3. Abram – a work in progress

Glory Out of Failure Meditations: 3. Abram – a work in progress

Gen 12:6 Abram travelled through the land as far as the site of the great tree of Moreh at Shechem

Where we are: So here we are, just in the early stages of pondering on this fundamental idea of our lives being taken from a place of failure and changed to a place of glory. In the previous study we noted the fact that with Abram – and with us – it was a case of God initiating this activity. There didn’t seem to be anything great about Abram; he wasn’t royalty, he wasn’t a hero, there is nothing said about him that elevated him above others. If anything he is a man to be pitied. He has a wife who is barren and in a culture where children and carrying on the family name were important, that must have been a constant anguish for both he and Sarai.

So Why? So why did God choose him? Why did He choose you and me? Before the foundation of the world, Ephesians 1 suggests God ‘predestined’ you, i.e. He looked into the future of His plan of salvation and saw you, saw your response to His word coming to you and the drawing of His Spirit, and knew at that point that you would be a responder. Why did He choose Abram? Because He knew he would be a responder, He knew what He wanted to achieve and He knew He could do it with Abram without overruling the free will He had given him.

This teaching is epitomized in Paul’s teaching about Jesus: “This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” (Acts 2:23) God had a plan and He knew how the authorities would respond to Jesus – exercising their free will – and bring about the sacrificial death of His Son. God knew what He wanted to achieve and knew how He would achieve it – using the self-centred, wilful acts of sinful men. He didn’t make them act like that but He knew that’s how they would respond.

Similarly with Abram – and with you and me – He knew how we would respond; He knew what we could achieve – despite our failures.

Failure: Our starter verse shows us Abram entering the land along the route from the north and arrives at Shechem, roughly in the centre of Israel. There the Lord meets with him and declares that THIS is the land He is giving him and his descendants (v.7) and Abram responds by building an altar. But he doesn’t stay there, he meanders on south to near Bethel (v.8) and builds another altar. An altar is a place of sacrifice to a deity. Abram has that sense, the awareness that he is being led by deity. There is that level of spiritual reality. He is being led by God and every time he builds an altar it is a recognition of that.

Then he moves further south (v.9). But then trouble occurs; his first test arrives – a famine, a severe famine (v.10). He hasn’t yet realised the big teaching that will come through his life – that God is a provider. This is the land that God has promised him, but it doesn’t seem to be providing him with what he needs – so he continues south to Egypt where there is no famine. Egypt is often considered a type of ‘the world’. He turns to the world for his provision; he knows no better. Is ‘the world’ God’s means of provision for him? Indeed it is, in the sense that ‘the world’ is all of creation, not the sense that we usually attribute to it in scripture, of godless, unbelieving, self-serving humanity. But no, He does use the world to provide for us.

Does this ring bells? Don’t we sometimes, when the way seems to be getting hard, resort to the ways of ‘the world’, the same thinking that our unbelieving neighbours have – I must do something to work my way out of this – an absence of turning to the Lord to seek His help.

When he gets to Egypt it gets worse, he tells a half-truth that Sarai was his sister (see 20:12) and his actions in respect of her fall short of a godly man of faith. But then he’s not that – yet! We won’t go into the detail but he doesn’t do very well in his first test.

Us? Yes, here is the truth. When we turn to Christ we may be put right in God’s sight as far as our eternal salvation is concerned, we are justified by the blood of Christ, but unfortunately as far as everyday living is concerned we’ve still got a lot of stuff to learn and that means we are going to get it wrong more than a few times. If you’ve never seen this it either means you have never been taught properly or you are living in deception.  Yes, our failures still will need repentance and the wonder is that God still accepts us (see 1 Jn 2:1,2) but He doesn’t want us to fail but will forgive us when we repent – however many times it happens. The path towards glory is a slow one, often a long one and in that sense every one of us is a work in progress. Sanctification (setting us apart and changing us) is something that happens at the moment of conversion but it is also something that is a process that goes on throughout our lives. We thus need to remain alert to catch the things the Lord is pointing out in our lives that He wants to change. He does this not because He doesn’t love us but because He does! He wants something better for us. Hallelujah!  

2. It starts with Abram

Glory Out of Failure Meditations: 2. It starts with Abram

Gen 12:2,3,10 (ERV) I will build a great nation from you. I will bless you and make your name famous….. I will use you to bless all the people on earth…. During this time there was not enough food in the land, so Abram went down to Egypt to live.

Where we are: We are looking at the basics, the fundamentals, the realities of the Christian life, things that should be familiar, things that should be foundational in our lives but which sometimes get forgotten, the basics that remind us that each of us who calls our self a Christian, a child of God, comes from a place of anonymity, a place of failure and are taken by God and made someone with a significant identity and full of His glory. That is what these studies are about.

Abram: Prior to Abram, prior to chapter 12 of Genesis the picture is not very personal and these lessons aren’t very clear, but when we come to Abram (which means ‘exalted father’) whose name was later changed to Abraham (which means ‘father of many’) when he was ninety-nine years old (Gen 17:4-6), this all changes. This is a very personal and detailed story. I hesitate to use the word ‘story’ because that can imply something made up and so perhaps the word ‘account’ would be better in that that simply describes what happened in history, and history this surely is. Everything about this account of this man is significant. Let’s start noting some of these things.

A Family Man: His father, Terah, is named as are his two younger brothers Nahor and Haran and his nephew, Lot, son of Haran. (Gen 11:17) They live in Ur, a city of Mesopotamia, that we refer to as ‘the cradle of civilisation’, and the location of the Garden of Eden (see Gen 2:14). Like many families it has its tragedies. Haran, the youngest son, dies. Sarai, Abram’s wife, is barren (Gen 11:30). There must be, as there always is in such situation, heartache. And yet, somehow there is hope. Somehow God has communicated with this pagan and given him the hope that He will make him into a great nation, (Gen 12:1) and a nation starts with one child. Somehow this hope is linked with making a fresh start in another land that God says He will show him, (Gen 12:1) and so he goes.

And So?  There is the essence of the story, the foundation from which all else follows. The story is about family and land, the former being the thing that must be driving Abram, the latter appearing the environment on which the former relies. So he goes, there is a land to be found and presumably to be taken. It is all very unknown but he goes. This, we think initially, is what makes him the notable man of faith that he is, heralded in the gallery of faith in Heb 11:8 that we so often turn to.

God Revealed: But this isn’t only Abram’s story, this is God’s. This story reveals God. He is first of all there – something we can take for granted. Second, He is a communicator and, third, He has a plan and that plan is worked out through a childless couple, and so eventually we will see that He is a God who changes the course of nature so a childless woman and a childless couple, both way beyond child-conceiving age, have a child. Later on Abraham will know that this God can be called ‘The Lord Will Provide’ (Gen 21:14). Now so often we anchor our thoughts about the God who will provide in the account about Abraham going to sacrifice Isaac, but actually everything about the story about Abram-Abraham is about God providing. God provides hope and a vision and then much, much more which we will see in the next study.

You and Me: But these fundamentals that we have just been observing are equally true of us. I will assume you are a believer. Recollect how that happened. Somewhere in your history, you either started having questions or believers started imposing themselves in your awareness, maybe even sharing the good news about Jesus with you. This was God reaching out to you by His Spirit. Eventually came conviction: you were to ‘leave the land’ of your old life which you came to see was desperately wanting. You bowed the knee, you prayed and handed the reins of your life over to God, believing in what He said about Jesus dying for you.  You ‘died’ to that old life, as Paul says in Rom 6 and were given a new ‘land’ to live in, He “rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son.” (Col 1:13)

Observe the Characteristics: Note the nature of all this. You lived in a land of darkness, of unbelief, of godless self-centredness. Nothing you had was really of any merit and yet God called you and, amazingly, you heard and responded. Note – He initiated it. When you eventually surrendered to Him, He provided forgiveness and atonement, and a place in His family – you were adopted. You came with just a sense of failure and inadequacy, recognizing your need. God provided everything. He is a provider. So why do we think we have to twist His arm to bless us? “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Mt 7:11) Have you ever seen your life like this? Have you ever realized it is all about God providing and you receiving? When we do, it brings a whole new sense of relaxation. We’ll see some more of this as we continue the story of Abram in the next study.

1. Introduction to Glory

Glory Out of Failure Meditations: 1. Introduction to Glory

Rom 6:6,7 (Msg) Our old way of life was nailed to the cross with Christ, a decisive end to that sin-miserable life—no longer at sin’s every beck and call! What we believe is this: If we get included in Christ’s sin-conquering death, we also get included in his life-saving resurrection.

A New View: I have in the past written a series entitled ‘Reaching into Redemption’ that considers how God is working to bring change, to bring transformation to each of us, and there is a sense that I feel this new series may cover similar ground. This series will not be long, about a dozen studies I believe, and will focus mainly on Old Testament characters, concluding with three from the New.

I write nearing the last part of 2020, a year that has been blighted by the Coronavirus pandemic, a year in which the world has been changed and the future is still uncertain. For the last two years in particular I have had a burden for the Church of the West in the twenty-first century, a church I am convinced that has almost been drowned by the tsunami of changes that the last century has brought. Some have predicted that it is the end of the church. I believe that, quite contrary to that, it has been a time of revealing the bankruptcy of mankind without God and the pandemic has been used by God to get Christians to start thinking in new ways. These ‘new ways’ are, I believe, in reality the old ways that the church has abandoned.

A New People: The boundaries between the world and the church have been blurred but God is not leaving that any longer; He is coming with a re-emphasis of the need for His presence, a need for His Spirit, and a fresh need to rely on and teach His word.  As we have been going through the pandemic experience with its uncertainties, the temptation has been to think we are just the same as everyone else, but we are not. During this time, several times I have come across the saying ‘We are in the same storm, but not in the same boat.’ In this time, we have been reminded again that we are God’s people with God’s resources, and we need to learn afresh to use them. This distinctiveness should be at the heart of our understanding. The apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian church, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Cor 5:17)

His writings are peppered with this idea. Our starter verses from Romans 6 declare the truth expanded from the previous verse: “just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life,” (v.4) declaring it’s a new day, a new way. Paul also wrote similar things to the Ephesians: “you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live …. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ.” (Eph 2:1,2,4,5) We are not who we were!  We are justified, forgiven, cleansed, adopted, empowered, glorified.

Glorified? Definitions of ‘glorified’ include ‘invest with glory, to praise the glory of God, especially as an act of worship’, and yet Paul, again, declared, those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified;) those he justified, he also glorified,” (Rom 8:30) We have been glorified, i.e. we have been made ‘glorious’. Now synonyms for ‘glorious’ are splendid, magnificent, wonderful, superb! I have a feeling that many of us, going through this year, have NOT felt like those descriptions, we have not felt that we are splendid, magnificent, wonderful, superb, and yet that is how scripture describes us.

Why Failures? So why is it that we don’t feel like that. May I suggest some reasons. First, we have been aware of a struggle and we have focused on the struggle rather than who we are.  Second, we have associated our struggles with failure. If you were hiking through a wilderness that was really hard going, would you think you were failing? No, you were just coping with the environment, as tough as it may be – but not failing. Third, and I believe this is the most important and is at the heart of this series, we have forgotten the basics of who we are – glorious children of God redeemed from our lives of failure. Now going with that description are aspects of the character of God of which we need to remind ourselves, and that is what this is all about, a fresh reminder of who we really are and, more importantly, what God us like.

And So? So throughout this series we are going to work our way through the Bible picking up on some of the examples of the people of God, all of whom were failures, and yet all of whom found themselves in the midst of the working of God who was intent on bringing them out of their failure into a place of glory.  It may have taken many years for some (if not most) of them, but glory was the end product, just as it is for us. This is a time for restating the basics of salvation for the good of the many outside the kingdom to help them face themselves, and for the many in the kingdom to help us realise afresh the wonder of our salvation, the wonder of who we are and, most importantly, the wonder of God. Ask the Lord to open your eyes to these things as we go through these studies together.

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.

18. Self-glory or…..

(We’ll put aside reflections on the Church and pick up John 7 again for the next week) 

Short Meditations in John 7:  18.  Self-glory or….

Jn 7:18 Whoever speaks on their own does so to gain personal glory, but he who seeks the glory of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him.

I sometimes conclude a prayer of petition with, “Father, may it be for your honour and glory,” or “Lord Jesus so that your name will be praised.”  I do it not only because I want that but also so that it will act as a reminder to me that this is what it is all about. We would be foolish to think that we never have mixed motives but praying like this does act as a reminder (and challenge?) that we serve the Lord of Glory, not the other way round.

The crowd have wondered how Jesus can teach as he does and Jesus declares it is from his Father in heaven (v.16) and the person who is committed to God will recognize this (v.17). But then he speaks what is a general principle but one that directly applies to him.

It is very simple, a speaker who comes of their own volition, speaks on their own behalf and, therefore, for their own glory. One who comes at the behest of another, coming on their behalf, seeks their glory or prestige. Now the clear implication in the light of v.16 is that Jesus speaks to the honour and glory of his Father in heaven and, being His Son, he speaks absolute truth and there is nothing false either in him or in what he says.

Again and again we see it in the Gospels, Jesus speaking and pointing the world to his Father. He is not there for his own glory but for the glory and honour of his Father in heaven. That is what these three years of ministry are all about – about pointing people to the Father and revealing the love of the Father for them. It is that simple. His even bigger task will be to die on the cross to take the sin of the world, but before that he is there to testify to his Father.

Perhaps this should come as a challenge to us. Our temptation may be to see the woes of the world and seek to address them through the ‘Law’ of the scriptures and seek to remedy the world’s problems in this way, but that is inadequate. Simply saying, this is how we ought to be living, is inadequate.

We have the problems we have because mankind is at odds with the Father in heaven. It is only by coming back into a right relationship with Him – made possible by Jesus’ finished work on the cross and now administered by the Holy Spirit – can lives be truly changed and problems addressed. If this is not foremost in our understanding then everything simply becomes another ‘self-help’ approach and we might as well write a book, “Following God’s laws is the answer.” Well it isn’t, it is coming back to the Father.

10. Prayer of Testimony

Reaching into the Psalms 1 to 4:   10. Prayer of Testimony (1)

Psa 3:3    But you, Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, the One who lifts my head high.

Approach: In our introduction to Psalm 3 we suggested that verses 1 & 2 were David praying out his concern while he was on the run from Absalom, verses 3 to 6 are a prayer of testimony and then verses 7 and 8 a prayer of request. It is thus a psalm that shows us different aspects of prayer – acknowledgement, declaration, petition. I have a feeling that I have read all the psalms many times and yet have only a surface understanding of them and verse 3 that we are moving into is no exception. Some of it appears obvious but as I pause over it, I suspect it is not as obvious as I have usually thought. Let’s approach it slowly and carefully.

Contrast: Circumstances versus reality: The verse starts with a ‘But’. That always suggests a contrast with what has just gone before. In verses 1 and 2 David spoke of his foes and those who had risen against him, and the fact that many were saying that God will not save him. Such verses imply gloom and doom and leave a sense of concern, worry, anxiety, insecurity, threat; that is the cloud that hangs over him because of Absalom, those are the circumstances that bring the ‘down’ feeling. Isn’t that just how it can be so often, the circumstances look and feel bad and the temptation is to sink under them, but David shows us another way. He declares the truth that he has found through his experiences of the Lord. The reality is that God has been there for him. The classic illustration of that was when he testified to Saul in respect of Goliath, “The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.”  (1 Sam 17:37) i.e. God is with me and for me, that I know, because that is how it has always been. Now there are four things to note in the verse in respect of his testimony.

Yahweh/Jehovah/The I AM: Note how he addresses God: LORD, with the capital letters denoting the name given to Moses (Ex 3:14), “God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”  The One upon whom David relies is the ‘I AM’ of Israel’s history, the God who revealed Himself as, “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob,” (Ex 3:6) and subsequently the God of Moses, the Exodus and the conquest of Canaan. This is the One he has experienced and knows, the Eternal One, the Mighty One who is there for His people. This is the starting place of his confidence which rises up to suppress all the negatives of verses 1 and 2.

A Shield: A shield is an instrument of protection against incoming missiles or other weapons. But David says God is a “shield around me”. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a futuristic sci-fi where a town is covered with a barely visible ‘force field’ that protects it. It completely covers it and protects it and that is how David sees the Lord’s presence, so it doesn’t matter if there is an army against him, he is safe. Elisha understood this concept although he expressed it in a different way. Do you remember when he and his servant were staying in Dothan and an enemy army surrounded it and scared the life out of the servant out for an early morning walk on the walls of the town. He ran to Elisha who knew it was simply a matter of revelation and so prayed for his servant, “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.” (2 Kings 6:17) There was the Lord’s shield for them, the angelic army of the Lord!

Glory: But he also refers to the Lord as, “my glory”. We see, “But you, Lord, are … my glory.” We know what the Lord’s glory is, for we see it at Mount Sinai (Ex 24:16,17), and as Israel travelled through the desert and it lit up a cloud by day and appeared as fire by night. When the Tabernacle was constructed according to God’s instructions, the glory of the Lord filled it (Ex 40:34). It was a bright light, so when David says you are ‘my glory’ he is saying, ‘You are the One who lights up my life with your splendour, revealing me for who I am, your chosen and anointed servant.’

Affirmation & Encouragement: There are perhaps a number of words that apply into what follows: “you, Lord, are …. the One who lifts my head high.”  All of the negatives of verses 1 and 2 weighed heavily on him, especially as he knew the ultimate cause of them, for they were God’s disciplinary judgment on him. I like how the Living Bible puts it: “You alone can lift my head, now bowed in shame.”  Have you noticed how people with very low self-esteem, those who feel utter failures, walk with the heads bowed down, their eyes on the floor; it is a common thing. So why is David’s head lifted?

God with us: Emmanuel: First, because the Lord is with him and with God on your side, God beside you, and in our case, and with God indwelling you as Lord and Saviour, you are someone special with no reason to have a bowed head. Yes, the enemy is there, the circumstances are bad, and the outlook is bleak, but with the Lord there with you, for you, in you, all that doesn’t matter. The Isaiah prophecy about Immanuel – God with us (Isa 7:14) – and fulfilled in Jesus (Mt 1:23), says it all, God is with us, not far off, not off down the other end of the universe, no, He is here with us!

God the encourager: I said there are perhaps many words that describe what God does for us, to lift our heads, encourage, affirm, empathize and comfort, declare victorious, the list can go on. It isn’t just that God is with us, it is that He is with us to do things, to bless us, deliver us, lead us in victory, and all these things work to the same end, they lift our down-turned faces in the face of the negative circumstances and negative enemies.

And Us? Are we confronted by negative circumstances (in this Fallen World there are usually plenty of them!) or negative enemies?  What is the answer? Not to dwell on their presence but to realize the Presence of the Lord God Almighty and His Anointed One with us, and as we realize that presence, to receive from Him all the good things He wants to bring to us: grace, goodness, love, joy, peace, patience, perseverance, endurance, affirmation, comfort, encouragement; they are all there in His outstretched hands to be received. As we pray, let’s remember who He is and who we are and rejoice in that wonder and put into perspective the negatives of the world. Amen? Amen!

9. Human Glory

Meditations on Isaiah 40: No.9.  Human Glory

Isa 40:6   A voice says, “Cry out.”  And I said, “What shall I cry?” “All people are like grass, and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field.

The significance of the passing of time in Scripture is fascinating.  For instance, there are periods of waiting, waiting for seeds to grow, waiting for the right time, waiting for time to pass. Sometimes when we are waiting we think it is the end. Israel must have felt that when they went into the Exile.  Israel might have wondered about it in Jesus day when there has been silence from heaven for over four hundred years. The disciples thought it when Jesus body lay in the tomb until the third day.

One of the things about time passing is that it is so easy to forget what God has said when His word comes, or even to be led into doubt that we have heard aright. That must have been the case when Sarai urged Abram to take the servant girl, Hagar, to use here to continue the family line (Gen 16:1-4). Time passing challenges our faithfulness.

Now Israel are in a ‘desert state’ or ‘wilderness state’ as the word of the Lord comes to comfort them. No doubt time has passed but now the Lord has said He is coming’ it seems their period of waiting is coming to an end, but for God to be rightly received there needs to be a right perspective, a right way of thinking about Him, and that right thinking always has to start with a recognition of what we are. In comparison to the Lord we small and insignificant and in the verses to follow in this chapter we are going to be reminded of something of the Lord’s greatness, but before we do that we have to see our smallness, and our frailty. Humility requires right understanding.

That is where I got to as I approached these verses but then I realised something. There is a difference between verses 6 and 7. If verse 7 was absent, we would think that verse 6 is really good; it is only when the balance or counterpart of verse 7 comes that we find our aspirations dashed. So think again. The truth is that there are two sides to revelation about mankind and the way God thinks about us, and it is important to consider them both and so we will take verse 6 here and verse 7 in the next study.

The prophetic word rolls out: A voice says, “Cry out.”  And I said, “What shall I cry?” (v.6a) Isaiah hears the word, the instruction to call out to his people and his instinctive reply is to ask what he is to call. It could be anything. It could be about their sinfulness, it could be about God’s greatness, it could be about judgment, it could be about blessing, it could be about another nation or people, but instead it is a general declaration about mankind: All people are like grass, and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field.” (v.6b)

Right, stop right there. Think about this description as it stands. We are like grass. Grass? Grass covers a lot of this earth.  God must like grass. Grass is useful for feeding cattle and when it turns into straw it has other uses. There are also many sorts of grass, and some of them are purely ornamental (we have at least five different sorts of ornamental grasses in our garden apart from the grass on the lawn.) Grass is quite a good picture.

But then he speaks about “the flowers of the field”. I don’t know if you have ever observed a ‘meadow’   Listen to Wikipedia’s definition of a meadow: “A meadow is a field habitat vegetated by grass and other non-woody plants. Meadows are of ecological importance because they are open, sunny areas that attract and support flora and fauna that could not thrive in other conditions.” Those ‘other non-woody plants’ are either flowers or other plants we often refer to as weeds. There is a big thing in the UK about growing ‘meadows’ specifically because of the wild flowers that grow in a meadow. There is something quite special about the wild flowers that grow in the midst of grass.

Now, there is a key word in the midst of picture language, ‘faithfulness’ and we said above that the passing of time challenges our faithfulness. Some versions have the word ‘beauty’ instead but incorporate a note about ‘constancy’ or ‘faithfulness’.  The versions that lack ‘faithfulness’ have just half the picture, I believe, because it is not only about frailty, it is about faithfulness and when we go on into verse 7, frailty shown in failing faithfulness. We will consider some more about that aspect in the next study, but for the moment consider our faithfulness as a flower that stands out in the midst of a field of grass. It is beautiful in the eye of the Lord.

Elsewhere in Scripture we find, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honour” (Psa 8:4,5) and the writer to the Hebrews takes that quote and slightly extends it: “What is mankind that you are mindful of them, a son of man that you care for him? You made them a little] lower than the angels; you crowned them with glory and honour and put everything under their feet.” In putting everything under them, God left nothing that is not subject to them.” (Heb 2:6-8) Before we let the enemy put us down, let’s remember this is how God sees us, this is what He designed us to be, and in the present prophetic picture our faithfulness (when it is there) is something beautiful to behold, something that blesses the Lord. Let’s make sure we hold on to it.

Application for further thought and prayer: Lord help me remain faithful to you in every area of my life. Thank you that you have a plan for my life, you are blessed by it and yet have more for me. Open my eyes to your possibilities for me.

1. Expectations Introduction

Expectations & Hopes Meditations: 1. Expectations Introduction

2 Cor 3:18  we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit

I have recently completed a short series on Christmas and, as always, I have felt challenged by the events of Advent as found in the Bible, but as I got near the end of that little series I found an awareness of something I had not particularly noticed before, the sense of expectation, and this has sent me off down a path I have not travelled before, but which feels like it is going to go somewhere significant.

To summarise the feeling that I have, it is that throughout the Bible – because of the nature of it, that it is an ongoing history of God rolling out His purposes which have yet to be completely fulfilled – there is this sense of “What next?” or “Where is this going?” or “What more have you got for us Lord?”

I used to be an avid fan of the TV Series, The West Wing, a seven series attempt at an insight of what goes on in the world surrounding the American president. Crisis followed crisis, problem followed problem, difficulty followed difficulty, and as each one was resolved the words that became a familiar refrain from President Bartlet came: “Okay. What’s next?”  It is an indication that one thing has come and gone, so what’s the next thing on the agenda. It is also the suggestion that, for the White House, for God, for us, there is something more on the agenda. We never stand still – or at least that is how it is supposed to be when you read the Bible. I wonder how many Christians live with a sense of ‘having arrived’ and ‘this is it’?

Our starter verse above, from 2 Cor 3:18, is a classic illustration of this as it speaks of how we, with an open relationship with the Lord, (unveiled faces) thus now “reflect the Lord’s glory” and so “are being transformed into his likeness”. But this is where it becomes highly significant in the light of my above comments, because it is “with ever-increasing glory” and if we wonder why we are told that it, “comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” So the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives means that the more we go on through life, the more He will be working so that we more and more reflect God’s glory. (‘More’ becomes a key word!) The Living Bible puts it, “we can be mirrors that brightly reflect the glory of the Lord. And as the Spirit of the Lord works within us, we become more and morel like him”.

Now how can we catch this more fully? I nearly titled this series, “Newness, Expectations and Hopes” because it strikes me that the Lord is constantly recreating the present situation, and bringing in something new, but I excluded the ‘Newness’ to make it simpler – but the idea is still there! As I have let my mind wander over the Bible to see where we might go with this, I get this sense, that there are, again and again, times when the Lord comes out into the open, so to speak, with something new, some revelation of which we were not aware previously. But isn’t this how it is with our individual lives? A new person, a new situation, a new set of circumstances will confront us today. How we handle those, indicates where we are in our walk with Christ, as Christians, but His desire is that we handle them well with his grace.

So a needy person turns up today, someone perhaps just needing to be listened to, someone who simply wants love and acceptance. The world is often too busy for them, but Jesus never is, and so as we find a sense of compassion inside, we sit and listen, we give them time and care and love and Jesus is expressing himself through us. Perhaps we hadn’t ever done it like that before and so it was a new experience for us, so God’s glory was being revealed through us in a new way. Perhaps it is how we usually cope well with people and so that was simply another time when God’s glory was seen through you, but ‘another time’ is still another new expression of him in and through you.

Or perhaps there is a difficult situation that arises at work. Other people are getting stressed about it, some are gossiping about it, putting a negative spin on it, but instead you quietly pray and as you sense the presence of the Lord with you, you remain at peace and thoughts flow that turn out to be wisdom (from God) and you contribute as a peacemaker in the situation. Whether the others realise it or not, you were reflecting the glory of God into the situation, a new presence was brought into it, that brought peace.

So, yes, there is so often a sense of newness in the things that God does, but they are only new as far as we are concerned for God saw them, knew them, planned them long back. He’s not caught on the hop by any situation and His knowledge, wisdom and resources of power are always up to the task. So we potter on through life, just like the saints of old recorded in His word, and then suddenly He speaks and there is this air of expectation; He’s on the move, He’s revealing His heart and His plans and although so often we only get a clue, that is enough, we know we’re in one of those “What’s next?” situations.

If you don’t see life like that, then I hope in these coming days it will become clearer as we pick up on person after person, situation after situation, that are there in the Bible, and catch this sense of expectation that comes from the throne room above. That is my hope, that is my expectation.

41. Reflecting Glory?

Focus on Christ Meditations: 41.  Reflecting Glory?

John 17:4   I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.

In this part we have considered in some measure, Jesus as a teacher and Jesus as a miracle worker. Now these are the obvious things about Jesus, the things that must surely strike the new reader first of all because they are, indeed, so obvious.  Indeed that is how many people sum up Jesus – a great teacher or a great miracle worker – but in so doing and not going any further they miss something that is critical.

In his writing the apostle Paul gives two intriguing pictures about us and the glory of God. First, we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Cor 3:18) and then a little later in that same letter, “God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” (2 Cor 4:6,7) In the first picture we reflect God’s glory as we encounter the Spirit, in the same way Moses’ face reflected God’s glory when he encountered Him in the tent of meeting. In the second picture God’s light shines within us in the same way that a candle might shine light even when it is placed inside an old, chipped and cracked earthenware piece of pottery. It is not our glory, it is His.

Now the truth that comes out in John’s Gospel, that really wasn’t seen clearly in the Synoptics, is that Jesus had existed in heaven with all the glory of the Godhead of which he was part, but had then left heaven and had come down to earth in human form – very ordinary human form (see again Isa 53:2) – with the job of revealing the Father to the world through his life and ministry, and then fulfilling the long-term plan of the Godhead to die for the sins of the world.

Thus, in our verse above Jesus declares this in prayer to the Father in his closing hours on earth: “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.” (v.4) He had revealed the Father for three years in his ministry. Thus he said to his disciples in that last time together in the upper room, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father,” (Jn 14:9) and the apostle Paul would write, “He is the image of the invisible God.” (Col 1:15)

If we can chop one of Paul’s other verses, “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see …. the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Cor 4:4) I have cut out, “the light of the gospel of” to make the point more obvious that spiritual blindness stops people seeing this wonder of who Christ is.  Yes, this gospel we preach should be a gospel that is about the glory of Christ, and so many people just cannot see how wonderful Christ is. Indeed that may be one of the reasons I am writing this series, because we, God’s children, become so familiar with the words that we hear preached so often that we lose the wonder of what they are saying – Christ is God on earth.

Jesus revealed the Father: “Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working…. the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” (Jn 5:17,19) The writer to the Hebrews picked up on this: “when Christ came into the world, he said: “”Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me…..  I said, `Here I am – it is written about me in the scroll – I have come to do your will, O God.’” (Heb 10:5,7) Through the body that was given him – the form of the man Jesus of Nazareth – the Son worked out the will of the Father that had been formulated from before the foundation of the world.

Throughout much of the Old Testament, it is clear that God’s intention in creating Israel, was to reveal Himself. From that first encounter with Abraham there is a hint of the Father’s intentions: “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Gen 12:3) It was a message repeated again and again (e.g. Gen 17:3-7, 18:17,18, 22:15-18).  With the coming of Moses and the Exodus it was reiterated (e.g. Deut 28:8-10).  Later David would make is a central theme of various of his psalms (e.g. 1 Chron 16:8,24, Psa 57:9 etc.) The message from heaven was there again and again and again – God wants to bless the human race! That was the ‘will of God’ that the writer to the Hebrews spoke about.

Thus we should not be surprised when Jesus declares his mandate: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.” (Lk 4:18a) And what was that good news? “He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed,  to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (v.18b,19) Then later he was able to say to John’s disciples, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.” (Mt 11:4,5) i.e. I’m doing it!

But that, of course, was only half the package – the other half would be dying on the Cross for the sins of the world.  Nevertheless we have chapter after chapter in the Gospels of Jesus bringing the love of God to bless mankind, and that love, which again we so often take for granted, will be the subject of our next three studies, for it says so much about the sort of people God wants us to be as He blesses us.

So all the teaching and all the miracles are all part of the same package – to reveal the love and intent of the Father and when he had done it, Jesus was able to say, “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.” May we be able to say the same when we come to the end of our lives.

4. Exodus (2)

Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 4.  Exodus (2)

Ex 33:13,18  If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people…. Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.”

In these two verses there are two requests, one fairly obvious and the other quite mysterious, but both of them stand out as revealing the depth of the relationship that had formed between the Lord and Moses. Perhaps we need to observe what had been going on to catch the reasoning behind these two requests.

Moses, we saw in the last meditation, had encountered the Lord at the burning bush on what was in fact Mount Sinai, while looking after his sheep (which he had been doing for forty years there in the wilderness of Midian and into the Sinai Peninsular). There he had received his calling to lead Israel out of Egypt. This had all happened and as they left Egypt, the Lord had provided a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night to guide them. He had guided them across the south of the Sinai Peninsular to Mount Sinai where He had revealed His presence in the cloud on the mountain and entered into covenant with Israel, giving them the Ten Commandments and other laws by which to guide their community life. The promise was still there that He would yet lead them into the Promised Land, Canaan.

While at the mountain Moses, Aaron, Aaron’s sons, and seventy elders had been called up the mountain to meet with the Lord and we read, amazingly, Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel went up and saw the God of Israel. Under his feet was something like a pavement made of sapphire, clear as the sky itself. But God did not raise his hand against these leaders of the Israelites; they saw God, and they ate and drank.” (Ex 24:9-11) You may think that that was so amazing, it should be the focus of our meditation, but I simply mention it because it is just another of the many encounters with the Lord that Israel had. Moses gets called up on the mountain alone again and while he is there Israel become restive and the awful events involving a golden calf occur (Ex 32) which results in Moses having to intercede for the people. Nevertheless, those involved are put to death and the Lord sends plague on the people, perhaps killing off the guilty ones who had been missed in the executions.

Now following all this, and it is all very significant in respect of our two verses, the Lord tells Moses to lead the people to Canaan (Ex 33:1) but He would not come with them lest He destroyed them – implied, for their sinfulness – and it is in the light of this that Moses makes the first of his two requests, “teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you.” (33:13) i.e. if I am to lead this people by myself, I want to know that I am doing it in the way you will approve. I need to know ‘your ways’, the ways you think and work. If I am to be your servant and get this right, I need to know what you would do in each circumstance.

Now this puts me in mind of the bracelets that were fashionable a while back with WWJD on them – “What would Jesus DO?”  They would be a reminder of the way Jesus worked, and I believe there was even a book that followed this idea through. It is an idea which appears to have merit. We know something of Jesus’ character in the Gospels and so we can imagine how Jesus might act – full of love and goodness – in the circumstances we find ourselves in. The only problem with that, is that it virtually recreates the Law and is godless! I mean we can live without reference to the Lord.

Look at the answer the Lord gave Moses to his first request: “The LORD replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” (v.14) Note the Lord doesn’t give Moses instruction as to His ways; He simply says My presence will be with you.  Now this is monumental! Moses catches something of this: “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?” (v.15,16) i.e. I recognize that your presence with us is what will make us different from any other people, because you will be God and do what you do, and I can rely on that. It is as if Moses’ pleading has brought a change of mind between verses 3 and 14. The Lord will go with them; how else will they be a holy people?

Now what is the parallel today? It surely must be the fact of the indwelling Holy Spirit in each of us. His presence goes with us. Do we have a set of rules to guide us? Well yes, we have the teaching of the whole of the New Testament, but when it comes to specific, individual situations where the way is not clear, we need Him to inspire us, guide us and teach us, and He is there within us to do that. That is how significant His present-day presence is.

But Moses isn’t content with a sense of a far-off presence of the Lord, he needed something more. Yes, he’s been through the exodus, he’s led the people to Sinai, he’s had amazing encounter after amazing encounter with the Lord there, and even apparently ‘seen’ the Lord (Ex 24:10) but presumably that was a vision, for they had all lived and as wonderful as that had been, Moses needs reassuring. I want to see you! Really see you!

Essentially in what follows the Lord says, “I’ll let you see a tiny part of me, but not full on.” The impression of Scripture is that if you see the ‘face’ of God it is so full of light, splendour and power (all of that is His glory) that you could not cope with it but would die on the spot. What is amazing is that Moses had the temerity to ask this. What is more incredible is the Lord’s gentle dealing with him. He does not scold him or tell him off. It is almost as if He is pleased with Moses asking this, even though He knows he cannot grant it if Moses is to live.

What am I left with here? My call is to ‘follow’ Jesus, that means go as his Spirit calls me and guides me and directs me, and if along the way I ask presumptuous things, he will put up with me and just take me on. He delights in me stretching out in faith, even if sometimes it verges on presumption. When you have little children, you don’t expect them to always get it right, do you? You understand their enthusiasm, even when it is misjudged. You know they will grow up and mature, and that is how it is with us and the Lord. Hallelujah!