5. Off-loading Blame

The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 5. Off-Loading Guilt by Off-loading Blame

Gen 3:12 (Msg) “The woman you gave me as a companion, she gave me fruit from the tree, and, yes, I ate it.”

Misconceptions: There is perhaps no subject like guilt to create misconceptions, wrong ways of thinking, and so in this and the next few studies we are going to eyeball some of these. The first misconception we need to consider is that off-loading absolves from blame – it doesn’t!

Wrong Belief: We have touched on this before but we do need to slowly consider this because it is something that is so common in modern life and Christians are not immune from it. It is the belief that if I can give a reason for my perceived wrongdoing, especially one that off-loads the cause of it onto other people, then is absolves or clear me from the guilt of it. We see this so clearly in the case of the Fall. Adam has been told not to eat of this particular tree, we assume Eve knew about the prohibition, but she went against it and then got him to go against it. They both did what God had said not to do. They were guilty.

Confrontation: But then God confronts them with their changed state, they have become self-aware in a new way: “Who told you that you were naked?” (Gen 3:11a) Guilt always changes our state. However we appear, we all know, deep down at least, that what we do is wrong, which is why we move into a defensive, self-justifying mode.  There can only be one reason for this and so God makes them face it: Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” (v.11b) If we are to prosper in life and in eternity, we need to be confronted with the things we’ve got wrong; we can’t take them to heaven!

Justifying: Then we get Adam’s excuse: The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” (v.12) I can’t help feeling if I had been God I would have laughed at Adam and retorted, “Adam, you’ve got to be joking! Are you saying it’s my fault because I gave you the woman, that if I hadn’t given her to you, she wouldn’t have been there to lead you astray?” But it continues with the women when the Lord questions her: “The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” (v.13b) There is almost behind her offloading, the objection, ‘well this is your world God, you made the snake, he was the one who led me astray.’

Sources of Excuse: I don’t know if you see it yet, but there are the things that go to the heart of all our offloading of guilt – to blame someone else. When things go wrong, very often people blame God: ‘how could a God of love allow this to happen, why didn’t He step in and stop me doing this?’ Because He respects you too much to take away your free will. But often that is too blatant a call so we focus our bad attitudes, our bad behaviour, on other people.

Marriage Breakdown: Whether it is cohabitation or marriage, when one partner commits adultery and enters into an illicit sexual relationship with someone outside the partnership, it becomes The most fertile ground for self-deception, half-truths, and self-justification by offloading blame. My wife stopped loving me, she was no longer physically attractive, we just couldn’t get on any longer, she was taken up with her women’s groups, her clubs, her hobbies etc. etc., and never had time for me so when my assistant showed concern and care, it was just natural to find love with her.

Teenage Rebellion: My parents don’t love me, and they clearly don’t love each other, they don’t understand what I’m feeling, the struggles I have with life, so why shouldn’t I go off and try and find peace and pleasure in drugs and sex with my friends.

The Lie: There is an untruth that each person in this sort of situation (and with time and space we could find many more) cons themselves into believing: “I can’t do anything about this weak marriage relationship, this bad relationship with my parents,” and so on. Adam and Eve made choices – wrong choices. You and I have the capability of making choices. That’s how God has made us and He expects us to make good decisions – I will work on my marriage, we will take time and effort to start communicating again, listening to one another, responding in love again to one another, I will not look outside my marriage for comfort. Or perhaps – I will wait for an opportune time to talk honestly with my parents, to ask them about where they are at with me and become the catalyst for change in our family. Yes, of course we cannot do these things without God and maybe without the help of someone outside my situation – that’s why I’m here.

The Starting Point: If we are going to start taking back control and bringing change then the starting point has to be to confess to the Lord you’ve got it wrong and you need His forgiveness and His help to put things right. Whatever steps you need to take, you need His grace and His wisdom, but please stop believing the lie. The truth is that with God’s help you can bring change, you can step back from your bad attitude, words and behaviour, you can restore the relationship. Ask Him.

2. Understanding God

The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 2. Understanding God

Ex 34:6,7  The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”

Recap: In the first study we faced the words ‘guilt’ and ‘guilty’ and sought to show that although they are words we prefer to keep in the background of our lives, and hope preachers won’t talk about, nevertheless they are essential to help us face our shortcomings or our blind spots. In this study we are going to confront two verses from the Old Testament that are regularly mis-translated and which, therefore cause many people difficulties and in the midst of them is this subject of guilt.

Not Clearing the Guilty: Our starter two verses are key verses for understanding God. They start out by extolling God as the God who is, “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin,” words that are repeated in whole or part again and again throughout the Old Testament. That part we like but then it starts getting uncomfortable: “but who will by no means clear the guilty.”  This needs thinking about because most Christian teaching seems to suggest a God who, as we considered previously, forgives and cleanses us of our sin, our guilt. But that forgets the word ‘confess’ we’ve already considered. The work of the death of Christ on the cross is not applied to the unrepentant. The guilty remain the guilty and their guilt stands before justice which demands action. God isn’t going to ‘clear the guilty’, pretend the guilt isn’t there. The Cross is about forgiving and cleansing the guilty – those who acknowledge their guilt. The unrepentant are still in trouble.

Confusion over Ongoing Sin: But our verses get worse: “visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”  This again needs thinking about. “visiting the iniquity”? Now most translations impose on this passage a sense of guilt and blame but, I suggest, this is more the translators’ poor appreciation of God’s grace than of accurate conveying of the meaning. For example, the Message version (which I like and use a lot) very badly puts it, He holds sons and grandsons responsible for a father’s sins to the third and even fourth generation.”

Now the Israelites so misunderstood this that the Lord had to correct them through Ezekiel. Read Ezek 18 which challenges a proverb they used, “The parents eat sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’” (18:2b) i.e. the kids suffer because of their parents’ wrongdoing. No, says the Lord, “The one who sins is the one who will die.” (v.4b) He then cites a righteous man (v.5-9) who then has an unrighteous son (v.10-13) and only that son will die. The other way round, suppose there is an unrighteous man (v.14) but the son refuses to follow his father’s path, the son will not die: “He will not die for his father’s sin; he will surely live.” (v.17b)

Resolution: Now I don’t believe the Bible is full of contradictions, so how do we resolve this? Back to “visiting the iniquity”. We need to distinguish between the meanings of practical expression, guilt or blame, and freedom of opportunity. I believe a better way to put part of these verses would be to speak of the ongoing expression of sin and their effects as seen in a father which the sons can (or may not!) follow. Because of the closeness of family life, and we see this so often we perhaps miss or forget it, it is almost usual for children to follow in the footsteps of their parents and that includes copying or continuing their iniquities. Visiting the iniquities of the father on the following generations simply means that father’s example is there confronting the children who may or may not follow it. IF they do follow that bad example, it is probable that they follow the description that comes up in a similar passage in the Ten Commandments: I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me.” (see Ex 20:4-6 & Deut 5:9,10) Following a bad example indicates a wrong heart towards God. That son or grandson has a problem with God, they carry their own guilt. There is an interdependence of father and child which includes the moral or ethical dimension, and thus a bad father is simply leading his child down a similar bad path, if he is unwise enough to follow it and not go his own better way. Love of God restrains sinful behaviour and if that is seen in the father it will reflect into the life of the son.

And Us? There are very strong lessons about family life here. First that each individual, father or child, is accountable to God for their own life. Where there is guilt (i.e. wrongdoing) the individual is responsible for their own life. Second, the older generation can provide a good or bad example and subsequent generations, although vulnerable to bad examples, are responsible for the way they react to those examples, good or bad. Guilt is uniquely individual but behaviour can be transmitted down the generations if the younger ones do not recognize and reject bad. Don’t blame your parents. God will do that. Yet learn from them. If they provided good examples, follow them, if bad examples, reject them. These are vital words for the very mixed up and confused world of family life we have in the West today.

1. Introducing Guilt

PART ONE: General Considerations  (Parts 1-19)

The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 1. Introducing Guilt

1 Jn 1:9 (Living Bible) if we confess our sins to him, he can be depended on to forgive us and to cleanse us from every wrong. And it is perfectly proper for God to do this for us because Christ died to wash away our sins.” (1 Jn 1:9 Living Bible)

Why? Why this series? Well, I had a dream, a remarkably clear dream and one that, unusually, stayed with me when I woke. In it a friend asked me to speak at college  on ‘Guilt’, and I ended up before a class of teens with a very clear idea of what to say to them. When I was praying later, this dream came back clearly with a bigger sense of where it should go.

The Approach: My sense is that this series should have two parts, the first thinking about guilt and then seeing what the Bible says about it, and then the second considering the guilt of the modern world. I am aware that thinking about ‘guilt’ sounds heavy and not very enlightening as a daily study, but I believe it is essential ingredient for seeking to understand the days in which we live and what the Lord might be saying to the Church in these Days.  In the Second Part we will seek to confront a number of aspects of today’s world that from time to time seem to permeate the life of the Church. I thus hope it won’t be heavy but enlightening and will motivate us to pray for the Church and for our nations in these days. I am fairly sure these is not going to be studies condemning and laying guilt; in fact the exact opposite.

Definition & Importance: A simple dictionary search tells us that

“guilt = the fact of having committed a specified or implied offence or crime” while

“guilty = the state of having committed, or responsible for, a specified wrongdoing.”

We don’t like thinking about guilt – at least when it applies to ourselves – and that may be because we don’t realize that guilt is a symptom of something that needs confronting and addressing. Often it is only when the symptom appears that we realize we have the problem. One approach says that thoughts lead to emotions and feelings of guilt, the emotion of guilt, and is because we think we have done wrong. If the thoughts we have accurately record the truth of what happened – a wrong for which we are responsible – then the feelings of guilt accurately convey the truth – we ARE guilty. If the thoughts only pick up part of what happened, then it is easy to allow them to convey the emotion of guilt but the reality may be that we did not do wrong, we are not guilty, as we’ll see in the following studies.

The Process: From these simple starting thoughts we see a progression that is in fact very obvious: first there is the act of wrong, second there is the recognition that we did wrong, the thoughts that put the act into a context and realize it was wrong, and then there is the emotion or feeling. Sometimes we talk about our ‘conscience’ or, in the spiritual realm, our conviction. Now the feelings help us identify the thoughts and the thoughts help us pin down the act, and all of these things for us as Christians highlight a need for further action.

The Way Through: From the outset let’s remind ourselves of the most basic of New Testament teaching: if we confess our sins to him, he can be depended on to forgive us and to cleanse us from every wrong. And it is perfectly proper for God to do this for us because Christ died to wash away our sins.” (1 Jn 1:9 Living Bible) So we have seen two processes. First the process of diagnosis: the act, the thinking, the emotion, the conclusion (I am guilty!). Second there is the process of response: first our part, the act of will that confesses and acknowledges and repents of the wrong, then God’s action that forgives and cleanses and restores us.

John is seeking to be remarkably simple in this verse and just uses the word ‘confess’ but as we go on we will see that actually it means what I wrote above – also acknowledges the sin and repents of the sin. Simply to say, Oh yes, I did wrong, and leave it at that isn’t enough; it needs to be accompanied by a determination to repent – which means utterly change – and be done with that sin, and let God deal with me. We will need to think about these things more fully in the studies ahead I suspect.

And Us? John in his pastoral role in that first letter is extremely helpful because in the second chapter he says, “I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.” (1 Jn 2:1) His goal is to reinforce the teaching that Christians have been set free from the power of sin and yet there will be times where we will get it wrong. I would suggest that this should take away any defensiveness we may feel about considering guilt. Guilt is merely the signpost that needs to be observed, or an additional motivator to recognize, that guides us along the path of sanctification, our lives being cleaned up and changed by God.  I would hope that I am dealing with any issues that arise in my life at the present time, but I would be foolish to think that before I go to be in heaven, there will not be further issues of which at the present time I am not aware. Perhaps these studies will help us face what we have seen in the past as an uncomfortable subject and come see it as a useful tool that God can use the enable us to be more open to His moving in these times. May it be so.

Snapshots: Day 154

Snapshots: Day 154

The Snapshot: “Naomi had a relative…. a man of standing….  Boaz.” (Ruth 2:1) I like the way this story is told. Here’s a single man, a wealthy man, and a man who had been related to Naomi’s dead husband. All these three things are significant and will become more so as the story unfolds, but for the moment, he’s just a mention at the start of it. Things have got to happen first, then the significance of these three things will come to light. This is going to be a beautiful story of redemption and adoption into the people of God but for the moment that is not clear. So often in life, it just carries on (with God moving in the background without our knowledge) and it is only later that the various threads of life come together. Until it becomes clear, rest in the present, trusting that God is there in it all.

Further Consideration: People are important, family are important, friends are important, employers or employees are important, teachers, tutors and students are important. All of these people I have just listed play different roles in our lives. Often we take them for granted but the way we interact with them means that our futures can be changed, the acts of these people impinge on our lives and it may be for good or bad, and how we respond and the sort of relationship we have had with them previously may determine the outcome now.

‘Dating’ among young people appears a nightmare, so often a self-centred calculation. Dating websites call forth characteristics of two people and we assume this is all that is needed to form a meaningful lasting relationship. Ruth is going to show us another way, a way that is gentle and allows both sides to show something of the reality of who they are to each other, two people who don’t force the circumstances but allow them to proceed and open up slowly in learning about each other, understanding each other, and going with that

It is not based upon sex but upon seeing how they both ‘fit’ together, and that is not physical. Today’s dating has completely lost the divine pattern – make friends first, let the friendship deepen to love, let love be expressed by desire for lifelong commitment and only after that the physical union. No wonder ‘Friends’, and ‘Big Bang Theory’ portrayed such difficulties that love could not be spoken about while a full-blown physical relationship was carried on. Relationship is about the coming together of minds first of all, emotions and feelings subsequently, and only physically later on. What a mess today’s relationships are and no wonder cohabitation breaks up so easily and marriages so often last such a short time.  It is sadder when it is seen inside of the Church, which is a sign of lack of teaching and lack of pastoral care. May we be able to demonstrate a better way to the onlooking and hurting world.

Snapshots: Day 151

Snapshots: Day 151

The Snapshot: “but Ruth clung to her…. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die.” (Ruth 1:14,16,17) If you want to know what that word ‘commitment’ (that is so often bandied about in Christian circles) means, this is it. Ruth demonstrates commitment that flows out of love. It is love not law that gets her to respond like this. It is love that should bind us one to another in ‘the church’, not rules, not requirements, not membership rolls, but love being worked out and demonstrated and when the world sees that they will be moved and challenged because there’s not much of the real stuff out there these days.  Let’s work on this love thing and shock the world!

Further Consideration: It may seem a strange place to start this continuation section, but there is a place where the apostle Paul says we, “are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory,” (2 Cor 3:18), referring to the natural work of the Spirit who is changing us into the likeness of Jesus.

I would like to suggest, although I’ve never heard it preached, that Ruth’s words, “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die,” actually are expressions of the attitude that you and I are called to have when we come to Christ and follow him as a disciple. It was Thomas who, when Jesus is talking about going to raise up Lazarus, says, Let us also go, that we may die with him.” (Jn 11:16) Whether he meant, let’s go along on this hopeless quest with him, or whether he was inspired to refer to Jesus’ coming death, is uncertain, but whatever it was, it expressed the true calling of a disciple to go wherever the master went – wherever!

Ruth has been moved by the love and concern of Naomi for the two Moabite girls; why should she be concerned for two foreigners, especially ones who appeared unable to bear her any grandchildren? But she was, and perhaps it was that realization that moved Ruth to make this declaration. Should not Jesus’ demonstration of love for us – dying for us, accepting us just like we are – move us similarly, and if not, the simple realization of what it means to be called to be a ‘disciple’ of the Son of God, into whose likeness the Spirit of God is changing us?

If it was a TV series, this would be one of those emotional, “Aaaah,” moments that perhaps release a tear, but in the word of God it comes as an example of the calling and required response that we find in the New Testament for all those who would say they follow Jesus and, in that sense, it comes as a tremendous challenge that might evoke in us that response, “Lord, I do believe, help my unbelief.” (Mk 9:24)

Snapshots: Day 148

(We pick up again for the next week or so, our journey through the Bible, catching little glimpses or snapshots of what is there. We are now into the beautiful story of Ruth) 

Snapshots: Day 148

The Snapshot: “So a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab.” (Ruth 1:1) We don’t often see the coming of a start of a story of anguish, for they tend to creep up on us quietly. Even more, the causes for such stories of anguish often elude us, or we just don’t realize what we are doing and find ourselves in circumstances that we would have preferred to avoid. This man, Elimelek, was an Israelite and his home was the land of Israel, and that’s where he should have stayed. Did he not know the story of Abram, who got into deep water trying to avoid a famine? (Gen 12:10) ‘Famines’ are best sat out as difficult as they may be. The alternatives are often worse. Cry to God for help sounds tough talk but it is the answer (1 Kings 17:1-6,16, 2 Kings 4:5)

Further Consideration: The circumstances of life sometimes seem to press on us and seem to require us to go down paths which, on a better day, we know are unwise. Famines occur a number of times in the Bible – before the days of refrigeration, and mass storage – as events that either naturally occurred or sometimes occurred as the disciplinary judgment of God. In one sense it doesn’t matter what the cause was, the big issue is how will we respond to it?

It doesn’t have to be a famine; it can be any trial or tribulation that appears on our horizon. It can be a multitude of different things but the common feature is that there is a threat to our future. How will we handle it, how will we act in the face of it?

It almost seems trite in such difficult times to quote scripture but the truth is there: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:6,7) Whatever the trial, whatever the pressure, whatever the mishap, the answer is the same – take it to the Lord. Hold on, cries the skeptic, I don’t just want, peace, I want answers, I want this situation changed! Yes, of course you do but IF you have prayed and the peace comes, it comes because as you prayed the awareness also came that you are in God’s hands and, as one who loves the Lord, you can know that “in all things God works for the good,” (Rom 8:28) your good!

Let’s not mutter about trite verses, these are the truth. We either learn to see they are the truth, or we will abandon our ‘land’ and end up in a foreign, hostile land where it goes even more wrong.  Stay where you are, seek God, receive His provision for your present circumstances and still be in the right place when the trial has passed. No, it’s not always easy, but it is right, until He tells you to move.

11. And So?

Zechariah builds the House Meditations: 11. And So?

Zech 1:3 ‘Return to me,’ declares the Lord Almighty, ‘and I will return to you,’

Zech 2:10 For I am coming, and I will live among you,” declares the Lord.

Zech 3:10 In that day each of you will invite your neighbor to sit under your vine and fig tree,’

Zech 4:6 ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’

Zech 6:13 he will be a priest on his throne

Eph 4:11,12 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service,

But: As so often seems to happen I thought the previous study was the last one of this series and yet as I have been praying this morning there comes what seems a natural completion of it that takes us into the realm of practically praying. My assertion in the previous study, that undergirds all the other studies, is that God was speaking through Zechariah to His people while they were building the Temple, the house or dwelling place of the Lord on earth. Yet the words were to prepare and equip His people to be His dwelling place themselves, as we now see so clearly through the New Testament. But it is so easy to just ‘do a Bible study’ and leave it at that, but the truth is that the word of God is designed to change us. How should these studies change us?

The Big Issues: As we have progressed through these studies I have become more aware of the two big issues: the first is the world ‘out there’, the world that God wants to reach. As we look at the state of the Western world today it is in a mess. I would recommend the sobering reading of ‘Morality’ the 2020 book by Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks which systematically uncovers the moral bankruptcy of the West, with very specific practical outworkings. There is a desperate need for change. The second thing is the church. To Israel He had said through Isaiah that they were to be “a light to the Gentiles.” (Isa 42:6). To us today Jesus says, “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Mt 5:16) If we dare be honest we have abysmally failed to be this resulting in the state the world is in today. We have carried on our spiritual ceremonies and failed to impact the world around us because, even though some of us have been doing a lot, it has rarely been as ‘the body of Christ’ with his power and his revelation.

And So? Whenever such truths really impact us, it is not that they pull as down in condemnation for our failures (which is what the enemy would seek to do) but challenge us to stand up and pray. Prayer has always been the precursor to true revival, it is the acknowledgement of the people of God of their helplessness and failure with the recognition that only a sovereign act of God can change things. But what to pray. I think it has been eighteen months that I have felt this call to prayer but only today did I feel a specific way to pray. When God moves on in His purposes, it seems so often He gradually reveals His strategy, even though in essence it was there in His word already. For those who will allow themselves to be moved by this may I offer the following, no doubt  very incomplete, things to pray, to start pointing us in the right direction. Please feel free to add what you will:

“Father, please forgive us, cleanse us, envision us and empower us and then release us as you start to move sovereignly.”

– To come in line with God’s heart must mean first being honest about our need, with the recognition that we need Him to change our hearts in preparation for being part of what He is planning to do, so we will start to become available to join in with what He is doing.

“Lord, please raise up an even greater army of prayer warriors who will not only pave the way for these things to happen but who will stand there overseeing the battle when it comes.”

–  Prayer in incomprehensible ways, is seen as part of God’s strategy to mobilize His people and enable them to rise up and conquer as Moses did of old (see Ex 17:10-13).

“Lord, release faith and vision in your people in new ways that they may become an army of witnesses in both word and deed to the world around us.”

– Will we become available, will we be trained to be confident as witnesses who move in both word and power to reach the hearts of those around us?

“Lord, please raise up an army of evangelists, anointed by you to bring the life-changing conviction that is needed to bring the watching world to its knees in submission to you as they receive Jesus their Savior and Lord.” 

– The gifted ministry of the evangelist is the one divinely anointed to remove blindness and bring conviction, bring the word of God to bear on individual lives. Nothing less changes people.

“Lord, please raise up an army of teachers, who will be there to feed, teach and equip new believers with divinely anointed understanding as they come as babes in Christ.”

– New believers will need to understand a new perspective and in the excitement of all that happens, establishing them in their new faith will be essential to enable them to stand in the years to come.

“Lord, please raise up an army of pastors who will be there to feed, care for, protect and bring healing to the many dysfunctional new believers come from this hurting and damaged world.”

– The people in the world around us today are so confused, so hurting, so anxious, so wounded, so disorientated, that they desperately need loving care and healing.

“Lord, please raise up an army of prophets who will bring revelation to keep your people on track, warning them against coming obstacles and distractions and revealing the way ahead.”

–  Revelation is at the heart of the working of God and we desperately need His vision, His insight, His wisdom to energize us, and move us forward.

“Lord, please raise up an army of apostles who will come with the humility of divine wisdom that builds and strengthens the rapidly expanding church and able to release your power in your people.”

– The gift of the apostle comes as a strategic wise anointed overseer to guide and equip and empower and  enable the people of God, not mere managers but equippers, envisioners, empowers, and senders.

“Lord, please release faith in each of us, your children, to enable us to receive your destiny for these days to be life changers, world changers and those who glorify you.”

– We are all called to be active parts of this body, with changed hearts and minds and wills, submitted to Him. This will require time and ongoing daily enabling to achieve as we pray.

“Lord, as I purpose to be available to you for you to achieve through me whatever you want, please clarify in me your gifts that enable me to be the unique part of your body you want me to be. Amen.”

– My gifts from God that make me who am, the gifts you have from God, are there just waiting for Him to energize and use them – all the above things, and musician, administrator, Internet Techie, writer, composer, whatever. A gift from God to be used by God as God stirs them, opens doors for them to be used, and then enables them to touch other lives and glorify Him.  May it be so.

7. The Divine Provision

Zechariah builds the House Meditations: 7. The Divine Provision

Zech 4:6 “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty.

Recap: So far: return to God, don’t worry that the world doesn’t care about the plight of the people of God, He does. He will deal with all injustices, rest in that. He purposes good, blessing and growth for His people and calls them together. He comes to redeem and create a people, cleansed in the blood of the Lamb, dressed in the robes of righteousness, called to rule with Christ in the kingdom of God. Chapter 4 comes in three parts: Part 1 – verses 1 to 6, the lampstand and olive trees, Part 2 – verses 7 to 10, promise that Zerubbabel will complete the temple and then, Part 3 – verses 11 to 14, explanations of the olive trees.

Wake Up: It’s the middle of the night, – ‘visions in the night’ (1:8) – and Zechariah has dropped off; he obviously just couldn’t stay awake, just like the disciples with Jesus (Mt 26:40,43,45), and as soon as he wakens the angel draws him back to the visions: “Then the angel who talked with me returned and woke me up, like someone awakened from sleep. He asked me, “What do you see?” (4:1,2a)

The New Vision: “I answered, “I see a solid gold lampstand with a bowl at the top and seven lamps on it, with seven channels to the lamps. Also there are two olive trees by it, one on the right of the bowl and the other on its left.” (4:2b,3) Note the two parts to the picture. First, there is a lampstand comprising seven lamps on arms receiving oil down the arms or channels from a bowl at the top. The lights are lit by oil.  Second there are two olive trees one either side of the lampstand. It is obvious that the two olive trees are the source of the oil that is used in the lamps to provide light.

Again it is not obvious what meaning is being conveyed here so Zechariah asks: “I asked the angel who talked with me, “What are these, my lord?” (4:4) Note there is no reticence on the angel’s part, he gives an answer straight away – but with a question: “He answered, “Do you not know what these are?” (4:5a) Zechariah is nonplussed: “No, my lord,” I replied.” (4:5b) Now note what follows because it is crucial. He does not spell out, as I have above, what he is seeing but makes a simple but powerful and vital declaration: “So he said to me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty.” (4:6) In one sense the objects aren’t important, what they convey is!

The underlying and all important lesson is that the work of God is completed by the Spirit of God, not by human might or power, not by human strength. What is being spoken about here is provision by and of the divine. To understand the importance and significance of this we must hold on to the context – the work of God’s people rebuilding the House of the Lord. The modern Church has almost lost this fundamental understanding: the Christian life and service of the Lord is empowered and directed by the Holy Spirit and without Him all we are left with is human endeavor which God does not bless.

Declaration: First of all the declaration: The angel continues to declare the word of the Lord: “What are you, mighty mountain? Before Zerubbabel you will become level ground. Then he will bring out the capstone to shouts of ‘God bless it! God bless it!’” (4:7) It is not a vision but picturesque language conveying the will of God. The Living Bible expands verse 7 well: “Therefore no mountain, however high, can stand before Zerubbabel! For it will flatten out before him! And Zerubbabel will finish building this Temple with mighty shouts of thanksgiving for God’s mercy,” or, even more simply, God will allow no obstacle to stand in Zerubbabel’s way and nothing will stop him finish rebuilding the temple. The capstone is the top stone, the stone that holds everything else in place, the final stone, and so as it will be put in place with shouts of appreciation that this is the work of God.

Next comes explanation: If there was any doubt in the preceding words, they are removed in what follows: “Then the word of the Lord came to me: “The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this temple; his hands will also complete it. Then you will know that the Lord Almighty has sent me to you.” (4:8,9) The certainty of the completion will convince everyone that this is indeed the working of God. When you read both Ezra and Nehemiah, the rebuilding of the temple and the walls of Jerusalem came with continual opposition from the enemy, but here Zechariah’s word reassures them that that opposition will not stop the work being completed. God Himself will rejoice when He sees the work being completed: “Who dares despise the day of small things, since the seven eyes of the Lord that range throughout the earth will rejoice when they see the chosen capstone in the hand of Zerubbabel?” (4:10) Seven, the perfect number here speaks of the perfect vision of the Lord through the Spirit that sees everything. He will see this come about!

The Olive Trees: But the inquiring spirit of the prophet is not satisfied, he wants to go back and find out about the olive trees: “Then I asked the angel, “What are these two olive trees on the right and the left of the lampstand?” (4:11) He has looked more closely and seen the source of supply for the lamps: “Again I asked him, “What are these two olive branches beside the two gold pipes that pour out golden oil?” (4:12) Again the angel prods him: “He replied, “Do you not know what these are?” and Zechariah has to reply, “No, my lord,” I said.” (4:13) Only then is he given the explanation: “So he said, “These are the two who are anointed to serve the Lord of all the earth.” (4:14)

Uncertainty: Now there is no further explanation given here as to who these two are. John in Revelation 11:3,4 makes a similar reference about two ‘witnesses’ but again with no further explanation. For the prophecy to make sense to those who heard it, they must have taken Zerubbabel and Joshua as the two key leaders to be these two servants of God, empowered by Him to perform His will. In the long-term, in the end times, I would suggest that the Church and the believing element of Israel could be the two ‘witnesses’ but as we are not told we will have to just wait for history to be rolled out.

Certainty: THE point of this chapter is twofold: first, to declare the certainty that the temple WILL be completed and, second, that it will be by the working of the Holy Spirit, God’s divine enabling. For them that enabling will be to provide revelation, encouragement, strengthening, perseverance etc., everything that is needed to overcome the enemy opposition and thus fulfill the will of God.

And Us: I hesitate to drum home the lesson yet again, having already declared it in previous studies, but the point is made so strongly in this chapter that it would almost be wrong not to reiterate it. The life and the service of ‘the body of Christ’, the Church, is what it is by the power and working of the Holy Spirit. When He is present and manifest, then we see power and revelation. The power to do the works of Jesus (see Jn 4:12, Matt 28:20, Mt 11:5, Lk 4:18,19) results, as I suggested in an earlier study, in constant life transformations, with conversions, deliverances and healings. Nothing less fulfills the call of Jesus to his Church. The revelation that the Spirit brings, envisions the church, releases faith to serve, brings wisdom to overcome obstacles and proceed with the will of God, and personal encouragement, comfort and strengthening to individuals. If we cannot say we clearly have these two aspects of His presence and work, in the Church today, let’s pray and ask Him to come and bring them.

2. A World at Peace?

Zechariah builds the House Meditations: 2. A World at Peace?

Zech 1:7,8a  On the twenty-fourth day of the eleventh month, the month of Shebat, in the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Zechariah son of Berekiah, the son of Iddo. During the night I had a vision

Timing: In verses 7 to 17 we move into the first ‘vision’. You have dreams when you sleep, visions while you are awake. A vision is a picture that fills your sight. In the vision there are persons, things and words. Three months have passed since Zechariah’s first ‘word’, a word without pictures. Now we are going to have picture visions that convey truths. All the visions that come now, seem to come on the same day, they flow on one after another until in chapter 7 we see that his next revelation comes two years later. Why the gap? We aren’t told but we come to realize visions only come when God brings them and we must suppose He brings them when He sees the time is right for a particular revelation to be brought. Maybe two years pass to give time for the visions of the first six chapters to be absorbed. Often we can receive a word or picture but the understanding of it takes time to come.

The Picture Setting: The vision comes and in it Zechariah sees certain things. If you stand before a painting, say, you first of all take in just what is there before you. So he writes, “there before me was a man mounted on a red horse. He was standing among the myrtle trees in a ravine. Behind him were red, brown and white horses.” (1:8) So you stand before your picture and there are figures in it, and questions arise: “I asked, “What are these, my lord?” (1:9a)

Now before we move on we have to acknowledge that in the framework of a vision everything is not always spelled out neatly, hence the need to ponder on it. There is one man on a red horse and at least three other horses it would seem, but what is to be implied is that these horses carry riders. Whether there are just three or that there are lots of horses of mixed colors is debatable. Some commentators in the past have sought to infer meanings in the colors. They are in an area of myrtle trees which is apparently a beautiful shrub or bush with beautiful flowers and leaves that give off a rich scent when ‘bruised’. Thus, some have suggested they are a picture of the church and we have a picture somewhat similar to that of Rev 1 with the lead rider being the Son of God – but that is all commentators’ speculation.

But there is something else that is confusing. In this vision there are various figures: first the lead rider in verse 8 who is simply described a ‘a man’, but then we now read, “The angel who was talking with me answered, “I will show you what they are.” (1:9b) Suddenly we find Zechariah, as he gazes on this picture has an angel interpreter standing alongside him. But then it is the leader rider who gives him his explanation: “Then the man standing among the myrtle trees explained, “They are the ones the Lord has sent to go throughout the earth.” (1:10) Zechariah may have entered the vision, as we sometimes enter a dream, stepping straight into the scenario where, in this case he is talking to an angel, but it is the lead rider who is clearly the one in authority. So the other riders have gone out and come back and reported to the lead rider who is now described as “the angel of the Lord”. Again commentators debate whether this is simply a senior angel or the Son of God. But what is important is the message they bring: “And they reported to the angel of the Lord who was standing among the myrtle trees, “We have gone throughout the earth and found the whole world at rest and in peace.” (1:11) This is the first major and significant thing in this vision – the earth appears at peace. Hold on to that because suddenly the focus changed.

The Divine Cry: We next see it is ‘the angel of the Lord’ who appears to cry out in anguish: “Then the angel of the Lord said, “Lord Almighty, how long will you withhold mercy from Jerusalem and from the towns of Judah, which you have been angry with these seventy years?” (1:12) This brings us right back to the present situation in Zechariah’s life. Jerusalem is still a burnt wreck, the land is still devastated from the plundering of Nebuchadnezzar’s army decades before – and yet the rest of the world seems at peace; no one seems to care, they are just happy with their lives, but what about God’s people, what about the Temple that is only part rebuilt, what about the glory and honour of the Lord? Now I have called this paragraph ‘The Divine Cry’ because angels on God’s business share God’s heart and therefore, even as prophets catch God’s heart, so do His angels serving Him. “So the Lord spoke kind and comforting words to the angel who talked with me.” (1:13) God comforts the lead rider as if to say, “I know, I feel as you do, but it’s all in hand!”

Anger: Now comes the message that is to be declared: “Then the angel who was speaking to me said, “Proclaim this word: This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘I am very jealous for Jerusalem and Zion, and I am very angry with the nations that feel secure. I was only a little angry, but they went too far with the punishment.’” (1:14,15) The Lord explains, first, what He feels. It’s like He is saying, Jerusalem is mine and always has been, the place where I have put my Name, and I am angry with the nations that I used (yes I used them!) who now feel at peace and are unconcerned about my people. I had been angry with Israel who rejected my word again and again, but I am more angry with those who were unrestrained in their actions bringing my punishment on Israel.

Action: So now the Lord goes beyond His feelings to what He will do: “Therefore this is what the Lord says: ‘I will return to Jerusalem with mercy, and there my house will be rebuilt. And the measuring line will be stretched out over Jerusalem,’ declares the Lord Almighty. Proclaim further: This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘My towns will again overflow with prosperity, and the Lord will again comfort Zion and choose Jerusalem.’” (1:16,17) He will ensure the Temple is rebuilt, He will ensure Jerusalem is rebuilt, and He will ensure the towns of Judah are re-established and will prosper again.

Summary: So within this little cameo, the Lord’s messengers, His angels, report a world at peace while Jerusalem and God’s temple lie in ruins and the land remains wrecked. The Lord reveals His anguish over this situation and His intent to restore the Temple, Jerusalem and the Land. It is a word of hope and a word of restoration that faces the anguish of the state of the Temple, the City and the Land as it is at the moment.

Application: Before the revealing of the 2020 Pandemic, I would suggest that in many ways the world was at peace. This is typified by an example I came across recently. In the previous study I referred to the Calvers’ book ‘Unleashed’ all about the story of Acts. On one hand they acknowledge the good things the church is doing: “Here in the UK Christians are making a huge impact through ministries such as Christians Against Poverty, food banks, and Street Pastors and Angels. The church runs the majority of toddler groups, much of the nation’s youth work, and remains pivotal on the ground.” It all sounds good, but Gavin balances it with an encounter with an old friend, “one who was such an encouragement to me in my early years of faith,” and who he describes as having been one all out for God who would talk passionately about his love of the Lord. Now, many years later, both in their early forties, he reflected, “Today’s conversation was different. He was still speaking animatedly and enthusiastically, but it was not about Jesus. It was about his new patio.” He pondered, “What had happened in the last couple of decades to see godly, eternal passion transferred to concrete in gardens? Why do we keep bumping into Christians our age who are more evangelistic about their kitchen than they are about Jesus? How is it that there is seemingly more inspiration for life in the pages of the Ikea catalogue than in the Bible? When did everything become so safe?” He expands on how our lives are taken up with getting and enjoying at the expense of the kingdom of God.

If that is an accurate assessment of so much Christian life in the West, and I believe it is, then the ‘peace’ that reigns is deception. Is that why the Lord has allowed Covid-19 to ravage the world? Is it a preparation, a time of challenging the hearts of men and women, in preparation for revival? In the previous study we cited R.T.Kendal, who speaks of how we have tolerated what is going on in the church and what is going on in the world.  In the past century of so we have, around the world, experienced various moves of God: Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles in 1906, that brought out into the open the place and role of the Holy Spirit, the Charismatic Movement of the 1960’s, that brought a fresh awareness of the existence, experience, function and role of ‘the body of Christ’ as formed and created by the Spirit, and so on (there are others) – but they are largely now just ‘history’.

These special times seem like glimmers of light from the past that have now been diffused into the life of the Church where, for the most part, they appear to have lost most of their power, their life, their spontaneity and their vitality that came with them originally. It appears that in the West at least, the world seems to have half drowned the Church and the potential of all these moves of God have been either forgotten or simply dissipated. Consider again my description of the church I suggest the New Testament shows is on God’s heart and ask again how that matches your experience? Has God allowed Covid-19 to shake up and change the Church to match His heart? Are we alert to that?

2. The Foundation

Short Meditations on the Ascension: 2. The Foundation

Lk 24:46  He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day  

We have just noted that Jesus is opening up the meaning of the Scriptures to his disciples before he leaves them. They need this foundation of understanding, it is what is at the heart of the Christian  Faith, the word of God. Without it we would be lost, unknowing, floundering in a world of uncertainty but, instead, we have the existence and the will of God revealed through the Bible. And so, “he told them,” he teaches them; it is what every Christian leader has to do with the flock of God – lead them with teaching.

Thus he starts this verse, “This is what is written.” He refers back to what we call the Old Testament, the scrolls they had, the truth of God written down: “The Messiah will suffer.” Luke doesn’t expound on this here and so we are left to glance back to the Old Testament prophecies, for example Psa 22 and the anguishes cries of Psa 69 and the suffering servant of Isa 52:11 to 53:12.

Whatever else we as Christians proclaim, the Cross of Christ must always be THE most important element of the Gospel, Jesus dying on the cross at Calvary taking our sins. We are what we are and we only have a future with God because of Jesus dying on the cross for us.

But his death was only one side of the coin, the other was his resurrection: “and rise from the dead on the third day”. There it was hinted at in Psa 16:10 that Peter took and applied in his sermon on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:24-32). Isaiah had hinted at it – Isa 53:10. By his resurrection Jesus was vindicated. The Old Testament hinted at it, he had prophesied it (Mt 16:21, 17:9,23, 20:19, 12:40, 26:32, 27:63)

The death of Christ on the cross is the unique testimony of the love of God in history. The resurrection of Christ is what marks out Christ from every other man in history, the proof of the Father’s intent (But God raised him from the dead.” Acts 2:24, 3:15) and validation or endorsement of His Son, a fact that comes down through history to challenge every person, like a banner calling all to their knees.

So as Jesus opens up the Scriptures to his disciples, these are the first two vital elements of The Faith that he puts before them, there in the Old Testament, now worked out in experience and thus proving the love and the power of God as He reaches out to mankind. This is the message that the disciples – and us – need to understand and this is the message they are to bring to the world. There is more to follow but this must be the starting place, this is the first thing they must be absolutely clear about. And us?  May it be so!