is an affirmation of Jesus’ ministry that has one that so far, and will yet do that in the coming days and hours.

The audible voice of God heard on these occasions, reminds us of the voice of God that was heard at Mount Sinai (e.g. Ex 19:19,20), again at most significant times in the life of Israel. Mostly in these three present incidents, however, the voice was not so much for the people, who often either didn’t hear it or attributed it to an angel, but for Jesus himself. It was, in other words, the Father testifying to His love and approval of His Son – for the benefit of His Son at crucial times.