Snapshots: Day 30

Snapshots: Day 30

The Snapshot: “seven years of famine began.” Living in a Fallen World is often confusing. Israel has lost his favourite son, and now famine threatens to wipe them out. It feels a hard world – but that is without understanding what God is doing. The ‘dead son’ will be raised to life and be their savior, but that is still the future. Sometimes the sun shines brightest before the storm that brings life to the desert. When Jesus entered Jerusalem they shouted, “Hosanna!”, Lord save us. A week later, others cried out, “Crucify him.” It was a confusing time, a terrible time, and it seems no one could see the glory of the future behind the black thunder clouds.  But God has a plan so rest in that truth, and it’s always a plan for good, our good. How incredible.

Further Consideration: Whether we like it or not – and I know some people who think it is a cop out – the world we live in is broken, dysfunctional or as we usually put it – fallen. It is not as it was when God first made it. When sin came in, God stepped back and said the equivalent of, “OK, you want to run it you way, I’ll let you do that.” The result was that sin prevailed, and the world went wrong. Sickness accompanied sin, and that included sickness in the plant life and in nature at large, which included the weather and the way the planet works generally.

Thus sometimes there were (and are) famines because rain doesn’t fall, seeds don’t germinate and so on. If we blame God for famines, we must blame Him for giving us free will, not that He made us do wrong, but allowed us the opportunity, and everything else followed. So that’s the world we live in – where it goes wrong – but the amazing thing is that God didn’t step right of the equation, He is still there when we turn to Him and He is available to help. That doesn’t mean He will immediately jump in and do what we want and reverse the working of the fallen world, but it does mean that there are times when He sees that that is possible without upsetting the balance of our free will.

But sometimes He holds back because He sees that allowing the brokenness to continue means He can use it for a greater purpose. Now when it comes to the seven years of famine above, God has seen (and told Abram about it) that this can be just one link in a chain that results in Israel ending up in Egypt. There, because they do not leave when they could early in the day, they settle, end up slaves and need that most incredible event, the Exodus, which brings judgment on sin, reveals the power of the Lord and the uniqueness of Israel. This famine is just one link in that chain, but Jacob didn’t see that yet, and so often we don’t see the fact of present difficulties being a link that will lead to something amazing. Patience and grace needed.

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Snapshots: Day 29

Snapshots: Day 29

The Snapshot: “a man wrestled with him till daybreak.”  We might think it is a rare thing to be commended by God for wrestling with Him, but when the man in question insists, “I will not let you go unless you bless me,” that pleases God, for that is exactly what is on His heart for mankind – that we cling to Him to be blessed, to be saved, to be redeemed, to receive the blessing that only He can impart. We will come out of the wrestling match changed, perhaps in a way we hadn’t envisaged and indeed don’t fully appreciate, but from then on we will never forget God and He will always be our first port of call in the struggles of life. No longer will we be plotting our own well-being for we will have His blessing and will never be the same again,.

Further Consideration: Wrestling with God? That needs some thinking about because Jacob was commended by God for wrestling with Him until He blessed him, but not all ‘wrestling’ is like that. Perhaps the greatest example of wrestling with God where the objective of the wrestler was seek to get victory over God for no other reason that pure self-centredness, is that of Pharaoh opposing Moses in Exodus. No of course it wasn’t a literal wrestling match of Pharaoh with God but Pharaoh’s attitude, his words and his actions, are clearly as much a struggle against God to get his own way, as if it has been a literal match.

God is seeking to get Pharaoh to submit to His will and we see it is a totally unbalanced contest because He is so infinitely more stronger than Pharaoh, but Pharaoh doesn’t believe that. But then that is why unbelievers wrestle with God, resist Him, and try and get their own way; they just don’t realize exactly who it is they are resisting. If they realized the truth they would give in instantly.

But when it comes to believers, they sense something and, I would suggest, it is something inspired by the Holy Spirit. It is that God can bless them, can answer a prayer – and wants to, if only they will ask and ask.

The problem is that very often we just don’t believe that God desires good for us; it is one of the offshoots of being a sinner, redeemed, yes, but still tainted with these things. And so it is that we catch the truth and pray it, and God coyishly holds back before answering. We pause but sense it is right, this thing, so we pray again, and again, and as we pray we come to see that this IS the truth, this IS what God wants and so we pray with more urgency. I will not let you go until you bless me!  Jesus taught, “Ask – and keep on asking (the verb tense)- and it will be given you.” (Mt 7:7) Why? For our benefit so we will come to realize the truth of what we are asking for.

Snapshots: Day 28

Snapshots: Day 28

The Snapshot: “so he proceeded to bless him.”  A blessing is a prophetic decree of good from heaven. It comes from God, touches a heart, is declared and applied by God. It is not a wish but a declaration of the good will of God and is, in one sense, general for all of us (His desire for good for His children) but in another sense unique (what He sees He wants to do for ‘me’ uniquely). We impart a blessing only as the Holy Spirit enables us; it is not a case of just wishing someone well, but an opening of the door of heaven for the good to be poured forth as he desires. How amazing that He wants to involve us, is limited by us, because He wants us to be the bringers of His good to His world. Lord, please make me sensitive of your will for those I love that I may bless them.

Further Consideration: Over the years I have had the impression that most Christians know little of blessings and curses. The classic passages of the Law that describe them are Deut 28 for blessings following obedience, then curses for disobedience. However, blessings start in Gen 1 when God blessed the living creatures (v.22) and then mankind (v.28). In each case ‘blessings’ are God’s decrees for good. In each case the blessing is “to be fruitful” and this is also seen when He blesses Noah (Gen 9:1). A beautiful outworking of this is seen in the case of Isaac: “Isaac planted crops in that land and the same year reaped a hundredfold, because the Lord blessed him.” (Gen 26:12)

Somehow this understanding has been communicated to Isaac and so it is no surprise when he blesses who he thinks is his eldest son, but turns out to be Jacob. He clearly holds a blessing in the highest degree for once he has spoken it, he knows he cannot either withdraw it or repeat it in respect of Esau (see Gen 27:34-37).

A blessing is thus equivalent to a prophecy and of course genuine prophecies always originate in heaven, in God’s heart, and not merely in our hearts. As we catch a sense of the Holy Spirit’s prompting we may then utter the blessing that we sense the Lord wants to impart to the person before us, and life is changed.

I will often simply say to someone, “The Lord bless you,” because I know it is the Lord’s desire to bless each one of us. My daughter reminded me not long ago that she grew up through a childhood that knew me bringing God’s blessing to them. Whenever we do that we are reiterating the Lord’s desire to bring good to that person, and that opens the way for Him to do just that. We don’t do it by habit or to control but simply when we are absolutely sure that God wants good for His people.  The more we know Him, the more sure we will be of that and be able to be His channels of blessing to others.

Snapshots: Day 27

Snapshots: Day 27

The Snapshot: “His brother came out grasping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob.” Perceptions, hopes and dreams, all wrong, all muddled, all forgetting God. Here’s the first twin – he will be great. No he won’t. Here’s the second twin, a grabber, a twister, a schemer, a hopeless case. True but that’s forgetting God again. He knows what we’re really like, He knows what He can do with us, that’s why we’re chosen, because He looked into the future and saw what we could become. Jacob is going to become a great Patriarch, a godly man with God’s heart who will prophesy over all his family with amazing insight. We all start by being ‘schemers’, plotting our own well-being, and God enables us to become something quite glorious, His children. How wonderful. Thank you, Lord.

Further Consideration: Yesterday I sought to encourage us to come into understanding God’s will. Many years ago my wife and I sensed we should move to the town where we now are. We sought to do so but it just wasn’t happening. Eventually I took a piece of paper and made a list of twelve reasons why I felt we needed to be in that new place, and I took it to the Lord and said, “Lord, why aren’t you letting us move? These are the reasons we need to be over there.” Quick as a shot came back from heaven, “Now you understand I will move you.” We were in within three months. Forty years later we’re still here.

So often we see the circumstances and stick with them and see no further. We ‘caught’ a sense of needing to move but it took a while to truly understand what was on God’s heart. But I say again, so often we ‘see’ with our eyes and either simply accept the status quo of what we see, or misunderstand what we see because we have not consulted God. The situation involving Jacob is strange.

You see Rebekah shows herself to be a godly woman because, after twenty years pass and she eventually finds herself pregnant and there is a heaving going on inside, we read, “she said, “Why is this happening to me?” So she went to inquire of the Lord,” (Gen 25:22) and the Lord told her, “Two nations are in your womb ….   and the older will serve the younger.” (Gen 25:23) so when Esau came out first followed by Jacob grasping his heel, she clearly didn’t tell Isaac (or he ignored her) because they did not take on board the fact that Jacob would become the leader of the two, and thus they gave him a name that stuck – grasper, twister, deceiver. He certainly lived up to that name until he ended wrestling with God and was changed.

But do we misread the situation, do we fail to seek God for understanding and clarity? How much do we let such things dictate life, or do we let prophecy direct it and rejoice and go along with it?

Snapshots of the Bible: Day 21

Snapshots: Day 21

The Snapshot: “Abram believed the LORD.”  Does it all boil down to believing? Is it all just about accepting what God says is true? About His love for me? About His hopes for me? About the potential I have in His hands? Won’t He do all this stuff if I don’t believe? What’s that? Believing is like opening a door that He knocks on, asking to enter, refusing to barge into my life without invitation, refusing to come without my permission. But He’s all-powerful isn’t He? This all speaks of a God who made us in His image, told us to reign and now He refuses to snatch that rule back?  When He says go, dare I go? When He says step out of the boat, dare I do it? If I don’t I will always regret it, always wonder what I missed, always wonder what could have been. Lord, help me step out.

Further Consideration: As I return to this snapshot I marvel at the truths here that flow out of God’s word. He took a pagan from Mesopotamia and introduced him to a life of faith, of hearing God and responding. How did he hear? I don’t know, possibly in his mind an ongoing nagging impression that would not go away. But he ‘hears’ it and responds to it. We’ve already considered their childlessness but when God says, “You will have a son,” eventually – and as we saw in the previous study, it is an ‘eventually’ – he believes God.

I said in the previous consideration that the path to belief is rarely an easy one, and we noted the difficulties Abram had encountered since coming to the Promised Land. But now the Lord has spoken yet again that Abram will have many children (Gen 15:4,5) and now Abram believes.

Previously I asked the question, “Does it all boil down to believing?” and the answer has to be yes, and for very practical reasons. If Abram hadn’t believed what he heard at the beginning he would never have left Ur, never have travelled to the Promised Land, and probably therefore, never heard the Lord’s ongoing encouragement.

If you hadn’t believed originally, you would not have become a Christian. If Peter hadn’t believed in Jesus, he would never have stepped out of the boat (Mt 14:29). If you didn’t believe and pray you wouldn’t have answers to prayer. And yet He doesn’t make us believe, He doesn’t make us step out of the boat, He doesn’t make us pray; these are all voluntary things, expressions of our relationship together, His and mine.

It never gets easier, this believing-faith thing. Every single time we step out in faith, our blood pressure goes up. It needs another distinct declaration of belief, another distinct choice to act. He’s spoken; dare I believe.  Silly not to really!

55. A Time to go on the Offensive

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 8 – Counter Attack

55. A Time to go on the Offensive

1 Sam 17:10,11   Then the Philistine said, “This day I defy the armies of Israel! Give me a man and let us fight each other.” On hearing the Philistine’s words, Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified.

Hostile Neighbors? Israel in history, especially in the Old Testament, can be seen to be a demonstration of various things. We could focus, negatively, on the fact of their apparently continual habit of getting it wrong, of rejecting or rebelling against God, and when we do I also remind us that in that they were merely demonstrating what we as a human race are like. They were not especially bad; they just reveal the reality of sin that is true of all of us. But for this present exercise, Israel reveal to us what it meant to be a special people, God’s people because, as far as their neighbors were concerned, they were enemies.

Now I am not sure if I can find anywhere where the Scriptures say it was specifically because they were God worshipers, and it may be that in those primitive times, one expression of the Sin of mankind simply meant that one nation beat up another nation. Having said that, it seems more than a coincidence that Israel had more than their fair share of getting beaten up. (We should remember in passing that Jesus said, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword,” [Mt 10:34] which opens up the whole are of division between believer and non-believer).

But this all goes to show something, perhaps, of what was behind the passage that we are going to examine in this and the next two studies, found in 1 Sam 17 when Israel are being opposed by their old enemy, the Philistines. (It is clear from the Old Testament that the Lord used the Philistines to discipline or chastise Israel when Israel had turned away from Him. They were part of His oft-used method of bringing disciplinary judgment that was designed to drive them back into His arms.)

The Battlefield statistics: The beginning of chapter 17 shows us the Philistines lined up against Israel: “The Philistines occupied one hill and the Israelites another, with the valley between them.” (v.3), shown to be in the foothills to the west of Bethlehem, on the border of Israel. There is in a sense, a picture here of the divide between the Church and the rest of the world. On one hillside are the atheistic crusaders shouting their derogatory abuses about the folly of belief. With them, in much larger numbers, are the unbelievers of the world. In the UK where the real believing church is said to be only between 5 and 7% of the population, and the USA where more recent figures suggest it is only about 30% of the population who are really believers, the appearance is that we are outnumbered and the church numbers so often appear to be declining.

Outnumbered and talked down to: There is an amazing little picture found in 1 Kings at one point: “The Israelites camped opposite them like two small flocks of goats, while the Arameans covered the countryside.” (1 Kings 20:27). What an amazing picture of little Israel facing the might of the Arameans. No contest! Well, yes, actually it was, because the Lord was with Israel and they utterly defeated the enemy. A lesson not to be forgotten. But here we are in this world today and lined up against us are atheists who bring derisory words spoken the Bible, derisory words about the nature of God, and derisory words about faith and being a Christian. Note that: so often the enemy’s attack starts with words. The classic example of that was when Sennacherib’s field commander stood outside Jerusalem before attacking it (a tough task with high and thick walls and strong gates) and demeaned their trust in God (e.g. Isa 36:4-10 and then v.12-20). It was pure propaganda designed to bring down the morale of Israel.

Challenging Questions: So today the Battle is joined and the voices of the enemy shout out, “You can’t trust the Bible, it is full of errors and tales of a harsh God,” or “Creation in seven days? What are you lot on about? Everyone knows it took hundreds of millions of years of evolution to bring about what we are today!” or “How can you believe in a God who has women and children put to death in genocide?”  The trouble is there are good answers to this untruths or even half-truths at times, but so often we do not prepare ourselves  because we have never thought to read the great apologists of the kingdom who have got good answers to these questions, and our minister is too busy doing verse by verse exposition of passages we have all heard before, to teach the answers to the questions that the world has.

Occult Spiritual Warfare: Thus very often I find that, if we are honest, many of God’s people are “dismayed and terrified” just like Israel were, because we haven’t trained them and there is little hunger to search out the truth and become warriors who can combat the lies and mis-truths and half-truths of the enemy.  I didn’t mention it in the previous study but there is another whole area of deception that the enemy uses to undermine the faith of God’s people and it is that of the occult. How often I have heard people casually say, “Oh yes, I played with a Ouija board when I was a teenager but it was only a bit of harmless fun.” Think again. Or the other common one is “My husband has been invited to become a Freemason.” Really, watch out for trouble in your spiritual life because any honest Freemason will acknowledge that there is a spiritual dimension to what they do, even though many would prefer to ignore it.

Ignorance of spiritual warfare and a failure of the Church to teach on it, means that many have lives that are blighted without them realizing it, having failed to repent of past dealings with the enemy and thus allowing themselves to be open and vulnerable to him. There are a number of really good ministries that help people be set free from their past, but the trouble is that most of us either don’t realize there is a spiritual battle going on or don’t realize they are walking wounded because of it. There is a strong case to be made for either in-house counselling or invited-in counselling. If we think this is all exaggerated talk, that is a sign that we have been subject to one of the enemy’s attacks I spoke of two studies back and have been lulled into a place of unbelief and placid acceptance of his deceptions.  Ask Him to open the eyes of your understanding, and touch and challenge your heart

Remove the Grave-clothes: What I have just been advocating is the equivalent of Jesus words at the tomb of Lazarus: “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.” (Jn 11:44) You and I, if we are truly Christian believers, are not dead – we have died with Christ but we have also been raised with him (see Rom 6). Grave clothes are anything which hinders our present movement as resurrected children of God, anything that thwarts the will of God, preventing us living and working as the body of Christ today. ‘Grave clothes’ are unbelief, complacency, indifference, ignorance, self-concern, lack of concern for the glory and honour of the Lord, cynicism, pessimism, anything that stops us living according to His word and at the prompting of His Spirit. If you struggle with these things, talk to your leaders or mature trusted Christian friends and ask them to help get them off you. Don’t be part of the problem of this world, start being part of the answer to it.

54. A Time to Regain our Identity

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 8 – Counter Attack

54. A Time to Regain Our Identity

Mt 16:18  I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.

1 Pet 2:9,10  But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.  Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

I wonder? I have wondered if the average church member ‘sees’ themselves in any way different from anyone else? Very early on in this series I considered a number of ways the Christian – and subsequently the Church – is different from their non-believing neighbors. So yes, being a ‘believer’ is perhaps the starting place, but is that all you see?

Why? Now you may be thinking, why is he taking us back over this ground if we have covered it so thoroughly in the past studies? Well, it is simply because when I meet with other believers, that is the sense, and only that – that we are ‘believers’ – that ever seems to get communicated, and because I believe that is so, I think it is one of the reasons that Christians are so often backward in coming forward, or so deferential when it comes to standing up and declaring how needy the world is and how wonderful the answer that we have is. Mostly I detect we are on the defense.

A Positive Faith: One of our failures of recent decades is that of not communicating the positive aspects of Christianity – which are only found in Christianity – which can help this sick and ailing world. Of course part of that has been our ongoing failure to coherently and graciously communicate why the ways of the present world of the West are failing. It seems it is only the occasional columnist of one of the big ‘broadsheet’ newspapers who shouts, “This is not working!”

The appearance – and forgive me if I am wrong – is that in the UK where there is a ‘state church’, the Church of England, it is too tied in to the establishment to be regularly prophetic and thus it fails to prepare itself and its leading bishops to be voices of hope and change in a dark world. In the USA, although there is no state church, church and politics appear entwined so often but this seems to have resulted in specific limited battles being fought – the abortion battle being the most obvious but there have been others – but without conveying, “Hey this Christian thing is the best thing going!” and so there has been a failure to collectively convey the positive nature of the Christian faith that should be life changing, and if given a chance, also community-changing and nation-changing.

My Identity: So if someone asks you who you are, do you reply, “I am a believer in Jesus Christ,” or “I am a Christian,” because as excellent as those testimonies are, they only take us a short way along the path of identifying who we are. A shorthand answer along this path is, “Well, the Bible says I am a child of Almighty God, the Creator of all things” and that opens up a whole new area of discussion. But perhaps the more important issue is not so much what I have to declare as what I feel about myself. Knowing who I am, enables me to speak or act as I do.

For example, a number of times, either in this series or other series, I have reminded us that a) Jesus is seated at his Father’s right hand in heaven, ruling in the midst of his enemies (Eph 1:20) and then, b) that we are told that we are seated with him in the heavenly realms (Eph 2:6). Now this is quite remarkable if we believe it (understatement of the year!) because it means we are linked to Almighty God and because of that there is a sense where we should see ourselves as ‘above’ the world, having an overview of it that provides a more accurate view than anyone else, which means learning with Christ how to live with that.

Part of a Strategy: But this also reminds us of a verse we have considered many times in the past: “Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power.   For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.”   (1 Cor 15:24,25) Now this requires us to realize and recognize how Christ is ruling in the midst of his enemies (Psa 110:1,2, Heb 1:13, 10:13, Mt 22:44) – even though the world seems to be doing its own thing – but also for us to realize that we are part of his ruling, we are with him in working to bring down these enemies (which include such things as unbelief, unrighteousness, ungodliness, anger, bitterness, hostility, wars, fighting, etc. etc. as well as the more obvious evils, such as slavery, still as prevalent today as in the past). We have a privileged position, privileged power and a privileged calling within the strategy of Christ in his calling to bring in the kingdom of God.

Inferior or Special?  So let’s be honest, how do we really feel about ourselves before the onlooking world? Have we let Satan demean us, do we feel inferior?  Now if this was a church meeting and I was one of those preachers who hype up the congregation, asking those things in an ever louder voice, we might expect the temptation might be the shout back, “No, we’re superior!” but that is not Christlike, it is not what the apostle Paul taught, or any of the other apostles. The word we are looking for is ‘special’.

I have a friend who dislikes us saying to anyone, “you are special,” because, he says, you can’t say to everyone, “You are special.”  Yes you can. First of all we can say it to us as a group of people in the world. At Mount Sinai, God said to Moses to say to the people, if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession.” (Ex 19:5) Don’t tell me that “treasured possession” doesn’t mean special! Perhaps it was with this in mind that the apostle Peter wrote to the church (see 1 Pet 1:1,2) those words at the top of this study: But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.  Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (1 Pet 2:9,10) Here I have highlighted words that say we are special.

Uniqueness: So dare we say, “I am special to God,” or “We as a local church are special to God,” so that marks us out from the rest of the world?  We are special because we have responded to Him and we have been adopted into His family so that we can say we are children of God, even sons and daughters of God. We are special because we have open access to heaven, a voice to God and an ear to hear from God and the ability to receive all the resources of God.

If that doesn’t make us feel good, perhaps we need to pray and ask the Lord to open our eyes to see the reality of these things, rather like the apostle Paul prayed, “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people,  and his incomparably great power for us who believe.” (Eph 1:18,19)  All this comes only by revelation. We need today the fresh revelation of who we are, the wonder of who we are, the wonder of what we are, the wonder of our destiny, and when we get that afresh, perhaps we will stand up in the midst of the world and cry fearlessly with the apostle Paul,  “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes,” (Rom 1:16) and then go on and demonstrate that power – which leads us on to the next studies about going into battle. Stick with me.