17. Chosen

Short Meds in ‘Living the Life’: 17. Chosen

Eph 1:4 he chose us in him before the creation of the world.”

It is not uncommon for children to question their parents, “I wasn’t adopted was I?” It is a question that underlies our insecurity and need to feel we belong. It is also quite likely that it is the motivating force that energises some of us to ‘do’ things to earn God’s love. Perhaps it is the biggest challenge that the enemy whispers to us, “Oh he doesn’t really love you, you’re not worthy of his attention.” Or maybe it is, “See he’s paying no attention to you, you’re on your own, he doesn’t care about you.” Lies.

When God wants us to pay attention to something He says it a number of times. This verse above is just one of seven references in the New Testament to God’s plan involving Christ, that was conceived by the Godhead BEFORE Creation (Jn 17:24, 1 Pet 1:20, Rev 17:8, Rev 13:8, 2 Tim 1:9, Tit 1:2).

The life we are living out today was conceived by God before He made anything. He knew sin would come to Eden and His world, He knew the only way for justice to deal with it was through the Cross and, as He looked into the future, He knew that you would be a responder, and in that sense, even right back then He ‘chose’ you. Today you are walking a path that was planned before anything else came into being. Nothing about your life is an accident, it was known, it’s ‘in the Plan’. Live it secure in that knowledge and rejoice in it.

Now here’s something else about the plan which, as you personally are concerned, kicked into being when you were born again: not only did God conceive it and see you in it, He didn’t just start it off in you, He’s going to do all He can to ensure you finish it and ‘get the goods’ at the end as you enter heaven to a fanfare of angelic trumpets. he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Phil 1:6)

But not only has He got the end in mind for you, He’s actively working day by day right through to that end: in all things God works for the good of those who love him.” (Rom 8:28) That’s all things EVERY day, He there watching over your life.

Check out Psa 121 again. Five times (v.3,4,5,7,8) it says He watches over you. He didn’t choose you to abandon you and leave you on your own. Being chosen means much more than that; it means He is there for you providing you with protection (v.5-7) and he will do it, “both now and forevermore.” (v.8) But back to Ephesians 1, He chose us, “to be holy and blameless in his sight.” (v.4b)  That’s how He sees you. Yes, He knows about your foibles (and will be working on them) but when He looks at you and feels for you, it is as a son or daughter who is spotless as far as the Book of Life is concerned, as brought about by Jesus. Not only that, in v.11 He says you were chosen “for the praise of his glory,” (v.12b) or as another version puts it, so that “we would bring praise to God.” That’s it, chosen to be His kids (yes adopted! v.5) who will reflect their Dad. Awesome! Amazing! Wonderful!  

6. God’s Confusing Will

Lessons from the Nativity: 6:  God’s Confusing Will

Luke 2:4,5   So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.

The problem, I believe, of going to Nativity plays at school each year, or watching Christmas films on TV  is that we get soaked with sentimentality and lose the reality of the Christmas story. It is not a story of warm fuzzy feelings, it is a story of uncertainties, and in that respect is reflects how life really is, especially when it comes to God. If you come from a church background where all you hear are nice warm words of how wonderful the Christian life is, it is time to grow up and face reality. Consider what I am saying in the light of the nativity story.

First we’ve seen poor old Zechariah struggling and failing to cope with God’s arrival and God’s good news. It’s beyond his comprehension. Come on now, how many of us struggle with the wonder of God’s love for us and struggle to accept the good things said to us about His good desires for us? Then there is young Mary being invited into the world of impossibility and who knows where that will lead! Then we saw Joseph struggling to maintain his righteousness but submitting to grace and no doubt still left with a bunch of questions about the past and the future.

And then the great and mighty Roman emperor wades in: In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.” (Lk 2:1)  Brilliant! That will mean upheaval for millions of people. Why not count them where they live, why insist they go back to their town of origin to be counted? ‘Augustus’ simply means ‘exalted one’ and was a title given to him by the Roman senate in 27 BC. Without doubt he was a great and might ruler who did much for Rome but at the moment he is doing no favours for this young couple we have been considering. Time has moved on and Mary is well advanced in her pregnancy – not the best time for travelling.  There they are settling in to accept God’s will up there in Nazareth up in Galilee, but Joseph’s origins were in Bethlehem in the south in Judea, some eighty miles away. Eighty miles without modern public transport when you are nearly nine months pregnant is not fun!  And this is the will of God?

Little did they realise there were big prophetic dynamics at work here. Long back Micah had prophesied, “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times,” (Mic 5:2) but actually was Micah simply seeing how Augustus would act and what he would cause to come about?  Or was there more about associating Bethlehem with king David so that this one, naturally descended at least from David would be known as the Son of David? There are spiritual interweavings here that are not clear, but that is so often how it is with the will of God. So often He speaks His will but it is unclear how it will work out; the end product is spoken out but the process has to be walked by faith.

And that is how it is for this young couple. They have both had angelic encounters and so both have had direction from heaven, but the way ahead was not spelled out; they have to live within the life circumstances that are being played out around them, and they are both inconvenient and confusing and, in the light of Mary’s state, worrying.  Will she have the baby on the journey which may well take her a week to do? Where will they stay when they get there? How long will they have to stay there? Where will she be able to have her baby?  These are all good and valid questions, questions which will not get answers until they happen!

If you complain about living in a day when so often it is morally questionable, where Satan so often seems to have the upper hand and the world seems to be going crazy, where possible world-wide terrorism has cast a shadow of fear, where climate change seems to have brought uncertainty and chaos for many people, then look again at this most important couple, heralding the Son of God into the world, and think again. Their uncertainties were different – they are in every age – but uncertainties there were because it is a Fallen World and things go wrong and people do nasty or inconvenient things; that’s just how it is.

But in the midst of this – and this IS the reality – God is sovereign and He is working. Yes, He has worked in Mary to enable her to conceive, He has worked in Joseph to get him to accept it, He is working in Wise Men who are probably just about starting out on their quest, He will work in the heart of an innkeeper to provide somewhere for them to stay, whether it was a back stable or a cave, whatever! He will be working with some shepherds to come and greet the new baby and he will work in the wise men of Jerusalem to guide the Magi to their destination, and He will work in Joseph to get him to escape with his little family to Egypt.  Oh yes, it may be confusing, it may be chaotic, but hold on to this fundamental truth – God IS in the midst of it and He is there for you as He was for Mary and Joseph!  Hallelujah!

6. Pondering on God’s Love

Meditating on the Gems of the Bible:  6. Pondering on God’s Love

Psa 48:9   Within your temple, O God, we meditate on your unfailing love.

I have spent quite a lot of the recent years pondering on God’s love and so perhaps I should not be surprised at finding myself anchored by the above verse. I am going to overcome the temptation to simply repeat again my many writings of the last few years about the meaning of love and key places it is found in the Bible.  Suffice it to say I am convinced that “God is love” and all else follows.  The other day I wondered how one might summarise the whole Bible in a single tweet with its limited number of characters. I came up with one offering: “God has come to us to give us better lives than we have at present,” and I realise that behind that over-brief summary of the Gospel is the love of God. The reason He has come down to earth in human form is because He loves us. The reason Jesus died on the Cross is that His love knew this was the only way to deal with our guilt problem and that had to be dealt with first if He was going to be able to come to us and lead us into new and better lives, which His love wanted for us.

But the psalmist found that when he went into the Temple and was confronted with the Lord’s presence or, at the very least, reminders of God, he found himself thinking back to all he knew of the Lord, and that all came through Israel’s history which had been passed down initially by word of mouth and then in written documentary records. And then, as he pondered on what he knew of God’s dealings with Israel throughout their history with Him, he was aware that that history revealed the loving nature of God. Yes, God had disciplined them and chastised them sometimes, but overall it was more a record of the good things God had done for Israel. Again and again when you read the records of the Old Testament you find God’s love or goodness is revealed through His actions and the psalmists and others realised that love through what He had done.

So he comes into the Temple and when he is not overwhelmed by the building (as Jesus disciples were – Matt 24:1), he simply reflects on the One before whom he stands and all this knowledge passes before him (how else would he have known about the Lord). He meditates on God’s love; he ponders on it perhaps marvelling at how wonderful it was, perhaps questioning why it was. We do this sort of thing when we meditate. We think on what we know and we chew it over in our minds and think about what we know and what we can conclude from what we know. We question and wonder and seek answers for our questions. There is no way of verifying this wondering, but I wonder how many Christians regularly (or even occasionally) sit before the Lord and meditate on His love, pondering over the wonder of it, chewing it over until it permeates their very being as the Holy Spirit within them brings them greater understanding and revelation.

But, says the psalmist, I ponder on God’s ‘unfailing’ love. He is so convinced about this love that he is sure that it will always be there for him. It will never run out or be held back from him while he seeks the Lord. (We lose our sense of being loved by God when we turn away from him and turn to our own ways – it is still there but we just don’t feel it. Perhaps this is what the apostle Paul had in his mind when he wrote that amazing passage about God’s love: Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?….. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 8:35,38,39)

For the psalmist the place of this meditation was the stone temple in Jerusalem. It is just possible that it referred to the tabernacle than came before the stone temple built by Solomon because that was previously referred to as the Lord’s temple (see 1 Sam 1:9, 3:3) but it is more likely to refer to the stone building. Today there is no such building. Solomon’s temple was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar in the destruction of Jerusalem prior to the Exile and the temple that followed the Exile was enlarged by Herod but destroyed by the Romans in AD70, and has never been rebuilt.

But in the New Testament teaching, our bodies are referred to as the temple of the Holy Spirit who now indwells us (see 1 Cor 3:16,17, 6:19, 2 Cor 6:16, Eph 2:21). Thus we do not have to go to a specific building to be reminded of the Lord. We have His word (the Bible) and we have Him with us every minute of every day. Persecuted Christians in prison for their faith have been sustained by the word of God that they have memorized before imprisonment, and by the Holy Spirit’s presence reminding them, teaching them and even bringing further revelation for them within the cell. Truly, as Paul said, today nothing can separate us from God’s love. Wherever we are, He is there and as we meditate on Him so He feeds us and we are strengthened and encouraged. Hallelujah!   We will never run out of reflections as we ponder on this wonder – the love of God that has come for us and is with us and will always be with us.

9. An Amazing Sacrifice

Meditations in Romans : 9:  An Amazing Sacrifice

Rom 5:6-8  You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

In the first five verses of this chapter Paul has been talking about the things that flow from our being justified by God, but to avoid and counter any thought that we might have, that either we deserve these things or can work for them on our own, he makes these statement to maintain a right balance.

That first sentence holds three significant points. First, Christ came “at just the right time”. As this speaks about Christ’s death on the Cross which was an historical event, the words, “just at the right time” must apply to that event. Writer and evangelist Michael Green in his book, Evangelism in the Early Church, states that a number of characteristics of that day made it a perfect time for the spread of the Gospel: the Roman peace spread across much of the world and so enabled the Gospel to spread so well, together with their road system, that almost encouraged travel; the universal Greek language enabling universal communication, and the spread of Judaism throughout the Middle East meant there was a religious based community through which to so often work. All of these things meant that this was possibly the best time in early history for Christ to come into Israel and for the Gospel then to be spread.

At that point in history the state of the Jewish nation was clearly at a spiritual low and dominated by their Roman overlords. They were helpless and religion had become sterile, traditional and powerless. Before we came to Christ we too were powerless. Finally, “Christ died for the ungodly”. The world at large then and today was ungodly. At best humanity seeks for a religion that it can control and which doesn’t put too many demands on it. It doesn’t go for a supreme God who claims to be Lord of all. Yes, these (including us) were the very people Christ came to die for.

Summarising that, we might say God decided when was the perfect time for Christ to come and where was the perfect place for him to come to the earth, and when he came he came to a humanity that was powerless to deal with its plight of sin, and ungodly, living self-centred lives. Nothing in that brings credit to us!  There was nothing in that which says we either deserved or earned Christ’s death on the Cross. It was an act of utter grace and mercy.

Almost as an aside it seems, Paul then reflects that it is a rare thing for anyone to die in someone else’s place even though they might be righteous or good. Of course in Charles Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities that is exactly what does happen and in that he portrays Christ stepping in to our guilty shoes and delivering us by his death. But no, this is an exceptional thing that we are considering here, a good man, a perfect man stepping and giving his life for those who are powerless and ungodly and, as he goes on, sinners!

This, Paul goes on, is a clear demonstration of God’s love. The Bible is full of references to God’s love, but this surely has to be the ultimate expression of it. It is not only that He gave His own Son, but that He gave His own son to die for sinners!  This is what is almost bizarre about all this. If we had been people struggling to be good, struggling to find God, struggling to break free from this self-centred, godless life of sin, then maybe, just maybe, it might have been understandable, that God came to deliver s into what we wanted and what He wanted, but it wasn’t like that.

The truth is that before the Holy Spirit started His work of convicting us of the truth of our lives, we were quite happy to be self-centred and godless and who was to say that what we did was wrong. Everybody else was doing it, weren’t they, so what’s so wrong about it?  No, until He started challenging us, we were quite happy with our lifestyle. We didn’t know any better and thought this was all there was. We had tried on odd occasions to change ourselves, but that had turned out to be a self-centred and godless exercise. If we had changed it was minimal and we were still self-centred and godless and still got it wrong in so many ways. Yes, that’s the truth of how we were, even if we preferred not to face that.

And it is for that sort of person that Christ came and died. It was that sort of person that God loved and sought to reach. Our self-centredness would much prefer only to encounter ‘nice’ people, people like us. Our self-centredness reaches out to help other people but only as a means of boosting our own ego. It is only the love of God that looks at the totally self-centred and godless person who is living life all the wrong ways, and reaches out to them for no self-gratifying reason.

Well, you might say, the very definition of love involves reaching out to others with a desire for their good so isn’t love itself intrinsically self-motivating? But if God IS love, why is He? That is the mystery. He could be an ogre, but everything the Bible reveals about Him is that He’s love and everything He thinks, says or does is energised by love. Why? That is the mystery! If it was easy and self-gratifying we’d be doing it ourselves all the time – but we don’t! It is only as we are energised by God (that’s His grace) that we are like this. It is not natural to us but amazingly, it is to Him! Thank God!

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!

13. Made Complete

Meditations in 1 John : 13 : Made Complete

1 John  2:5,6    But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.

Sometimes in Scripture I believe we skim over verses and perhaps miss potential gold mines of truth. That is possible with this verse before us now. I have lost track of how many times I have read it but as I pause over it, I get the feeling it is like peering down into what you thought was a shallow bit of sea only to realise that it goes down really deep. Five times in this letter John speaks about obeying God’s commands but on this occasion it seems that his focus is on what happens when we do obey, and he makes this incredible claim – “God’s love is truly made complete in him”.

I like J.B.Phillips’ version of this: “In practice the more a man learns to obey God’s laws the more truly and fully does he express his love for him” and yet I’m not sure it aims in the right direction, because that speaks about the way a man expresses his love for God, and yet in our NIV verse it speaks of God’s love, i.e. the love from God. Another version puts it, “whoever obeys what Christ says is the kind of person in whom God’s love is perfected,” In other words, if you want to see God’s love perfectly expressed on earth, find someone whose life is given over to doing all that God in Christ has said to us.

Now why should that be? Well perhaps it is to do with what John tells us twice later in this letter: “God IS love” (1 Jn 4:8,16) reflecting what the Old Testament says again and again (e.g. Ex 11:13,15,  Ex 20:5,6 Deut 7:9, 12,13 etc.) but especially in Ex 34:6,7 “the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.” If the character of God is love, then everything He thinks, says or does is love. (When it comes to interpreting the Old Testament activity of God we need to see it through this filter and if we cannot see it initially, then we need to think and meditate on it until we can see it!)

So when we came to Christ we surrendered our lives to him, accepting that on our own we got it wrong and that we needed him not only to forgive, wash and cleanse us, but we also needed him to guide us through the rest of our life. So how does he guide us? He speaks to us? How does he do that? Primarily he speaks through his written words, but it may also be through preaching, through prophesying, through a quiet voice in our spirit, or even through circumstances. When he does speak, we’ve just said, it will always be in love and will always be looking to bring about an outworking of love in our lives. Thus the more we heed his voice, and the more obey what we are hearing, the more we will be expressing God’s love, and that will be seen in our family, our school, our college, our business, our club – wherever we encounter other people. Love is always expressed from one person to another, so in that sense the J.B.Phillips version was right.

God’s expression of Himself and His objective for the world, is always to pour out His love to us.  Have you ever thought what love means? We bandy this word around so much, but what does it mean? A dictionary definition might be “warm affection, liking, benevolence or strong feelings for” or perhaps in a Biblical context, looking at God, “selfless, sacrificial, unrestricted good will towards all others”.

THAT is God’s approach to us and of course this form of ‘good will’ is always expressed in some act, hence “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son.” (Jn 3:16)  We’ll see later on in John that he writes, “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)  i.e. the big issue isn’t that we love God but that He has first loved us. Our love for Him is always a response to His love. When you are truly loved – and feel it and know it – it is almost impossible not to respond to it well. Of course the key words there were “and feel it and know it”.

How do we experience it like that? First of all we read about it in His word or hear of it from someone else. Then we surrender to it and receive it into our lives and that so changes us that we too start revealing or expressing this same love. How do we express it? We express it by living out our lives in accordance with His word, i.e. by obeying His word!

It is by this primarily that we know we are in him. It is as we live out the Christ life, revealed through his word, that we know we have been changed. I am no longer the person I once was. I think and say and do things I once could never have thought, said or done! I am changed because I am his and I am living out the life he has given me to live.  It’s just as John says: “Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.”   That’s what we are now doing. Hallelujah!

27. Unchanging God

Meditations in Malachi : 27.  Unchanging God

Mal 3:6,7   “I the LORD do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. Ever since the time of your forefathers you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the LORD Almighty. 

The Bible is always full of hope. Some people, when they refer to the Old Testament say it is full of judgement. Well there are three things about that. First it is God’s discipline more often than not, seeking to bring Israel to their senses and back to Himself. Second it is a reminder of the sinfulness of mankind that is exhibited in Israel even though that had such amazing experiences of God. Third, there is always hope built in to whatever the Lord says.

Hope isn’t a guarantee that everything will be all right but, as we will see, shows there IS an opportunity for everything to be all right. Right, remember the context of what has been going on. Israel had been cynically saying, where is God?  The Lord had replied with a promise that He would send His messenger who would bring repentance to the people in preparation for the Lord Himself coming to them. That was a great hope, but now the Lord puts it in the form of various principles.

The first principle is that Israelare not destroyed because God doesn’t change. That may need unpacking. Within the Old Testament, again and again, are declarations of God’s love. The classic passage was Ex 34:6,7  “the Lord, compassionate  and  gracious  God,  slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.”  There are also many other references to God’s love. Within the Old Testament text there are also a number of instances where the Lord declares His plans forIsrael and for the world. These plans, although not obvious at the time, take into account the Lord’s knowledge that Israel will fail Him again and again. He is not going to give up on Israel.

That fact is patently obvious throughout the Old Testament. Simply read Judges and see how He uses other countries to bring Israel back to Himself.  Read the account of the Exile and even before it happens the Lord declares through Jeremiah that Israel will be back within seventy years.  This message resounds throughout the Old Testament for those who have eyes to see it.

Thus when we come to these verses we find the Lord reiterating this. First, “I the LORD do not change.”  It is the fact that is at the root of the hope we spoke about. God doesn’t change and so His plans will not change. The outcome of that fact:“So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed.”  That’s why they are still in existence. He doesn’t change; He is love and He does forgive.

Now none of this is new. It has always been like this: “Ever since the time of your forefathers you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them.”  That has been seen in the life of Israel almost from the start. It’s like the Lord might say, “I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had to step in to draw you back to myself and then forgive you.”

The same principle prevails: “Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the LORD Almighty.”  It’s how it was, how it is and how it always will be with the Lord. The other side of this coin is one that many people forget, that God will not forgive without repentance, but as soon as there is repentance, as soon as there is a turning back, the Lord will be there for them and will forgive them.

We need to remember this. Yes, there is overall forgiveness for our sins when we come to Christ so our eternal destiny is settled, but there are individual sins which, if the Lord sees we are not repentant about, He allows to bring discipline on us. The sins themselves and their effects become a rod of correction in His hand. Until you repent, you have an unresolved issue with the Lord and He will use it to discipline you and bring you back to a place of repentance. This does not affect your eternal destiny, but it does affect your walk with Him. He loves you so much that He will not let us just carry on. He is working to bring us to repentance, to bring us back into a place where there is nothing that keeps us from the Lord, so that His blessings may flow again in our lives.

4. Punishing/Loving

Lessons from the Law: No.4 : Punishing & Loving

Ex 20:5,6 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

Quite occasionally we will have a family meal. We invite my wife’s mother (our only surviving parent) who is ninety one, and my daughter and her family which includes two young girls. We have taken photos of the four generations together: a great grandmother (my wife’s mother), a grandmother (my wife), a mother (her daughter), and grandchildren (her daughters), which means three generations of believers (the grandchildren are too young). Paul spoke similarly of Timothy and his family: “I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also,” (2 Tim 1:5) but there are also families where unbelief or sin runs through the generations. The grandfather is an unbeliever and despises the Lord and his unbelief is carried through the following generations.

The thought of generations comes, somewhat surprisingly, in the midst of these early commandments. In the second commandment the Lord has warned against making idols and bowing down to them. This speaks against a culture of superstitious belief that fearfully sees power in the wind or the sky or in fertility or the sun or the moon or the river. It is a culture that seeks to appease the ‘gods’ by sacrifices of children and other abominable practices, practices that still require wives to be burnt on the funeral pyre of their husbands. These are superstitious practices that are far from the rules of God that bring love, peace, order, safety and security to a community. They are things that are born out of pure superstition, of irrational fears of the unknown. These cultures also relish self-concern which often does nothing for the poor and needy. They allow the rich to become richer at the cost of the poor. These become cultural things handed down from one generation to another – and they hate the Lord. Oh yes they do! They see the Lord as a threat to their man-controlled practices and they are driven on by the enemy playing on their superstitious fears. These generations and these cultures we suddenly find in the sights of the Lord.

This is the first reference to punishment in the Law. It says that God will hold people answerable for their lives and He will punish them. What is the purpose of the Lord’s punishment? Is it simply to be spiteful as some foolish atheists suggest? No, it is always with specific purpose which is either to remove the perpetrator who is acting like a cancer in society, or to bring them to their senses if He sees that they are open to that. It is a mystery why some people, like Pharaoh, simply harden their hearts and refuse the Lord, while others quickly heed, repent and change. The Lord’s primary desire is change, as He said through Ezekiel: Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” (Ezek 18:23).

But is fear and punishment the main thrust of this warning? No, look at what follows: showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.” The sin of one generation may filter down to the following generations but the focus is on God’s love that wants to flow down through thousands of generations. This says that God’s intent is to love people and that is love expressed. It is obvious that that cannot be seen when there are generations refusing that love. But He doesn’t sit back and leave them to it; He disciplines or judges to bring change. He wants His world to be blessed, He wants His world to know and experience His love.

Later in Exodus we find the same thing: “the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.” (Ex 34:6,7) There the emphasis was put first on the positive aspects and the warning only follows as if to say, “This is the wonderful God that He is, but don’t take Him for granted, don’t think you can get away with sin, for He will not sit back and let sin take over; He will deal with it.”

There is one aspect of our verses today that we have not covered: that God is a jealous God. Don’t see that as a negative thing in any way. One aspect of love is jealousy. Jealousy is a protective thing. It rises up in defensive protectiveness to guard and protect the object of our love, and to protect the relationship. It is right to be jealous for your marriage partner, to rise against anyone who would seek to lead away the object of our love and to destroy the covenant relationship. Parents who watch their teenage children being seduced away by drink or drugs know the defensive anger that rises up in a desire to protect their children from these things that they know can destroy them. Jealousy in this context is simply a right protective instinct and the Lord has it. He has it when He sees the enemy try to seduce His world with imitations or substitutes that can do nothing for people except act as crutches while he leads them further and further into deception and away from the Lord’s goodness.

These are serious verses and wonderful verses. They warn us that God’s love prompts Him to act against anyone or anything that would harm His world. His primary intent, when it comes to people, is to bring them back to their senses, to a place where they can know and experience His love, but if they will not heed, then He will, when He sees that this is the situation, remove them from the earth. In the meantime His wonderful love is there for all to receive.