4. Problems with People

Lessons in Growth  Meditations: 4. Problems with People

Jn 13:34,35   A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

To Love is not Natural: Jesus’ instruction to his disciples to love one another is not a natural one and if it were among the list of verses that are spoken about but struggled with, I suspect this rates near the top of the list. We may say we do it and think we do it, but I wonder how real it is?. I would suggest that it is a real struggle to love sometimes and it really does require the grace of God.

Now we are in a Part where we are considering the call to die to the past and die to the things of the past, and especially die to self, and this command is, I would suggest, one that so often hinders Christian growth or rather, to be more accurate, it is the struggle with this command that hinders growth. You think I am exaggerating? Let’s check it out.

Pre-Christ Relationships: Before we came to Christ our life was focused on what I wanted to do, what I felt, what I thought and, often, what I thought about other people. There were probably people we loved (our close family) and people who were good friends. Then there were the people near us that we tolerated (probably neighbours and people at work), and then there were people we positively disliked and probably spoke against.

Change & Realisation: And then we came to Christ and all was well until we either read the above verses or we heard a preacher speaking about them, and then there was a shadow cast over our life. “Love,” he said, “means thinking the best of people and desiring the best for people, all people,” and that made us feel uncomfortable. And then it got worse. Our preacher started talking about gossip, speaking about others behind their backs in an unloving way, and again we felt uncomfortable.

The Difficulty: Then we looked around the church and we realised there were people we’re not particularly fond of and, if we were honest, we found a real pain. To love them? And then there were people at work who were really trying. Love them? We realised we had a whole pile of negatives about people – because they deserved them! And we were being called to give up all these negatives – but they still deserve them! That’s a good excuse and I’ve got another – I can’t cope with these people, let alone love them! So I might as well not try. And growth comes to a halt.

The Reality: Yes, this is the problem: people are imperfect, people are difficult, people can be a drain upon us, people can be speaking against us and, even worse, people can be harming us, physically or emotionally. And Jesus says love them? Yes, this is one of those areas where the ‘death to self’ thing rings loud and true and is uncomfortable, and it can be a real source of hindrance to spiritual growth.

But How? Let’s think about some of the issues. What is love for others? As I said above, thinking the best of people and desiring the best for people, all people. How can you think the best of someone who speaks against you, actively seeks to harm you or puts difficulties into your life? How can you feel good about those closest to you who don’t show care and concern and love for you and appear utterly self-centred? Well start at the hard end. Jesus taught, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Mt 5:44) How can you do that? One or two suggestions.

Pray that the Lord will show you what they are really like. That bully who upsets you is really a lonely little inadequate boy inside. Jesus would love to change him but he’s looking for someone who will stand in the gap to intercede for him. Pray for grace to bless this person and maybe say something nice to them. Realise you are not perfect and are not the best one to cast the first stone (Jn 8:7). Pray for grace to a) see yourself as child of God who has an all-powerful loving heavenly Father on their side and b) the ability to smile, laugh and praise while you wait for changes to take place.

Sons? Jesus followed up that 5:44 verse with, “that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.” (v.45). The idea of ‘sons’ in the Old Testament carried with it the idea of the young person growing up to understand the heart of the father and his work, and getting ready to join his father in his work and one day take it over. That was all about growth and so the way we see ourselves in this sort of situation, rather than be a heavy negative thing, can be part of the growth process.

Me, Difficult? Another thought: this is a two-way street. There may be people in church who find you or me difficult.  The only way I can overcome this is to work on the following strategy: every Sunday morning when I go into church, I go praying, “Lord help me to be a blessing to at least two or three people this morning,” and I look around when I get there and ask, “Lord, who can I bless?” It’s surprising how he answers that prayer sometimes. But the big thing is be proactive about loving others. Whenever we pray for difficult people or difficult situations I believe part of our prayer, when we ask Him to bless them or it, should be, “and Lord, show me what you might want me to do to be part of the answer to this prayer.”

If we can do the “dying to self of the past” thing, and put others before ourselves, I believe we will not only be overcoming the obstacles to growth, but we will be growing. We can’t do it without Him, but if we are willing to face the problem, He will enable.  Now I am aware there is one other really big area to do with personal relationships that can be a hindrance to growth and so I will deal with that tomorrow as a separate subject.


44. Human Praise

Short Meditations in John 5:  44. Human Praise

Jn 5:44  How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God

Ways of bolstering self-esteem almost comprise an industry in the modern age. There are books and there are courses galore and books how to achieve success are always best sellers. The bookshop beats Amazon in that you can see before you shelves and titles and can get almost overwhelmed at the profusion of the expressions of men’s wisdom (and some women too), but although I know people who are into these things in a big way, and even employ personal trainers, I still watch the frailty of human life struggling to achieve.

The Jews of Jesus’ day (and it is probably the same today) got their kudos from pats on the back from others, whether it was the High Priest who received awe and exultation from the religious establishment, or a more lowly Pharisee who received acceptance from others in ‘the club’. Little has changed. Today politicians, business leaders, academics and, yes, even top religious leaders achieve their kudos from their status, their position in the pecking order, their fame of achievement. Celebrities – actors, singers and in the UK soccer players, and the US, football or baseball players – have the adoration of their fans. At the top of the pile a Lear jet or the big yacht is the sign of achievement, possibly with homes scattered around the world.

And then one day they look around and it is all gone and they are conscious of standing before Almighty God as little naked children.  But I am a CEO of one of the world’s biggest corporations. So? Doesn’t that count for something?  Did you ever give any thought to me and my Son, Jesus? Well, no, I was a bit busy with the world. My world. Is it… was it? Ah!

Praise from God? Who does God praise? “ ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.’ (Mt 25:21) The servant for using the gifts given to him in Jesus’ parable of the talents. Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.” (Mt 8:10) Praise for the centurion for his faith level. I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.” (Mk 12:42) Praise for the poor widow for her giving heart. ““Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” (Mt 15:28) Praise for the Canaanite women for her faith. “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.” (Mt 16:17) Praise for Peter for his listening ear. Each of these become challenges to us – do I get God’s praise for my faith, my generous heart, my listening ear?

36. All about God

Expectations & Hopes Meditations: 36. All about God

1 Pet 1:20,21   He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.

Time to draw a close: Because the word hope come up so many times in the New Testament, we could keep on and on  with this subject, meditating on the individual verses, but instead we will draw this series to a close with the two verses above that really sum it all up for us We have considered this subject of expectation through individuals in the Old Testament and then as it pertains to Jesus. As we have just said, these two verses sum up or summarise the origins, at least, of our hope, and they are in Jesus.

The Gospel Encapsulated: The Gospel of Jesus Christ is not a recent fiction of the last two thousand years, but has its origins, we are told over half a dozen times in the New Testament, right back before the creation of the world. It was then that the Godhead, with the recognition that giving mankind free will would mean that we brought Sin into the world, decided that the Son of God would step into history at a given point of time to act as one who would carry our sins and thus our guilt in his death on a cross. This Peter says, “was revealed in these last times.”  Through what happened to Jesus, we are focused on God. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection our attention has been grabbed and we focus it back on God.

It’s all about God: We realise that it had to be a work of God, as Peter himself preached, Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead.” (Acts 2:22-24) Four is said to be the number of divine government and four times there he spoke about God’s involvement in all that had happened. Twice it was God providing the miracles Jesus did, once it was all about God’s set plan and purpose and once, it was God who raised Jesus from the dead.

Faith & Hope: The whole of the events involving and surrounding the coming of Jesus were about God bringing about the possibility of you and me being able to have a genuine relationship with almighty God, and that immediately puts before us the thoughts about our future, our future here on the earth and our future after death. How we live out today is all about faith, because it is about how we respond to His word in the way we live now, but the fact that we are constantly looking forward to tomorrow means we are living in hope, with the expectations His word generates in our hearts and minds.

Did you see that? From our vantage point, how we respond now is about faith, but how we view tomorrow is about hope. Faith is doing now; hope is about expectations for tomorrow. When we arrive at ‘tomorrow’, whenever that is, we will be living out that day in faith, but as we continue to regard the future, we do it with hope, this confident expectation of what God will do or how He will respond in respect of us.

A Question: But, someone might ask, if hope is constantly about the future, does it really matter? If, when we get to ‘tomorrow’ we are acting in faith, isn’t that the key thing? Well, in one sense, yes, but as we’ve seen in past studies, the fact that we have this hope acts almost as a stabilizing foundation for our lives today. Without it, life and the ongoing years is really an exercise with a big question mark over it. The fact that we can say tomorrow the Lord will be with us to bless us and after death we will continue to be with Him, means that we can live today with purpose – not only to capture the blessings of today, but to ensure we keep going to capture the blessings of eternity that God has promised us.

To Summarise: In this sense, ‘hope’ is a very real factor in our lives. It encourages us in today and energizes and motivates us towards tomorrow. Remember, the origins of our hope lie in the fact that we have been, as we said in the previous meditation, justified, adopted and empowered (and all that by the work of Jesus) and the content of our hope for tomorrow is that our understanding and experience of these three things will deepen and enlarge and will continue to carry us through the years until we pass off this present existence and are carried into eternity where it will just get better and better.

I think I will draw it to a close here. We will have a final recap tomorrow, but in the meantime, I hope that these studies will have put some content to your understanding and added some strength to the foundations of your faith. Amen.

34. Growth through Hope

Expectations & Hopes Meditations: 34. Growth through Hope

Col 1: 5,6   the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel that has come to you. All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God’s grace in all its truth.

How Hope Works: Hope is a strong and sure expectation for tomorrow and when we have hope it affects how we live today. There is nothing special about this, it is not big and clever thinking but just ordinary, ‘this is how life works’ stuff. For instance, a gardener in Spring plans how the garden will develop through the rest of the year and cleans beds, lays out new ones, sows seeds, gets new plants in – all to achieve an end result. He or she has in their mind’s eye, a picture of what the garden can look like later in the year.

Or take a businessman running his company. Yes, he looks at how the company is running now but he makes plans how to grow his business and he takes steps now to create growth tomorrow. He sees in his mind’s eye what he could be achieving in a couple of years’ time and he works for that to happen.. Or there is a couple with a growing family living in a small house. They look at their finances and agree that they can afford to move to a bigger house. They don’t just sit back and do nothing. No, they start scouring the windows of estate agents, they start assessing different areas, they check out possible schools for their children, they start actually looking at specific houses. They are active because they see in their mind’s eye living in a bigger house.

Effect of Hope: Now Paul says that the hope that we have for an eternal future with God, generates faith and love for life today. The Gospel we have heard, he says, tells us that there is a better tomorrow promised us and as we have taken hold of that hope, it helps us as we live today. That hope stirs faith in us to live out today with that end in mind. That hope of God’s goodness poured out in eternity for us, in abundance, stirs love in us. But not just us; it does it wherever the gospel is preached around the world. The truth has set us free and the fulfilment of it in eternity anchors us and stirs us in the present today as we receive God’s grace for both now and then. That is what he says in our verses above.

Today and Tomorrow: If we let that truth settle in us, it can have profound effects for both now and the future. As we have considered previously, this hope is not only for that eternal experience, it is also for the days ahead of us in this life. Again, as we saw previously, when I came to Christ, that hope may have been in a very simple form – simply that tomorrow will be different, a better different: if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Cor 5:17) My past has died and there is a new tomorrow because I AM a new person, and I DO have the Holy Spirit within me, changing me and empowering me to enjoy today and tomorrow. My eternal destiny is there ahead, something to look forward to and while it is still future (and I am still here on this earth) future and present merge as far as expectations are concerned for it is the same Holy Spirit who will carry me into eternity who is in me now. So, very subtly (and I suspect many of us don’t ever realise this) our thinking is changed – tomorrow WILL be different and so tomorrow CAN be different.

Possibilities: Think about this. The word of God, the Gospel, told us that the end fruit, if you like, of our salvation is a wonderful eternity with God. So, yes, tomorrow – our eternal tomorrow – WILL be different. Now we do have an eternal future; there is a life after this. But part of the package, again if we may put it like that, is that the time between now and then, CAN be different. Now there is a sense whereby it WILL be different because He is in us, but there is also that truth that we are partners with God and we do have a say in how our lives are worked out.

Future impacts Present: Perhaps we are unsure about this future dimension, about its reality in respect of how it affects our present because, perhaps, many of us rarely think about it? But I wonder if that is actually true? Imagine the Gospel was: “believe on Jesus and your present life will be good and when you die, that will be the end of everything. You can be assured that you will not have to face God after death, it will just be the end.” Now if that was what you were told, I’m not sure it would have the same impact. A good life now is a worthy goal but for it to come to an end when we die? What is the point of such a life?

Deep down, it is this reality that in fact there is more than this three score and twenty (as it tends to be today in the West) years, that reassures us. That IS there, whether we think about it regularly (when you get older) or not. The reassurance is actually a very real one, maybe at almost subconscious level, but it is there – I have a destiny and it is more than simply living out today. Today is important, and I can have real hopes for today – that He is there for me and providing for me etc. – but that importance is strangely anchored in that hope of eternity; this is what subtly puts meaning to everything – there is more than just this life this side of death.

Assurance: Now there may be some of us who are not so secure in that eternal hope. Well, should that be you, think of that most famous of verses: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (Jn 3:16) There it is in its simplicity. You believe in Jesus, you believe he is the Son of God who died for you? You believe that because the Bible says it is so, and you believe the Bible? Done! You have eternal life and that means a changed, empowered life now and an eternal destiny, a wonderful life with God for ever.

Transformation Possibilities: There is such an inter-connecting with all these things. What we believe about tomorrow affects our today. What we think about who we are and what God thinks about us, affects our today. If you are unsure of your future or unsure of God’s love for you, it will blight your present. I have been watching in recent months, the Lord blessing one little lady in our congregation who has been through a really tough time with an abusive, violent husband. It all ended in a bitter divorce and she was shattered. Her self-esteem was zero, and then the Lord very gently started rebuilding it. She got prayed for, she went out for prayer and every time the Lord reaffirmed her. Whereas she saw she had no future but a lonely, bitter, scarred and wounded one, that has been changing as she has started to realise afresh that she is a beautiful daughter of God – with a good new future! And she has been changing. There is still some way to go but she is changing. Now she is someone who prays for and over others; she is getting words from God for others, she is ministering to others. Amazing and beautiful!

We are what we are because of what Jesus has done for us, what he is doing for us and what he will do for us in eternity. All those thing impact on my life today. I don’t know what today will hold, but I know Jesus is there in it with me and will continue to be until that time when I move into the eternal dimension after death and, for now, that eternal reassurance encourages me in today and helps release faith and love, just as Paul said. Isn’t it great!

33. The Need for Vision

Expectations & Hopes Meditations: 33. The Need for Vision

Rom 8: 24b,25   Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently

An Expecting World: Sometimes the Bible says the very obvious but it is the very obvious things we need to take hold of, things that we may ignore just because they are so obvious. In Romans 8, the apostle Paul has been speaking about the state of the world: We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all.” (Rom 8:22-24a) There is a sequence of truth here that needs noting. He says we know that “the whole creation has been groaning… right up to the present time.” He portrays the world as being in a state of expectation, “as in the pains of childbirth” which suggests that the world as it was, is not the world that will be; there is something being formed that is yet to be revealed.

A Frustrated World: To make sense of that we have to go back into the prior verses: “The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed.” (v.19) That’s interesting; his starting place is the sense that the world waits for Christians to be revealed. Why is that so important?  “For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it.” (v.20) Because of the Fall, God laid certain limitations on ‘life’ – see Gen 3 – relationships would be strained, childbirth hard yet desirable (v.16), working the earth will be hard (v.17,18), man excluded from the tree of life (v.22,23) and from the presence of God.

Nevertheless Hope: And so it had existed, ever since. And yet, there was this feeling ever since, that there is something more. Relationships with the Lord did spring up – Abram, Isaac & Jacob, a people were formed to relate to God (Israel), and yet even that didn’t work well as Israel failed again and again. Nevertheless, as God spoke through His prophets there was this hope of something better, one who would come who would change things, who would bring peace and harmony with Him.

But, Paul goes on, when God ‘subjected it’ to frustration it was in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.” (v.20,21) i.e. that there would come a time when the world could be changed by the presence of those who could be called “children of God” which brings us back to our starting place – this world was groaning in expectation of some change which, says Paul, is the revelation and bringing about of a new people, brought into relationship with God through the work of Christ.

Yet not yet: But when we come to our starting verses again (v.24b,25) Paul says we still have this ‘hope’, this expectation of a future ‘something’ and thus implies it has not yet come to full fruition, implying a future fulfillment which he speaks about in v.23: “Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” Note, ‘first-fruits’; we’ve already received part of the package. Back in v.11 he said, “if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.” 

Already there has been a measure of this for we have received the Holy Spirit who now indwells us and in ways that are not always clear, His presence in us, can even affect us physically. But back in v.23 he also spoke about how we “wait eagerly for our adoption as sons.” Now we have already been adopted into God’s family the moment we were justified and saved, but the clear implication is that there is yet more to come, more behind this meaning of being ‘adopted’ and that has yet to come.

More? Right, hold on to your seat, for this where it is going to get mind-blowing and challenging. In Paul’s writing here in chapter 8 there is this clear declaration that we have a hope of something yet more to come. In our lives before us, they will be two phases: first, the rest of our life on this earth before we die, and then, second, a future dimension in eternity, certainly involving heaven, but also involving a new heaven and a new earth (see Rev 21). So, hold on to those two phases. Yes, we have that post-death phase that we are clear about because Scripture talks about it so much, but how about the pre-death phase? How do we view that?

Living Today? Do we, perhaps, live with the sense that we have ‘arrived’, that we have everything right now that Christ has for us, or is there something more? Well, I believe we do indeed have the potential for everything that Christ has for us but that we may not have entered into it all or appropriated it all yet. The New Testament hints at the idea that we are to grow up or mature, both concepts which convey the idea of change and development. If you are a Christian of say thirty years standing, hopefully you will have considerably more knowledge and understanding than you had when you first came to Christ. Hopefully you have also experienced much of him, have known the filling and gifting and leading of the Spirit and have experienced him teaching you many things.

Example: Let me give the example of the life of prayer, if we may speak about it as such. Many young Christians just pour out wishes, desires, even complaints to God, often with little understanding and certainly with little thought about whether God wants those things for them – and then they feel bad or doubt when those things don’t happen. As they mature, hopefully they learn that prayer is actually about listening to God and speaking out the things God wants for us, to bring us in harmony with His will. Instead of demanding our answers we, as we mature, ask Him what He wants for us and then as He conveys it, we may pray it with authority and see it coming about. If we have learned that, we have learned that there is more to life, more to praying, more to our relationship with the Lord, and as we enter more fully into those things we become more open and available to Him and find Him leading us into things we have perhaps never previously considered.

Hope for Today: This is the hope Paul is now speaking about in these verses, not only in receiving something wonderful AFTER we die, but having a life of openness to the Lord whereby He is able to teach us and train us and lead us into paths we perhaps had never dreamt of. Take, as another example, the apostles. When Peter first encountered Jesus (Jn 1:41,42) at the Jordon, Jesus changed his name. Later when Jesus went up to Galilee and called him (see Lk 5:1-10) he completely changed Peter’s perception of who he was, and called him to become a fisher of men (Mk 1:16-18). Until then Peter had been ‘just a fisherman’ and happy with that. Now he is changing. Watch him on the day of Pentecost and you see a leader. Traveling around the country (Acts 9:32 on) we see him ministering, just like Jesus; it is almost uncanny. When we first saw him at the Jordon he would never have guessed that’s what he would end up doing. This side of death we have a path that is rolling out before us as the Lord leads us, into ever greater things. Do you and I live with this ‘hope’, this expectation? May it be so.

27. The Waiting Game (2)

Expectations & Hopes Meditations: 27. The Waiting Game (2)

Luke 2:25,26  Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ

Long Periods: In the previous two studies we have seen first how God nudged Cyrus to release the Jews to go back to their land to rebuild the Temple, and then how Nehemiah’s anguish for the state of Jerusalem caused the rebuilding of the city to come about. In the midst of this, there are long periods – seventy years between the start of the deportation of Israel to the time post-exile when they started returning, seventy years between the destruction of the temple to the time when the rebuilding was complete, twenty years for the rebuilding, seventy years between the completion of the temple rebuilding and the start of rebuilding the city. These are long periods that roll off the tongue too easily. Seventy years is my complete lifespan!  But all of this pales into insignificance when we realise that between the last historical details of Ezra and Nehemiah and the last of the prophets through to the start of the records of the Gospels, is over four hundred years.  Four hundred years for the USA takes us back to colonial history. If we go back to 1700 you would have to wait another 32 years for George Washington to be born. Four hundred years for the UK means 1700 was seven years before the union of England, Wales & Scotland.

One man: Yes, four hundred years is a long time, especially when it means silence from heaven for a nation that had known prophetic input for hundreds of years. When a man named Simeon, living in Jerusalem, was getting old, he might have reflected that a once godly (well semi-godly) people were now a shadow of what they once had been. Now they were a vassal state to the Roman Empire with Roman occupancy and oversight. The Romans had allowed them to have nominally Jewish rulers, but the real power came from Rome. Simeon and all his fellow Jews might have been excused if their faith levels were rather low, because they appeared a somewhat abandoned people. Yes, they still had the temple that had been built after the exile and, in fact, Herod had greatly enlarged it and made it a truly splendid building. And yes, they had a high priest and all the trappings of a religion. Yes, there were guardians of the Law of Moses, called Pharisees, but religion was more a formality rather than a reality. So Simeon could have been excused if he just filled his life with growing vines or whatever – we don’t know what he did – but all we are told of him is detailed as four points in two verses.

First, we are told he was “righteous and devout”. Now there is a challenge! In our Western societies when God is absent, ethics go out the window, morals decline. It has been a very obvious thing to note. I have noted in these studies before my measuring stick. Many years ago, for seventeen years, I taught Law. At the beginning of every year I asked the class about their beliefs and at the beginning of that time (late 1970’s) a hundred per cent of the class each year said they believed in absolutes, there was a clear distinction between right and wrong. By the end of that seventeen-year period (early 1990’s) one hundred per cent of the classes said they did not believe in absolutes, in a difference between right and wrong. That was the change that took place in our society, and so it is little wonder that over the last twenty to thirty years, every area of our society has had moral scandals. Perhaps it was only Judaism’s remnants that kept people on track in Simeon’s day. Simeon was clearly a follower of God and of His Law for he was both righteous (morally correct) and devout (a follower of the Lord). A faithful man!

Second, he was waiting for the consolation of Israel”. He was a man aware of the prophetic Scriptures about a coming Messiah and as he read them or heard them read in the local synagogue, they rang true and his heart leaped.

Third, “the Holy Spirit was upon him.”  This man had a close relationship with the Lord, so much so that he was open to the prompting and leading of the Spirit, which is what eventually got him into the Temple precincts when baby Jesus was brought there.

Fourth, “It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.”  Not only had the prophetic scriptures about the Messiah rung true, the Spirit had imparted to him the knowledge that he would see this one. We might add, fifth, “Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts,” (v.27a) and it as there he encountered Mary and Joseph and Jesus (v.27b).

And Us? Now it seems to me that Simeon stood out in his generation. Apart from the Wise Men, the Magi, Simeon seems to be the only one on the alert for what is going on, so here is the question I find rising in the light of this: how many of us today are alert to a coming move of God? How many of us are living in expectation of the Lord doing something? The other side of the coin, somewhat negatively, might be, how many of us are involved with ‘religion’? We go to church every Sunday. We may even go to a prayer meeting or bible study. But we don’t go with much expectation.

Church with expectations? Turn the coin over again. How many of us ‘go to church’ on a Sunday morning with great expectation of meeting with God, of hearing from the Lord (more than just a good sermon), of being used by God as an instrument to bring encouragement, revelation or even perhaps healing to others? How many of us go to the Prayer Meeting with the strong expectation of hearing from God, of getting direction from Him what to pray, who leave with a sense that He had been there, He had revealed His heart and His will and when we prayed, He had decreed change? How many of us pick up our Bible every day or go to the weekly Bible Study with a strong expectation that His word is going to come alive and we are going to be thrilled, challenged, taught, encouraged and corrected by it?

Simeon’s Example: Simeon stood out in his generation as one full of expectations. He was a man of the word, of the Law, of righteousness. He was a man of prayer and of listening to God. He was a man open to the Holy Spirit. He was a man available to the Holy Spirit to bring encouragement and blessing to Mary and Joseph, while everyone else was just taken up with life or with religion. Can we be such people of expectations?

Waiting Faithfully: In a previous study we saw how David’s life was largely one of waiting for God’s time for him. While he waited he was faithful and was still used by God against the enemy and to encourage God’s people. We may not think Simeon did a great deal, but he did encourage Mary and Joseph, and so he did earn a place in the Bible. Amazing! Let’s go for it! It’s too late to appear in the Bible but it’s never too later to appear in the archives of heaven!

26. Heart Cries

Expectations & Hopes Meditations: 26. Heart Cries

Neh 1:3,4  They said to me, “Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.” When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven

In the previous study we noted that it is probable that Ezra was written c. 440 B.C. and then Nehemiah c. 430, and we briefly noted that Ezra starts off with God prompting king Cyrus to allow the Jews to return to the land to rebuild the Temple, in accordance with the word He had spoken through Isaiah a century before, and more recently through Jeremiah. Dates are significant in all this, so please try and cope with them all.

The start of Ezra identifies the time as “the first year of Cyrus king of Persia,” (Ezra 1:1) which was 538BC. The temple rebuilding appears to have started in the Spring of 536BC (Ezra 3:8) and was completed in 516BC (Ezra 6:15) The traditional view of dating has Ezra arriving in Jerusalem in 458BC and Nehemiah arriving in 445BC.

The start of Nehemiah indicates a date of 446BC when Nehemiah first heard about the state of Jerusalem. So, looking at the big picture, Cyrus starts the temple rebuilding rolling in 538, but Nehemiah doesn’t get the city rebuilding under way until 446 which is roughly a ninety-year gap.

Now the interesting thing about Jeremiah’s word, which was, “This is what the LORD says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place.” (Jer 29:10), is that that seventy years was not tied to specific events. I have already suggested that between the destruction of the temple and the completion of its rebuilding, was exactly seventy years, but the words here “for Babylon” may indicate that the time frame is more to do with Babylon itself. Now Nebuchadnezzar first invaded in 605BC and started the deportation of the Jews then, and the first returning Jews seem to have come somewhere about 536/537 but such dates have a certain measure of leeway and so it is possible that the seventy years refers to the start of the deportation to the start of the return which again appears to be just about seventy years.

Varied Expectations: Now here is the point. These studies are all about ‘expectations’ and we saw in the previous study the possible absence of any expectations in respect of Jerusalem after the Exile in those who hadn’t heard Jeremiah’s ‘seventy years’ word, and the possible long-term expectation of those who had heard it and believed it.  So the initial return was accompanied by plans to rebuild the temple – and that happened. Then comes standstill and what we haven’t noted yet is the state of the city itself. This is where we come to the start of Nehemiah.

Nehemiah Moved: Nehemiah was in Susa, which was the major city of Elam (Neh 1:1) where King Artaxerxes (Neh 2:1) reigned, possibly the winter retreat city of the Persian kings. When some of the men return from Jerusalem he questions them on the state of Jerusalem (v.2) and is told, “Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.” (v.3) From his descriptions in chapter 2 the city is still in ruins. Yes, the Temple has been rebuilt but it is a single restored building in the midst of a demolition site. This is the city of God and it has remained like this for almost ninety years. Nehemiah is devastated and “he sat down and wept” and for some days he “mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.” (v.5) It is only then that he composes himself enough to pray (see 1:5-11) and only after he has prayed does he risk speaking to the king (see 2:3-5).

One Different Man: So, back to our expectations. Everyone else for the past ninety years had focused on the wonder of the Temple being rebuilt – and it was wonderful! – but the fact was that the city of God, Jerusalem, was still a landscape of rubble, and was clearly going to stay like that. Now what is intriguing about all this is that we are told that the Lord prompted Cyrus to start the Temple rebuilding, but the city rebuilding was left until one man heard and was moved to tears by the state of the city. Everyone else seemed content to live with the fact of a devastated city; Nehemiah was the one person moved to bring change. How many times, I wonder, does history pivot on the moving of one person?

Gap Fillers: As I said, what is intriguing is that the Lord didn’t command the rebuilding of the city. It was almost as if He was watching and waiting for someone to catch His heart and do something about it.  Years before, Ezekiel had prophesied, “I looked for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found none.” (Ezek 22:30) Previously he had prophesied, “Woe to the foolish prophets who follow their own spirit and have seen nothing! Your prophets, O Israel, are like jackals among ruins. You have not gone up to the breaks in the wall to repair it for the house of Israel so that it will stand firm in the battle on the day of the LORD.” (Ezek 13:3-5) Psa 106 describes how Moses had been a ‘gap-filler’: “So he said he would destroy them– had not Moses, his chosen one, stood in the breach before him to keep his wrath from destroying them.” (Psa 106:23) Moses had stood before the Lord to intercede for His people. The prophets of Jeremiah’s day were supposed to fulfil that same function, but they failed to do that.

And Us? Here is the point. The Lord looks for those who will look with His eyes on His people and intercede on their behalf before Him. Nehemiah saw the city in his mind’s eye when told about it, and wept before the Lord for it. How do we feel about the declining state of the Church in the West? As I have asked before, do we see a living body that is empowered by the Holy Spirit who testifies in power with revelation, wisdom, prophecy and insight and who back it with works of healing? Is the ‘body’ full of grace and truth? Does it so reveal its Lord that people glorify Him (Mt 5:16)? If not, are our hearts moved in anguish to pray?

Years before Haggai had prophesied to the people who had paused up on rebuilding the Temple and challenged them, “Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?” (Hag 1:4) i.e. why are you more concerned for your materialistic lives than for God’s house – which in our case is the ‘church’? Are we happy with the state of the church that we see in our land? Really? Is it impacting the world and seeing the world being purified by its presence? Sadly the state of the western world is a downward spiral and the Lord looks for men and women who will stand in the gap, men and women who are not afraid to stand out as holy, utterly different, filled with goodness and love, people of faith who will cry out to the Lord for His people and this world, people who will make themselves available to Him to go and take part in the ‘rebuilding’.  May He find that in you and me.