17. All Things

“Hound of Heaven” Meditations: 17. All things

Rom 8:28 we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him

Perhaps no other verse encapsulates this idea of the Hound of Heaven so much as this one. We have considered some of those in the Bible that God pursued, we have considered in Psa 23 the goals to which he seek to drive or lead us. But then we come across this giant of a verse that puts it all together.

“We know” says Paul. He speaks with a confidence that comes from experience, from years of now walking with the one he once pursued, now realizing that in reality it was the other way round; this God he had once espoused and been so zealous for was in fact working for his good. He hadn’t struck him down for his ignorant unholy zeal, merely blinded him for a short while so he could contemplate the wonder of what happened to him on the Damascus road. And then a little, unknown believer came to him, sent by God, and laid hands on him and prayed for him so the Spirit came on him and filled him.

He who had been so zealous, so powerful, so full of his own certainties, had been brought to nothing, but as time went on and the revelation continued he realised that this God who he now saw in a new light, was there working for his good, had steered him off the wrong track and set him on a new life-filled, dynamically energizing life.

All the time God has been there, watching over him, never forcing him or curtailing him except at that one all-important moment when he had been stopped in his tracks and asked, “Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4) Persecute? I thought I was serving you! But then came the realization that the voice from heaven was the one who not long back had been crucified – and everything changed.

For years Saul had been taught. For years he lived off the privilege of his upbringing, never realizing there was One there in the background urging him forward, but for a goal that he himself never dreamed of. Nothing about Saul who became Paul was an accident. Eventually there came this well-educated man for God who, when his perspective was set the right way up, would work and travel and write in such a way that millions in future generations of believers would benefit from his insights and revelation. God had been working all things for good. But to see this, we have had to step back into the big picture and that is what we are going to do for the rest of this series – step back to try to catch the big picture as it is revealed through the pages of the Bible from end to end. We’re not going to look at individuals as such but at the big sweeps of Jewish history to observe the Hound of Heaven pursuing His plans and eternal purposes.

27. Goodness in the Body

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 27. Goodness in the Body

Ex 33:19   the Lord said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you

2 Pet 1:5  make every effort to add to your faith goodness

Theory & Practice Overlap: In the previous study we considered love as an expression of Jesus in his body on the earth, revealing the kingdom on earth. Between the previous study and this one and then the ones that follow in the next sub-Part under the heading of practicalities, there is much overlap and it is difficult to decide whether these present two studies should come here under the heading of ‘Theory’ or under the next heading ‘Practicalities’. Love is a very practical expression of the kingdom of God through the church as is our next subject, ‘goodness’.

Defining Goodness: Forgive me is I take a section from something I have written elsewhere as we try to tie down just what good or goodness is, and does it apply to God? A dictionary defines ‘good’ as “having suitable or desirable qualities; promoting health, welfare or happiness; benevolent, not troublesome” and goes on to give reams more uses of ‘good.’ ‘Good’ signifies in our thinking something that is pleasant, something positive that we are happy with. Moses declared of God, “He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he” (Deut 32:4) and all of that description could be summed up in, “He is good!” This was Moses’ declaration. Everything that God thinkssays and does IS good. Moses knew God more intimately than any other man in the Bible apart from Jesus and so he is good for a character reference.

David reminded himself of this truth when he needed lifting up:

  • according to your love remember me, for you are good, O LORD,”(Psa 25:7) and
  • Taste and see that the LORD is good, ” (Psa 34:8) and
  • You are forgiving and good , O Lord,”(Psa 86:5) and
  • You are good , and what you do is good,”(Psa 119:68) and
  • Praise the LORD, for the LORD is good(Psa 135:3)

And Us? But what about the body of Christ? The apostle Paul declared, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness.” (Gal 5:22) and the apostle Peter added, “For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge.” (2 Pet 1:5) But what really is goodness? How should we expect to ‘see’ it in evidence in the life of the church, in the life of the kingdom? Well look up synonyms of ‘goodness’ and you find, virtuousness, decency, kindness, honesty, integrity. On the other hand, badness is linked with evil, immorality and so on.

Modern Scandals: Now one thing I have observed over the last ten to twenty years, is that scandal has hit every public institution from the monarchy, all main political parties, the police and so on. What is a ‘scandal’ you ask? Something that brings, shame, dishonour, and disgrace to individuals and the institution because of their ‘bad’ behaviour. When it comes to the church (in the USA & the UK) what has been a tragedy has been the number of leaders who have fallen into adultery and, we can only say, it should not be. Perhaps it is not surprising that there have been so many divorces in the life of the Church, and in one particular wing of the church so many scandals to do with child abuse. At one point the apostle Peter declared, “it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household,” (1 Pet 4:17) and one cannot help wondering if the church in the West will soon come under the judgment of God (or is maybe under it even now.)

Our own church? But to backtrack, do we find virtuousness, decency, kindness, honesty, and integrity as fundamental, observable characteristics of our local church? In our dealings with one another and our dealings with the people round about us, are we known as being trustworthy, people with whom it is good to interact? And ourselves? Can people say of us, “there is not an ounce of negativity, gossip, unwholesomeness, and unkindness in them”?

The Example of Leaders: Let’s put some more content to this by considering leaders who the New Testament sometimes calls elders, and sometimes overseers, for they should be examples of what the church should be: “Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.” (Titus 1:7-9) Similarly Paul wrote to Timothy, “the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect.  …..He must also have a good reputation with outsiders…” (1 Tim 3:2-7)

Facing the Truth: I suggest here is a good ‘map’ to chart the possibilities of the way that ‘goodness’ is to be seen in the church so that it can go on to express the kingdom, a handful of positives and a handful of negatives. In respect of free-will, someone has said, ‘God has dignified us with choice’. The truth is that the unbelieving world is blinded by the enemy and their hard-hearts prevent them from seeing the truth until the Holy Spirit uses their circumstances to convict them and show them their need.

But here is something quite terrible: we, the church, have the word of God and are indwelt by the Holy Spirit and, in that sense, we have no excuse if we abuse grace with our disobedience. And yet we each have to face our imperfection – more so when you have the courage to look back on your earlier years with honesty – and then realise that God still chose us, still convicted us and still drew us to Himself and still blessed us in amazing ways – that truly is grace.

A Call to Awareness: And so the call must be a call to awareness that we are called to be good, called to express goodness and wherever we see anything in ourselves that mars that, to seek to put it to death. Two of my favourite New Testament verses challenge me in all this: we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph 2:10) and “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Mt 5:16)  In the light of this study, should we perhaps see those as ‘works of goodness’ and ‘deeds expressing goodness’? There are some grounds for further thought.

4. Aspiring to Goodness

Aspiring Meditations: 4.  Aspiring to Goodness

Ex 33:19    And the LORD said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you

2 Pet 1:5   make every effort to add to your faith goodness 

Gal 5:23    the fruit of the Spirit is … goodness

So a reminder: this series is about things we are to aspire to found in the Scriptures. We will now follow the list that the apostle Peter gives us and after faith which we considered yesterday, it goes on to speak of ‘goodness’, and so we have to ask, what is it, how do we aspire to it and how may we increase it in our lives?

There is a call in the Old Testament that comes up more than once: “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.” (e.g. 1 Chron 16:34) and then we have the intriguing statement of the Lord to Moses, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you.”  (Ex 33;19) Not just some goodness but “all my” and why goodness?

We need to anchor that word ‘good’. A dictionary defines ‘good’ as “having suitable or desirable qualities; promoting health, welfare or happiness; benevolent, not troublesome” and goes on to give reams more uses of ‘good.’ ‘Good’ signifies in our thinking something that is pleasant, something positive that we are happy with.  Now the Psalms declare again and again that God is good (see Psa 25:7, 34:8, 86:5, 119; 135:3).  Very often in these verses, love and goodness are linked, in other words goodness is an expression of love; it’s how it works.

So goodness is an expression of God’s character and it is what He wants for our lives, but still, what is it? There is another intriguing voice in Nehemiah speaking of Israel’s life since they entered the Promised Land: They captured fortified cities and fertile land; they took possession of houses filled with all kinds of good things, wells already dug, vineyards, olive groves and fruit trees in abundance. They ate to the full and were well-nourished; they reveled in your great goodness.” (Neh 9:25) This ‘goodness’ brought forth good for Israel which was experienced in so many ways in the Land, good things they found there, good things that happened to them. Goodness is about bringing forth good in this world.

If I am to say that goodness is something I aspire to, it means that my life will bring forth things that are good.  Now when we say that, we naturally ask so what is ‘good’? Well we saw the definition above and so good in this context will be things that generally people will see and agree are helpful, pleasant, worthwhile, even excellent, very positive things. A modern book on such definitions says goodness “stresses moral excellence and an underlying compassion.” That was interesting! So goodness, love and compassion are linked together. An antonym (opposite) of goodness is “wrong doing”. Even more interesting!

If I am to aspire to goodness, I am to aspire to good-doing, moral excellence, expressed through love and compassion. If I do this I will be a person with whom you can feel comfortable, secure, even more, someone who will be a blessing to you. Yes, that is the truth behind this word.

So, how does it come? Where does it come from? Well we saw above that God is good, it is a characteristic of Him. In the previous study we also noted that some of these things – and goodness is included – are fruit of the Spirit, and there we noted that walking in the Spirit, living in the Spirit, keeping in step with the Spirit, will naturally bring forth this characteristic. In other words if I let the Spirit fill my life more and more, then goodness will be a fruit that will appear more and more.

The other day, I heard someone speak about another person and they said, using an expression that may be unknown to some, “she hasn’t a bad bone in her body.” It means there isn’t an ounce of anything bad in her. Perhaps, in trying to anchor this word, apply this characteristic, it is helpful to observe the opposites, the things we are not to tolerate in our lives. Already we noted the antonym ‘wrong doing.” If goodness is to be a feature of my life, then there must not be an ounce of wrong-doing in me. There is to be no room for anything questionable.

Now I have to admit that at this point I feel uncomfortable because I see behaviour in some of God’s children that worries me – those who smoke, those who drink too much, those who sometimes swear or blaspheme, those who tell crude stories or laugh at crude jokes. I have to say there are comedians around who I will no longer listen to, whose humour is without doubt ‘blue’. This has no part in one who aspires to goodness.

Now there is a danger I recognize here and that is to become a culture hermit. This requires discernment for Jesus met with those whose characters were decidedly off-beat, but that didn’t mean that he had to be the same. His goodness remained static and his love and compassion for the tax-collectors and sinners of his day meant he was able to win them. Zacchaeus (Lk 19) was a classic example. Matthew (or Levi) had been a tax collector but became an apostle. Jesus held on to his goodness but in a way that was not arrogant or condescending or judgmental and so won over those who were not good.

But back to modern culture. We have to learn to be discerning. For me films that are filled with constant ‘f’ words I find seriously annoying because the word then stays in my mind and the producer of the film could get away without it. Films or books constantly portraying the sex act similarly are on my ‘Not to Watch’ and ‘Not to Read’ list. Films or videos, TV series or books that are ‘dark’ or portray the occult are likewise not for me. Don’t let’s go into the world of computer gaming, it is the biggest nightmare going and many parents are criminally (literally) and spiritually negligent in the things they let their under-age (and over-age!!) children play. I saw a headline the other day that said that the younger a child is exposed to pornography, the more likely they will grow up to be abusive of their partners or their subsequent children. Pornography in any form is a no-go area for the Christian. The word about false prophets has a much wider meaning: “By their fruits you will know them.”

I used the word ‘dark’ just now to describe some TV, some movies and some books, and so we should add, fully in line with the New Testament, that we are called to be children of light and darkness has no place in the life of one aspiring to goodness (check out 1 Jn 2:9-11, 1 Pet 2:9, Col 1:13, Eph 5:11). A simple check: are there anything you saw, watch or read, about which you would be embarrassed if it was known in your church circle? Time for action if the answer is yes.

So, to summarise, goodness is a characteristic of God, a characteristic that will be formed in me as fruit as I walk in the Spirit. It is the expression of wholesomeness, the expression of right-doing and as I aspire to it I will reject all doubtful or dubious things, things that are ‘dark’, for we are children of light. As a child of light, where I am goodness should be spreading. Let’s be known for our goodness, let’s be attractive and let’s draw people to Jesus by his grace in us in this form. Let’s not be ashamed at being different but let our goodness be seen in the grace that is obvious in our lives. Can we be Jesus to our generation?

(I will be away from Internet access for the next two weeks on and off)

9. Confidence

Short Meditations in Philippians: 9. Confidence

Phil 1:19b   what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance and make me dwell in safety.

So here is Paul in prison writing to the saints in Philippi and, speaking about his own circumstances, declares he is able to rejoice, both in the circumstances because of the things that are happening while he is still in them, but also because he is sure he is going to be delivered out of them.

Let’s try and apply this to our own circumstances which are not always, it seems, truly glorious! Hold these two things from above. Are we able to rejoice both IN them and also because we have an assurance that we will be delivered OUT of them?

What is the key to these two things? I believe it is a sure confidence in who God is.  In my studies over the last few years, I am absolutely sure that the Bible declares three things about God. First, He is love. Second, He is good. Third, He is perfect (meaning He cannot be improved upon). Now these three characteristics apply to everything God thinks, says or does. Now having said those three things I have to admit there are times in my life when I may struggle to reconcile what is happening to me with these three things, but I have concluded that they ARE true; it is just that for the moment I cannot see how my present circumstances are going to work for good – mine or others, and it may be that these circumstances are going to work for the good of others as well as for me (somehow they WILL always work for MY good). It may take a time to see this – and that may be months or years  even – but it will eventually come through.

Now the more we experience this sort of thing and see that this is God’s intent, the more, when the next set of trying circumstances come along, we can declare by faith what we have learned previously: God will bring good IN this and He will deliver me OUT of it.

Now these sorts of things are real trials of faith. When you cannot see the way ahead, when it seems impossible for any change to come or any good to occur, it is a real declaration of faith to be able to say, “I don’t understand how this can bring good or can change, but knowing the Lord, I KNOW He will bring good in it and He will deliver me out of it.  Now don’t try and out-guess God. Don’t try and work out how God will do it, because in an impossible situation only HE can do it. When wine runs out at a wedding, only He can turn water into wine. When too many ‘guests’ turn up, only He can extend the limited resources to feed them all. When a blind person asks for sight, only He can bring it. When death confronts you, only He can bring resurrection. Jesus proved it. He is the grounds of our assurance.

1.9 The Testimony of the Bible

Meditating on the Judgements of God:   1.9  The Testimony of the Bible

John 3:16,17   For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

I still have a sense of dissatisfaction, that I have not yet adequately covered the point I am trying to make at the moment and which should be remembered in all that follows. Earlier on we said that God is love and that God is good and that God is perfect and we spelled out definitions to try anchor those words. But when I originally wrote a book on God’s love in the Old Testament, when it came to His goodness, I noticed that the testimonies of such people as David always anchored the term with God’s activities. To keep us from becoming judgment-orientated, even though this is the subject we are working towards, we perhaps need to remind ourselves of some of the good things God has done as shown to us in the Bible. That is what this study is about.

Our starting point has to be the Creation. As we have noted before, when God finished creating the whole of the earth, including us, His assessment of it was that “it was very good” (Gen 1:31). As a world without strife or disharmony in any shape or form, it was good to live in and the provision of fruit and vegetables was amazing. I am told there are over twelve hundred varieties of edible bean in the world today! God’s provision for us is all about pleasure and enjoyment within the boundaries He established. Wonderful!

When Adam and Eve fell He did not destroy them but simply put them outside the garden area where they had known the Lord. He did not give up on His plans for mankind. When we come to look at the judgements of Genesis we will discover that although mankind constantly got it wrong and went from bad to worse, God’s activity was incredibly restrained when it came to dealing with them.

We then find Him starting to build a relationship with a man called Abram and when he doesn’t do very well on occasion, God still keeps on with him – and with his son and his grandson Jacob. In fact His dealings with mankind simply reveal the folly of sin in man and the grace and goodness of God who does not give up on us.

Indeed God works within the sin framework of the world that exists after the Fall, and so copes with Jacob’s self-centred twisting, uses spoilt brat Joseph and allows the chosen family to end up in Egypt where they settle but end up as slaves. He then takes a failure called Moses and uses him to confront the awful sin of the Pharaoh of Egypt and delivers Israel out of his hands. He puts up with the moanings and groanings of Israel as they travel to Sinai and eventually when they refuse to enter the land God has chosen for them, He waits patiently until the generation of unbelief has died off and then takes the next generation to this land described as  a land flowing with milk and honey,” (Ex 3:8) a picture of wonderful provision.

When, long after they have settle there, they demand a king, the Lord does not give up on them but gives them one who fits exactly the king they have in mind, an impressive young man without equal among the Israelites–a head taller than any of the others.” (1 Sam 9:2) Unfortunately he fails and so God gives them another to be king, David, who does unite and establish the kingdom. When it comes to his son, Solomon, we see the peak of God’s blessing when the Queen of Sheba comes to visit and is absolutely overwhelmed by God’s provision (see 1 Kings 10, esp. v.7-9)

When Solomon eventually drifts away form the Lord, the Lord does not give up on them but splits the kingdom to give two opportunities for blessing to flow out of relationship with Him. The northern kingdom fails from the word go and the southern kingdom has good, bad and very bad times. The northern kingdom eventually fails and is carried away and when the southern kingdom settles in for very bad, they too are eventually swept away in what we call the Exile. Now we might have expected God to have given up on these people and utterly destroyed them but to our surprise we find He brings them back to the land and restores them.  Four hundred years later His Son, Jesus, is born into this land.

When we observe the ministry of Jesus the simplest way of describing it is to say he simply did good and kept on doing good in his Father’s name. Through him blessing followed blessing. When he formed a group of disciples he did not give up on their misunderstandings but patiently taught them. He allowed himself to be arrested, falsely tried, condemned and crucified. Three days later he rose from the dead and  instead of preaching death and destruction for this foolish world (both Jew and Gentile), he promised blessing, which came in the form of the outpouring of his Holy Spirit.

When you watch the movement of the Holy Spirit you see power and joy and then gifting of both spiritual gifts (1 Cor 12) and spiritual ministries (Eph 4:11,12), all of which are expression of His ongoing loving intent for us. In and through the Church we see his ongoing blessing of individuals; it is an ongoing picture of the love of God being poured out and poured out in abundance.

Please, although we are going to focus on studying the different types of judgment, and the reasons and purposes involved in judgment, and then specific judgments, please don’t get judgment-centred. Hold to the things we have considered in this first part for the judgments are minimal in comparison to all the goodness that is revealed in the Bible.

8. Nature of God’s Will

Meditating on the Will of God: 8:  The Nature of God’s Will

Rom 12:1,2  I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God–this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.

These verses from Romans 12 bear looking at again. Previously we considered something of verse 1, this call to give ourselves over to God so that He can do with us what He wills. There are two aspects to that – what He wills in terms of changing our character, i.e. what He can do in us,  and then what He wills in respect of what He can do through us. Perhaps before we go considering those two things further, we will consider His will as it is described by Paul in the second verse.

At the end of the verse he describes God’s will as “good pleasing and perfect” Now on the assumption that we so often take for granted the words we read in scripture, let’s analyse each of those words. First of all, ‘good’. Good simply means fine, igh quality, excellent, morally excellent and if something is good, we approve of it. When we come to understand God’s will – and an assumption behind each of these studies is that we do not naturally understand it but have to think about it and seek it, and it comes by revelation – we will see that it is good.

But it is also ‘pleasing’ and we have just said that we will approve it, but more than merely approving it we will see its excellence and that will create an emotion within us that we describe as pleasing, we’re feeling good about it. Now if we take a  tangent and remind ourselves that “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8,16) then everything God thinks, says and does is an expression of love. Now love might be described as  warm affection, attachment, liking, benevolence or strong benign feelings for us and in God it shows “selfless, sacrificial, unrestricted good will towards us. If that is so – and it is – then if there is someone who constantly has for us “warm affection, attachment, liking, benevolence or strong benign feelings” for us and who shows “selfless, sacrificial, unrestricted good will towards us”, I think we can say without contradiction, we will be blessed by that, we will like that, and it will be pleasing to us.

Yet there is also a third description: “perfect”. Put in its most simple of terms, if something is ‘perfect’ it cannot be improved upon.  When we come to understand the will of God we will come to see that there is no way that it could be improved upon. It is because we do not understand it that we find criticisms rising up within us, but once we come to see the fullness of His will we will understand that there is no way that whatever He did or didn’t do could be improved upon.

Now that is actually staggering when you come to think about it. Whatever it is that God has on His heart for us, is good, is pleasing and is the absolute best so there is no way it could be improved upon. I commented previously in a series on Romans in respect of these scriptures that if when we get to heaven God allows us to look back on our history through His eyes, we will never be able to criticise anything He has ever said or done or not done in respect of us. We don’t have the whole picture at the present and so sometimes it seems confusing or unclear, but when we see the whole picture and it becomes absolutely clear, we will say that what happened in respect of our lives was good, pleasant and perfect.

But we need to backtrack in these verses to note something important. Paul’s order is 1. Give yourself wholly to God, 2. Change your thinking to conform to God’s thinking, so that THEN 3. you will understand God’s good, pleasing and perfect will. In other words until you have been through the first two, you will not be able to come to the third one. The Christian life starts when we give ourselves over wholly to God for Him to save us, change us and then lead us throughout our lives. In the process of all of that, we then starting learning the truths of the Gospel and we start to understand that God has created His world in a particular way, and so it works best if we live according to the divine design.

We come to understand that part of the process of sanctification, us being changed into the likeness of Jesus, involves us changing our thinking to realise that He knows best, that He has a design for our lives that means the best being worked out in and through them. In all of this our thinking is being changed to conform to His and not to the self-centred and godless ways of thinking found in the fallen world. As this process develops within us, we come to ‘see’ what He is about and, even as we are doing in these studies, start to understand what His will is all about. The details may not always be clear and they will perhaps only be come clear as He reveals them in our relationship together with Him.  

God knows what He is about. He sees everything, He sees the big picture – past, present and future – and He understands everything, how the thoughts, ideas, plans and ambitions of mankind work out. His wisdom is such that He also knows what He can do to promote what is best, within the context of the fallen world and within the context of our blindness and limited understanding because of the effects of sin. As He releases us from sin, He works to change our thinking from the patterns of thinking we had before we came to know Him, and bit by bit He wins our cooperation with Him as He seeks to work out the best for us. How amazing, how incredible, how wonderful! Hallelujah!

31. Avoid Evil

Meditations in 1 Thessalonians

Part 3 :  31. Avoid Evil

1 Thess 5:21,22   Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.

Now this third and final instruction may sound so obvious that we might be tempted not to consider it, but it is the other side of the coin. You may have heard the expression, “The Only Thing Necessary for the Triumph of Evil is that Good Men Do Nothing.” The implication behind these two verses almost seems to say, hold firmly onto good or evil may creep in.  To say avoid something means to steer clear of it . Now that can mean that we need to keep away from evil when we see it before us, or be careful that evil doesn’t make its way into your life.

I always remember an illustration of going too close to evil given by a preacher. He said that some people are like a cow he saw grazing in a field and it had its head under the bottom strand of an electric fence. It was just seeing how far it could go without getting electrocuted! The wise Christian doesn’t do that but steers well clear of the fence. Now I am not one who usually says you shouldn’t do this and you shouldn’t do that but where there are places or situations in life where you could be led astray, my advice is stay away! Samson was a man who thought he could stretch his boundaries with God and look where he ended up (Jud 16:30)   Elisha’s servant, Gehazi, had the opportunity to capitalise out of his master’s work and ended up with leprosy (see 2 Kings 5:20-27). He allowed himself to be led into evil.

Perhaps we should pause and consider, ‘what is evil’ and what does ‘evil’ mean? A dictionary definition includes, “anything morally bad or wrong; wickedness; depravity; sin; anything that causes harm, pain, misery, disaster.” So we then have to ask what is ‘wrong’ and we have to say anything that is contrary to God’s character and His design for Creation i.e. anything that is contrary to His perfect will. Good is that which conforms to His character and His perfect will. Now because there is freedom of will in angels and humans, behaviour is possible that is contrary to His character and to His perfect will, and THAT is evil. So murder is evil, theft is evil, adultery is evil, lying is evil. Anything that is Sin is evil.

Evil is expanded upon a little in the Law: “if you then become corrupt and make any kind of idol, doing evil in the eyes of the LORD your God…..” (Deut 4:25) ‘Corrupt’ here means being changed from a good thing into a bad thing, being changed from a faithful people to an unfaithful people. That is evil. Making idols to replace God is evil. Moses, referring to this same thing, later put it slightly differently: “all the sin you had committed, doing what was evil in the LORD’s sight,” (Deut 9:18) where sin and evil are seen as the same thing. Turning away from God is shown as evil (e.g. Deut 13:6-11): Moses made that abundantly clear again and again: “For I know that after my death you are sure to become utterly corrupt and to turn from the way I have commanded you. In days to come, disaster will fall upon you because you will do evil in the sight of the LORD.” (Deut 31:29)

Solomon, despite having started so well, ended up badly: As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been. He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molech the detestable god of the Ammonites. So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the LORD; he did not follow the LORD completely, as David his father had done.” (1 Kings 11:4-6) In those verses we see the steady decline and growth in evil: a heart not fully devoted to the Lord, took many foreign wives, allowed them to turn his heart even further, tolerated and then followed their idols and gods thus fully turning away from God. All of these things were examples of evil.

So many times in the Old Testament  the condemnation of a king was that he did evil in the eyes of the Lord and when you look at what he did it is summed up by, he turned away from God and turned to the ways of the world and worshipped idols.  Do you see why the meditation  ‘10. Facing Idolatry’ was so important?

When that happens we find specific behaviour in respect of others also becomes corrupt and described as evil. Consider: “You use your mouth for evil and harness your tongue to deceit. You speak continually against your brother and slander your own mother’s son.” (Psa 50:19,20) Speech there is considered evil, because it involves deceit and slander. This absence of truth is emphasised even more in another psalm: “Why do you boast of evil, you mighty man? Why do you boast all day long, you who are a disgrace in the eyes of God? Your tongue plots destruction; it is like a sharpened razor, you who practice deceit. You love evil rather than good, falsehood rather than speaking the truth.” (Psa 52:1-3)  But is it not only wrong speaking: “Rescue me, O LORD, from evil men; protect me from men of violence, who devise evil plans in their hearts and stir up war every day.” (Psa 140:1,2) No, acts of violence, anything done physically against another is evil. Words and actions that follow ungodliness, are all evil.

So maybe now we see the importance of this instruction to “Avoid every kind of evil.” We have seen evil starts by turning away or rejecting God and turning to place reliance on other things. That is godlessness which always leads to idolatry.  But that is soon expressed in unrighteousness which may be words and/or deeds that are self-centred and godless and harmful to others. This call by Paul in the last of these instructions we are going to consider screams out to us – “Stay away from any thought or word or behaviour that is turning way from God and leads into destructive and harmful behaviour. You were not saved for that!”  It is a strong call, far stronger than we might have thought at first sight. May we hold on to these things and let them remain as warning to us as we finish with this letter in this particular series of meditations.

4. God is Light

Meditations in 1 John : 4 :  God is Light

1 John  1:5   This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.

This verse is so powerful in the light of the condition of the world (sorry pun not intended!) that we must ponder on it and not move on. Ask people what they think of God (outside the church) and mostly they assess Him on the basis of what they see of the world.  What do they see? Violence, illness, infirmity, injustice, earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and so on. Not a very good picture and so they say, “Well God can’t be a good God if He allows all this!” Now of course that it s a very short-sighted assessment and it does not take into account that we live in a Fallen World where the free will of mankind is expressed through sin and that sin creates the picture we’ve just observed.

So then they look away from the world and may look into the Old Testament, and then say, “I don’t like this God. He is harsh and judgemental.” Now again that is an incredibly limited and short-sighted view that ignores the teaching and illustrations of the Old Testament that God is loving and good and makes a shallow assessment of those times when God does bring discipline and correction in the form of judgement. Through the eyes of self-centred and godless Sin, the twisted and distorted mind makes poor assessments.

Even when you examine world religions (and I exclude Christianity and Judaism from this assessment) you find a fearful mankind who feel it is necessary to appease in some way this fearful God they seek to worship. Even in world religions Sin distorts thinking to suggest a harsh or angry holy God who is at a distance because he is utterly holy and we are not. (What holy means in their context is questionable).

Now John has been writing succinctly and graphically about Jesus, who he is and how he has come, and how they have been eyewitnesses to all he said and did. So far he has simply focused on the nature of the One they have encountered, this One who has come down from heaven, but now John indicates that Jesus came with a message which he conveyed to them. We may say, in terms of his goals and the significance of them that Jesus’ ministry was in two parts: the first part was revealing the Father to his disciples, and the second part was dying on the Cross to take our sins and the punishment for them. It is the first part that John refers to now. During his three years of ministry Jesus was constantly revealing or reflecting something of the Father through all he said and did.

So what did he do? Jesus himself summarised it at one point: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.” (Mt 11:5) That was pretty good! At the beginning of his ministry Jesus had applied the Isaiah prophecy to himself: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Lk 4:18,19). On the day of Pentecost, the apostle Peter under the anointing of the Spirit summarized Jesus ministry: “Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him.” (Acts 2:22) Later on to the first gentile believers he preached the same thing: “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.” (Acts 10:38)

It would be a foolish person who would deny that all of this says that Jesus came to bring good from God – because if, as we’ve seen previously, Jesus is the image or reflection of God, then what he does is what the Father does (Jn 5:17,19). Now again and again light and darkness are used as illustrations of good and evil. Jesus’ message that John and the others had received is that God is good and there is no evil in Him.

In his Gospel John wrote, “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.” (Jn 3:19-21)  Note that those verses follow the more famous ones: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (Jn 3:16) That famous verse summarizes it all! God is good and His goodness is an expression of His love and His love was expressed by sending Jesus to die for us so that sin would not destroy us but that we would be saved and experience eternal life with Him. That is NOT the description of a harsh, unkind, evil God! No, God is exactly the opposite to those things, and that was the message that Jesus brought and was the message that John was now conveying. Hallelujah!

37. Sin Conscious

Meditations in Romans : 37:  Conscious of Sin

Rom 3:19-20   Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.

The human race is a strange animal!  Seriously, when you look at us carefully, there are some things about us that we take so much for granted but which are actually quite strange. They are even more strange if you believed the atheist who says this world is just chance and there is no meaning or purpose behind it. There are two features of every human being that strike me as very strange in the light of that dogma.

The first is the tendency of most people to have a sense of failure or inadequacy. Oh yes, people cover it up and in fact they spend much of their life covering it up, but if you can catch them at a rare moment of honesty they will confess to you that they are not the great person that they would like the world to believe they are. No, they will confess their inadequacies and even their failures (but you will need to get them at a rare point of honesty). All of us have this particular awareness even though, as I’ve said, we go to great lengths to cover it up. Why should people who are, according to the atheist, random acts of chance, worry about such things, but worry we do!

The second strange tendency, which goes with the first one, is the concern to be seen to be good. We feel bad about ourselves deep down, and yet we want everyone to see us NOT as a failure. We want others to see us as successes. We want to be thought of as nice people, good people, people who get it right and do well. Of course those descriptions vary according to the social group we belong to but we know the standards that our particular group has and we want to live up to their standards so they will think well of us. You see it in any and every social grouping, but why should it be if we are just random chance creatures with no meaning or purpose. Everything within us challenges that assessment of us. We measure ourselves and our assessment is important!

Now the Jews of Jesus’ day and Paul’s day, were one such social grouping and within that cultural or social group was a sub-group who made the rest feel it was important to abide by a certain set of life-rules, the Law of Moses. They were the people that people refers to as under the Law.” The Law was the standard by which they assessed one another. If you were good, you kept the Law. For instance Zechariah and Elizabeth, the parents of John the Baptist, were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commandments and regulations blamelessly.” (Lk 1:6); that was the assessment of people who knew them and later told Luke about them.  Joseph, Jesus’ earthly father was described as “a righteous man,” (Mt 1:19) which would have meant that he was a man who sought to keep God’s commandments; hence his action in wanting to quietly divorce Mary.

The not-so-nice people of that society didn’t bother about the Law. They were lawbreakers or sinners and were looked down upon by those who did adhere to the Law. Now if you lived in a society where this Law prevailed, where you were very much aware of it, even though others adjudged you righteous, you knew deep down that that meant righteous in most things, for there would always be a little something somewhere where you didn’t come up to the mark. Indeed with some it is difficult to know if you come up to the mark. For instance, “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” (Deut 6:5)  Could you ever be sure that that was how you truly loved God? You kept the practical commandments you were aware of, but was that enough to ensure you could say that you loved God like this?

Suppose there were laws that you didn’t know about? Perhaps you weren’t keeping them? No, the truth was that you could never boast of being a perfect law-keeper, which is what Paul meant when he said, so that every mouth may be silenced.” Yes, you were never quite certain and so it was better to remain quiet. Yes, you knew that deep down, just like were considered at the beginning of this meditation, you had something that left you feeling inadequate and as such you would be “held accountable to God.” Oh yes, you could never stand before God with a totally clear conscience. You feared that future where you knew that one day you would have to stand before him and be answerable for your imperfection!

Thus Paul can conclude, Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.” Yes, if you are going to measure me by the Law I can never say I am totally perfect and therefore I can not say with a clear heart that I am righteous. All focusing on the rules has done, has been to make me more and more aware of the bits where I fall short.

This is it, isn’t it? Whatever set of rules we have to abide by, the Law of Moses or the laws of our little group in society, we fear failure, and we are constantly struggling to achieve approval of others who measure us by the rules, but deep down we know they will judge us because we are not perfect and will fail even their expectations of us! No, if you base life on keeping to a set of rules or even expectations upon you, know that you are doomed to a life of failure and the only way to cope is to pretend you’re not, while all the time knowing you are. What a deception!

31. Perfect

We pick up and now continue the series on God in the Psalms

God in the Psalms No.31 – God who is Perfect

Psa 18:30 As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the LORD is flawless.

We have previously considered God who is good and God whose words are flawless, but because we so often struggle with this concept we consider it more widely with this verse now.  Why do we struggle with the idea that God is perfect? Because we often don’t understand what is going on in life and we can’t see the whole picture and so we wonder why God doesn’t turn up and do something.  Perhaps it’s also because we have had negative experiences in life, especially when we are young, and those experiences act like a stain or scar on our lives and the hurt of them distorts our thinking and makes us question God’s goodness. This questioning is not unusual.

Gideon did it: “But sir,” Gideon replied, “if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our fathers told us about(Judges 6:13) He looked at their circumstances and concluded that God could not be with them. Abraham struggled similarly: Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, “Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?” And Abraham said to God, “If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!” (Gen 17:17) and this after he had previously believed and been declared righteous (Gen 15:6), and later his wife similarly struggled, Then the LORD said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.” Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him…..Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, “After I am worn out and my master is old, will I now have this pleasure?” Then the LORD said to Abraham, “…..anything too hard for the LORD? I will return to you at the appointed time next year and Sarah will have a son. (Gen 18:10-14).  When confronted with what seems impossible, we wonder and question, but God is perfect and when God says something He means it!

This idea of God being perfect comes out many times in Scripture:He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he.” (Deut 32:4) God is entirely dependable (a rock) because everything He does is utterly good. The law of the LORD is perfect” (Psa 19:7). All of God’s decrees are perfect.  “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Mt 5:48). Perfect here means complete, whole, lacking in nothing. Whereas we may look at our own lives or the lives of people around us and see that they lack a lot (strength, grace, wisdom, humility, love, gentleness, peace – the list goes on and on!) NOTHING is missing from God.  Think of any good characteristic and He has it.  When John wrote, There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear (1 Jn 4:18) the perfect love he was referring to was God.

But our verse above speaks of the way of the Lord.  The Lord’s way refers to the way God thinks, moves, acts, lives and works. It’s all about the way He expresses Himself and interacts with us. This is why this is so important. It’s not only that He himself is perfect but it’s about how He relates to us. We may not understand what is happening, either because it is too complex for us to work out, or because we can’t see the whole picture, but our call is simply to trust Him, that because He IS perfect, He is working the best for us in it. We may not be able to see that fully until we get to heaven, but for now we have to learn to accept this amazing truth. It will transform us!