75. What sort of God?

Meditations in Exodus: 75. What sort of God?

Ex 34:6,7  And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “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. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.” 

We come to what I believe must be one of the most significant revelations of the Old Testament, but first the Lord instructs Moses to “Chisel out two stone tablets like the first ones, and I will write on them the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke.(v.1) He doesn’t chide Moses for breaking them but simply gets on with the process of rewriting them. Moses is to come up the mountain again, on his own (v.2,3).  So Moses does this and goes up with the two tablets in the morning. (v.4)

Then the LORD came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the LORD. (v.5) A cloud surrounds Moses and so he can see nothing but then he hears the Lord’s audible voice declaring, “I AM WHO I AM”, the name he had originally heard at the burning bush. He senses the Lord moving in front of Him and the Lord speaks again beginning with, “I AM, I AM” and then going on to describe Himself. Now bear in mind that with all the revelations and experiences of the Lord that the Patriarchs and then Moses had had, there had never been a time when the Lord described Himself. This is a first! So, He describes Himself as the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation. (v.6,7)

We need to note the various elements of this description because certain silly crusading atheists never seem to have read this description and have said stupid things about God. These verses counter the folly of the grumbling atheist. “Compassionate and gracious”.  A God who feels for us and exudes good feelings towards us. Wow! “Slow to anger”. Not capricious, prickly, quick to jump down our throats. Wow!  “Abounding in love.” Not just loving but abounding in love, full of love, overflowing with love. WoW!

The apostle John was to write many centuries later, “God is love.” (1 Jn 4:8,16) IS love, not just has love. As I have pondered this in two books it always hits me: everything God thinks, say or does is an expression of love. Start looking at everything you read in the Old Testament through that lens. Then, to take a snippet from my book, ‘The Judgments of a Loving God’, remember that the Bible teaches that God is perfect. My definitio0n of perfect is ‘cannot be improved upon’ and so everything that God thinks, says or does cannot be improved upon. Grab hold of the contents of this paragraph and you will never be the same again!

But He is also “abounding in… faithfulness.”  He remains utterly true to Himself, He never changes He will always be love, always be perfect, and this, extended to His people, means He will always be loyal (although I do not like that word), He will remain true to us, there for us.

But now see the corporate dimension to this love: “maintaining love to thousands and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.”  This is about people groups, about nations and this takes us beyond love for a few individuals, the Patriarchs, this takes us to the nation of Israel and then to the world. In the Ten Commandments we read, “I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.” (Ex 20:5,6) Our present thousand may therefore be a thousand generations meaning God’s love will be there for as long as humanity exists; it can be utterly relied upon.

But that love is always expressed love (because love is never merely abstract, it is always expressed in practical ways) and God cannot express it to those who turn their back on Him, hence it is love for “those who love me and keep my commandments,” i.e. those who follow the Lord. And therein, there is another side to God, who is also a God of truth and justice. Where there is generational sin (as it often tends to be, one son following his father and so on) the Lord will pursue wickedness down the generations. His word clearly declares He will not judge those who are not guilty, only the guilty (see Ezek 18) but let the guilty be aware, they cannot presume on His love. It is there for them when they turn to Him to receive it, but while they turn away from Him and live in their wickedness, they will find themselves in line for His disciplinary or even terminal judgment.

This is a most dynamic revelation. It is both profoundly reassuring – He loves us and is for us as we turn to Him – and a profound warning – wickedness will be dealt with. There is here a revelation of the wonder of God’s love and grace as well as His justice. For us the justice of God is satisfied through the death of His Son, Jesus Christ, on the Cross. Having surrendered our lives to Him we can live with the certain knowledge of His abounding love being there for us. Hallelujah!

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35. Joyful Presence

God in the Psalms No.35   – God of joyful presence

Psa 21:6 Surely you have granted him eternal blessings and made him glad with the joy of your presence.

There are two bad attitudes expressed within the human race. The first is to deny the existence of the Lord (that’s the atheist), and the second is to attribute to Him wrong or bad attributes. It is the latter one we want to deal with here. There are many people, and this really does include Christians, who have a negative view of God. They see Him as a hard God (Lk 19:21) or a harsh God (Mal 3:13). They are contemptuous about God (Mal 1:6) by the way they live, indicating they believe He is an absent Lord, and they’re glad.

Wrong understanding of God is very common and it may be that we have such attitudes because of the things that happened to us before we came to know Him, things that harmed or hurt us, things that came from a fallen world, or things that came through our own sinful foolishness, and because of that sinful foolishness, we never (then) turned to the Lord for help. Thus we had a bad view of life and subsequently (and subconsciously) of God. We even attribute the way we think to the way we think God thinks. We are not charitable and so we cannot understand God being charitable. We are not forgiving so we find it difficult to believe that God is forgiving. We expect people to work to achieve acceptance, so we believe God wants us to work to achieve His acceptance. In all these ways, we have wrong ideas!

The truth is displayed here by David and it needs thinking about. First of all he says, Surely you have granted him eternal blessings, referring to himself. Eternal blessings? Yes, things from heaven that are unlimited in their life. If we give a Christmas present it normally has a limited life and may be broken or thrown away within months or years. The good things that God gives, do not have a ‘shelf life’, they go on and on and on and on. They are eternal because they come from an eternal God.  Because of who they were, Israel were automatically blessed as God’s covenant people (Deut 33:29 & Psa 33:12). Blessing, goodness from God, was part of the package of their relationship with the Lord. Many times in the Old and New Testaments we come across the words, Blessed is the man who….” e.g. Psa 89:15 – Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence”. To be blessed means to have received all the goodness of God, and that comes over in Scripture many times as we just said. Many times the Bible tells us we can receive this goodness that makes us happy, and the Psa 85 quote tells us that we will be really happy when we walk in the light of God’s presence, and that has echoes of our verse above – glad with the joy of your presence.

These verses tell us that it is a wonderful thing to be in the Lord’s presence, a joyful thing. We sometimes use C.S.Lewis’s book ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’ to illustrate spiritual truths, with Aslan the Lion picturing Jesus. When three of the children first hear Aslan’s name mentioned, they each have lovely thoughts and feelings, even though they don’t know who he is yet. Lewis understood this truth we see in this verse, that actually knowing God, being in His presence, even thinking about His presence when you have a right understanding, is a most wonderfully joyful thing. Why? Because He is love, He is utterly good, and so it’s a lovely thing to be in the presence of such a Being – well it is if you have turned your heart to love and goodness and towards Him – then it will be THE most wonderful thing possible – this ‘being in His presence’!

38. Changed Lives (2)

Ephesians Meditations No.38

Eph  4:29-32 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you

We continue with this list of very practical things that Paul is writing about, ways of living out the life we now have with Christ. We remind ourselves again that the Christian life is first of all about what has been done to us by God’s Holy Spirit on the basis of the finished work of Christ on the Cross, and then about how that works out in our everyday lives, the part we have to play in it all. In the previous meditation we saw the first three things that Paul highlighted – the way we speak (truthfully), the way we feel (limiting anger) and then the way we respect other people’s possessions (no stealing). So let’s see how he continues.

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths.” Now that is challenging, especially in the light of the today’s tendency to be free and easy in respect of speech. Recently we watched a comedian known for one line jokes, performing for about ten minutes. For the first seven minutes you could not fault his humour but in the last three minutes he slid into sexual innuendo (and not innuendo!). It was as if he just couldn’t keep away from it. We heard of another comedian who decided to do an evening without swearing and found he got just as many laughs and so decided to reduce the language from then on. Comedians (and our acceptance of them) are good gauges of society and sadly in the Britain, we don’t show up very well. It used to be said, “Only say what you could have said in front of your grandmother.” Why a grandmother? I think it is because of our assumption that standards used to be much tighter. We’ve lost a lot. Have you? If you have, it’s time to do a clean up on your language if you are a Christian.

But Paul doesn’t leave the language issue negatively. He continues: “but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” He says what Solomon so often says in the Proverbs: your tongue can be a means of blessing others. Do you bless other with what you say to them? Do they feel built up and encouraged by you?

But then there comes a hidden implication: “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” The And’ means that is a continuation from what has just been said. In other words you have the capacity, by what you say, of grieving or upsetting the Holy Spirit who lives in you. He is holy and pure. Is your language holy and pure? If not you will be upsetting the Lord who lives within you. (And then we have the nerve to ask things of Him!!). When you first met your husband/wife/partner and fell in love, I am sure you would have only said things to them that you know would have blessed them, and not said things you knew would have upset them, so why do we say things that we know will upset God?

He then continues with a sweeping list: “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.” The fruit of the spirit is gentleness (Gal 5:22,23) so how can we equate that which He wants to work out in us with any of the things in this list? We shouldn’t need to work our way through this list should we? These things are things in the life of someone who is disturbed and not at peace with themselves or with God; these are the outworkings of a person who is out of control of their life. Yet the fruit of the Spirit is also self-control (Gal 5:23) and we are told to add self-control to our lives (2 Pet 1:6). Rage and anger’ are expressions of a person out of control, but as Christians this should not be us.Slander and malice’ are expressions of a person out of control, unable to be gracious and that must not be us. ‘Bitterness’ is an emotion that has taken us over, and we must not let that happen.Brawling’ is out of control (drunken?) behaviour that often results in harm or damage – and that must not be us. Check it out: get rid of these if they occur in your life!

But again Paul puts in the positive to counter these negatives: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” This is a totally different sort of person and this is what Christ calls us to. Is that you? Good hearted and gentle and caring and feeling for people? Is that you? Not holding onto grievances? The message is simple and straight forward: Christians are supposed to be nice to be around! In an article I came across recently, an atheist grudgingly conceded that “Christianity changes people’s hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.” I thought that was a tremendous testimony, especially coming from an atheist! But that’s how it is supposed to be. As another writer wrote, “Part of the reason for Christianity’s rapid spread, historians have remarked, was simply that the early Christians were such nice people.” Let’s keep it like that!

(This will be the end of the series in Ephesians for a while – we’re going to have a break but will come back and finish the book in a couple of weeks time)

Walk in God’s Ways

WALKING WITH GOD. No.29

1 Kings 3:14 And if you walk in my ways and obey my statutes and commands as David your father did, I will give you a long life

There are phrases in the Bible that we come across and, I believe, mostly take for granted. In our verse today we have one of those phrases: if you walk in my ways. What do the ways of God mean? It is a highly significant phrase. Moses at a crucial point asked of God, “If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you” ( Ex 33:13). In the Law of God we find the same reference: “Observe the commands of the LORD your God, walking in his ways and revering him” (Deut 8:6) and then, “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?(Deut 10:12,13). Indeed it became a condition of blessing: “If you carefully observe all these commands I am giving you to follow–to love the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways and to hold fast to him ….” (Deut 11:22)

Touching on this phrase goes to the very heart of the whole concept of these meditations about walking with God. As we’ve said previously, when you walk with someone you start to learn about them. There is a mutual sharing and a relationship grows. At the heart of relationship is learning about one another, about how each other thinks, about what they like or dislike, about what they enjoy doing, about how they do different things in life. The ways of God are personal things about Him. Moses father-in-law instructed him to, “Teach them the decrees and laws, and show them the way to live and the duties they are to perform” (Ex 18:20). That sounds very impersonal, a set of rules to be followed – and that is what many Christians today would prefer to have, an impersonal set of rules to follow, but we are called to personal contact with the Lord so that we learn His ways, the things that please Him, the things that grieve Him, the way He does things. In a sense all of these meditations are about different facets of the ways of the Lord, the different way He deals with different people and different situations, which then reveal what He feels. That is the most intimate level of fellowship, when you understand what the person you are walking with feels.

When we spend time with the Lord, and when our heart is turned toward Him, so that He is the first person we think of or turn to, when we either have cause to be thankful or cause to be concerned, He starts sharing His heart with us. First of all he shares through His word, the Bible. This is our greatest source of starting to learn His ways. As we read and as we ponder on His dealings with those we encounter in the Bible, we begin to catch something of His heart and the way He acts. But actions are simply the outward thing. So, we also start to learn how He thinks, but thinking is purely a mind thing and so, as we go deeper, we begin to catch what He feels. The Bible is His book. If you look up the word LORD you will see it is used nearly seven and a half thousand times! It’s all about Him!

How might we sum up the ways of the Lord? An almost impossible task! Yet perhaps the Lord’s own words do it: “And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “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.” (Ex33:6,7). When it comes to God expressing Himself through His Son, Jesus, the apostle John perhaps encapsulated it by describing Jesus as: “full of grace and truth.” (Jn 1:14). Yet even these descriptions, as wonderful as they are, seem to fall short and the only way to describe His ways, is to say, you read the Bible, you read and study it and see what you see. If you want a short cut, read of Jesus who described himself as “the way and the truth and the life” (Jn 14:6). Jesus is the perfect expression of the ways of the Father and as much as he does that he becomes THE way. Is it any coincidence that the Christian faith was referred to as the Way? (Acts 9:2, 22:4). Living on the Way we are called to walk in the ways of God, learning to see what He does, learning to think as He thinks and, yes, learning to feel as He feels. What an amazing walk!