9. Ungodly Society

Meditations in David’s Psalms : 9 : Ungodly Society  – Psa 12

Psa 12:1,2   Help, LORD, for the godly are no more; the faithful have vanished from among men. Everyone lies to his neighbour; their flattering lips speak with deception.

There are times when, as a Christian in a society where only 5% of the population attend church (UK in 21st century), it can seem that we are a helpless minority watching a godless and unrighteous majority, and the state of society seems to continually decline and yet the world seems blind to the reasons for it. We might have thought that David, the great king, the man after God’s own heart, would have been a great force for good, leading the people before God, and yet that doesn’t seem to be the case at the point when he wrote this psalm.

Indeed we might say that from what he says, Israel is in a bad place spiritually: Help, LORD, for the godly are no more; the faithful have vanished from among men. Everyone lies to his neighbor; their flattering lips speak with deception.” (v.1,2) That conveys a terrible picture of Israel at that time. David looks around and there appear there is no one left who might be described as godly and faithful and, indeed, lies and deception seem to prevail. Truth seems absent from the land. How far they have drifted from the Lord!

David watches and listens to what is going on around him and yearns for the Lord to intervene: “May the LORD cut off all flattering lips and every boastful tongue that says, “We will triumph with our tongues; we own our lips–who is our master?” (v.3,4) What a summary of society. There are flatterers – those who boost up the egos of others, no doubt for gain. There are boastful tongues, those who speak out of arrogance and pride and they say, we are the voice of society and our way will triumph through our words, we say what we like for we are the top dogs in this world, we decree what goes, and our words prevail over all others. Sounds just like today’s modern world.

But David catches a sense of the Lord’s heart: “Because of the oppression of the weak and the groaning of the needy, I will now arise,” says the LORD. “I will protect them from those who malign them.”  (v.5) Previously we’ve seen David acknowledge the Lord as a God of Justice who comes to remedy that which is wrong, and so now, here in this psalm, the Lord comes on behalf of the weak and needy who are oppressed by the rich and well off, those in society with power. This oppression is wrong and He will come and deal with it.

David acknowledges what he has heard as the word of the Lord: “And the words of the LORD are flawless, like silver refined in a furnace of clay, purified seven times.” (v.6)  To say that the words of the Lord are good and right are an understatement. They are flawless and perfect, as flawless as silver is when it has been purified seven times in the furnace. This word is exactly right.

Although he starts by mourning over the state of the land and the people in it, as so often happens by the time he has poured it out before the Lord, he comes to a place of confidence and assurance about their situation: “O LORD, you will keep us safe and protect us from such people forever.” (v.7) Life in this sort of society can be very uncertain and unstable but with the Lord we can know safety and protection from these people and that is a confidence we need to have to stop us feeling constantly defensive.

Yes, David is real about the state of the land but his confidence is in the Lord. The reality is that, “The wicked freely strut about when what is vile is honored among men.” (v.8)  When truth leaves the land, bad things, vile things, are honored and in such a society those who are ‘wicked’ – who have turned from God and who are self-centred, godless and unrighteous – strut about as if they own the world; but remember, they don’t, God does!

If you like this is a psalm about seeing what is happening in a godless society (as ours is today), recognising what is happening but putting our trust in the Lord. He will act in His time. We need to understand that even as Paul showed in Romans 1, what we are witnessing is ‘God giving them over’ to the consequences of their godless folly and so what is happening is, in fact, the judgment of God on our society. Our call? To remain faithful regardless of what everyone else does!  Our call? To be salt and light and there with answers when people cry for answers! May we be that!

51. God’s Love

Meditations in 1 John : 51 : The Proof of God’s Love

1 John  4:9,10   This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

There are people who suffer from tunnel-vision. They focus on one little thing that has come to their attention and say, “God can’t possibly be a God of love if He lets that happen,” and totally ignore the vast wealth of evidence that points to His love. John distils God’s love down to one thing when he says, “This is how God showed his love among us.” He focuses us on THE one primary thing which above all else says, “This is an act of One who must love us with all His being.”  It is, of course, the fact that “He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.”

Now some of us may be so familiar with the Gospel that we’ve allowed the wonder of it to be lost to us. Others may be unclear about it and so have never seen the wonder. So, let’s see some of the basics of what John has just put before us.

We must start with a fallen human race, a world that was designed and made perfect but which turned away from God to self-centred and godless living and which, therefore, soon meant unrighteous living, living contrary to the design of the Maker.  Each and every human being is blighted, contaminated or infected by this self-centred, godless disposition and live out lives that are godless and unrighteous – and wrong! Justice (which we accept in any other context) demands that wrong doers be punished but the scale or enormity of the wrong of the human race is so great that we tend to either accept it as normal and forget issues of justice, or we just turn away from thinking about it because it is too big and too terrible to think about. Almost by definition, this self-centred and godless way of living means that God seems a million miles away (when you turn your back on someone you can make yourself believe they are not there – that’s what little children do!) Put another way, there seems a massive division between us and God. If we do think about God, it is with a sense of fear because deep down we know we are in the wrong and He seems so great, so awesome, so powerful, and so wonderful that our natural response is to scurry away or flee from Him.

So there we were alienated from God, guilty and stuck with it, helpless to make ourselves any different. Even when we tried to ‘be good’ it was still self-centred and it was still godless because He still seemed a million miles away. We were doomed to this for the rest of our existence. We needed help, we needed rescuing, and the only one who could rescue us was God Himself. But there is the problem, He is Spirit and He is in heaven.

It is at this point that we come to the beginning of the Gospels and Jesus being born inBethlehem. This was the Son of God who had existed from before the beginning of time in heaven with the Father: see John 6 about coming down from heaven and John 17:5 for Jesus’ reference to the glory he had before the foundation of the world. This is where we struggle in our minds, coping with the thought that Jesus the Son existed in heaven before he lived on the earth for thirty three years, two thousand years ago, but it is so. This is the plan originated in the godhead before even creating the world, knowing that if they gave us free will, we would turn away and Sin would become endemic in the world. Thus John reminds us that the Father sent the Son for us so that, through his death on the Cross, our sins could be dealt with, our guilt removed and our punishment taken so that, if we will be receive it, we can now receive forgiveness and a new Spirit-empowered life, a life that continues on this earth with the Father’s blessing and then on into eternity in His presence.

If you want to start debating love, and particularly the possibility of our loving God, give up! The truth that “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”   Whatever we may feel towards God will come either out of ignorance or from the knowledge that He has sent Jesus for us. Ignorance allows silly people to say silly things about God, but once the truth has come to us we realise that it’s all from His side – He loves us and has sent Jesus so that he could take all our punishment and sin and guilt and shame so that, now, we can be turned into children of God. How incredible! Hallelujah!

35. Jesus’ Work

Meditations in 1 John : 35 : Jesus’ Work

1 John  3:8,9   The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God.

There is a constant link that keeps appearing in John’s writings here, that of the believer’s behaviour being linked directly to Jesus, and it appears here again, in these two verses. However, before John brings the behaviour part, he refers to Jesus but we need to see it in context because, as is so often the case in the letters of the New Testament, the thought pattern flows on from one link to the next.

John in the previous verse has just referred to Satan: “He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning.”  Jesus, challenging some Jews who had appeared to believe but then had doubts, said, “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire.” (Jn 8:44a)  In their thinking had arisen thoughts of rejecting Jesus. Left to itself that thought develops into wanting to get rid of Jesus (modern atheists try and ‘destroy’ Jesus intellectually) Jesus continued, “He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (Jn 8:44b) Satan wants to get rid of Jesus and he lies in his efforts to do it. (Modern atheists similarly want to get rid of Jesus and unwittingly speak untruths about him in their efforts to do that).

The truth is that those who are led by Satan express Satan’s thoughts and ideas. Satan is both a liar and a murderer; and so he tries to deceive people into believing untruths and his ultimate aim is to bring about the destruction of people, still separated from the love of God. There is this same link in the apostle Paul’s teaching. In respect of the magician, Elymas, he declared, “You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord?” (Acts 13:10)  Those who are led by Satan express Satan and work in his ways.

Now we come to the first verse above: “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.” Near the end of this letter John writes, “We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.” (1 Jn 5:19) It’s that same contrasting style of teaching and he contrasts us who are in God’s family and the rest of the unbelieving world who are under Satan’s sway. Paul made a similar contrast: “For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves.” (Col 1:13) Satan holds ‘dominion’ (sway) over people’s lives while God seeks to draw us into the realm of His rule where we can be freed to receive His blessing. Satan rules over spiritual and moral darkness. It is no coincidence that John refers again and again to light versus darkness

So Jesus has come to deliver people out of Satan’s darkness, out of the place of self-centred and godless unrighteousness. He does it by forgiving their Sin on the basis of what he achieved on the Cross, and in bringing that forgiveness he opens up the way for them to be reconciled to the Father in heaven, free from guilt and shame, and he sets them off on a new path that is love-filled and Spirit-energised where we are no longer striving to achieve acceptance but just ARE accepted by God. No longer do we have to strive for meaning and purpose because God puts new meaning and purpose into our lives.

Then comes this cast iron logic again: If Jesus is working to set us free from Satan’s lies and deception and free from sin led by him, then “No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God.” (v.9)  No, says John yet again in a slightly different way, we’ve been born again by God’s Holy Spirit and are new creations and the seed of God’s Spirit and God’s word lives in us, and as word and Spirit grow in us there is less and less opportunity for Satan to come back on us and lead us astray again. Note that same word again – “continue” – which refers back to the life we previously had where sin energised by self-centred godlessness means that we were continually sinning. Now, however, we have new lives, new purpose and we are new beings for whom sin is alien.

Do you remember the apostle Paul said the same thing: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Cor 5:17) We are new creations and the old life has gone and a completely new life has come that is diametrically opposed to the old life. No, we may occasionally trip over our feet, so to speak, and get it wrong, but sin motivated by self-centred, godless living, is no longer part of our equation. We are free and it has been the work of Jesus that has done it. Hallelujah!

9. No Need to Sin

Meditations in 1 John : 9 :  No Need to Sin

1 John  2:1   My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense–Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.

We have observed so far, John telling us that we are all sinners, people who are tainted with Sin. Note the capital letter we use to distinguish the tendency from the individual acts we refer to as sins (small s). Sin is the tendency or disposition that is inclined to being self-centred and godless, and thus in behaviour, unrighteous. When we give way to that Sin we commit sins, individual acts – thoughts, words, or deeds – that are wrong. John has said, If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves.” (1:8) But he didn’t leave us there, he told us how to deal with those sins: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins.” (1:9)

Many Christians are uncomfortable with this language because it focuses on the negatives, on failure. Those who would want to speak about the victorious Christian life feels such talk takes something away from victory. No, it simply helps us realize our vulnerability and our constant need of Christ and of the power of his Holy Spirit. This is the point the apostle Paul reached at the end of Romans 7: “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God–through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom 7:24.25) In the following chapter he explains how Christ has dealt with our Sin and the Holy Spirit empowers us so that we can avoid sins.

This is now where we come to with John who doesn’t want to leave us faced with sin, but moves us on to realize that although we are still vulnerable to it, we don’t have to give way to it. This is the same sort of thing that I feel we have to say when we find ourselves in discussions about the genes we inherit from our parents. Every now and then the media latch on to the comments of some genetic scientist and are pronouncing that a particular gene makes us behave in certain ways. The truth is that a particular gene may give us a disposition that veers towards that particular behaviour.

Take the example of anger. A particular father clearly has a short fuse and blows up at the smallest thing. Even more than that, he uses his anger to get his own way. The child inherits some of his genes (not all of them because the child also inherits the genes of the mother and she never had a problem with anger!) and so has this same tendency, but more than that, the child has learned to use anger just as they have seen their parent use it. Now the only trouble is that this is wrong! So is the child condemned to be an anger-filled adult? No! The truth, as we’ve just noted it, is that there is only a tendency towards anger. We still have free will and we can chose to accept that behaviour or we can reject it and learn behavioral strategies that overcome the anger tendencies. And we can certainly refuse it to manipulate others. There may be a tendency but we don’t have to give way to it. Even more, when we are a Christian, we have the Holy Spirit living within us and His power will help us control our temper, for He is a Spirit of self-control (2 Tim 1:7 older versions)

Now we must recognize that these changes may take place in different people at different times. For all of us some changes take place instantly, at the moment of our conversion, when we confess and surrender and are forgiven and given the Holy Spirit. But after that it becomes a lifetime of change. Some things take a very long time to change in us simply because we don’t realize they are wrong and it is only as we receive God’s word at some point – whether by reading the Bible or by preaching, say – that we suddenly see that a particular attitude or habit is wrong and needs changing. Other things just need working at. In my own case I had previously used swear words every fifth word almost and it took six months to completely break the habit, and I have never sworn since. Sometimes there may be an addiction, say to smoking. For some people giving up with the help of God through a simple prayer is no big deal. For others they struggle and struggle. I had a friend who really struggled to stop smoking, but it was only when the Holy Spirit fell on him was he truly delivered.

But John writes to show us that we don’t have to sin. It doesn’t have to be a part of our lives anymore. This IS the reality. I remember a friend who had sat in a meeting when the Speaker had asked, “How many of you have not sinned today?” He and one other put up their hands. When he talked about it later he said, “I have been too busy doing what God’s given me to do to sin today.”  Yes, we may stumble, but John’s teaching is that these should be exceptions and not the rule. Yes, we are vulnerable as redeemed sinners and when we try to walk the walk on our own, we become very vulnerable. As we trust on Him and lean on Him and fellowship with Him and as we obediently go about doing the things He’s given us to do, then, yes, our lives will be free from sinning. Hallelujah!

7. The Plan Revealed

Meditations in the life of Abraham : 7. The Plan Revealed

Gen 12:1-3  The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. “I will make you into a great nation  and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

We indicated in the previous meditation that God had a plan from before the foundation of the world, a plan that would be worked out through all generations, coming to its climax in the form of His Son, Jesus Christ, but then continuing on through all generations until the time when He will wind up the world as we know it today. EVERYTHING that happens yesterday, today and tomorrow falls within that plan.

What actually is that plan? It is simply to draw men and women back into a relationship with God so that their lives may then be brought back, in a large measure at least, to be lived according to His original design for human beings. Why is this necessary? Because at the Fall we lost the relationship with God, turning our back on Him and going our own way. That is what the Bible calls Sin, that propensity within every one of us to be godless and self-centred. While we are like that, so much of what we do will be unrighteous, i.e. it is the opposite to God’s design for us, and is harmful, hurtful and destructive. Here in this paragraph is the overview of the Bible, the overview of history, the overview of this plan of God as shown in the Bible,

So how does Abram fit in this plan? In three specific ways: first, because he is going to be the first man who enters into a long-term relationship with the Lord. Then, out of that, he is going to provide an example of faith, an example of what it means to relate to the Lord. Then out of that, he will be the father of a nation into whom the Son of God will be born. That nation will have history and culture and that will provide the background for the Son of God coming to this world and living in it for thirty three years.

So here in these first verses of Genesis 12 we have something of this plan declared. Let’s examine it bit by bit. It is what had already been spoken by the Lord to Abram, presumably when he was back in his home country. It first requires Abram to do something. First there was to be a leaving: Leave your country, your people and your father’s household.” The future for Abram would mean leaving the people he had known all his life, leaving the life of idolatry. What would replace that, only time would tell, but it wasn’t just a leaving, it was living with a purpose; there was somewhere to go: “and go to the land I will show you.”  God had a place for him that would prove to be a place of blessing, a place where his relationship with the Lord would be worked out.  These two things are just the same for us. When the Lord calls us, He calls us to leave the godless and self-centred lifestyle we have known all our years and embark on a journey with Him into the experience of thekingdom ofGod where that new relationship will be worked out.

Then come the promises of God, the things He says He will do if Abram is obedient:I will make you into a great nation.” That, as we’ve noted before, will act as a spur to Abram but that is not its main point. It is simply a declaration of what God will do with him. Now note that there is no time scale attached to this, so Abram will never see this ‘great nation’ but he will be the start of it. In God’s economy, we may often be just the start of something that others will enter into.

Then comes a second promise: “and I will bless you.”  We may think that being made into a great nation is blessing enough but God has more than just making him into a nation: “I will make your name great.”  He is going to be famous. Is that just because he is to be the father of a nation or is there something more? “and you will be a blessing.”  No, it is more than just being a figurehead, somehow he is going to be a bringer or good for other people; his life is destined to affect others.

As we read on now we find that other people will be seriously affected by the way they treat Abram. “I will bless those who bless you.”  i.e. those who purpose good for Abram will have good done to them by God. “and whoever curses you I will curse.”  If people mean harm to Abraham they will find that God opposes them and will bring harm on them. Well those are promises that mean security for Abram himself and that is good, but there is yet something more: “and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” Notice the word, ‘through’. As a result of Abram people from all over the word will be blessed? How will that be? It will be as we said earlier: he is to be an example of faith and a provider of the nation into which the Messiah will be born. Hallelujah!

42. For the Sick

Short Meditations in Mark’s Gospel: 42. Come for the sick

Mk 2:17 On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

There is a sense where this verse very much applies to what was just happening and a sense where it applies very much more widely. The Pharisees have just complained that Jesus is mixing with sinners. “They,” says Jesus, “are just the people who need help.” I know we’ve said before but it bears repeating, but it is at this point when we gaze on ‘sinners’ that we reveal whether we have the heart of Jesus or the heart of a Pharisee.

The Pharisee is content to leave the sinner as they are; they will criticize them and condemn them, but they will not do anything meaningful to reach them. They may preach against them and in any personal encounter tell them to repent, but that isn’t reaching them; it is condemning them. The Pharisee wants it the easy way, a short, sharp burst of condemnatory preaching, but to actually reach these people in any meaningful way requires us, like Jesus, to sit down with them, listen to them, feel with them, and only then, when they open their hearts, can we share God’s love to the way that they need.

Yes, there is a time for preaching to the crowds but when that happens in the New Testament – Peter or Paul apply what they are saying to their audience, so if it was a Jewish audience it referred to the past, to the Old Testament; if it was to a Gentile audience they found a point of contact.

These ‘sinners’ that Jesus is mixing with are Jews but who have lost any link with their past. For them, all of their past history is irrelevant so there is no point in trying to approach them at that level; there is only one currency that they value (apart from a materialistic gathering of wealth) and that is love and acceptance – and that is what Jesus is giving them. That is what will open their hearts to God and that alone; everything else has become irrelevant in their godless and self-seeking lifestyle.

Yes, it is wrong but they know nothing else. Indeed, everything else has lost meaning. For the modern unbeliever, the Bible has lost its meaning and the church has lost its meaning – but they still desperately want to be loved and accepted, that is still the currency of value. Can we trade in that currency?

 

31. Anchor it!

Meditations in Deuteronomy : 31 :  Anchor it!

(Focus: Deut 11:16-25)

Deut 11:18 Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.

In the past I have watched steel frame buildings being put up. Large concrete pads are set in the ground with a number of bolt holes set in them with long bolts set in the concrete but given a little room for play so that steel base plates are located over them and the plates are bolted down. The base plates are already welded to the bottom end of the steel column. Thus the bolts anchor the column and so the entire framework of the building so that it is utterly fixed in place and nothing can move it. I believe these early chapters of Deuteronomy are just like those anchor bolts, and they anchor Israel in their relationship with the Lord. Even as many bolts hold down the structure so many times the same things are said in these early chapters.

Thus previously we read, These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” (Deut 6:6-9) which finds its echo in our present verses.

Moses starts this section with a warning: “Be careful, or you will be enticed to turn away and worship other gods and bow down to them.” (v.16) Previously we read, “And when you look up to the sky and see the sun, the moon and the stars–all the heavenly array–do not be enticed into bowing down to them and worshiping things the LORD your God has apportioned to all the nations under heaven.” (Deut 4:19) When someone is enticed they are attracted by the lure of something. The attraction of ‘other religions’ is that they are ones in which man is in command. They are self-centred and godless. God will not let His people do that: Then the LORD’s anger will burn against you, and he will shut the heavens so that it will not rain and the ground will yield no produce, and you will soon perish from the good land the LORD is giving you.” (v.17) Why will the Lord do that? To catch the people’s attention afresh so that they will cry out to Him again and return to Him. We see that happening again and again in the book of Judges.

So, says Moses once more, “Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.” (v.18) Anchor these words in your hearts and your mind. Let your will and your intellect be guided by them; may they be obvious and come to your attention at every point of life: “Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land that the LORD swore to give your forefathers, as many as the days that the heavens are above the earth.” (v.19-21)  The laws that Moses reiterates in this book are to form a central focus of the life of Israel both now and in all future generations. To achieve that they would need to present them to their children and show them the relevance of all the laws in every aspect of life. These aren’t laws just for ‘Sundays’; they are laws that cover all of life, seven days a week and there is no area of life that is outside them.

So, again looking forward Moses declares, If you carefully observe all these commands I am giving you to follow….  then the LORD will drive out all these nations before you, and you will dispossess nations larger and stronger than you. Every place where you set your foot will be yours: Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the Euphrates River to the western sea. No man will be able to stand against you. The LORD your God, as he promised you, will put the terror and fear of you on the whole land, wherever you go.” (v.22-25). Note the “if – then” structure, a condition and a promise. Complete obedience is the condition and complete occupation of the Land is the promise.

But we’ve taken some words out of those verses that come at the end of the first verse: to love the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways and to hold fast to him.” This how you observe these commands, by love! We’ve seen it before and it is a call for heart and mind to be given over to God, a life moved by the love and wonder of the One we are called to follow. Yes, in the Old Testament the call was to follow the Law, follow the rules, but the heart of that call was still love – and it still is. The apostle John wrote, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 Jn 4:10). We love God because He loved us first. He IS love and we have received of it. THIS is why we love.