Snapshots: Day 13

Snapshots: Day 13

The Snapshot: “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid….”  Failure means guilt; guilt means fear. Fear means we run in shame to hide, or we kneel in need. Hiding and denial or honest acceptance; I need saving from me.  This is the place that would reveal my need for God’s salvation to save me from myself – if I dare face myself honestly.   God knew it would be like this, God was not surprised, and so when He banishes from the garden it is not the end but the beginning, the beginning of a self-centred life, a godless life where it is now God who hides only to come when we call. The life to come was to teach me, will I face me and be honest and call on Him, or will I still pretend and hide?  Lord, help me be honest.

Further Consideration: We finished yesterday saying the wisest course when we fail is to own up to it, but the trouble is that so often we are so unsure of the wonders of the Bible and of God, or we listen to the distorted truths of the enemy or his outright lies, that we fear retribution, we fear what He is going to do to us.

There are those preachers of the past who have majored on the awfulness of God’s wrath, completely misunderstanding it (and we’ll consider it later in the Bible) and ignoring the wonder of the truth that the apostle John declared, “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8,16), so clearly demonstrated in Jesus’ wonderful parable we refer to as ‘the Parable of the Prodigal Son’. The harsh and legalistic preacher would have the son starve to death at the pigsties, fearing to return home to the anger of the father. Instead the son clearly knows something about the father still, and risks returning home and all that might follow.

What followed? The father was out looking for the son and when he saw hm on the horizon he ran to meet him with open arms, welcomed him and reinstated him into the family and threw a celebratory party for him. So how can God the Father do that for His sinful, failing children? Because of what Jesus has done.  It’s not a case of ignoring the sin but of consigning it to the Cross where the eternal Son dealt with the guilt by taking the punishment. It defies rational thought but that is what happened.

When we truly hear this and understand it, we can come in repentance and, yes, contrition, and seek the forgiveness that is readily available to the repentant who own up to their misdeeds. That can come more easily in the security of the gospel, in the security that God is for us, but still wants us to ‘own up’ so we can then receive the forgiveness that is waiting for us. Maturity, for the Christian, is learning to ‘own up’ – quickly! We said it before but it bears repeating. Don’t let fear keep you from God, instead receive His perfect love. (see 1 Jn 4:18)

3. Challenged by Scripture

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 1 – Falling Short?

3. Challenged by Scripture

Matt 16:18   I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.

Acts 9:31  Then the church … enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers.

A Brief Pause: We are considering the need to look afresh at what constitutes this thing we call the Christian Church, looking hopefully with humility and grace, while facing the instances of the Church falling short of what it should be, but seeing these as goals to be dealt with, not causes of guilt, failure and discouragement. A concern for people and a desire to encourage love for one another, is also another motivating force in our quest to review modern church life. But there yet are other things that press us on as we consider the need to go down this path. The first of them is the way we approach Scripture and the challenges it brings us.

Refocus: Previously I shared about some people I know who have had a less than wonderful experience of church. Those were all negatives, but you may not have had such experiences and think your church life is something quite different, something good. (If that is so, I am pleased for you.)

I did wonder about painting some big brush-stroke pictures of churches that I have experienced and may be the sort you attend. The danger of doing this is that I could appear destructively critical and that’s not my intention.  Anything I write, is with the intention of getting us to look at what we are doing and ask the question, “Is there something better than this that the Lord wants for us?” Now the problem is that until we work our way through the teaching about the Church in the New Testament, we may think we are all right, and any comments that I may make at this point in these word-pictures will really need the support of the content that will follow in the rest of this series, so be patient with me please.

Open to the Bible? But this talk about the New Testament teaching raises an important assumption here. First, I believe what the Bible says – all of it – and so I do not believe we can shrug off particular verses because we either do not understand them or they scare us. Let’s check ourselves with a few New Testament quotes.

For example: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever,” (Heb 12). Take it at its face value and it means that the Jesus who ministered on earth for three years, is the same Son of God who continues to minister on earth today, through his body, the church, as we’ll see later. And when Jesus said, “Anyone who believes in me will do the works I do,” (Jn 14:12) what does it mean but that we, the Church are to be doing exactly what we see Jesus doing in the Gospels, and if we are not, there is a goal to go for.   Now these may be foreign verses for some and if they are, may I invite you to hang around and see how they can possibly be worked out, rather than run away to something more comfortable.

More Wonderings: I am provoked to ponder on these things whenever I pick up my Bible, especially the New Testament, it seems. Acts 9:31, for example, speaks about the way the very early church started to grow. I was struck by the description of it: “Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit…..”   Trying to be honest, I wonder how many churches that I know (and even more I know nothing of) could say that this is a reasonable description of them, that they are “living in the fear of the Lord”.  Where is this holy respect for the Lord of glory, a respect for a God who shuts churches down (Rev 2 & 3) and even takes His children home to glory prematurely (see 1 Cor 11:30)? Do we even believe in a God who does this? And how many of us, I wonder, could say that, as a church, we know what it means to be “encouraged by the Holy Spirit”? Just wonderings. What picture of ‘church’ does the New Testament convey? Is there something more for which we should be aiming? I believe it is there to be seen in the pages of the New Testament.

Now if you thought you passed the tests of belief in what you read in the paragraphs above, how, for example, did you react to my references in the paragraph above to Rev 2 & 3 and 1 Cor 11? I said nothing there that those passages don’t imply or say specifically.

Preparing the way of the Lord: To prepare ourselves for the days ahead, may we give thanks for all the good things we know of our local churches but pray and ask the Lord, is there something more He wants us to become, to more fully express Him to the watching world. If we can face the truth, we must acknowledge that mostly the number of believers in the West has been declining over the past twenty or more years and our influence on our societies have been negligible. If that wasn’t true, our societies would not have been declining spiritually and morally in that time in the way that they have. But peering into the future also means we face the challenge that the Bible teaches that one day Jesus is going to return in power. What will he find when he returns?

The Coming of the Lord?  Put most simply we have two options. First, we can sit back and just watch the continuing decline and continuing growing dissatisfaction within the church and wait for the Lord to come either in revival (of which there are some signs around the world) or in the Second Coming (and I do believe that event is possibly rapidly approaching). Second, we can ask the Lord to teach us to come in line with His word and be available to His Spirit, so that the Bride will be much better dressed when the Bridegroom returns (see Rev 19:7,8).  Jesus once asked a very simple and short question which I find echoes around in my mind: “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Lk 18:8) Something to ponder on, and we’ll look at what that means at a later date.

Back to the Beginning:  So Jesus said, I will build my church.” I keep finding I come back here. What sort of Church does Jesus want, what is he working towards. I recently came across some notes from the past that I had when, over a decade ago, I asked our church to each paint a vision of the church they felt Jesus wanted. Here, to conclude, is part (and only part) of one of those ‘visions’ to whet your appetite.  See how it grabs you, just some of the possibilities:

  • “It would be a place where learning was normal, new believers shown the way, introduced to the Bible, prayer, fellowship, worship and witness, and introduced to the life in the Spirit, introduced to gifts and abilities in the kingdom of God, released, and equipped to find their place in the body that expresses the kingdom of God.
  • It would be a secure place where healing from the past can be received and enabling given to face the challenges of the present. It would be a place where each person knows they are loved, supported, encouraged and empowered to become the person God has designed them to be, individually and within the body. It would be a place where practical and financial needs are shared and met together, and life changes brought about.
  • It would be a place where outsiders are welcomed in and shown the reality of the love of God in word and deed, and the possibility of a new life, forgiven, cleansed, and set on a new path, a life where the power and the personal word of God was shared, received and used to bring change of life. It would, in other words, be a city on a hill whose light shines forth to transform the community.”

Just possibilities. These were, as I said, just some of the things put forward. What would you like to add to a picture of what the Church could be like? Make your own list, and then pray for those things to come perhaps.

13. God of Encouragement (1)

Meditations on the Reality of Christmas: 13. God of Encouragement (1)

Lk 2:8,9  And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them

There are two prayers that I know God has answered for me, time and time again. They are, “Lord, please grant me wisdom to know what to do here,” and “Lord, I need your encouragement, please give it.”  And He does.  Sometimes people say, “How can you know that God is for you when sometimes He seems so distant?” My reply? “Yes, there are such times but there are these many other times when I pray like this and He answers very quickly, sometimes straight away and sometimes  within the day.

Mary and Joseph, in this stable out back of the inn would, I suggest, need a fair bit of encouragement. Previously we considered the many uncertainties of their situation, past, present and future, so a little bit of encouragement would go a long way to help here. Now God could have given the innkeeper or his wife a dream and, as clear as it might have been, like “Go and tell that couple in the stable I love them and am with them,” they might not have responded. But I have a bigger reason why God didn’t do that. It is because God is a big God, sometimes a flamboyant God, a God who really pushes the boat of celebration out; you’ve only got to read various passages in the Old Testament to see that, or even the times in Acts when He pours His Holy Spirit out on the Day of Pentecost and in Cornelius’s house. There are mega-blessing times of celebration.

So, no, just a dream isn’t going to do it here. This is a time that is worthy of something far more spectacular. Now if it had been China perhaps He might have used fireworks but I don’t believe Israel had them – I may be wrong, but anyway God has got something far better lined up, and He brings it in stages so He won’t blow away the recipients.  So, who does He come to?

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.” (v.8) I love this! I love the whole Christmas story but this bit I always think is brilliant! Shepherds, because of their lifestyle, living out on the hillsides with their sheep, guarding them and protecting them and leading them to fresh pasture, were outcasts. They didn’t turn up for Synagogue time every Saturday and their personal hygiene probably lacked something (no hot showers on the hillside). So, yes, they tend to miss out on the life of the community, but God doesn’t miss out on anyone so, yes, in the middle of the night when the baby is born, who else is awake who I can tell? Ah, some of my shepherds on duty warning off the predators of the dark.

So, “An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.” Yes, well, there are going to be some downsides. An angel carrying the glory of the Lord is going to be pretty spectacular, so live with it, what’s a little fear, OK a lot of fear, between friends?

Now there is too much here to cover in one short meditation so we’ll continue this in the next one but, hey, here’s the point, here’s the question I want to ask as we try to penetrate the reality of these things. This angel, and the others who follow, comes to bring good news from God.  What sort of God do you and I believe in? Your answer will almost certainly be reflected in the sort of life you live and the sort of church you are part of. If it is a God of rules (er, wasn’t the Law the Old Testament?) you probably live a somber life and go to somber church services that are all about ‘serious’ theology.

Everything I find about Jesus’ ministry in the Gospels is all about celebration. The coming of the kingdom meant, “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) and Jesus also said, “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) Serious? I don’t think so! Celebration? Most definitely! Perhaps we are serious because we don’t have a Jesus who does these things today. Please pray what you dare now.

5. Peace?

Meditations in Colossians: 5:  Peace?

Col 1:2b   Grace and peace to you from God our Father

Have you ever wondered why in so many of his letters the apostle Paul in his greeting to his readers seeks grace and peace for them, and now as we are considering it, specifically peace?  A simple and short answer may be because peace is a part of the salvation package and as such is something we would want to ensure we all have.  And that suggests it is possible that we do not appreciate and appropriate it, and that it is possible to lose it!

Perhaps a useful starting point would be to ponder on the absence of peace in the world. The absence of peace is anxiety, so why are so many people anxious? Let’s look at the main reasons and then we’ll see how the Gospel meets them. I am going to start out by suggesting that anxiety is a response to a fear and so if we can identify the fear, we will see the cause of the anxiety and then go on to see how the Gospel meets that with peace.

Fear of God: I think that the first fear that the world struggles with is this fear of or about God, which is why there are so many so-called ‘world religions’.  An awareness that there is a hidden world, a world more than mere materialism, is prevalent in all cultures. Ours (temporarily at least)  has the majority putting their trust in materialist declaring that there is nothing more that that which can be seen or touched, and yet increasingly there is a disillusionment creeping in that recognises that this is not fulfilling, and so we are gradually moving from getting our kicks from things and turning towards getting experiences, but that too will prove a hollow hope.

Yes, there are many who are honest enough to say that they sense that there is something more and they often tend to be superstitious, fending off the ‘who knows what’ which is very similar to animists and the like from third world countries. The worry that many have is, if there is a God what will He be like? The enemy seeks to convey a distorted picture from a largely ignorant knowledge of the Old Testament and conveys that He must be a nasty God. Perhaps it is better to remain in ignorance of Him. And then Jesus comes and reveals a God of absolute love and at the heart of the Gospel is this, that perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment,”  (1 Jn 4:18) and we find that the perfect love who is God has come to deal with our punishment and suddenly we are presented with the wonderful possibility  that we can be adopted children of a loving heavenly Father who just desires good for us. Peace!

Fear of who I am: Observe human beings and you observe people who are constantly striving to make something of themselves or present themselves well to all others.  Yes, that is what we do, and then suddenly reality breaks through and we realise we are not the nice people we wish we were. We act with hostility towards others, we denigrate others, we are unkind or uncaring. We eat to much and wish we were thin. We smoke and justify why we can’t give up. We drink too much and deny we have a problem. That’s life in the human race and we could say so much, much more. We snap at loved ones and wish we could control our temper, and so it goes on. We buy self-help books or go on personal improvement courses but ultimately nothing seems to help. And then we are presented with the Gospel and with it comes forgiveness through the Cross and empowering by the Holy Spirit and we are ‘born again’ and we are new people; and suddenly everything is different. since we have been justified through faith, weA have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  (Rom 5:1)   Peace!

Fear of my guilt being found out (about yesterday).  We all of us have a past and many of us have things we would rather forget and things we dread might come to light and show us up in bad light.  We were violent, we had an abortion, we stole something, we took drugs, we took a bribe to look the other way, so many things that can act as something nasty in a dark cupboard in the recesses of our memory. And then Jesus saves us and he not only deals with our present sins but all the sins of yesterday. Yes, we were wrong, yes we are sorry and yes, only he can wash us clean of the past. Today is another day, a new day and we are a new person: if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Cor 5:17) That old sinner, that old guilty person has gone. They have died and are dead and buried. This person that is you today is a completely new person, cleansed, forgiven and given a new life and a new hope. Peace!

Fear of not coping (in today):  But then we have anxiety about today, how I can cope, how I can cope with people, how I can cope with difficult circumstances, how I can cope with the pressures of life, how I can make the money go round, how I can cope with failing health, how I can cope …. with it all!   And then I meet Jesus and I am told that I am  God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do,” (Eph 2:10) and I realise that I am now living within his plans for me and he has it all mapped out and whatever he puts before me, he will give me the grace to handle (and I now know all about grace!) Suddenly I realise he is in charge and he cares for me, loves me, provides for me- and that includes all of today. Peace!

For of what might happen (tomorrow): And not only does that include today but it also includes whatever might happen tomorrow and I hear the same whisper that the apostle Paul heard, “My grace is sufficient for you,” (2 Cor 12:9)  and the same word that came through the Hebrews writer, Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you,” (Heb 13:5) and I realise that he will be there tomorrow and his resources will still be there for me tomorrow, and as I browse the words of the New Testament, I find more and more verses that show he will always be there providing for me. Peace!

So there it is. No wonder Paul includes peace in his greetings, as one of the things he wants for us. We need it to handle the world and we handle the world because of what He has done for us and because of what He has said He will do for us. No wonder Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (Jn 14:27)  Jesus was at peace knowing he was in his Father’s plan, in control of all that went on, and knowing what would be the outcome.  And he gives that peace to you and me – knowing that he is in control, he has a plan and we are part of it, he has done everything that needs doing to deal with our Sin, and he has given us his Spirit to empower us every day. Peace! Receive it, enjoy it, hold on to it!

7. He leads, I follow

Meditating on the Will of God: 7:  He leads, I follow

Rom 12:1,2  I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God–this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.

We made reference in the previous study to the partnership that requires our acquiescence to His leading, in our ongoing Christian lives. Let’s consider that some more.  The apostle Paul in our verses above calls us to present our bodies to God for His use, His disposal some might even say. Talk of ‘God using us’ implies that God leads the way and I follow and allow Him to bring about His will on earth through me. That, surely, what must be in Paul’s thinking when he says what he says above.

Now there is a danger that is observable in modern-day Christianity that can flow out of this talk, and the talk of Christian discipleship. The danger is that we adopt a wrong attitude to our ‘service’.  We see ourselves sometimes as slaves who are at God’s beck and call, who are available to be burnt out on the altar of His service, and in one sense something of this is true but such thinking forgets bigger thinking. Let me try and explain.

Let’s start with Jesus parable that we of the refer to as the parable of the talents in Matt 25. There are three recipients of the talents from the master. When the last one, who had received only one talent faces his master, he declares, I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.” (Mt 25:24,25) Many of us see God as ‘a hard man’ and our life and our service, deep down, is motivated by fear and as a result we are not fruitful. We do what we do because we ‘ought’ to, because it is expected of us, not out of the love and wonder of the relationship that we have with the good and loving God. We see Him as hard, to be ‘obeyed’. Well of course a young child obeys its loving parent because it loves the parent and it is a natural response. The child who obeys out of fear has a poor relationship.

When our children were small we caught them one day holding what was obviously a church service and one of them leading it was clearly supposed to be me! They  took me off well. Little children copy their loving parents because they love and admire them. Where we feel we ‘ought’ to pray, read our Bible, worship, witness etc., each of those actions is pretend and artificial because they come out of duty not out of the loving flow of the Spirit. ‘He leads, we follow’ is supposed to be a natural flowing thing.

When the disciples followed Jesus they did so because they saw something in him that was otherworldish and which was good and worth being with. When God leads it is always to lead us into something good, something which will bring blessing – to us and to others. When God called Moses at the burning bush it was to make him into a great leader and deliver His people. When God challenged Pharaoh it was to confront the one thing that stopped him becoming a giant in God’s sight – his pride. It was – and this would only be seen if Pharaoh had recognized God moving through Moses – a call that would deliver him from superstitious worship and lead his own people out of that as well, into a relationship of blessing with the living God, but his pride and his hard heart rejected that. What a classic picture of folly. Nebuchadnezzar, used by God to discipline Israel and the surrounding nations, didn’t understand that he has acting as the arm of the Lord and so went over the top in his activities and had, himself, to be disciplined as we considered before, but ending up with that real relationship with the Lord where he concluded, “I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just.” (Dan 4:37)

Coming back to our starting verses from Rom 12, I suspect that there are some of us who fear such language: “offer your bodies as living sacrifices.” We fear because deep down we feel God is a hard God who might cause us pain. Another way I have heard it put is that we come with the attitudes of orphans, we don’t see ourselves as sons with a loving heavenly Father. Orphans struggle on their own and have every reason to feel that life can be hard, but we are called to sonship: “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 Jn 3:1) and “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus,” (Gal 3:26) and  “Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but a son,” (Gal 4:6,7) Sons in the Bible are those who enter into the inheritance and joy of the father; they are those who have a relationship and all they do flows out of that relationship. When they ‘work’ it is an expression of that loving relationship.

So often in the parable of the prodigal son, we highlight the wrong attitude of the elder son at the end of the parable: “Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders.” (Lk 15:29) That is the language and mentality of a slave. How many of us serve the will of God like this? Instead of enjoying the wonder of the relationship we get bogged down with ‘serving’ with ‘discipleship’ with ‘laying down our life’. We miss the wonder, the freedom and the abundance of joy and blessing that comes when we realise that God is a loving, giving, good God who desires our constant blessing. If you struggle with these words, it is probable you see yourself as an orphan or a slave or a worker, instead of a glorious son of God. Ask Him to open the eyes of your heart to see the reality of what He has on His heart for you and the wonder of His daily, giving love for you.

4. Desperation Prayer

Motivation Meditations in Acts : 4 :  Prayer comes from Desperation

Acts  1:14  They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.

The motivation behind people praying is probably very varied. The nature of prayer itself is also open for consideration.  What takes place when people pray? I’m sure there are some people who pray out of superstitious fear and they therefore come as craven children to a monster God – if I don’t pray I’ll be in trouble with God. Some people, I am sure, pray by habit and it is merely a repetition of words. Whether people pray for things, or for change of circumstances, or whatever, and whether they pray in faith believing that their praying is going to have effect, is another whole area to ponder upon. I’m sure some people genuinely pray out of love for God and their words will be a demonstration of a loving monologue. Some pray with a listening ear and are more concerned to catch what God would say to them rather than what they would say to God.

Yes, these are all areas for fertile investigation but when it comes to the recorded prayers of the Bible, there is one characteristic that I note above all others – desperation! What we have in our verse from Acts above is, I suggest, a demonstration of this. Consider their circumstances. Jesus has just left them for once and for all and they are alone. He had spoken about them waiting in Jerusalem until the promised Holy Spirit was sent from the Father, but beyond that he had not given them any instruction. For instance, he had not told them to pray.

I think we almost need to pray for revelation to truly catch something of the awfulness of their situation. Imagine you live in a world of bright and brilliant colours and then one day something happens to your eyes and everything appears as shades of grey. Imagine you have had wonderful hearing and had appreciated amazing music and even the sound of birds outside and then suddenly you catch an ear infection and everything now seems muffled and you have lost a large part of the range you could hear previously. Having walked with and watched Jesus ministering for three years, and then having him taken away from you – twice – must have been something like that. The LIFE of the world had been with you and now he is not!

But there is also your own life. You gave up everything to follow him. Your old life, the things you did three years ago are either just not there or they appear so unattractive in the light of the experiences you have had over these past three years, that going back to that life seems unimaginable. So what can the future hold? You haven’t a clue. The source and motivator of your life has gone so how will you know what to do and where to go? There is suddenly a massive void. Help! And so you pray,

I have often wondered if one sign of maturity is how fast you turn to pray when a crisis hits. It’s the obvious thing to do, the sensible thing to do, and Scripture confirms that. Let’s take just a few examples from the Old and the New Testaments (and there are plenty of others).

Hannah in 1 Samuel 1 is such an example: In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the LORD.” (v.10). Hannah was one of two wives of a man named Elkanah and the other wife was fertile and kept bearing children but Hannah appeared barren and the other wife kept making nasty comments about this. After a number of years of this, Hannah is desperate and we find her prayer there.

Another good illustration is Hezekiah when he is being threatened: “And Hezekiah prayed to the LORD: “O LORD, God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. Give ear, O LORD, and hear; open your eyes, O LORD, and see; listen to the words Sennacherib has sent to insult the living God.” (2 Kings 19:15,16)  Lord, we’re in trouble and we need your help!  So many of David’s prayers in his psalms were like that!

In the New Testament the disciples coming back after a brush with the law, is another good example (Acts 4:24). Peter and John have just been threatened by the authorities and the new group of believers is under threat. They go home and they pray, and there is an element of desperation about this – Lord, please do something! Another such example is when Herod has just had James killed and Peter is next in line in prison and so we read, “So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.” (Acts 12:5). You bet they were praying! It looked like Herod was about to work his way through all the top leaders!

So here’s a thought: if a crisis is a prime motivation to pray or, if you like, being strongly aware of a great need, should our starting point today, here in the West, be the prayer, “Lord, please open my eyes to see the state of your church and the state of this godless world that is under your judgment”? Perhaps sometimes we don’t pray because we don’t see the mess that our world is in and we don’t catch the Lord’s heart for it in these days. Thus that revelation would be the motivating force that would make us more of a praying people. A sharp awareness of our plight is a strong motivating force. The persecuted church know their plight and they pray. Do we need something like that to motivate us?  May that not have to be!

28. Walk in His Ways

Meditations in Deuteronomy : 28 :  Walk in His Ways

(Focus: Deut 10:1-29)

Deut 10:12,13 And now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the LORD’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?

Yet again Moses reminds Israel of their history with the Lord. He reminds them that after the first two stone tablets had been smashed, he had had to make two new ones and an ark or wooden chest in which to keep them (10:1-3) and the Lord wrote on them as before (10:4). Then they had travelled on and Aaron had died (10:6), then further on when the Lord set apart the Levites to carry the ark (10:7-9). On the mountain he had pleaded with the Lord not to destroy them and the Lord allowed them to go to enter the land. (10:10,11) After reminding them yet again of that, Moses calls them again to comprehensively follow the Lord (v.12,13 above). Observe the language.

Attitude fear your God, have a right respect for His awesomeness. Actionwalk in all His ways. Let your daily lifestyle conform to His will for you. Heart commitmentlove him. Heart expression serve Him. Assessment of both – wholeheartedly and being obedient. Note that the complementary attitudes of fear and love and seen to be there by the willingness to serve and obey the Lord.   Service and obedience are the measure of the heart. Yet, one must add, that a cold obedience and service is NOT what is being asked of Israel; it is to be a relationship of love.

The apostle John had this in mind when he wrote, We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.” (1 Jn 2:3-6) i.e. a genuine relationship of love with the Lord is expressed by obedience to all the New Testament says, and to the leading of the Holy Spirit. Failure in these areas raises questions as to the reality of the relationship.

So, Moses has appealed to the memory of the recent past to encourage Israel to be obedient to their calling by the Lord. But he wants to yet enlarge their understanding of the Lord: “To the LORD your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it.” (v.15). The Lord who delivered them out of Egypt and drew near to them at Sinai and who provided for them and disciplined them, is the Creator of the World. Everything in all of Creation belongs to Him. That is His greatness which makes all the more marvellous what has happened to them: “Yet the LORD set his affection on your forefathers and loved them, and he chose you, their descendants, above all the nations, as it is today.” (v.15) He isn’t a distant God somewhere ‘out there’ but He has drawn near to them to enter into relationship with them.

But Israel have a problem that has been revealed by their past behaviour that Moses spoke about in Chapter 9 (which reaches its conclusion here): “Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer.” (v.16) A little bit of mixed metaphors here! Cut out from your hearts the hardness that is there so that you will no longer be arrogant and rebellions (stiff-necked).

But there is another aspect to this particular problem: “For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes.” (v.17)  God is both holy (utterly different) and righteous (always behaving absolutely rightly).  The implication is that He will not tolerate their rebellious attitudes any longer. He is a good God and He looks for goodness in them: “He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing. And you are to love those who are aliens, for you yourselves were aliens in Egypt.” (v.18,19)

So, he concludes, “Fear the LORD your God and serve him. Hold fast to him and take your oaths in his name. He is your praise; he is your God, who performed for you those great and awesome wonders you saw with your own eyes.” (v.20,21). Stick close to God, He is the cause of all praise for He is God who has done great things for you, summed up as, “Your forefathers who went down into Egypt were seventy in all, and now the LORD your God has made you as numerous as the stars in the sky.” (v.22) God has done what He said to Abraham. He is faithful to His word and Israel are the proof of it. Now live it out!


61. Humility for all

Meditations in 1 Peter : 61: Humility for all

1 Pet 5:5,6 All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because,   “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time

The world in which we live tells us to stand up and be ourselves. Don’t let anyone tell you what to do; be yourself! Stand up for yourself; make something of yourself. Don’t be a wimp, rise up above the rest. Be exalted in your greatness; make yourself even greater. These are the words of the twenty-first century. Rise up and go for it. They are, of course, words of deception. They are basically saying, pretend to be what you are not; make yourself something more than you are. Take one of the many ‘self-help’ courses that are available, change yourself.

Possibly an analogy that comes near the truth is of a cancer patient who is told, think positive thoughts. Positive thoughts can help – in a measure – but you still have cancer. Or to take an even more extreme idea – a man who is delusional and who genuinely believes he will never die. Yet in old age his body starts to decay and he keeps on telling himself, “I will never die.” Fear makes many of us deny the truth. You see it in a conversation between a Christian and a non-Christian. As the talk gets on to sin, the non-Christian starts getting edgy. “Don’t you tell me I am a sinner; I’m as good as the next man!” Deep down, that fear that the truth may be that “I am indeed a sinner” collides with the wrong thought that God is an angry, vicious, spiteful dictator who loves punishing people, and as the two ideas collide, fear acts in the only way it knows how and denies the truth – I am not a sinner!!!  But however much you say it, it doesn’t change the truth.

Now why, you may be thinking, am I rambling down this particular path? What is the connection with humility? Well, humility is simply an honest recognition of who we are. I am a sinner and without God I am utterly lost. I owe my entire life to the Lord. All that I have, which is good, has been a gift from Him. Left to myself, I am a mess. I am certainly no better than any other person. All I can do is say, thank you. Humility faces the truth about ourselves. Over the past few years I have become more and more aware of the incredible goodness of God that has blessed me over the forty years that I have known Him. I have grown incredibly thankful, mightily grateful for what He has done for me, in me and through me.

But there’s been something else growing in parallel with that sense of gratefulness; it is the awareness of who I am and, looking back down the years, a recognition of the weakness, failures, inadequacies and so on, of my life. That simply makes the good things that God has done, or made of me, even more wonderful. I can be blessed at who I have become, yet aware that I have nothing to be proud about because it has not been of my working. If anything, it has been despite me!  I have absolutely nothing to boast about. I have done some great things and blessed a good number of people, but I know the truth about that! It was Him! It was at His directions and it was with His enabling and still, today, I am incapable of any good thing without His guidance, direction, inspiration or power. I know who I am! Humility is not a “I’m a nobody,” but an accurate assessment of who you are.

Pride, by comparison, is having an inflated view of who you are or of your own importance. Now, says Peter, clothe yourself with humility – put it on like you would put on a coat. How do you do that? You do what I’ve just done; you state the truth about yourself, both the bad news and good news. The bad news is that left to myself, I am a wreck. The good news is that in Christ and with his direction and enabling I am a child of God who can prove to be a real blessing to people. ‘Putting on’ humility is declaring those truths.

Why does God oppose the proud but gives grace to the humble”? The answer is because He is always working for the truth or for reality. The proud are not being truthful about themselves and so He opposes their untruths, but the humble who are being utterly real and acknowledging their frailty, weakness, inadequacy etc. of themselves, these ones He is able to take and use and so blesses them with His grace, His enabling to cope, serve or triumph.

And so what about when he says, Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time? This means bring yourself into a right attitude or outlook in life where you realise your utter dependency on Him so that He may take you, pick you up, and exalt you as He uses you. Consider Elijah (1 Kings 18) who opposed the prophets of Baal. He was utterly dependent on God – and knew it – and he was exalted in people’s minds because of what God was able to do through him. Jesus, likewise spoke of the glory he had received which in fact belonged to his Father as he served him. We don’t seek it; in fact we seek nothing except to be obedient to the Lord, utterly reliant on Him, and when we do that we will be exalted – but we’ll still know the truth!


18. Fidelity & Testimony

Meditations in Deuteronomy : 18 :  Fidelity & Testimony

(Focus: Deut 6:13-25)

Deut 6:13-15 Fear the LORD your God, serve him only and take your oaths in his name. Do not follow other gods, the gods of the peoples around you; for the LORD your God, who is among you, is a jealous God and his anger will burn against you, and he will destroy you from the face of the land.

Our verses today point to a major truth in Scripture which almost gets lost by law-keepers. This is very natural because, as we have pointed out a number of times, Deuteronomy is all about the law but that actually ISN’T its central focus. We might think it is the Land and all that is involved in taking it, but it isn’t! The central focus is having a relationship with the Lord. It is so easy to lose this fact in the midst of everything else.

God, the one and only true God, has called them into a relationship with Him at Sinai and all that follows is to be about how they live out that relationship. He has called them for a purpose – to reveal Him to the rest of the world and they will do that by the way they live. Remember we saw previously, this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” (4:6). The ‘this’ that is at the beginning of this quote is their obedience to God. That is what will reveal them and Him to the rest of the world.

Thus everything we have now is about the Lord and how they view Him and respond (or not) to Him. It starts with attitude: “Fear the LORD your God.” Hold Him in great respect. How will they show that? “Serve him only,” and if you’re not sure about what that means, “do not follow other gods, the gods of the people around you.” After all that they have been through with the Lord, this might seem an unnecessary instruction, yet it is vital.

It is all about their relationship with Him, and if they turn to idols that relationship will be abandoned. So Moses gives them a warning: “The LORD… is a jealous God.” Don’t see that negatively.  Jealousy can be a right emotion when there is a right relationship.  It means God wants to protect them from other ‘suitors’, false beliefs and gods who are no god, idols that are purely pieces of carved wood. The Lord wants to keep them from straying from The Truth, Himself.

In fact, if they do, His anger will be expressed and He will destroy them as a nation. If they are to be representing Him to the rest of the earth, if they turn to idols they will be representing something far from the truth and the world will be led astray and God will not have that! Israel are to stick to the Lord and put their trust in Him alone.

On various occasions in their desert travels they had grumbled against Him, as if He could not provide for them: “Do not test the LORD your God as you did at Massah.” (v.16.) You can see what happened there in Exodus 17.  Instead of asking Moses to ask the Lord to help them and provide water, they grumbled and complained and doubted God. They had yet to learn that they could utterly trust Him. So now, whenever they think about the laws of God, they should see them as God’s blessing for them and not something onerous. They should not doubt God.

So, he goes on, “Be sure to keep the commands of the LORD your God and the stipulations and decrees he has given you. Do what is right and good in the LORD’s sight, so that it may go well with you and you may go in and take over the good land that the LORD promised on oath to your forefathers, thrusting out all your enemies before you, as the LORD said.” (6:17-19). There are the same ‘ingredients’ as before: a call to keep the laws, to enable God’s blessing to be upon them as they go in and take the Land.

Then comes a further ‘ingredient’ that we have noted before – a stipulation to pass them on to their children and make sure future generations know about them and keep them: “In the future, when your son asks you, “What is the meaning of the stipulations, decrees and laws the LORD our God has commanded you?” tell him: “We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, but the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. Before our eyes the LORD sent miraculous signs and wonders–great and terrible–upon Egypt and Pharaoh and his whole household. But he brought us out from there to bring us in and give us the land that he promised on oath to our forefathers. The LORD commanded us to obey all these decrees and to fear the LORD our God, so that we might always prosper and be kept alive, as is the case today. And if we are careful to obey all this law before the LORD our God, as he has commanded us, that will be our righteousness.” (6:20-25)

When their children ask about the laws of Moses, the people are to refer them back to their origins, how God brought them out of Egypt and how He took them into the Promised Land. The purpose of the laws, he goes on, is to enable us to prosper. When we keep them, we will be living rightly in accordance with God’s design (righteously) and he will bless us and we will be blessed!

Similarly today, the way we live is to reveal the Lord: “let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Mt 5:16). May it be so!


45. In God’s Will

Meditations in James: 45 : At Peace in God’s Will

Jas 4:15 Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”

In the Advent story, when the angels came to the shepherds, they declared, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” (Lk 2:14). God’s desire for mankind is peace, yet peace, so often, seems such an elusive thing. Yesterday we considered the tendency of affluent, modern, Western man to travel and to plan. We envisaged the hard working office worker, locked into their daily routine but looking forward to the two or three week’s escape each year to the sun and sea of some far off exotic land. Yet see those same people as they return and so often it takes them three days at least to get over the tiredness of that holiday. Was ‘peace’ a word that described them before, during or after their holiday? Rarely!

We also considered the uncertainty of life, the many negative ‘storms of life’ that can befall us in this Fallen World. We never know what might come. For some people that uncertainty creates fear – and peace and fear never reside together! The lives of so many people are characterized by busyness and uncertainty and with those two things go stress, tiredness, worry, anxiety and fear. However, none of these things are the things God has designed for our lives. They are in fact the characteristics and fruits of godless living.

Ah, that is the key!  We just spoke of ‘godless’ living. That is what creates busyness and uncertainty and stress, tiredness, worry, anxiety and fear. You can be very active in God’s service but that is a very different thing which may produce tiredness, but there is an accompanying peace and sense of well-being that goes with an awareness of flowing in the will and purpose of God. God has designed us to be at peace and harmony when we are flowing in His will and purposes. When we are not in that place, our life is out of kilter and busyness, uncertainty, stress, tiredness, worry, anxiety and fear are the things we experience. For many, these things are so familiar we assume they are the norm, the way life just is. But that’s not the norm!

The norm is what God has designed for us, to be at peace and harmony in His will as we respond to Him and live out His purposes in our lives. There is a verse we often quote: we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10). This describes Christians as people who have been designed by God to do good, and the good we do has been planned by God for us. This is the wonder of the Christian life. It is a life designed by God. We find the apostle Paul using such phrases as,live by the Spirit,” (Gal 5:16) and led by the Spirit,” (Gal 5:18) and keep in step with the Spirit,” (Gal 5:25). These all imply a life that is guided and directed by God’s Holy Spirit which He has put in our lives.

If we can come to a place where we have surrendered our will to God’s sovereign will, it takes all the strain out of life. The apostle Paul, again, shows us this. Consider his attitude to his life in the following: as he left, he promised, “I will come back if it is God’s will.” (Acts 18:21) and, I will come to you very soon, if the Lord is willing,” (1 Cor 4:19) and, I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits(1 Cor 16:7). He seemed very relaxed in God’s will. What he was basically saying was, “I hope to be able to do this if that is what God wants, but if He wants something else and it works out differently, no problem!”  The writer to the Hebrews had the same approach: Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity…. God permitting, we will do so.” (Heb 6:1-3). However we should note that there were times when the apostle Paul did seem to be quite clear about God’s will: I am confident in the Lord that I myself will come soon.” (Phil 2:24).

They key is being surrendered to God’s will and that is what James is trying to bring us to. He knows the very best place to be is right in the heart of God’s will and that is a place of faith whereby we simply say, “Lord, please lead me and I will go wherever you want and do whatever you want.” and we learn to rest in that, trusting in the guidance we sometimes get, trusting that whether we are conscious of it or not, when our heart is fully inclined to the Lord, He will be leading us.  He never forces us, but when we are surrendered to Him, He gently leads us, sometimes by direct and obvious words of guidance, and sometimes just by the gentle moving of His unseen hand, gently moving us and the circumstances around us.  However, He’ll only do that as He sees we are surrendered to His will, because He won’t force us or steer us into His goodness if He sees a fierce resistance in us.

The Message version of Rom 12:1,2 sums it up well, especially what we’ve been thinking about in respect of taking sides with God against the world: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.” Isn’t that good!