10. Enter the Light

Short Meditations in John 1:  10.  Enter the Light

Jn 1:9   The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world

There is something in the human race that we take for granted and yet causes a universal frustration. Solomon wrote, I have seen the burden God has laid on men. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” (Eccles 3:10,11) There is something within us, perhaps a spark of eternity, perhaps the spirit within us, that seeks and years for something more, for meaning to life, for purpose, for a sense of fulfilment. It seems we are groping around in the dark to find this thing.

And then Jesus comes, we encounter him, accept him for who he is and what he has done, and suddenly it all makes sense, suddenly there is this meaning, sense of purpose and sense of fulfilment. Suddenly we ‘see’, suddenly it all makes sense and we see with new eyes – but we see because The Light is shining in us.

People try all sorts of things to achieve meaning; they go after Eastern mysticism, they go after self-help courses, they throw themselves into great projects and all to no avail for none of these things seem to satisfy that inner seeking and they still cannot ‘see’. None of these is a light that answers all the questions. Only Jesus is “the true light”. He is the only one who satisfies and brings these answers we have been speaking about.

And here is the remarkable thing, that light is available “to every man” (and woman!). It isn’t just available for clever people – in fact clever people so often stumble over The Light (1 Cor 2:22b) – or religious people, but he is there and available for anyone who is willing to humble themselves and acknowledge they need him.

Up until that point the light had been absent from the world but “the true light…. was coming into the world,” and he had existed in eternity with the Father and now he was coming into space-time history in the form of a tiny baby born to a woman. How amazing. This tiny baby was to grow into a man who would be revealed as The Light of the World who had come from heaven to bring light to whichever seeking, yearning, hungry and humble men or women would receive him so that they might be able to ‘see’.  He is there beckoning to any who will hear and respond.

33. Eternity

Meditations in Ecclesiastes : 33 :  Eternity

Eccles 3:9-11 What does the worker gain from his toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on men.  He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.

Now in the previous meditation we pondered further on the question of work, or toil, or labour, because that is where verse 9 was leading us, and verse 10 speaking of a burden seems to naturally flow on from that, but when we add on verse 11 Solomon seems to do an amazing turn about which leaves us then wondering was that what he had meant by God’s burden? How do these verses knit together to make sense?

Well yes, he certainly starts from the point of talking about work and we’ve seen how he has felt frustrated about having to work with no ultimate meaning in it, and yes that does seem to be a burden that we cannot escape from without God. But then it is as if he says, but it’s not only work, for that is only one facet of life; there is this whole much bigger thing of meaning to life, which again we don’t seem to be able to make sense of.

Look at that amazing statement that he makes: He has also set eternity in the hearts of men, i.e. God has put within the hearts of every human being a sense that there is something more to life than just living out this material-based life for three score years and ten. There must be something more, something deep within us says. There must be ‘meaning’ to life!

This is the major thing that undermines the platform of the atheist, because they say that there is no God, life is just chance, pure blind chance, and yet deep inside us we know that that is not so. Why is it that countless generations of students have sat around contemplating the meaning of life, if there is no such thing? Why is it that it has even formed the heart of some humour, this contemplating meaning? Some philosophers have struggled with this and, excluding God from their equations of thought, have brought themselves to the edge of suicide. A world without meaning or purpose seems a terrible thing to us. Why? Is it because God has breathed life in to us and there is an echo of Him in every single human being and that echo is an echo of reality, of eternity, of Him?

So what is the burden of this feeling? It is that yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. Without revelation from God we cannot know what the truth is. Why is it that there are so many world religions? Surely it is because of this sense from within that there is something more, and all religions except Judaism and Christianity are in fact mankind reaching out for this eternity, reaching out for some deity to make sense of life. Judaism and Christianity uniquely declare that God has revealed Himself – Judaism through Israel, and then Christianity through Israel and then His Son, Jesus Christ and finally through the Church.

Without God’s revelation though, we are doomed to frustration, doomed to struggling to make meaning of it all by ourselves, and hence the many different world religions. We may not be able to prove God’s existence, but once we accept it, suddenly everything else makes sense. This is where the Bible as a complete entity is so exciting because when we see it in its completeness we see the completeness of the revelation that starts with God creating the world, and finishes with Him redeeming it and bringing something new into being at the end of the material phase of it.

Yes, that is the truth revealed in the Bible, that the material world as we know it is limited in time and space and there will come a point where it ceases in the present form. The Bible clearly states what will follow but our understanding of that is not clear (for it doesn’t give us every detail) and which is why there are a number of interpretations of exactly how it will work out. Yet the truth is clearly stated, there is more than finite material existence, there is eternity, time without end, or timelessness!

And yes, there again we struggle to understand. We can use the words but our understanding is limited to that which God gives us. We are more than finite material-based human beings; there is an eternal element about us, something that will continue on after the material ceases to function and we lie down and ‘die’.  That, as far as I can see, is the only reason for the existence of an eternal hell, a place where God’s presence is not known, a terrible existence. It can only be because there is an element of us that carries on after life here, and when we choose not to be in God’s presence (as many do choose) then ‘hell’ is the only alternative. Oh yes, the concept of eternity carries with it many repercussions. Yet God has sent Jesus so that we don’t have to end up in that God-less existence. Instead we can receive eternal life from him and that means life in all its fullness in God’s presence in heaven. That is the wonder of the glorious alternative that is given to us if we will receive it.

7. Frustration

Meditations in Ecclesiastes : 7 :  Frustration

Eccles 1:15 What is twisted cannot be straightened; what is lacking cannot be counted.

I often say, in an attempt to get people to think more widely about themselves, if I could wave a magic wand over your life, what would you like to see changed (or do)?  It’s a simple exercise and helps one face up to what they don’t like about their life or what they would like to achieve if only they had the courage.  The reality is that most of us live with frustration – we want things to change, but can’t see how they can, and so feel frustrated. Frustration is the feeling of being impotent to bring change. We all of us live with frustration all the time. It’s the very nature of the world in which we live. In one sense it’s too big and we’re too small. We just haven’t got the clout to change things. At least that’s how it is for most of us.

Solomon has just been bemoaning the fact that he sought to learn but the more he learned the more he realised just how much there was to know, and he realised it became impossible to know everything, even a little of everything! In the process he has seen a great deal of what happens in the world: I have seen all the things that are done under the sun.” (v.14a) yet this panoramic view had left him despondent: all of them are meaningless.” (v.14b). He had already commented on the fact of the world that just keeps on going and going and going and that there was a sense of tedium in that, but as he looks out on the world he makes these two observations in our verse today.

First, what is twisted cannot be straightened. There’s a whole lot of stuff in the world you’d like to straighten out. There’s the kids running riot, there’s crime in the streets, there’s marriage breakups like there’s no tomorrow, and there’s corruption where there should be no corruption. Oh yes, there’s a lot of stuff that needs straightening out! There’s your child with a serious disability that has twisted his body, there’s your parent with arthritic hands and a bent back, there’s a friend in a wheelchair, who will never be straight again after their accident. Yes, there are a lot of things that need literally straightening out. One day medicine might achieve it, but not yet. For the time being we are living with twistedness! And we wish we could do something about it – but we can’t! Frustration! We’ve even prayed about it but, for whatever reason, the Lord hasn’t answered and that twisted state is still there. Frustration! In a day when you can take a car from a crash and have it completely straightened out, you’d think we could do something about broken bodies, but some of them are just beyond us! Frustration!

But then he adds, what is lacking cannot be counted. That sounds strange. If something isn’t there, of course you can’t count it, but I don’t think that’s what it means. I believe it means that there are so many things missing from life they are beyond counting. If we tried counting the things that we’d like to see in life, we’d lose count. We’d like to see our children getting on well at school without bullying. We’d like to see our partner have good health all the time. We’d like to have enough money to get by without having to constantly watch the pennies. We’d like our children to be successful at school, college or university without it being a stress, and we’d like to see them settle down, have a good career, and a good family, again all without stress. And so we could keep on. But life is full of things we’d like to change, things we wish were, but aren’t. As we say in these meditations again and again, this is what it is like living in a Fallen World where sin has spoiled and marred what might have been. If you look at this world and don’t see God in it, then it certainly seems a frustrating place, full of misery and anxiety. But there is another way.

We may repeat some of the things we’ve said previously, but they still apply. The fact of the matter is that God IS in this His world. He is moving and working behind the scenes. We say ‘behind the scenes’ because the vast majority of the time that’s how God works. Yet He is working. Jesus said, My Father is always at his work.” (Jn 5:17). More than that we are promised, in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose(Rom 8:28) so whatever is going on, God is working in it to bring blessing for us out of it. It is a life of trust as we call to the Lord, and sometimes we get clear answers and other times we don’t. We simply have to trust in God’s wisdom and His goodness, that He allows what we have to cope with, knowing it is the best that can be in the circumstances of this Fallen World, and that He will work to bring good out of it for us, whatever it may be. Part of being able to cope, is learning to come to a place of peace and rest in all of this, in the knowledge that He is the Lord and He is here for us in the midst of it. The other side of death, it will all change, but for now the call on us is to remain faithful in the face of whatever is happening.

36. Battling Desires

Meditations in James: 36 : Battling Desires

Jas 4:1,2     What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight.

Honesty about oneself is quite difficult. The trouble is that it’s us living this life and we find it difficult to be objective about ourselves. To know yourself is difficult, but of great value when you do. If you know yourself you know how far you can be pushed and you step back before your grace runs out. If you know yourself you know the gifts and talents you have and rejoice over them and give thanks to God for His provision of them. Yes, if you know yourself, you know that any goodness you have is from God. If you know yourself you know that deep down there are harbouring things that belong to darkness which should never see the light of day and which only God can deal with. Being honest with yourself, we have already said, brings humility. Being honest with yourself brings a greater reliance upon the Lord. Being honest with yourself is about knowing what you are like on the inside, for it is what goes on in the mind, in the heart, in the soul, that makes us what we are, and it is sometimes  very difficult to be honest with what we are really like.

Our problem is that we like others to think that we’re nice and we like to think ourselves that we are nice. This is a problem because when something comes to the surface which runs contrary to that belief, we panic or make excuses and justify ourselves instead of facing it and dealing with it. In other words we allow it to continue instead of putting it to death with God’s help.

Every time you struggle to cope with some other person, it is because something in you is not right. If you get angry, hostile, resentful, envious or generally upset over some other person, it is because something is not right in you. This is what James is referring to when he says, What causes fights and quarrels among you? A fight or quarrel is something that starts inside you. We’ve already talked at length about the tongue which expresses that hostility and brings it into the open and establishes it, but the hostility itself is within you. Whenever we feel resentful about another person, it is because we have something wrong on the inside. James goes on to give us an answer why this happens: Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? Everything, he says, in this context happens because you have desires that are struggling within you. Now this isn’t the sort of desire that wants a new car, this is desire that simply wants or needs things for self. This is about desires to be accepted, desires to feel good about yourself, desires to feel in control. Consider each of those.

We have a desire to be accepted. If we have poor understanding of God’s love we will not realize that we are utterly accepted by Him, and therefore our life is based on gaining acceptance. We want to feel good about ourselves, but that good feeling will only come when we feel that others take us as we are or, even more, look up to us. If we really don’t know who we are in Christ, we will struggle and struggle to become someone, and that includes being in control. When you are insecure about yourself you try to feel in control because then you can feel safe. If we have never some to the place where we know that God is in total control and that He is for us and with us, then we will feel insecure and will be constantly battling to create a sense of control to create this feeling of security.

All of these struggling inner desires are linked as part of our old sinful self which is warring in the world for achievement. What makes it worse, as James says, You want something but don’t get it. There is a sense of frustration that drives us on. We want to achieve, we want to be well thought of, we want to be someone, but it never seems to be happening and so we struggle and battle, struggle and battle and, in the world, that is what we see when people move into criminal activity. It’s as James says, You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. That killing for many is character assassination. We put down others in our desire to climb higher to achieve prominence, to achieve success, to be someone. These things are all part of the same package. For a few who allow Satan to totally dominate them, they literally kill and we hear of such things daily on our TV screens, but it’s all part of the same thing.

This is very real, and is the practical working out of our lives. James will go on to give answers but, again, he first wants us to face the malaise before we see answers. Many Christians shy away from this and pretend everything is all right, but deep down they know it’s not. You know you haven’t come to a place of wholeness in Christ, a place of security, if you feel uncomfortable with other people, if you find them impossible to be nice to, if everything in you goes tense in certain situations involving people. Don’t run away, this is simply an area to expose to the Lord’s love and let Him deal with. If you feel uneasy or worse with certain people, it may possibly be because you don’t know the social etiquette and don’t know how to respond in the circumstances, but mostly it is because you haven’t yet come to peace with God over who you are. Can we face that? Can we be honest about it? Can we bring it out in the open and confess it to the Lord so He can come and fill us with His love and acceptance? Let it be.

12. Slowness

Meditations in James: 12 :  When Slowness is Good

Jas 1:19,20 My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.

Sometimes in Scripture you look at a verse and wonder how it comes to be there, but part of our studying should be to see the flow of thought in the writers mind. Our verses here today are rather like that. Let’s consider what James has been saying. His overall thought is to write to the church scattered in the world, no longer focused in the little spiritual stronghold of Jerusalem but now scattered all over the place. He’s spoken several times of the difficult times that we can face, living in this world, and has counselled us accordingly. One of the bits of counsel, the last one that we saw, was to remind us that God is good and, from that, what has happened to us because He is good, to remind us that we are special people who God has drawn to Himself and to whom He has given new Holy Spirit life. He has called us first fruits, those who belong to God who are used to remind the rest of the world that it belongs to Him. With this in mind James now moves on to touch on a way that, living in this sometimes difficult world, we might be tempted to be less than the people God has designed us to be.

Consider what it’s like living in this sometimes difficult world. Things go wrong; people do silly or nasty things. We feel frustrated with it and wish someone would deal with the stupidity or nastiness. When you are part of the Christian minority, frustration is a very real factor in life and the main expression of frustration is anger. When we are angry our temptation is to blurt out lots of unhelpful comments (Understatement!). James is a wise pastor, and he knows these are the thoughts and feelings that churn inside sometimes when this world appears to be going stupidly wrong.

Notice however, the gentleness with which he approaches us: my dear brothers.  Ladies don’t worry about this; you’re not the ones who tend to struggle in this area. It’s the forthright men, men who are naturally macho, who want to do things, achieve things, change things, who get frustrated. Ladies tend to more gently approach the problem. It’s like James says, guys, I understand how you feel but we really mustn’t let this world and its frustrations get at us, take note of this, pause up and think about it with me, will you.

He then comes up with a little threefold strategy. Part one: be quick to listen. So often we get angry and frustrated because we do not understand what is going on and we don’t know what is going on because we don’t bother to listen carefully to others. If we listened to what others were saying, we would understand them more fully and if we understood them more fully we would see their need and, as Christians, would have compassion for them, feel sorry for them. Compassion is an incredibly good antidote to frustration with people.  It may not be people; it may simply be circumstances going wrong. Again the temptation pushed before us by Satan, will be to launch out with angry, foolish words against God. “Why have you allowed this happen? Why don’t you do something?” It’s not wrong to have questions, but it is wrong to get angry with God about the frustrations of life. It simply shows we don’t understand the dynamics of life on this Fallen World, or the resources that are available to us from God. In the difficult circumstances, go to God by all means, but be quick to listen, listen instead of talking, and see what the Lord will say to you about the situation. He wants you to be a person of understanding. Understanding often counteracts frustration and subsequent anger.

Part two of the strategy: be slow to speak.  Solomon wrote, When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.” (Prov 10:19). The more you speak, the more prone you are to say the wrong thing, and sin. For a while I wrote a weekly comment on the week’s events from a Christian perspective and came to realize afresh how easy it is to make shallow comments based on little knowledge, or comments based on inaccurate or incomplete knowledge. It is a dangerous thing to make comment on the world, yet we all do it all the time. Listen to any conversations in church, in the street or in the office. So many conversations about what is happening in the world. TV, radio and newspapers have made us all much more knowledgeable about what is going on in the world. How easy it is to denigrate someone else. It’s so easy to do when you know they are wrong! I find the more I write on the Internet the less I want to speak into such conversations. Be slow to speak.

Part three of the strategy: be slow to become angry. This last part should be the outworking of the first two, but it is something we need to purposefully do. What good does anger do? It merely vents your frustration instead of dissolving it in compassion and understanding. Anger so often breeds anger and, as James says, man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. There is the target we need to keep holding before ourselves: a righteous life. Perhaps a simple check at the end of each day is to ask ourselves, “Is there anything I have said and done this day that is unrighteous, that I know Jesus would be upset by?”  Do we have thoughts, ideas and attitudes that come out of frustration, that are tainted by anger, that are in all honesty, unrighteous? If we don’t deal with them, God will, and that will be more painful. It’s better to confess and crucify them than be caught by them. Let’s take on board James’ threefold strategy today.