29. God of Hope – the theory

Getting to Know God Meditations:  29. God of Hope – the theory

Rom 8:24    hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

Eph 1:18   I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people,

The Future?  As we concluded the previous study we mentioned the future and in a day when the future of this world seems increasingly uncertain, with ever new doomsday scenarios being presented to us, we find the future has a big place in the scriptures, not as a means of escaping the present but as a time (here) of potential blessing, and that going on into a glorious eternity with God where life continues in a dimension that, I suspect, defies our wildest dreams.  I feel sorry for atheists who seek to portray their wares, their philosophies, as something good, at times contorting their minds to overcome the picture of gloom that their ‘world by accident’ (“Well of course evolution is purposeful.”  Really???) comes up with, and the best that I have read that they can come up with when it comes to after this life, is us being turned into dust that joins the rest of the cosmos. Dust????

The ‘Recent Future’: I think many of us who are Christians tend to take this for granted but we have already considered in small measure the changes that take place when we turn to Christ. Let’s briefly recap them: we are forgiven, cleansed, justified, adopted and empowered. Be quite clear in your mind what each of these mean because they all impact tomorrow! The fact that I am forgiven (1 Jn 1:9) means I do not keep on having to go back over the past with regret. Yes, I got things wrong, yes I lived without the knowledge of God, but that is now all past history and I know differently today.  The fact that I am cleansed means the guilt and the shame and even the tainted memories have come under the cleansing hand of Christ, all dealt with on the Cross. He has done it; I am a new creation! (2 Cor 5:17) To be justified means that I have been morally put right in God’s sight; justice has been appeased because One has died for my sins and I have been released from the Court of Heaven to live a new life.  The fact that I am adopted means I have been taken into God’s family and remade (Jn 1:12,13) in the family likeness. I am family! The fact is that I am now empowered by the indwelling Holy Spirit who came to me and generated fresh life in me in an almost indescribable way when I turned to Christ. All of these truths impact the way I can face today and especially, tomorrow.

The Immediate Future: But how does a believer face tomorrow (literally tomorrow, not the distant future)? What are the things the Bible teaches me that will help tomorrow? They are things that come out of direct teaching lessons that are implied through the way God has interacted with people in the Bible.

  • The first thing is that He is there. That is what is behind the whole thesis of these studies. We are not alone in this universe, I am not alone in this universe, God is there.
  • Second, He is there for me. Everything about the teaching about Jesus and the salvation he brings, says God is for me. Everything that has happened to me all the years I have known Him tells me He is for me. When I pray, when I read the Bible, those experiences convey this to me – He is here for me!
  • Third, He is there with a plan for my life: “The fact is that what we are we owe to the hand of God upon us. We are born afresh in Christ and born to do those good deeds which God planned for us to do.” (Eph 2:10 JBP)
  • Fourth, that plan is all about redeeming my life. That simply means He is constantly working to save me from what I once was and from the messes I still manage, sometimes, to get myself into.
  • Fifth, that plan means He is there guiding me and leading me into better things.
  • Sixth, these things means He is in the process of changing me to be a more loving, more appreciative, more godly, more gracious, and a more Spirit-filled human being.
  • Seventh, His grace is there for me every day, the resource of His own Holy Spirit who provides me with everything I need to live a godly and righteous life.
  • Eighth, (and we could go on and on), finally let’s say, that grace enables me to overcome all the obstacles and temptations that the enemy would put in my way and enables me to triumph over these things.

Yes, all of these are truth that help me live out tomorrow and the next day here on this earth, and as many days as He allows me to have here. But that makes me add just one more:

  • Ninth, and this is the final one, He will keep on working in and through me every single day until I go to be with Him in heaven: “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Phil 1:6)

Hope of Eternity: Now we have entitled this study, the God of Hope, because all we are talking about is what I hope will happen in the time and eternity ahead of this day.  Non-Christians use the word hope casually but for Christians it means an assurance of the future. When we say we have hope in Him it means we have total assurance, total confidence in Him for our future. The apostle Paul wrote, “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people,” (Eph 1:18) and, “faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven,” (Col 1:5) and, “their knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness— in the hope of eternal life,” (Titus 1:2) and “having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:7) There it is, the hope to which he has called you, the hope stored up in heaven, the hope of eternal life (x2). This is the future after we die and cease our time here, a future with Christ in heaven, a future with no end.

When we are young, death is something distant and almost unreal. The older we get the stronger the reality becomes that death may be just around the corner. When I consider my present age, I realize there are many people who have already died who were much younger than I am now. Death comes when, much of the time, we are not expecting it.  But for those of us who know Christ, death and what follows is not something to be feared. At the beginning I referred to the atheist who, in his novels for young people, talks about us ending up as dust in the cosmos. Meaningless! But that is not for you and me. The limited pictures that we are given of the afterlife, suggests an eternity with purpose, an eternity with joy and pleasure and meaning, an eternity with God who we enjoy and who enjoys us. THAT is our destiny. Rest in it, be at peace in it.

And So: The big picture that the Bible conveys is that our time on this earth is not a meaningless blink of time but is a preparation for something to follow that is more glorious. At the risk of making this an over-long study, may I conclude it with something I wrote in a series called ‘Reaching into Redemption’, near the end of that series:

Imagine a cold, rough, harsh street in which you have lived, and in front of you is a great building and you hear a voice calling, inviting you to come in. As you peer in through the open doors you see an interior that is so different to this street outside. You realize you have tolerated this awful street for too long and you long to experience the wonder of what you glimpse inside. Yet you feel unworthy and so simply kneel on the steps, but a voice calls again and bids you enter. In humility you timidly pass through the entrance doors. Inside it is full of light and beauty. A servant comes up and offers you new clothing and you realize all you had worn previously was threadbare, torn and dirty. In a vestibule to the side you are able to change, and you emerge in splendor.

The area inside the entrance doors is enormous and glorious and splendid and there is so much to see. There are so many things to which your attention is drawn, and time passes rapidly as you enjoy and enter in to so much of what is before you. But then the voice comes yet again and invites you to ascend the stairs that lead out of this area, but you hesitate. There is so much here in this room that has become so familiar, there is so much that is good, and you feel there is still so much yet to explore, and so you hesitate. But the voice is persistent, and you know it is a command which you cannot refuse and so you ascend the stairs and pass through the door at the top. Suddenly your breath leaves you because what is before you cannot be described as a room, it is a world, and you gasp at its beauty, and as you glance back through the door behind you, all that you had been experiencing simply looked grey by comparison to the wonder, the color, the brightness before you and, suddenly, you realize that the room below where you had spent so much time, yes, so much more wonderful than the street outside, was but the entrance foyer to this new world.

It is but an illustration, but an accurate one I believe. The street outside was our old life. Entering the doors was our conversion. The time spent in the entrance foyer was simply to start to prepare us for the reality to come. Accurate? But incomplete, for it is but a parable, and parables never tell the whole story. So back to our experience of this ‘entrance foyer’, a place of promises where some are fulfilled and experienced, and some are simply glimpsed at a distance as we gaze up the staircase and catch just a glimmer of what is beyond.

Our past, our present – and our glorious future, if we will but receive it today.

8. The Future

Meditations on “Fear Not”:  8. The Future

Gen 46:1-4    So Israel took his journey with all that he had, and came to Beersheba, and offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac.  Then God spoke to Israel in the visions of the night, and said, “Jacob, Jacob!”   And he said, “Here I am.”  So He said, “I am God, the God of your father; do not fear to go down to Egypt, for I will make of you a great nation there. I will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also surely bring you up again; and Joseph will put his hand on your eyes.” 

We move on from Isaac to his son, Jacob, now renamed Israel. Much has happened in his life. He has had a big family, apparently lost one of the younger sons, his favourite, Joseph, who now, it appears, has amazingly become the equivalent of Prime Minister of Egypt and who has been overseeing the handing out of food to avert the worst effects of a famine stretching across the whole of what we might call the Middle East.  Because the famine is still harsh, Joseph invites Israel to come with the whole family and settle in Egypt until it is all over.

Now those are the basics of the story, the facts of what had been happening, but there is always a spiritual dimension to every person’s life (even if it is just to reject God). Jacob was originally known as a twister, out for himself, planning and scheming and building his prosperity by devious means and had become a very wealthy patriarch over a big family. He is the boss of the family (almost a small tribe) there in Canaan, but now the circumstances and his very powerful son are encouraging him to leave all that and settle in this foreign country – where he will not be the boss.  It seems the sensible thing to do but he would naturally have qualms about it. His relationship with God so far has been a little tenuous, even though he had had a painful encounter with Him in the middle of the night and had had his name changed from Jacob to Israel. They had settled in or near Bethel in the middle of the country (see Gen 35) and so now set of southwards for Egypt.

When they come to Beersheba in the south, Israel presents sacrifices to the Lord. In return, it seems, the Lord appears to him at night in a vision and reassures him: ““I am God, the God of your father; do not fear to go down to Egypt, for I will make of you a great nation there.” (v.3) No doubt Jacob would have been told of God’s promises to his grandfather, Abraham, and his father, Isaac about becoming a nation, and now that is reiterated. But it doesn’t finish there: “So He said, I will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also surely bring you up again; and Joseph will put his hand on your eyes.”  (v.3,4) Whether he realises it or not, this is a subtle declaration that after his death Israel will be returned to Canaan, and that happened.

Now what we have here is the Lord reassuring Israel with another of our ‘fear not’s and the basis of it is that God knows the future and is in charge of it and so Israel can rest secure in that. He has started to make the move south to go to Egypt, he has committed his way to the Lord in a sense as he offers a sacrifice as he is about to leave Canaan and now the Lord reassures him that he has taking the right path.

When God speaks into our lives about the future, we too can rest assured it is all in His hands. He is for us (Rom 8:31) and will never leave us (Heb 13:5) and will always be working for our good (Rom 828).  With these truths firmly established in our hearts, we too need not fear the days ahead. It does not guarantee that they may not be tumultuous, but the above truths (and they are true) can reassure us. Hallelujah!

 

21. 1 Chronicles

Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 21.  1 Chronicles

1 Chron 17:16,17   Then King David went in and sat before the LORD, and he said: “Who am I, O LORD God, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far? And as if this were not enough in your sight, O God, you have spoken about the future of the house of your servant. You have looked on me as though I were the most exalted of men, O LORD God.

Verses can stand out for different reasons. These verses stand out, I believe, because they both reveal David’s humility and God’s oversight. In going into Chronicles we backtrack on history for this part of scripture covers from a different perspective the matters covered in 2 Samuel. David has become king and is settled in Jerusalem, and the ark of the covenant has eventually been brought into Jerusalem and is located in a tent. David has it in mind to build a house for the ark and God, a temple, but Nathan the prophet brings him a word to the effect that his son will do it and not him. Now that might have been a real downer if it wasn’t for the fact that in the word that Nathan brings to him there are many encouragements about Israel’s future and that of his chosen son. Read the passage in 1 Chron 17:7-14.

Note it concludes with a promise: When your days are over and you go to be with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, one of your own sons, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for me, and I will establish his throne forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son. I will never take my love away from him, as I took it away from your predecessor. I will set him over my house and my kingdom forever; his throne will be established forever.” (1 Chron 17:11-14)   Now, note within that a) the promise of an eternal throne, b) father and son intimacy with God, c) a kingdom over all others that d) will last for ever.

Now of course from our perspective today we can see that such promises apply to the coming of Jesus and his bringing the kingdom of God on earth that will last for ever. From David’s perspective it is just mind blowing and it is this which provokes his response in our starter-verses: Who am I, O LORD God, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far? And as if this were not enough in your sight, O God, you have spoken about the future of the house of your servant. You have looked on me as though I were the most exalted of men, O LORD God.”

Yes, the Lord has reminded him that he has been brought from looking after sheep on the hillside and been made king and if that wasn’t amazing enough the thought of him ushering in through his family, a kingdom that will be greater than any other on earth – and eternal!  – just blows him away.

Now let’s think about this some more.  First of all, David is aware of his humble background and he completely accepts that he is where he is today because of the Lord. David’s story shows very clearly that he is a man who knows the Lord and has relied upon him through thick and thin – and there have been seriously difficult times along the way!

The second thing to note is that he now struggles to accept what the Lord has said about him, and in this sense these verses stand out as examples of what so many of us struggle with. I have been privileged to bring many personal prophetic words to people and in line with the apostle Paul’s teaching I hope they have always come for “strengthening, encouragement and comfort,” (1 Cor 14:3) and so often I have watched the responses of those to whom such words come and so often they are, “Me? Who am I that you should say this?”

The third thing to note is that David cannot, from his limited view of history, comprehend the future. And neither can we. When the Lord speaks a word of encouragement about our future we cannot see from this present perspective how that will work out. We need to remind ourselves that for that end product to come about there needs to be a process, the Lord working in us, through us and around us to fulfil the things upon His heart. He knows what He wants to achieve and how He wants to do it and, more often than not, it doesn’t come with a flash of lightning, it comes over a long period of time, bringing many changes along the way. When Zechariah heard his wife was to conceive in old age, he struggled with it, basically in unbelief. When Mary heard she was to have a child without the help of a man, her response was, “I am the Lord’s servant, may it be to me as you have said.” (Lk 1:38) She didn’t know how such a thing could happen and so she just trusted God to do it as the angel had said.

Perhaps behind all this, there is a fourth thing to be noted and it is the fact that the Lord would not let David build the Temple, but had to leave it to his son. For what ever reason, the Lord knows we are not the people for some things but, on the other hand, He knows what we are good to achieve and that is why we find ourselves gifted in some ways but not in others in the body of Christ. We may marvel, like David, that God has chosen to do wonderful things in and through us, bringing about changes that years back we could never has dreamed of, and we may praise Him for what He reveals of His plans for us, and then play out part in bringing it about, but we also need to rest in who we are in the body – yes, available for greater things, but not striving with inadequacy that mourns that we are not like someone else. Be who God calls you to be and rejoice in it.

9. Hope

Meditations in Colossians: 9. Hope

Col 1:4,5   we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints– the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven

What is strange about these two verses, and which we often miss, is that Paul says that faith and love spring from the hope that is stored up for us in heaven. In other words, hope comes first and then faith and love follow. As we read on we will see that this hope comes with the Gospel and as we receive it, it releases faith and love in us.

Let’s try and envisage how it works. There we were, before we came to hear about Christ and, as we noted in an earlier meditation we were filed with fears – fears about God, fears about who we were or weren’t, fears about yesterday’s guilt, fears about coping today and fears about what might happen tomorrow. At one level all those fears were rolled together into one ball. We feared we would have to face God one day, and we feared He would hold us answerable for all the things we got wrong yesterday, today and tomorrow, we feared He would condemn us and write us off as a bunch of sinners worthy only to be consigned to hell.

But then someone brought us the Gospel. We heard that Jesus had come to die in our place so we wouldn’t have to go to hell, that he had taken the punishment for our sins of yesterday, today and tomorrow and he offered us forgiveness, cleansing and an opportunity to be declared adopted sons of God empowered by God’s own Holy Spirit, and because these things were all present-today-on-earth things suddenly the future after death also changed. Yes, we would still have to face God but instead of being condemned we will be accepted, we were told, because Jesus had done everything that needs to be done to pay for our sins and, anyway, we would enter God’s presence as His children, gladly welcomed into heaven. This was the Gospel – that the present has been dealt with so that there can be an eternal future free of fear and filled with blessing. The future is something to be welcomed, not feared. It is a future in heaven where there will be a glorious reality that makes anything we experience now look like it was in the shade.

That is what is the hope in the Gospel. Hope is the assurance of the future, something not yet received but something guaranteed to happen. When we were presented with this Gospel and we surrendered our lives to God on the basis of it, something amazing happened: we started thinking differently, we started ‘hearing’ God and responding to what we were hearing – this was faith. And as we entered into this new life, a life empowered by His indwelling Holy Spirit. We also found His character coming out in us – love. We found we thought about God differently and we found we felt about people differently. It was Him working from within us and it was all released in us when we responded to the hope presented to us and we were born again by His working in us. Faith and love flowed from this hope.

Can we emphasise something we said above: hope is the assurance of the future. In everyday life we say things like, “I hope the weather will be nice for the picnic today,” or “I hope to be a surgeon when I grow up,” or “I hope Uncle Jack will leave me something in his will.” Each of these are an expression of our desire. I would like it to be sunny, I would like to become a surgeon, I would like to inherit something. They are things I want, things I would like, things I hope might come about. But of course we have no say, or perhaps little say, in bringing them about. I can’t control the weather, I may not be bright enough to become a doctor let alone a surgeon, and Uncle Jack may have set his heart on giving everything to a local cat’s home! But when it comes to our eternal future we are talking about something that is guaranteed – because God has said it.

How can we be sure that is what He will give us eventually?  Because we can trust His word because everything He has done so far shouts at us, “This is a God who is love, who is good, who never lies, and who always has our good in mind.” We look at the first coming of Jesus and we see God’s love and goodness manifested. We observe the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus and we see power unleashed – on our behalf! We find His Holy Spirit working from within us, guiding us, leading us, blessing us, equipping and generally empowering us and it is all good. It is all as He has promised in His word. As we read about our eternal destiny His Spirit within us witnesses to this truth and we know it is true, we know this is how it will be. We have only been told the equivalent of the tip of an iceberg about this eternal future and so we are left wondering how wonderful it will be and from this standpoint, anything we see about that eternal future is as clear as looking through smoked glass or a poor quality mirror (1 Cor 13:12). Nevertheless He witnesses within us – it WILL be! That is our hope.

On a lighter note. Writers such as C.S.Lewis have speculated on the wonder of this eternal future, about what it will be like, about what we will be like. Again and again, I am sure we will fall short in our dreams of what it will be like. One day my wife and I were at an Air Show and watched in awe as an F111 fighter came as slow as it could over us with incredible power and noise. “Wow,” my wife went, “when I get to heaven I’m going to fly one of those.”  I couldn’t help the riposte, “Oh come on, when I get to heaven I’m going to fly like one of them!” We may both be wrong; it will probably be infinitely more glorious than anything our finite minds can comprehend.

And one more serious note with which to conclude: if this is truly what we believe, why do we try to hold on to aged loved ones who are tottering on the brink of death, why do we deny them entering into this wonder? The answer has got to be a selfish reason. Natural, but selfish. The hope we have is glorious, infinitely more glorious than anything we can presently experience or comprehend, so don’t place too much value on the temporary, material things of today, and especially don’t ever let the enemy make you think they are so important that you end up putting your eternal destiny in jeopardy.

15. Can’t take it

Meditations in Ecclesiastes : 15 :  You can’t take it with you

Eccles 2:17,18   So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me.

Today’s title sums it up, yet I’m sure some people don’t believe it! Observe people’s priorities, the things people consider the most important. We make choices in life and those choices reveal our priorities. The priorities for the person who does not believe in God MUST be to seek to create some sort of meaning in life. If life is purely material and there is no God then all we can do is try and fill our lives with activities that make us feel we have meaning. So some people put all their energies into making money, building a business, developing a career, or having a family. For the person with no God, these all becomes exercises at creating meaning. And who knows, success comes. Lots of money, a thriving business, a renowned career, a great family; perhaps it all works out really well.

And then one day you are confronted with the unpleasant fact that you are getting old. Possibly, for it happens to many, you are threatened with what appears a terminal illness. However it happens, suddenly you are made to realise that your days are limited and death IS coming. At that point you look at your big bank balances, and your stocks and shares, you look at the fame you have achieved, you look at the business that is still blossoming and you look at the family where there are now even great grand children, and you suddenly realise that sometime in the not distant future, all this is going to be separated from you and you are going to lie down and die, and it is all going to continue without you. This reality has a sobering effect upon you and, like Solomon you look at it all and wonder and conclude it is all meaningless because this is what you have achieved – and there is a lot to show – but you can take none of it with you!

But for you, if you are a Christian, that is not how it is. At some point you came to realise that your life was missing something, your life was inadequate, your life was wrong, and you were godless. You heard about Jesus and you responded eagerly to the good news of the Gospel and suddenly life changed.  Suddenly one of Jesus’ enigmatic sayings meant sense: Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Mt 10:39). All the time you had been working to find the meaning of life, it seemed elusive. You found yourself and achieved great things, but it was all meaningless. This was not ‘life’. It still left you with an empty feeling, and then you came to that all-important day when you surrendered to Jesus Christ and suddenly everything made sense, suddenly there was meaning to do with life, and it was all to do with God.

Initially (and hopefully still is) there was a hunger in you, that wanted to know more, wanted to know God, wanted to know about Him and what he had done for you, wanted to know what he wanted of you, and wanted to know what He said He had for you. Suddenly life was filled with God-questions and it took on a completely new perspective. In the present you came across a reassuring instruction: seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Mt 6:33). Put God first and he’ll sort out and provide all the material things you need. Suddenly that took the pressure off having to succeed. The all important thing was now God and what He wanted for your life, for He promised that if you left it up to Him, then blessing would follow.

But much more than that, you found constant references in the New Testament to you having an eternal future. Death was not the end. After death came the next phase, an even more gloriously wonderful phase of living in heaven in God’s presence. That knowledge brought a new perspective to life here today. Yes, it was a limited time but it was a time given by God, inspired and directed by God and it was given over to pleasing Him and blessing the people around you. That brought a new freedom in respect of your career, your business and everything else. These were all temporary things and although they were important, they were secondary to knowing God and knowing His will for your life. This meant that when it came to making decisions – God’s will or your career – God’s will came first, and to your surprise, your career blossomed as well, because God blessed it. Will the knowledge of God’s will, changes of direction came as well, and with those changes of direction came even more blessing. Three times in my life I have gone with God’s guidance and every time my quality of life has gone up. Twice I have changed my complete career but twice life just got better. This is how it is with God.

As you’ve looked over these last paragraphs, have you been able to identify with what is described there? I hope so. If life is stale, if life is frustrating, if life has lost it’s meaning, it’s not about perking up your career, it’s about checking your relationship with the Lord. That is the crucial key to your life here on earth and the life to follow.

5. Forgotten

Meditations in Ecclesiastes : 5 :  Forgotten

Eccles 1:11 There is no remembrance of men of old, and even those who are yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow.

I’m sure that there are many of us who give no thought to what future generations may think of us; we are too self-deprecating to believe anyone in the future would think about us and we certainly don’t think they will think highly of us. However, there are many of us who start out careers wanting to change the world. We want our lives to have impact so that they count for something, so some of us rise up in our careers and achieve great things, and then one day suddenly the enemy drops in the thought that Solomon had been having: what’s the point of this, a few years after I pass off this planet all this will be forgotten; I will be forgotten!

There are others of us for whom these sorts of thoughts come in completely different ways. We just got on with life; we started off a career and worked hard at it. Yes, we progressed and did well. We had children and they grew up, left home and started off their own careers, and then suddenly we found ourselves one day wondering about the future. “I’m into my fifties and the generation immediately above me is coming to retirement. One of these days that will be me!  What have I done with my life? Will I be remembered? Have I done anything of lasting value with my life?” These are the thoughts of ‘midlife crisis’. For a woman it is all about no longer being able to have children – not that you had wanted them for many years, but you no longer have the choice now. Even more the children have now flown the nest and we’re all alone. What have I got left in this world?  Yes, these are the thoughts of people later in life, and mostly they don’t tell you about this beforehand; it just hits you one day without warning!

But these are godless thoughts and by that I don’t mean to sound morally condemning but just descriptive, for no where in these thoughts was there a mention of God, and that’s what it was like with Solomon, and so thoughts about the apparent meaninglessness of life included the future when we are no longer here, which reflects back on the value of what we are doing now. So what value do I have today? What hope is there for the remaining years that I have left?  Let’s focus this for a moment for those who are in their fifties or sixties. The first thing to note is that if you live in the West today, you are quite likely to live into your eighties at least and some of us will live to be over ninety. What a prospect, you may think! Whatever, but it does mean that you possibly have another 25 to 35 years to live, which is a long time by human standards.

The first thing to do, as a Christian, is to surrender those years to the Lord. A natural fear is that you will deteriorate physically and mentally.  Now here’s where trust and faith come in. Listen to this: Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died, yet his eyes were not weak nor his strength gone.” (Deut 34:7). This was a man who had lived his life out with God. Pray for the same – but note it does mean being used by God right through to the end. Look at this: The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the LORD, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, “The LORD is upright; he is my Rock.” (Psa 92:12-15). Does that touch your heart? It is the offer to be received by faith, of fruitfulness in old age so that you still have a good testimony right up to the end of your time here.

The second thing to do is ask the Lord to guide you into fruitfulness in your latter years. Yes, we may not be as strong physically as we once were and our memory may not be as good as it once was, but we can take steps to remain healthy in body and mind by regularly exercising both. We may have accumulated years of experience and wisdom. How can the Lord use these to bless others through me in my ongoing years. Can we echo Isaiah with, “Here am I. Send me!” (Isa 6:8). It’s not something we can make happen but we can remain open to the Lord for Him to take us and fulfil the offer of His word in us.

The future, as far as we are concerned after death, is irrelevant. We’ll be in heaven, but what we can hope is that somehow we will have left an example for the next generation to follow. Can we be such a blessing to our families and others around us, that when it comes for our time to depart, there is a real sense of loss because of what we continued to contribute to their lives?  Can we seek to build in place in the next generation things of God that will last? It doesn’t matter what most people think about us when we are gone. The key question is what will we keep doing with God’s grace in the years that we have left to us?  Can we remain fruitful? Can we remain a blessing to others? When we leave for our next stage in eternity can we know we’ve run a good race? Can we say with Paul, I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Tim 4:7) May it be so!

49. Be Patient

Meditations in James: 49 : Be patient, stand firm

Jas 5:7,8   Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.

There is a general principle in life: looking forward to the future helps us cope with the present. People working in offices, factories, or wherever else it may be, know this. They look forward to that two week holiday that they have booked and the thought of the time away helps them through the tiredness of daily routine until that time of escape comes. Perhaps they even look forward to the weekend, to help them through Friday. It is also a Scriptural principle. The writer to the Hebrew wrote: Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb 12:2). Jesus coped with the Cross knowing it was the necessary way forward that would result in him being restored to the glory of heaven, and an even greater glory now he had achieved the purpose of God to bring salvation to the world.  Faith is all about believing in the outcome of what God says. For example, By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world.” (Heb 11:7)  Noah believed God when He told him to build an ark to escape the coming flood. He worked on the basis of what was to come.  Speaking about the various things Abraham did, the writer to the Hebrews said, For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” (Heb 11:10). In other words Abraham stepped out in obedience to God in the belief that the Lord would lead him to a place a permanence, of security. He was motivated by that sense of something yet to come in the future.

Now we have commented previously on the use of the word ‘then’ and James uses it again here: “Be patient then…”.   It is a word that links the present with the past, with what James is now saying with what he has just been saying. There are two ways we could interpret this. The first is to consider, as we mentioned briefly two days ago, the possibility that the rich are in fact those who have been persecuting the poorer Christians and making life difficult for them – so they would be looking for a future escape from their present plight. The second is to view the past paragraph as applying to Christians who fail in this present world but need to persevere in getting it right, because the Lord is about to come. Both may be true.

James is saying, cope with all these things, triumph and overcome in all these things, because the Lord is coming. The problem about that is that we don’t know when. That’s why James then gives us an illustration of patience – See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. Farmers learn that patience is an essential commodity; you have to be patient and wait for the plants to grow, the seasons to pass and harvest to come. In the same way, James implies, we need to be patient in waiting for the Lord to come.

Now at this point we run into a difficulty.  We find that James has a high expectation of the Lord’s immanent return: the Lord’s coming is near. It seems that the early church had a very high expectation that the Lord’s return would be in their time. The New Testament clearly testifies to this: The night is nearly over; the day is almost here.” (Rom 13:12) and let us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Heb 10:25) and The end of all things is near(1 Pet 4:7) andHe who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.” (Rev 22:20). Now we could try and explain this with,With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.” (2 Pet 3:8) but the more likely answer, we suggest, is that when prophetic people exercise their ministries (and the New Testament writers were each being prophetic when they wrote like this), it is as if in their spirits they are transported forward to the time of fulfillment and so it seems, when they later think about it, as if it is very close.

Now there are three ways that Jesus can ‘return’ or come into your experience in a tangible way. The first is when you die, and at that point you come face to face with him. Of course we never know when that will be. It could be tomorrow or next year.  The second way is when the Lord comes in revival. This is simply when God turns up in great power, as has been seen many times in church history of the past two thousand years, and when that happens it is like you are face to face with the power and presence of the Lord. The third is when Jesus will return at the end of time, a time when he will clearly be visible (see Acts 1:11, 1 Thess 4:16 [note, ‘loud shout’], 2 Thes 1:7) and when the whole earth will be brought face to face with him (Rev 19). The message behind each of these possibilities is, make sure you are ready to face the Lord when he comes. Yes, James’ encouragement is in respect of holding on until the Lord comes, but his coming is also a time of accounting, and therefore if anything we have considered in the past two meditations applies to us, then we need to do something about it. As Jesus said, When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Lk 18:8). That applies to each of us.

30. Oneness

Ephesians Meditations No.30

Eph  4:4-6 There is one body and one Spirit– just as you were called to one hope when you were called– one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

When one looks across the world at the Christian Church, at the divisions of the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, and then numerous Protestant denominations, it is hard to take on board this verse in its practical outworking. Yet, as we commented in the previous meditation, if you put aside all those ‘institutional’ divisions, then each town or area would have had its own expression of ‘local church’ as is clearly seen in the New Testament, for it couldn’t have been any other way. Itinerant ministries might have linked them in fellowship and understanding, but they would still, otherwise, have been independent groups all around the world, so perhaps we need to see past the ‘institutional’ divisions and see the reality that Paul is speaking about.

“There is one body and one Spirit.” That is how God sees the church. It doesn’t matter how many hundreds of thousands or even millions of local church expressions there may be, they all constitute one body, the body of Christ, the Christian Church, and Jesus is head over all as Paul said earlier in the letter: “the church, which is his body.” (Eph 1:22,23) and will go on to say a number of times later in this letter. In his companion letter, to the Colossians, he says similar things: “And he is the head of the body, the church.” (Col 1:18).  So, as God sees the reality, every local church is a part of the overall body, and Christ is head over it, and he energises and directs it (if it is open to him), by his Spirit. Yes, that is the truth, that Jesus wants to guide, direct and energise the local church by his Spirit, so it does the same things that he did (Jn 14:12) by the power of his Spirit. That may be one of the biggest challenges possible to the church today! But it IS the truth according to Scripture. The key question is will we seek the Lord to bring ourselves into line with the Scripture?

But Paul hasn’t finished: “just as you were called to one hope when you were called.” That is interesting! He reminds them and us that we were called by God and it was the same calling whoever we are and wherever we live in the world. Now we need to understand that when the New Testament uses the word ‘hope’ it is not a vague wish as we so often mean, but it is a specific future thing that will come. The emphasis on the word hope is simply the future aspect. When we have been born again by the Spirit of God, as Paul already indicated, we move into a life that is directed by God and God has plans for us to lead the most fulfilled life possible: For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (2:10). But that is only because, “he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ.” (1:5) and we, “were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance.” (1:13,14) and this is all about, “the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.” (1:18,19) and He, “made us alive with Christ.” (2:5) so that “in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace,” (2:7). Do you see that all of this that we have previously considered is ‘future language’, about the outworking of what Christ has achieved, and which is to be worked out in our lives?  That is the hope we have which, of course, includes eternal life, although that is not the thrust of the teaching in this little book; it is the outworking of Christ’s work on the Cross in bringing the Church into being.

Paul had started listing the ‘one’ things we all have in common. Now he continues the list: one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all.” We all submit to the same Lord who is ruling on high with one purpose, we all have the same faith (responding to Him), we are all baptised on the basis of Jesus forgiveness brought to us through the Cross and are all immersed into his body by the Spirit, we all worship the same God who is the same Father of all of us. Just to push home the point, he continues about God, “who is over all and through all and in all.” i.e. it’s ALL about God and His Son Jesus Christ and it’s the same for ALL of us who call ourselves Christians.

As sinful human beings we emphasise our differences of procedures, of living out our corporate expressions of church, and some of us are silly enough to over-emphasise particular doctrines, or even rely on the teaching of men, and thus we allow the enemy to create divisions and mistrust in our minds. However the truth is that we ARE all one – because God says so! Therefore the people who worship down the road may do things differently from us but, if they are born again, they ARE part of the body of Christ. Yes, there are difficulties where there are different shades of belief about the Scriptures, or about facets of Christ’s work but, and this is the hard part, we are still one with them if they are born again and we had better be careful if we deny the sonship of other believers. Let’s be careful that we don’t offend God!