14. Place of Transformation

Wilderness Meditations: 14. The Place of Transformation

Isa 31:1,2  The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy. The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, the splendor of Carmel and Sharon; they will see the glory of the Lord, the splendor of our God

And So:  And so I believe we come to the end of this brief series of reflections about the experience and lessons of life in the wilderness, a life most of us would wish to avoid and yet, in 2020, a new life imposed upon us where for a while human resources were limited, freedom of activity was limited, and yet still a time where we learnt that the Lord was still there. For some of us it came as a shock, for others as a welcome respite from the busyness of the life that had been.

Transformation?  Have we been changed by the experience of ‘wilderness’? For the good? Are we more confident in Him or have we allowed ourselves to be almost overwhelmed by the uncertainties and fears? Have we seen this as a time of restriction or a time of potential for God to come and bring glorious transformation? Again and again the prophets of the Bible come out with these amazing pictures of the transformation that God promises. How do our hearts respond? Have we been become those who can reach out to others, or those who have become too beaten down by the circumstances that they need others to reach down into the cistern of mud and despair that they feel they are in, and carefully lift them up again? (see the picture of Jeremiah – Jer 38:11-13) Do the words of the prophets thrill our hearts with an anticipation from the Spirit that this is His goal for this time – transformation of us and the world about us. Let’s put three of these sets of verses before us and ask the Spirit to release faith in us as we read them:

 Isa 31:1,2 The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy. The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, the splendor of Carmel and Sharon; they will see the glory of the Lord, the splendor of our God.” What an amazing picture from a land of silence, solitude and barrenness to one where life bursts forth. Have you ever seen one of those films that show life bursting out of the ground after the rains come? It is amazing. Can we pray for the rains to come now?

Isa 35:6 Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert.”  This is no more than happened when Jesus came (see Mt 11:5) and no more that he said was possible for us (see Jn 14:12). Is it something we have been praying for or had we, as I suggested previously, allowed our expectations to be quashed by the enemy and the unbelief of the world around us? Read it again: healing and an outpouring of His Spirit. Now pray for it – and keep praying.

Joel 2:22 Do not be afraid, you wild animals, for the pastures in the wilderness are becoming green. The trees are bearing their fruit; the fig tree and the vine yield their riches.”  The wilderness, He promises, is not one of dry lifeless existence, but a place where He seeks to bring transformation in and through His people, a church that is alive with the presence of God by His Spirit,  where life and vitality, fellowship and friendship, power, authority and revelation pour through the congregation of His people, through this potentially wonderful ‘body of Christ’, bringing constant life transformations, with conversions, deliverances and healings being a regular feature of their life, and the world is impacted and transformed. Can we believe for that? Pray for it. Work for it.

Watch: But Joel’s word reminds us that often these things come gradually. How the Lord decrees His coming is up to Him. Maybe He will just suddenly turn up, maybe as in this word there will be gradual signs building and building. Gardeners and horticulturalists know this. They watch for the various stages of development; first the leaves form after winter, blossom appears and falls, tiny fruits gradually appear and grow bigger and bigger until ready for picking. Jesus nudged his disciples on one occasion, “Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest.” (Jn 4:35b) But that was after he had just said, “Do you not say, ‘There are still four months and then comes the harvest’?” (v.35a) Don’t look at the natural seasons, he was saying, just look at the people coming, there is the harvest.

Today? “He began to say to them,Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Lk 4:21) Jesus had just read one of the Isaiah Messianic prophecies. Jesus has done his part; he’s come and done all that was necessary for salvation to be opened up to all who will come. Now we wait on him to see the next phase of his work and he continues to work in the midst of his enemies to bring in the kingdom. Elijah waited for the rain and as soon as he saw the glimpse of a small cloud (1 Kings 18:44) he knew the rest was about to come. Are we looking for it coming? Are we gazing at the horizon to see the signs of the coming of the Lord in power? In recent weeks I have started to make a note of the little signs that ARE appearing of Him moving in our midst in a new way. In the space of two weeks I have noted six specific things, six different people revealing the presence of God coming in a new way. He wants to come and transform the wilderness, He is coming, be alert, be full of faith (Lk 18:8), pray, watch, make ready, you may be His means of bringing it. Yes??? Yes!

Snapshots: Day 85

Snapshots: Day 85

The Snapshot: “the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.” (Ex 40:34) When the ‘house of the Lord’ is built according to His instructions (see the previous ‘Thought’) surely we should expect the glory of the Lord to fill it – us individually and corporately. IF that actually happened – in whichever local expression of the church that you can think of – what do you think would be seen?  How would God’s glory be seen? His daily and weekly presence, His power, His regular life transforming activity. Can any of us (maybe a few) in churches in the West at least, honestly say this is what we experience? In the days, weeks and months ahead, dare we make this prayer: “Show us Lord, what we need to change that will make this dwelling available for you. Please come and fill us”?

Further Consideration: Recently I found myself writing the following: “At the end of a Sunday morning say, do we have a buzz about the wonderful things that happened in that morning, the amazing words of revelation that were brought, the powerful testimonies of change brought, the lives that were clearly touched and changed, the obvious power of the Holy Spirit’s presence seen and felt, the heart-warming encouragements brought, the strong faith stirred, the powerful challenges brought, maybe even the tears of conviction brought, and was there a sense of having been fed by God’s word so that we walk out with head held high, stronger in conviction, more sure of our walk and certain of our future? I must pray more.”

That came out of constantly being confronted with thoughts and writings about ‘Holy Dissatisfaction’, a healthy prompting by the Spirit to get us to pray. The above is, I believe, an honest appraisal of how so much modern church life is (there are exceptions) and how many hungry Christians come away at the end of Sunday morning.

However, it is possible not to come away like this if we have no expectation of the presence of God, if we have settled to the neatly planned and orthodox service where, to be quite honest, you would not know if the presence of God was absent or not.

The glory that was seen in the Tabernacle and later in the Temple of Solomon was unique, never to be seen again (except in visions by Ezekiel). Today that ‘glory’ is the almost tangible presence of the Holy Spirit in our midst when we meet – when He is given space and welcomed. I suspect this is not something experienced by most modern churches. It is only when you have had a glimpse of this will your heart yearn for something more – the ‘more’ that God wants to bring to His people to deepen their relationship with Him, strengthen and embolden them to confront the many ungodly pressures that have been coming and continue to come on the Church today. We can opt for the familiar or we can pray for the godly Presence. May it be the latter.

8. The Glory of the Lord

Meditations on Isaiah 40: No.8. The Glory of the Lord

Isa 40:5a   “And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together.”

And the result? “And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together.” (v.5a) God’s presence will be seen by all.  There is God’s intent declared, not that the people become rule keepers but that they become again (even as they had been during the Exodus) a people with God in their midst, and that is how they would be known throughout the world. God revealed.

When Jesus had completed his work on the cross and ascended back to heaven, he poured out his Spirit in a sovereign act on the Day of Pentecost so that his presence would be there within every believer from then on. His intent from then on would be to flow in and through his people so that the glory of God would be revealed on the earth. Now this matter of God’s glory appears again and again:

“I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do.  And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.” (Jn 17:4,5) Jesus had the glory of God in heaven, put it aside when he came to earth but ‘glorified’ the Father by what he did, and then returned to heaven to reclaim the glory he had before he left heaven. Glory in this sense is God’s splendor.

That splendor is seen in God’s acts – as in Jesus on earth in the verses above. Also in history: “I will gain glory for myself through Pharaoh and all his army.” (Ex 14:4) That splendor evokes praise and worship: “to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever!” (Eph 3:21) That splendor reveals who He is and therefore He wants it to be seen, His deeds declared: “Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples.” (1 Chron 16:24”

It is a means of bringing sinful men and women to their senses: “although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God… they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images.” (Rom 1:21-23) His splendor is there to be seen by those who have eyes to see and hearts that are searching.

But His glory has also been revealed as an immense brightness where His presence is particularly manifested in the presence of His people on special occasions: the glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai.” (Ex 24:16) and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.” (Ex 40:34,35) and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.” (1 Kings 8:11) Thus now in Isaiah we come to this amazing declaration: “And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together.” Somehow, sometime, the presence of God is going to come in such a way that everyone will see it and realise who and what they are seeing.

In that high priestly prayer of John 17 we find Jesus’ intent in asking for the things he was asking: “so that the world may believe that you have sent me,” and “the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (Jn 17:21,23) and earlier he had said, “I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do,” (v.4) and both sets of verses are followed by talk about God’s glory.

How this will be worked out may appear a mystery, but one that is abundantly clear, that God’s intent has been that through His people – Israel and now the Church – He will be revealed to the rest of the world, and we find it in the most simple of verses: “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Mt 5:16) May it be so. Amen.

40. Ezekiel (1)

Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 40.  Ezekiel (1)

Ezek 1:28, 2:1,2    This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. When I saw it, I fell facedown, and I heard the voice of one speaking. He said to me, “Son of man, stand up on your feet and I will speak to you.” As he spoke, the Spirit came into me and raised me to my feet, and I heard him speaking to me.

When we arrive at Ezekiel we are confronted by what is arguably the strangest chapter in the Bible. I have covered this chapter in detail in a previous series we started on Ezekiel and so we will only cover it in a general sweep here. Chapter 1 introduces us to Ezekiel, a priest (1:3), one of the exiles taken to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar (1:1,2), who starts seeing visions about 593BC.

I cannot always help comparing what follows to the incredible clouds that accompany the coming of the aliens in the film Independence Day. It is a dramatic storm appearance with bright light at its centre (1:4) and he then sees what turn out to be four angelic beings (1:5-14) later to be identified as cherubim (10:1,2). With them come the famous “wheels within wheels” (1:15-21) later to be referred to as “the whirling wheels” (10:13). Previously I have summarised this as follows: the wheels were in total harmony with the four creatures. Wheels of course speak of transport and movement and if the presence of wings was not enough, the presence of these big wheels emphasises even more that the angelic presence  is all about coming and going from heaven to earth and back again, conveying the will of God.

Following this we are told that above these four living creatures was ‘an expanse’ (1:22), above which was a throne (1:26) on which was seated a human figure, but much more than a mere human figure (1:26,27) surrounded by multi-coloured brilliance (1:28a). It is at that comes the first part of our three starting verses: “This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD.” (1:28b)

In other words the whole of chapter 1 comes as a preamble to the actual calling of Ezekiel. Whereas in Isaiah the heavenly vision was limited to four verses, here the vision fills an entire chapter and Ezekiel identifies what he sees as “the glory of the Lord” and so incredible, so powerful is this weird picture that we find, “When I saw it, I fell facedown.” (1:28:c) It may be that this was from awe but in what follows the implication was that all his energy drained away and he collapsed.

Now we come to his first encounter with the Lord: “and I heard the voice of one speaking.” (1:28d) As we go into chapter 2 we find first of all an instruction, “Son of man, stand up on your feet,” and then a reason, “and I will speak to you.” It would appear that the Lord did not want him to be a quivering wreck on the floor but as His representative who would receive from Him face to face.  To help him do that (and this is why I suggested all his energy had left him), “As he spoke, the Spirit came into me and raised me to my feet.”  It is the power of the Spirit that raised him up.

Then the Lord speaks to him and gives him his ministry instructions: “He said: “Son of man, I am sending you to the Israelites, to a rebellious nation that has rebelled against me; they and their fathers have been in revolt against me to this very day. The people to whom I am sending you are obstinate and stubborn.” (2:3,4)  This is remarkably like the warning given to Jeremiah but this should not surprise it, because they were to go to the same people!

Having observed all this, we might now ask, why do you think the Lord gave Ezekiel this vision whereas He gave Isaiah a much briefer insight into heaven, and Jeremiah no such insight? Well, let’s consider again Ezekiel’s position. Whereas Jeremiah’s ministry was carried out in the security of Jerusalem, despite the opposition we received there, it was relatively secure. Ezekiel, however, has been carried away by Nebuchadnezzar’s army to Babylon with all the accompanying trauma. Ezekiel came from a priestly family and when he had been carried away in that first ‘deportation batch’ with Jehoiachin in 593BC (1:2) he had no idea whether he had any future left. Five years passed (1:2) and it appears he was now age thirty (1:1). Now thirty was the age that a young man of a priestly family would take up his duties and so at the time when this vision comes, he is living in a foreign land, living with the disappointment that if he had still been back in Jerusalem he would just be starting his priestly ministry in the Temple in Jerusalem, but there is no hope of that now.

Imagine you are the son or daughter of a very wealthy businessman who, throughout your younger years, has been promising that when you are thirty he will hand the CEO  role over to you, but then when you are twenty five you are kidnapped and deported, sold as a slave on the opposite side of the world in a country where you have no resources and are utterly reliant upon your captors. How would you be feeling? Helpless and hopeless. There is nothing you can do to change your situation and to all outward appearances you have no future. If there is to be a change, it has to be pretty dramatic. This is Ezekiel – and it is dramatic!

Ezekiel is going to become God’s mouthpiece to the Israelite exiles and, even more, his words are obviously going to get back to Jerusalem to back up all that Jeremiah is saying back there. Why? “And whether they listen or fail to listen–for they are a rebellious house–they will know that a prophet has been among them.” (2:5)  There is the same thing we said about Jeremiah’s ministry. It’s not about whether he manages to turn the hearts of the people (for he won’t), it’s about being God’s witness against this people so that all of history will see and know. Hence his instruction, “You must speak my words to them, whether they listen or fail to listen, for they are rebellious.” (2:7) These words will be written down and they will be a testimony against Israel and the next generation will read them and know the truth and repent so that in forty years after the fall of Jerusalem they will be ready to come back, a purged people.

So Ezekiel receives this incredible vision (and there is more of it in chapter ten) which refocuses all of his thinking and overrides all of any potential fear or anxieties he might have as an exile, and he will be focused on his one goal – to speak God’s words to God’s people. The glory of the Lord – which represents the very presence of God will become a key feature in this book as it goes on. Like no other prophet he is aware of the movement of God in His dealings with the holy city.

For 99.99% of us, we are unlikely to have such a vision because we will not have such a calling, but God will speak to us and the question has to be, will we obey what we hear? It seems that God uses two major things to turn human thinking: either a dramatic vision, such as that in chapter 1 (which is rare) or catastrophe or upheaval, which is far more common. We get such things depending on God’s calling or our stubbornness, but whatever form comes, it will always be the loving God bringing what He knows is best for us, best to bring us into a good place with Him.

13. To Solomon (2)

“God turned up” Meditations: 13 :  To Solomon (2)

1 Kings 8:10,11 When the priests withdrew from the Holy Place, the cloud filled the temple of the LORD. And the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled his temple

After lots of reading the Bible I conclude that I, probably along with most of us, have a terrible habit of skimming over amazing truths without taking in the wonder of them. Probably this is very true of the way we read about Jesus in the Gospels. This must have been THE most amazing period in human history, as God in human form expressed His love and transformed thousands of lives, on a daily basis!  Indeed every Christmas we read the nativity story in which angels turn up a number of times. The nativity story is full of the miraculous and we almost take it for granted.

So here we are following Solomon’s life and we come to the point where he had just finished building the Temple in Jerusalem. The priests have just brought in the Ark of the Covenant, the symbol of God’s presence, to the innermost place, they leave that place and suddenly from nowhere a cloud fills the temple, a cloud that is so incredibly bright no one can do anything in the Temple. God has turned up!

Now of course Israel knew about the glory of the Lord from their history. It first turned up when they were in the desert on their way from Egypt to Sinai: While Aaron was speaking to the whole Israelite community, they looked toward the desert, and there was the glory of the LORD appearing in the cloud.” (Ex 16:10) Then it appeared on Sinai itself: “When Moses went up on the mountain, the cloud covered it, and the glory of the LORD settled on Mount Sinai…. To the Israelites the glory of the LORD looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain.” (Ex 24:15-17). Later, when they had constructed and erected the Tabernacle, when it was finished, we read the following: “Then Moses set up the courtyard around the tabernacle and altar and put up the curtain at the entrance to the courtyard. And so Moses finished the work. Then the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting because the cloud had settled upon it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.” (Ex 40:33-35)

The same thing had happened at the completion of the Tabernacle as happened now in the Temple. It was as if God was setting His mark of approval on the completed building by indicating His presence in it. How easy it is to read but how difficult to comprehend! Suddenly there is this tangible (almost) phenomenon, a cloud within which is this almost scary brightness with no apparent origin. It is the glory that accompanies God’s presence.  Did Solomon wonder if it was going to happen, thinking back to the completion of the Tabernacle? He might have done but there was no way of making God turn up. He’s already had one major example of God turning up in the dream we considered previously, promising him wisdom. But then the wisdom had come with incredible results. Surely that was God turning up, giving him this ability to ‘know how’! Perhaps without him realising it, God had been there the whole time, but now there is this visible sign that He’s there.

I’ve lived through the Charismatic movement in the latter part of the twentieth century and the Toronto blessing at the end of it. I have been in a room when angel lights seemed to flicker around the ceiling for no explicable reason. I have known the Lord ‘turn up’ to convict me on occasions, and to fill me at other times. I have heard Him as He has turned up to speak to me and through me in ways that are sometimes scary.

There is one thing about these happenings when God turns up, that validates them. You could not make Him come and you could not explain His coming. He just comes and makes His presence or His word known – and it is amazing and wonderful, and when He does you just know you are out of your depth. This is not man-made or man-inspired; this is the sovereign Lord of the universe making Himself known to His people. He doesn’t do it because we have earned it or deserved it. He does it because He chooses to do it for His own purposes, and when He does, we bow our hearts before Him in worship for we see He IS the Lord.

I often think that this is where the crusading atheists of the day are on a losing wicket. They come up with all their wild ideas trying to justify their position and trying to put believers down, but they just don’t realise that we have encountered the living God, we’ve had a life changing experience which is ratified and confirmed a hundred times over as the days go by. God IS and He comes to people and makes His presence known. Yes, there are very human experiences that sometimes seem to be similar experiences but they are normally abnormal people, people with strange mental states or imposed psychological states, but the atheist cannot understand that for the vast majority of us, our experience of God is in the mundane ordinariness of life when He just turns up and makes Himself known: God in the ordinary making it extraordinary.

In Solomon’s case, they haven’t got around to doing the religious bit of dedicating the Temple; they had only just finished building it and have been bringing in the ark – then God arrives! After that they do the religious dedication bit, but God hasn’t come because they are doing the religious stuff. He comes because they have been obedient and He obviously wants to give His approval to that. Hallelujah!