39. God of Times & Seasons

Getting to Know God Meditations:  39. God of Times & Seasons

Eccles 3:1   There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:

Songs 8:4   I charge you: Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires.

Jn 7:6  Jesus told them, “My time is not yet here; for you any time will do.

Gal 4:4  when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son

Gal 6:9 Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

And So? Let’s declare it from the outset – God is never in a rush.  This God we have been considering, who we have said more than once is all-knowing and all-wise, knows exactly what is going on, what causes stuff to happen, how long things will take and when things will happen. And because of this, God is patient, He waits and He waits: “he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Pet 3:9)

The enigma of time: Time is a mystery or a philosophical construct or a philosophical bind. It is taken for granted but also causes speculation so that ‘time-travel’ has been a good source of writing and films. But in this modern day, we are ever aware of ‘the time’ whether it is to clock-in at work at the right time, to turn on the TV at a right time, or to get to the airport to have the right time to get processed before your flight. Time is simply the space awareness we have between one activity and another. We say, “We have just an hour before we need to leave for the meal out,” and within that ‘hour’ we know we have a number of things to do and each of them will take ‘time’.

Time involves Process: Eccles 3:1-8 is a great source for meditation but it speaks of appropriate or right times to do various things, but when it comes to the process we need to go to Isaiah as he chides the people and implies that God take His time and has a time for everything: “Listen to me now. Give me your closest attention. Do farmers plough and plough and do nothing but plough? Or harrow and harrow and do nothing but harrow? After they’ve prepared the ground, don’t they plant?…. They know exactly what to do and when to do it.(Isa 28:23-26)  Farming is a process, it takes time and varied activities to bring about a harvest. Gardeners learn this thing as well; they are constant season watchers. They may put bulbs in during October, say, but realize they won’t see any signs of growth until March perhaps. To be a gardener you have to learn patience. Parents know that children are not good with patience: “Are we almost there yet?”   Are we like little children with God sometimes, I wonder? Solomon understood this when he wrote the Song of Songs and penned, “I charge you: Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires.”   It takes a while for love to build so often, and it is a foolhardy suitor who seeks to rush it. There is a process even within relationships.

God is Patient: Earlier in this series we considered the God of Purpose and we considered His activities and words in respect of Israel, providing a nation for the world through which He could reveal Himself, a nation into which He could send His Son. From the time He spoke to Abram about blessing the world through him, and the fulfillment through His Son, was roughly two thousand years. In our perspective God is not in a rush. If you really want to put time in perspective consider what today’s world-watchers say; according to one history book on my shelves, there have been 31.7 billion years since ‘the Big Bang’. If they are right that is a long time – indeed a time that we cannot possibly comprehend. It is utterly meaningless to the human mind. But if they are right, God is certainly not in a rush. (Perhaps He was doing lots of other things in that time we know nothing about!!!!!)

Frustration: Frustration follows impatience. We want things to happen NOW! We struggle to cope with delay, even though we know time has just got to pass, a process has got to be allowed to work through. For God, revealing things through Israel, it necessitated each player in Israel’s history to live out their time, day by day, hour by hour, so that they be allowed to build their testimony. Often we find the scribes writing such things as, “He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, but not as his father David had done. In everything he followed the example of his father Joash,” (2 Kings 14:3) here referring to Amaziah. Those few simple words, “as his father David had done,” refer back to pages of testimony about David’s life, but he had to live it out before it could be said. So it was of each king, years passing in which testimony was built, and all the while God watches patiently. God is patient, He doesn’t get frustrated like we do.

Jesus, the example: Jesus, the Son of God, must be the prime example of divine patience and order. Again and again he indicates that he is moving according to a divine plan and would not, therefore, be rushed into anything prematurely. Our verse above from Jn 7 was from a time when his brothers were encouraging him to go to Jerusalem for publicity sake, but he resists that motivation. At a wedding in Cana in Galilee when the wine ran out, his mother sought to involve him but his response was, “My hour has not come,” (Jn 2:4) or, “This isn’t my time. Don’t push me.” (Msg paraphrase) Although in both cases he did respond in the way suggested, his immediate response indicates he was not going to let even closest family conclude they could dictate his activity. Later he was to explain, “The Son can’t independently do a thing, only what he sees the Father doing. What the Father does, the Son does.” (Jn 5:19 Msg) The Son’s activity and timing was governed by what he sensed his Father was leading him to do, not what others wanted him to do.

Our Gal 4:4 quote comes over well in the Message paraphrase: “But when the time arrived that was set by God the Father, God sent his Son…” which very much matches what we’ve just seen Jesus himself saying. In a previous study we noted that there were a number of things in history that showed that that time was the very best time for the gospel to be spread across the Roman world. Within that same letter, Paul encouraged us to persevere with life because a time of harvest will come in our lives if we do press on and persevere. Timing is all important and even as we commented about there being a right time for a harvest for the farmer, so sometimes we just have to wait for various things to either fall into place or come to fruition before the good comes that we have been praying and waiting for.

God’s Seasons: We should perhaps note, as we conclude this study, that when you observe the history of the Church there have been various phases or seasons but mostly, in the ordinary, everyday run of the mill order of things, they tend to be determined by how we respond to God. The years following Jesus’ ascension were clearly years of blessing as the early Church moving under the power of the Spirit continued the works of Jesus.  The further on and away from that day, as history progressed, it seemed that much of that died away even though the Church was flourishing. Although many of the following centuries were mostly spiritually dark, historians do observe that there were pockets of blessing throughout much of the past two thousand years.

These days? After 1517 when Luther nailed up his 95 theses, the Reformation restored Scripture to its proper place in the life of individuals and the church. More centuries passed before, in 1906, the Azusa Street revival in Los Angeles, restored the life and ministry of the Holy Spirit to the fore, although it did not cross denominational boundaries until in the 1960’s the Charismatic Movement restored Holy Spirit life for the individual, with also a new teaching restoring the ministry of ‘the body of Christ.  These were clearly seasons of God when He moved on individuals to restore His Word and Spirit to the lives of His people. What is interesting is that these were not revivals.

Revivals? The characteristics of true revival were described by Duncan Campbell of the Hebridean 1949 revival: “God moves in the district. Suddenly, the community becomes God conscious. The Spirit of God grips men and women in such a way that even work is given up as people give themselves to waiting upon God. In the midst of the Lewis Awakening, the parish minister at Barvas wrote, “The Spirit of the Lord was resting wonderfully on the different townships of the region. His Presence was in the homes of the people, on meadow and moorland, and even on the public roads.” This presence of God is the supreme characteristic of a God-sent revival. Of the hundreds who found Jesus Christ during this time fully seventy-five per cent were saved before they came near a meeting or heard a sermon by myself or any other ministers in the parish. The power of God, the Spirit of God, was moving in operation, and the fear of God gripped the souls of men – this is God-sent revival as distinct from special efforts in the field of evangelism.”

When does a revival occur (and a number have through the period of Church history)? When God decides. Often it seems at low social or low moral times, usually preceded by a burden of prayer but these times that have occurred in history, just like the three years of Jesus’ ministry, cannot be explained as a human phenomenon but only as an act of God. They last for limited periods of time and appear as God intervenes in history, mostly in the lives of His people (renewals) but sometimes community-wide (revivals) as and when He sees that His testimony in the world needs strengthening.

And us? We have sought to show again and again that God is patient and God works not only sovereignly but through the way He inspires and empowers individuals. That inspiration and empowering is available for every believer in greater or lesser degrees. The ‘greater degrees’ tends to be a work in the individual who is wholly committed to God and open to receive and respond to whatever God has for them. That is true for all of us, it just depends on how open we will be to Him. The challenge is always there, will I be open to be used by Him if He comes in a fresh way to empower us by His Spirit in either renewal or revival? May He find us open and available.

12. God of Purpose: Justice (2)

Getting to Know God Meditations:  12. God of Purpose: Justice (2)

1 Cor 1:22-24  Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

Continuation:  In the previous study as we started to approach – and it is only a start – the subject of justice, we looked at the human need and considered some initial thoughts about Justice. In this study we go on to consider what happened on the cross and the potential of what follows, and later how that can be applied into individual lives. In some ways ‘the Cross’ (and putting it like that is shorthand for all that happened and all that was achieved by Christ’s death) is a mystery and, as the apostle Paul wrote to the church at Corinth in our quote above, it was a problem for Jews who could not understand how any potential Messiah could die by what they saw as a shameful death, and it was pure craziness to the intellectual Greeks of the day, to talk about salvation through an execution.  Today it is still an anathema to ‘religious’ people who would rather work their way to God’s good side, as they see it, and an abhorrence to intellectual atheists who delight in mocking it (but of course they never have any satisfactory solution to the problem themselves.)

The problem restated: The problem we need to restate is that we are failures, we are dysfunctional, and we feel guilty. We may work hard to try to cover up those things but those are the truths about us. Now there is an even bigger problem than what we think about ourselves, it is what God thinks about us. Now some people try to say, “Well you say He is a loving God so surely He understand our frailty and so will not condemn us,” but that forgets a crucial issue – justice.

We have said that there is this thing called justice and justice demands that wrongs are put right and, so often, that necessitates dealing with the past in some way that satisfies all onlookers, if I may put it like that, who can say, “Yes, that is fair, that is right, that is just.” Now it is difficult to be objective about this and so imagine an alien from a distant planet where they still live perfectly according to God’s design, and the alien comes here and observes what goes on. He (let’s do the ‘legal’ he) is appalled. He sees all the negative things we considered in Study No.10 that we do to one another that are bad. He hears you say you want a new life that is free from all these things and he says that is great but what about all the guilt that is here to be dealt with?

He has the ability to see the whole span of your life, present, past and future and he jots down literally thousands upon thousands of instances where you were self-centred and godless (leaving God out of it) and left a trail of bad or unresolved consequences – you lied, you covered up, you blamed other people, you ran away, and so on – because that’s just how life is, and he says, “I see you struggle with facing this but when you see the totality of these things, on my planet such a creature would not be allowed to live!”  “But why?” you respond. “Well, think about it,” he replies, “Justice demands correction, even punishment (something needs to be done to satisfy everyone these things have been dealt with to their satisfaction) and there is no way that you can either make amends for every instance or indeed for the whole lot. If you say punish me a bit for each misdemeanor, they so mount up that we are talking about your life here, or rather taking it. You need to die to fully satisfy justice, that is how big the problem is.”

And then Jesus: So, we said, the third of the things to be considered is the coming and death of Jesus. Now Charles Dickens in his novel, A Tale of Two Cities paralleled exactly what happened when, in the story, one man is condemned to death and another steps into the breach and dies in his place. Dickens knew that that is exactly what Christ did.

The basic facts: Christ came and lived a spotless life. He went about, to quote the apostolic record, ‘teaching and doing good’. As the Gospels declare, “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.” (Mt 11:5) Jesus said of God, “he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners  and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free.” (Lk 4:18) All of that so upset the religious authorities who were shown up by him to be heartless, self-concerned, religious bigots, that they trumped up charges against him and so pressurised the Roman governor that he had him put to death by crucifixion.

The biblical record: Now we might just look on that and say it was just a good man who got on the wrong side of the authorities and died for it, but this ‘good man’ proclaimed again and again and again (we see in the Gospels and affirmed by the rest of the New Testament) through a whole variety of teachings that he was the divine Son of God who had come down from heaven to both reveal God and to die in the place of humanity for their sins. (I said in an earlier study if you want to see the detail and biblical references for all this, please go to my previous series entitled ‘Focus on Christ’.)

The Significance of Jesus Christ: This is where unbelieving Jew & Gentile struggle. This IS the clear New Testament teaching, that Jesus Christ was God incarnate, God in the flesh.   Why is that important? It isn’t if all you want Jesus to be is a witness to God’s goodness, but for the claim to be substantiated that the individual sins of every single human being who has ever existed has been taken and dealt with, then no other person is big enough, if we may put it like that, to carry all those causes of guilt, only God Himself who is eternal and both inside and outside of time (we’ll look at that in a later study).

Now back in study no.5 about God’s revelation we noted what is called ‘the doctrine of divine accommodation’ which is about how God speaks in such ways that mankind at a particular point of history can understand. Throughout the pagan world sacrifice to idols was the norm. Thus, in the Law, God instigated the practice of sacrifices to act as substitutes for the offeror’s deserving to die for his or her sin (see the early chapters of the third book of the Bible, Leviticus). It was a picture, a way of the guilty Israelite performing a ritual, dictated by God, so that his conscience could be appeased; he has done what God has decreed to show that he was sorry and so the sacrificed animal carried his punishment. That is the picture built into the Law and seen with less clarity of appeasing purpose in pagan religions. The big difference for the Israelite was that he was doing it for Almighty God. This would be a picture that new believers coming from pagan backgrounds could understand.

But it was just a picture. In the New Testament, the remarkable ‘Letter to the Hebrews’ recaps all this for new Jewish but Christian believers and acknowledges that “It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins,” (Heb 10:4) but what they had been doing for centuries was acting out a picture of what would happen when Christ came, even though they did not realize it. Very simply, their obedience to the Lord satisfied God that if they had lived in his time and heard about Christ, they would believe in him and be forgiven.

Perhaps an even clearer picture was what occurred at the first Passover, when the destroying angel of God ‘passed over’ Egypt but ignored every house where, at God’s instigation through Moses, a lamb had been killed and its blood put on the doorposts (see Ex 12).  When John the Baptist saw Jesus coming, he said prophetically to his disciples, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (Jn 1:29 and again in v.35). As a good Jew or Gentile you may struggle with that but that is the New Testament clear teaching again and again. Your sin and mine, your guilt and mine, has been dealt with by Jesus, the divine Son of God, dying in our place. We cannot add to that, we cannot improve on that, we can only believe it, accept it and receive all that God has for us as a consequence. That will be the content of the next study.

11. God of Purpose: Justice (1)

Getting to Know God Meditations:  11. God of Purpose: Justice (1)

Ex 34:6,7  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;

Reassurance:  I am sure there are some Christian readers who may have been tutting about the last study in that I have dealt first with the end product and have not yet dealt with how that can come about – the Cross – and I want to reassure you that as with the apostle Paul, “Christ crucified” is first and foremost in my mind. Having said that I put the previous study about behaviour first for two reasons: first, it shows us the need that we have as fallen, dysfunctional human beings and, second, it shows us God’s end goal – to redeem us and that means to restore us, change us, remake us, and that very often gets forgotten in Christian circles.

Only the other day I came across the following quote (which may need a little thinking about) from a modern Christian writer who I respect: “Transformation of life and character is no part of the redemptive message” but that came just after references to, “the gospel of sin management…. behaviour modification, avoiding obvious sins through a kind of religious willpower.”  What that highly acclaimed Christian writer was saying – and I totally agree with it – is that ‘trying hard to be good’ is not what makes a person a Christian. Unless the foundation, that I am now going back to consider, is laid in a person’s life, ‘trying hard to be good’ is all that we are left with and that is doomed to failure.

Approach: In order to be as clear as I possibly can in this study (and possibly the next one that I may have to extend this into) this is how I intend to cover this subject

  1. Recap the human need.
  2. Initial thoughts about Justice.
  3. What happened on the cross and the potential of what follows.
  4. How that can be applied into individual lives.

 Recap the human need: I believe I have shown quite reasonably in the previous study, not only the amazing potential that there is for every human being, but also the reality of how it so often works out. We may wish we could live spectacular lives, lives that are positive, affirming myself and others, bring peace and blessing wherever I go, but left to my own devices that is not how it works out.

The Bible is very realistic without being depressing. For instance the apostle Paul addressing just this same problem  wrote, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do,” (Rom 7:15) and then, “I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing,” (v.19) and then, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me ….. Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!”  (v. 24,25) and he then goes on to talk about what Christ has achieved on the cross and what power from God – the Holy Spirit –  now does to change him.

But he highlights the dilemma that confronts us: I am faced with my own fallibility, my own weaknesses, my own failings and I am uncomfortable with them.  Now there may be three responses here:

i) deny my failings, blame others for them, ignore all this and continue to be a self-centred, godless person getting it wrong, or

ii) start trying to be religious or good, still being self-centred, focusing on ‘my ‘ efforts, or

iii) we accept the Bible teaching.

Before I move on, I must note  that when people start thinking about these things – and being concerned about them – it is usually a sign of God moving. People do not move from a quick casual thought to deep reflection and conviction without help from God, yet the moment He sees there is an opening of heart, He will be there, gently speaking in the background, although we tend never to be aware of it at the time; it is only awareness retrospectively.

Thoughts about Justice: Justice is a strange concept. As the Internet puts it,  ‘Justice is the morally fair and right state of everything and, Justice is a concept … that means that people behave in a way that is fair, equal and balanced for everyone.’ We may watch TV police dramas and justice is always there in the background.

We take it for granted, yet when it comes to the way we think as a society, or as individuals within society, we find that today there are two prevailing moods or outlooks. One says don’t bother me with such things and lives in a happy state of blissful ignorance, but sadly it is neither happy nor blissful. The other says that absolutes and boundaries are restrictive psychological constructs, and so have been abandoned so that, in the eyes of many at least, anything goes and ‘right’ is what feels right to the individual and varies with the situation. (hence ‘relativism’ and ‘situation ethics’). To talk about ‘justice’ in this sort of environment seems quite alien. But when we have the nerve or courage to stop and think about these things, this relative morality backfires on us because a) we don’t want it to apply in my own life and b) we do have specific ideas of things that we consider ‘wrong’, and c) we are often uncomfortable with applying justice to my own foibles and failings.  In fact the second group become clearer when they have become personal in my own life. So let’s give some examples.

a) My own life: I can be very casual about behaviour in general until it impacts me personally, for example, someone breaks into my house and trashes it, I scream for the police, and demand justice; I want these vandals caught and punished. My mother is badly mugged walking down the street and ends up a bruised mess in hospital. Ditto response. My daughter is gang raped and severely traumatized. Ditto response. It is right to demand justice; it is right to demand an end be brought to such behaviour and the perpetrators be severely dealt with. That is justice, bringing rightness to a wrong situation.

b) My lists of wrongs: But each of us have, when we pause to think about it, a list of things we consider wrong. For example the moment I use the word ‘pedophile’ most right thinking people will say that sexual child abuse is wrong – always. We could, no doubt, create long lists of things that each of us say is ‘wrong’. Sometimes we may hesitate because we feel certain things get a bit close to home, for example anger if we ourselves struggle with it.

c) Hesitant Justice: Because so often we are unsure about ourselves, lacking confidence in who we are, and because we have so often succumbed to the false doctrine of relative ethics, we are so often hesitant to consider the thought that moral failure carries with it consequences, and one of those consequences is a sense of guilt. We can make excuses but deep down – and sometimes we try to suppress it – we know that there are standards and we are guilty of either not having reached them or of having broken them. We also so often have a feeling that there is nothing to be said here because this is just how life is, and I am stuck here. We may have read self-help books, even gone on courses, but then failure struck and as much as we try to deny it, we know it is our failure. For all these sorts of reasons we so often try to duck the issue: I am guilty and there are consequences.

And So? Well, we have run out of space for this study and have only managed to cover two of the four subjects I want to cover – 1. Recap the human need, and 2. Initial thoughts about Justice – and so we will leave the other two until the next two studies.

10. God of Purpose: Behavior

Getting to Know God Meditations:  10. God of Purpose: Behavior

Ex 20:13-15   You shall not murder. 14 “You shall not commit adultery. 15 “You shall not steal.

Approach:  I think I need to lay out what I intend to cover in this particular study because there are other aspects I will need to cover separately in the next  study. Here I want to consider human behaviour, signs of God’s design – and possibilities. In Study No.7 I suggested four parts of the ‘big picture’ and the last part was about how God planned to win us back to himself by sending his Son to the earth to show the possibility of life with God and all that that could mean. To understand this we have to look at how we live our lives and then how we could live our lives.

Great Potential: In a moment we are going to have to face the negative aspects of the human race but to maintain balance, I believe we need to look first at how God designed us to be originally. From the outset we are told that we have been made, “in the image of God.” (Gen 1:26). What does that mean? Well, how do we differ from all other living creatures? It means He gave us the abilities to communicate, think, plan, reason, invent, create, write, compose, design, research, work, order, purpose, worship and enter into the fullness of what we were designed to be. Put another way, He has given us self-consciousness, imagination and conscience, and ability to grow and develop mentally, spiritually, emotionally as well as physically. It is all these things that separate mankind off from the rest of the animal world and, I suggest, are what the Bible means when it says we are made in His image. But even more than that, we are made to show immense care and compassion, of self-sacrifice and even carry out courageous acts of heroism. The potential of the human race is phenomenal. When you consider advances in science, technology, medicine, surgery, exploration and so much more, these are all aspects or expressions of ‘being made in his image’, and this applies to every single human being regardless of belief.

Great Pleasure: When you consider the five senses – sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell – they are all about the potential of enjoyment.  If we are – as the Bible says we are – ‘designed’ by God then we are thinking of very positive things. Ponder on looking at and taking in a wonderful sunset, a beautiful vista, works of art, or listening to the sounds of nature or the sounds of a symphony orchestra or jazz band, or reaching out to touch the skin of a loved one, or the smoothness of polished wood, the taste of a thousand dishes on menus, the smell of fresh coffee and baking bread, and all these thing are for pleasure and without those senses we are severely curtailed in that potential enjoyment.  Speech isn’t usually considered one of our ‘senses’ and yet our speech has incredible potential for good or harm.

Dysfunctional?  And yet, as I have pondered these things for many years, despite all these things in the two paragraphs above, I conclude that the best word to describe all of us is ‘dysfunctional’ which, as a dictionary says, simply means ‘not operating normally or properly’. The picture of the Garden of Eden in Genesis 2 & 3 may (if I may take in all views) be either factual history or a teaching narrative based on factual geography, but the picture of that original relationship when God interacted with man (and it may be millions of years down the evolutionary scale if you wat to believe that) was one of total peace and harmony. Put another way, there was an absence of stress, worry, anxiety, upset, hostility, all the things that characterize so much of modern Western life. The sad thing is that we now take as normal these dysfunctional things I have just listed that were not there in the beginning. Genesis 3 (fact or lesson) declares that these things happen because we reject God and His design for us.

Warping the Design:  Things go wrong in the way we live. Sometimes we are happy to acknowledge these things, but more often than not it is for economic grounds and not morally ethical grounds. For example overeating (which may be caused by a variety of reasons) causes obesity and obesity is harmful to health and even life-threatening. When that impinges on national health provision, the government health authorities start speaking up about it. Alcoholism and drug addiction are generally accepted as equally harmful.

When it comes to sexual aspects of relationships we are less likely to agree, but repeated studies show that cohabitation is a less stable relationship than marriage, and divorce has a seriously detrimental effect on the children of the marriage, which is worked out later in life in negative, antisocial ways in society. In modern Western society, sex has become for many no different than eating, it is part of the package of the evening out, and then we are surprised that young people struggle to find the meaning and experience of ‘love’, and increasingly young people are dropping out of even traditional dating. As the Sunday papers so often show, it is often, a quagmire of emotions. The quaint biblical notion of sex only after marriage with one life-long partner has so much going for it and avoids so much of the angst of modern relationships – but, yes, it does need self-control and it does need working at. It is only a matter of time, I suggest, before the realities of these things bring change.

The ways that we human beings find to abuse other are, it seems, almost limitless: murder, genocide, rape, slavery, torture, racism, violence in the home and on the streets,  cruelty, abuse, bullying, sexual abuse, aggression, slander, libel, defamation, malice, theft, vandalism, bribery and corruption, fraud, and the list could just go on and on and on. This is what we do when the restraints are removed. Perhaps we should add the motivating forces that drive some of those things: godlessness, (don’t confuse ‘religion’ with being godly), self-centredness, callousness, insensitivity, pride, envy, gluttony, greed, lust, sloth, and wrath (the seven so-called ‘cardinal sins’), lies, and deceit. What a bunch we are!

The Christian Perspective: Please don’t hear me wrongly here, Christians are not immune from these things, we speak out of turn, act wrongly and harbor wrong attitudes but may I suggest three ways we differ from our unbelieving neighbour:

– we do intend to be righteous, and our reading of the Bible and teaching within church life go to reinforce that intention (we study the New Testament which is full of teaching and encouragement to go for this; this is our primary behavioral goal).

– when we fail, we are more likely to be convicted by God about our failure and then confess it to Him and repent (turn away with the resolve not to repeat it). Also sharing it in a church context means we will be strengthened in that resolve.

– if we do fail, we are more likely to be convicted by God to put right any wrong relationship, and thus act as a peacemaker, and if necessary bring restitution.

On top of these three things I would suggest that believers, as individual disciples of Jesus, are more likely to seek to model themselves on him, by seeking to be obedient to God the Father and be led by the Holy Spirit, having open hearts to others (believers or non-believers), being generous in attitude, seeking to bless others (inside and outside the church), seeking to meet needs presented where possible, with humility, being caring, listening and accepting, while holding firmly to the conviction that God’s design is always the right way and never to be compromised.

Where Christian community is operating as it should, there will be open-hearted sharing, caring and concern, being there for one another, encouraging one another, being gentle and patient with one another, blessing one another. I have just said ‘as it should’ and my experience is that it often is in large measure, and that is so often missed by the atheist cynic.

And So: Really, seriously, look back over these things under this last heading. We may not be achieving all of them all of the time but it is our intention to do so and we work to do that. Really, can this sort of life and community life come under criticism from the humanistic, secularist atheist who has no such community and cannot provide such a similar testimony? This is what Jesus came to achieve. This is the behavioral aspect of the purpose of God through the ministry of Jesus.  We will go on to see in the next study how he laid the foundation for this to happen and how he works today to help us achieve this.

1. A Marker in the Sand

Getting to Know God Meditations:  1. A Marker in the Sand

Job 40:1,2  The Lord said to Job:  “Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer him!”

For who? I have over the years written thousands of these meditations (studies) and my general goal has always been twofold: to teach myself and clarify my own thinking AND to provide material that I hope may strengthen and encourage the Christian community. In this new series, I want to make a slight difference, I would like to help new Christian believers AND perhaps shine some light into the darkness for those who cannot yet say they are believers and yet are here showing interest. Can I speak to that latter group first of all.

Questions:  The fact that you are reading these words means that somehow you have come across this site, or perhaps been directed towards it by a friend, and are at the very least intrigued by the thought of ‘God’.   Now that in itself is intriguing for we live in a world, here in the West, that has been changing dramatically over the last hundred years in ways that are greater than all of previously recorded history and because of that ideas and thinking has been shaken as well. Throughout history there have been ‘signs of religion’. One of my granddaughters said to my wife recently, “But surely, granny, there is no evidence for God.”  What a staggering statement built on what appears to be total ignorance. My wife, telling me of this later, said she had to struggle not to tell her all about what she taught every year at upper level education, a whole year of just that, examining the amazing range of evidence. But this meditation (study) is not going to do that; my remit in these studies is much more limited but, I hope, just as rewarding. Put in a nutshell, it is to find out about God from the Bible.

The Bible? And here, briefly, we have to counter the tsunami of ignorance that prevails in many today. Here is a book – a best seller still around the world – or rather 66 books with some 40 or so authors, made up of writings from Jewish history (the Old Testament) and of the first century CE (what used to be AD!) telling of the activity of Jesus Christ and the birth of the Church. To short-cut pages of explanation may I simply put it to you if you are coming to this subject for the first time, that I am a reasonably intelligent person (teacher and retired pastor) who has read and studied the Bible for over fifty years (yes, that makes me old!), questioning, seeking, researching and never being content with superficial answers and have written studies that cover that vast majority of the Bible. At the end of all that, may I suggest to you that a) you can trust its veracity, its truthfulness and its accuracy and, b)  no, it is not full of inconsistencies or contradictions as popular ignorant opinion often has it. I would not waste your time with it if it did!

The Basis: The basis of these studies will be what the Bible says about God, not what people think about God or what people think about what the Bible says about God, but what it actually says. For that reason you may find these studies different from anything you’ve read before. They should, hopefully be full of the Bible, at least be looking to see what the Bible says. Now here’s an honest health warning. I want to change your thinking. I say that quite openly because, as I have already suggested, I believe many people come to this subject with a rucksack of ignorant wrong presuppositions that they have been carrying around that has weighed them down. I would like to invite you to lay that down and fill it instead, with reflections about what we find in the Bible. In a later study I will lay out the structure of the Bible for you because it does, despite it being 66 ‘books’, stand as a single-story entity.

A Fresh Starting Place: May I suggest, in respect of the Bible, an experimental fresh starting place for all of us. The scholars etc. who know about these things conclude, as I said above, you can trust its veracity, its truthfulness and its accuracy. Now having said that, it is legitimate to ask, why did the 40 or so writers write what they did, and can we believe their reports of their experiences. Now the one convincing thing, I find,  is that there is an amazing uniformity from such a wide diversity of writers who together form a compelling picture.

All I ask from the outset is that we ponder, IF all these people are being truthful about what they have written (and why should 40 or so people, spread over a long period of history, convey a lie?) what logically should that leave us thinking about God and, indeed, about our own lives? i.e. dare we assess the truth and be honest enough to say it might change us?  I will start each study with a verse of scripture from the Bible, and may include a lot more, but these are after all, Bible studies. We are studying the Bible. The early studies will be light on Bible quotes, not to weigh down those for whom the Bible is new reading, but I will constantly refer to people and places and give references for you to look up if you wish.

Job? The book of Job (which I do not recommend as your first area of reading – try Mark’s Gospel) is a tough book about a man who suffered and it is all about what his three friends thought about that suffering. Was God to blame for it? Whether it is history or a story with a point has often been debated. It is thought to be one of the oldest books in the Bible. At the end of all the debating within it (often with confused and wrong thinking, which is why I don’t recommend it as starter reading because it can be confusing reading; come to it after you have got more foundational reading under your belt)

Job encounters God who identifies Himself as ‘the Almighty’ or ‘the Mighty One’. Now philosophers will say that the definition of God has to be One for whom there can be no one greater. We will go on to see what the Bible says about that as an idea, but it is a good starting point and it is the point that Job faced God and concluded, “I spoke of things I did not understand… My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.  Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” (see Job 42:1-6)

The point is we are not talking about an abstraction here, just a nice idea to play around with; we are working towards the idea that there IS a Being as uniquely described in the Bible, who is so much greater than anything or anyone we can comprehend, and that is scary. The more we go on, the more true we will see that is but, at the same time, be given great reassurance that although fear is a natural feeling (which is why many duck away from thinking through these things) the truth is that the Bible reveals Him as loving and for us. That’s the simplest way I can put it for the moment.

For those of us who are believers, I invite you afresh to pause and worship and ask Him to teach you anew. If you are not at that place, may I simply invite you to keep an open mind and come with me in the studies ahead of us, and possibly experience something you’ve never come across before. We live in a doubting, disbelieving world, more often built on ignorance, a dry and spiritually arid place. My intent is to draw a line in the sand of this modern-day desert and say, enough of this ignorance, let’s have the courage and honesty to face it and say, let’s change it! Take a few minutes each day to come with me on this expedition.