Snapshots: Day 39

Snapshots: Day 39

The Snapshot: “but Moses fled.”  (Ex 2:15) When we fail, when we flee, the enemy would have us believe that is the end, as we’ve seen. If we do find ourselves living in the desert, our natural tendency is to look back with regret, our self wants to wallow in the failure and the little voice whispers, ‘You blew it, that’s the end’, but it isn’t.  Sometimes this moment is the defining act that determines the future but often it is just simply another day in the many days it will take to change us. We wish change could happen instantly but sometimes it takes years and years, because God is not impatient, God is more concerned with a changed and good outcome that is your life and mine, so these are not wasted years but just the path to the amazing things yet to come!  Watch out, God’s in the desert!

Further Consideration: When I look back on my life, yes, as a Christian, I want to be honest and acknowledge three things. The first is that although I can look back and see very big and distinct times of change, of career and direction, when I look back, I am absolutely sure that God’s hand was in them. For the vast majority of time I could not say, “I was aware of God’s guidance in that change.” Yes, we prayed, yes we responded to what we felt was the right thing to do in the circumstances, but rarely did I sense the clear voice of God guiding and directing – but He was!

The second thing I note as I look back is a sense of failure. Yes, I am aware that looking back God did open up lots of areas of opportunity and blessed, and yet I feel with the saints of Heb 11:10 I am ‘looking forward’ and that means a sense of not having got there in the past. Yes, I would like to live my life again from say age 30 – but with the knowledge I have now! I believe we live in a day when we, the Church, fall far short of what is on God’s heart for us, and that saddens me as I am sure it does Him.

The third thing of which I am aware is a sense of inadequacy. As I confess so often to the people in my Prayer Workshop, the greatest thing I fear is coming to them without having heard the Lord and that we, collectively, by the end, fail to know His Presence. But the truth is that I cannot do it. All I can do is present this empty vessel to him, this chipped and imperfect earthenware vessel (2 Cor 4:7) and plead, “Lord, please fill this vessel with your glory so that you will be glorified.” (Jn 17:1b)

These are the dynamics of this present life. Failure is not the end of the day, but its acknowledgement is the entry door into the wonder of the kingdom of God.  It is a life of ongoing change and we when fail and He sees a repentant heart, He picks us up and we continue on with Him.

10. A Kingdom of Impossibilities

Meditating on the Gems of the Bible:  10. A Kingdom of Impossibilities

Luke 1:26-28  In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

Perhaps when you read Scripture regularly there is the danger of it becoming commonplace and our attitude casual. When these verses are read every year in Christmas Services and maybe even at Nativity plays, then there must be that danger of reading the words but losing the impact. Luke, who at the beginning of his book is so careful to explain that he has carefully researched everything and now wants to write an account that is full of integrity, drops this bomb on us and we don’t realise the enormity of it.

There is no room for half-hearted belief here. You either believe it as it stands or evaporate it away by saying – well I don’t know what you would say, but people do manage to overcome their intellects and rubbish the truth! But just look at what he says so simply: God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee.” (v.26). There are three things of note here for sermon constructors.

First, things happen here because God takes the initiative. In fact nothing of the Christmas story will happen unless God is in it. Even before this passage in chapter 1 of Luke, God sends an angel to Zechariah in the Temple and then God enables aging Elizabeth to have a baby. In the verses that follow, God is going to speak to Mary through the angel and then God is going to enable her to conceive without the help of a man. God is going to come to Joseph in a dream, to convince him not to break off his relationship with Mary.  After the baby is born, God is going to send an angel to shepherds on a hillside and God is going to provide guidance for wise men from the East. God is going to warn the family to flee to Egypt and then later to return to Israel. God is in this every step of the way. If you have a trouble with believing in God, this is not a story for you!

Second, note that this God communicates and for this task He uses an angel so that a human figure stands before Mary and holds a conversation with her. Have you noticed in Scripture, it seems that often a word simply comes to someone but sometimes it needs more than a simple word, it needs a conversation, and so in those times God sends an angel. On this occasion quite a lot of information is to be imparted and so Mary has an angel sent to her by God.

Third, in this one simple verse, note the mention of places – “Nazareth, a town in Galilee.”  We have this remarkable supernatural event but it is anchored in time space history in a known geographical location. Again and again in Scripture we find this mix of the supernatural with the down to earth daily life or here and now time-space history. This is not a book of weird and wonderful spiritual goings on and you may find in other religions. This is the record of activity of God here on this earth with very ordinary people in very ordinary circumstances. Mary was an ordinary Jewish girl living an ordinary life there in Nazareth and until this thing happens, she probably had no inkling of her destiny.

But then, as an even greater challenge to the materialistically-fixed-mind-set people, the next verse starts moving us towards an uncomfortable challenge: “to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.” (v.27)  Twice there Luke seems to almost emphasise the fact that Mary is a virgin. Now there are those who would seek to suggest that the word for virgin can also be used to simply describe a young woman but the account that follows refuses to allow us to go down that path. Mary is going to question the possibility of having a child without a man, and the angel explains it will be the Holy Spirit who will bring about what is otherwise impossible.  You have to go to Matthew’s Gospel to see Joseph’s side of it and see that he has had nothing to do with it.

For the skeptic, the only other possibility is that Mary had a sexual relationship with some other man but in that culture that would have been virtually impossible without it becoming public knowledge but no such thing was suggested. Luke is absolutely sure in his researches that this is just as it says. God intervenes and we have a miracle of a virgin birth. Once you believe in God, this should be no problem.

What are some of the outworkings of this storyFirst, the God we hear of is a communicating God and has no trouble with communicating with us. We may have a problem with hearing (because of our unbelief) but that is another story. It is unlikely that you or I will have an angelic encounter; they seem to be saved for major occasions and so if you do, you’re either in big trouble or God is about to lead you into major life changes.

Second, the God we find in the Bible is no God who stands afar off and leaves us entirely to our own devices. He comes and involves Himself in our lives and from time to time, when the circumstances demand it, He does what we would otherwise consider impossible. How much we hear or see Him in our lives depends, I believe, on how open we are to Him. If we maintain the materialistic mindset that the rest of the world has, we will rarely hear Him and never see a miracle. If we open our hearts to Him and make ourselves available to Him and listen for His quiet voice, and then respond to what we hear, we will find ourselves venturing out on the waters of faith and will find our testimony growing exponentially. When you hear this gem of a story every Christmas, don’t let it pass you by leaving you untouched. When Christmas comes, pray, “Lord open my eyes to see the wonder and the truth of these accounts and may my life be changed for ever because of them.”

6. Living by Law

Motivation Meditations in Acts : 6 :  Living by Law

Acts  1:20    “For,” said Peter, “it is written in the book of Psalms…..

As we ponder on the behaviour of those we find in the book of Acts, we find ourselves considering things which, we noted in the previous meditation require us to walk a careful tightrope walk, because on one side there is almost truth and on the other side, if we are not careful, we go to another extreme of almost truth.

This is especially so in our reflections on Peter’s actions here in Acts 1. We considered in the previous meditation that this pre-Pentecost action differed from that seen later on in Antioch where the anointed and fully recognised prophets clearly heard from the Lord, and differed from Acts 12 where the church did not seek to replace James when he was killed by Herod. But there is another aspect of his actions that bears considering.

It is his reference to what we call the Old Testament Scriptures to justify what he thinks and feels. This is an especially difficult consideration because so much of our time we spend (rightly) teaching new Christians to read their Bibles and base their lives on the teaching found there, and especially that found in the New Testament. So am I suddenly going to reverse that teaching? Definitely not! However it does need to come with a warning. We have already implied this warning in our heading of this meditation: Living by Law.

Now if we may summarise the Christian’s position in respect of the Law briefly. The Ten Commandments still apply as general law applicable to any society. The remainder of the Law given at Sinai and afterwards was specifically for Israel as a nation living under God and much of it simply does not apply in modern largely, non-agricultural communities. The law of sacrifices has been fulfilled in Christ and, as there is no Temple today, could not be followed anyway. All that said, we have much teaching in the New Testament which is there to guide us and which should be followed by us. Yet there is a bigger issue. Living by Law is living by rules and means that we can, in fact, live without any reference to God (apart from His written word).

The bigger issue is that we are first and foremost called to live out a relationship with God through Jesus Christ and by the enabling of the Holy Spirit, and that means direct communication, which from His side means leading and guiding by the Spirit and, from our side, means listening and obedience.  Now, yes, we have the Scriptures and we are to follow that teaching and therefore we do not need to constantly ask God what we should be doing and, in fact, often modern Christians spend much time asking God for guidance when the Scriptures are quite clear and are there to be followed.

Often He doesn’t want to hear us asking, He wants our obedience. It is that simple sometimes. But often it isn’t. We may find ourselves in difficulties when, like Peter, we pick out verses to confirm what we already have concluded in our minds. (That may be too unkind on Peter, forgive me if I’m wrong.) But there is that danger, the danger that we choose verses to back up what we want.

So how do we overcome this? Our starting point must be to come to a place where we are open to God’s will – whichever way it takes us. Second, we pray and ask the Lord to guide us into truth, into what His will is for us, and we seek to keep an open heart as to what that means. Third, we keep alert to His voice speaking to us. Now there is a great deal of difference between us scanning through the Bible looking for a verse to justify our desires, and reading the Bible and suddenly finding a verse leaping out at us. God does indeed speak to us in such a way sometimes.

Indeed I have even heard the Lord misquote Scripture to catch my attention. Many years ago we were contemplating taking a team to another part of the country to do two week’s evangelism and all holiday accommodation in that place was completely taken. Yet one day when I was walking to work in the City, I found this ‘verse’ drop into my mind from nowhere: “In my father’s house are many rooms. I have prepared a place for you.” Apparently being Scripture I particularly noted this thought and considered it was coming from the Lord. Being a young Christian at the time I pointed out to the Lord that it was a wrong quote. The right quote was “I go to prepare a place for you.” There seemed to be a pause and back came, “I have said what I have said.” As I reflected on that, I realised he was saying that the situation there was all in hand. On the strength of that, we told the team what we were doing and two of us went down twenty four hours earlier to this place where the local Tourist Board had told us there was absolutely no accommodation and a half an hour before the team arrived we had the final bit of accommodation for fifteen people! It was amazing.

Now the key element of that testimony is that God spoke and we obeyed. It was a situation – and we often find ourselves in such things – where Scripture on its own could not help us. We might have gone through Scripture picking out verses about God’s provision but that would not have helped us and our team to move with confidence and without worry. When James writes If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him,” (Jas 1:5)  he recognises that there will be many situations where we need to have the ‘how to’ guidance from God.

I can look back on life now, from a perspective of knowing the Lord for over forty five years, and can see there have been a multitude of occasions where I (we) needed guidance and picking out Scriptures would have been inadequate. To end on a light note, you may have heard the old story, and so it can be a reminder, of the man who was seeking guidance of the Lord and stuck his finger in the Bible and it alighted on, So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself.” (Mt 27:5). He took his finger out and stuck it in another page and beneath his finger he read, “Go and do likewise” (Lk 10:37). Don’t ‘cherry pick’ verses and don’t use promise boxes or any other form of ‘guidance’ that is open to abuse.

Learn to be motivated by the Holy Spirit. If it is a significant guidance, check it with mature leaders and if it is a ‘life redirection’ word then it is likely to come from the Lord at least three times in different ways. He knows and understands that we need reassurance. Rest in His love and let Him lead, and don’t be afraid to check it out with mature leaders.

38. The Law

Meditations in Malachi : 38.  The Law

Mal 4:4   Remember the law of my servant Moses, the decrees and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel.

If Christians get confused over any issue, I would say it is the issue of the Law of Moses and the position of the Law as far as we Christians are concerned in everyday life. Here in the verse above, we find the Lord calling to Israel to “Remember the law.” Remember means more than just bring to recollection; it means bring it to recollection and then follow it, do what it says.

So why did God give Israel the Law to start with? Well He gave it to them at Mount Horeb, otherwise known as Sinai, at the time when He called them into being as a nation. But they weren’t just any nation, they were His nation, His special people called to receive all the goodness of His love and thus become a light to the rest of the world to reveal Him. The Law would help them do that.

So what do we find in the Law? First of all we find guidance on how to live as a community of God’s people, instructions about how to hold a right attitude about God (Ex 20:3-7).  Second, comes guidance on how to live as a community, relating to one another. (Ex 20:8-17).  Third, we find the ordering of that society and the recognition that people will do wrong, and so what should happen in such circumstances. i.e. how to ensure justice is seen to prevail. (Ex 21-23).  There is a recognition within this of the sinfulness of mankind, and the fall of human beings that needs to be taken into account. Fourth, there were rules for establishing a meeting place with God (Ex 25-27) and then a priesthood to administer it (Ex 28-29). This was to establish a procedural basis for the way Israel as a whole would worship the Lord. Fifth, there were extensive instructions for bringing offerings and sacrifices to the Tabernacle as expressions of their love for God and for their penitence after sinning (Lev 1-7). Sixth, there were what we might summarise as dietary or health laws (Lev 11-15) designed to maintain good health among the community. These are the basic laws; there are others but they will either fit the above descriptions or are repeats of the above.

So how might we summarise the Law?  Jesus summarised it for us: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: `Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Mt 22:37-40)  From the above we see the ‘loving God’ parts being expressed in the first part of the Ten Commandments, the establishing of the Tabernacle and Priesthood, and the law of offerings and sacrifices. The ‘love your neighbour’ part was expressed in all the rest of the laws.

So does the Law apply to us today? The Ten Commandments certainly do for they are general laws applicable to any community anywhere in the world and without them such a society becomes superstitious and turning to idolatry and the occult, and then anarchistic, harmful and destructive. The rest of the ‘society’ laws were specifically for Israel as a unique but primitive agricultural society in that land in that part of history. The ‘worship’ laws depended on the existence of the Tabernacle and then the Temple, and a priesthood, none of which exist now. Moreover the New Testament tells us that Jesus is the fulfilment of all of the sacrifices, so we no longer have to offer sacrifices for our sins. The law is useful however to show us that by keeping rules we simply fail again and again, and therefore we have to turn to God for some other way of being right with Him – and that, of course, is through His Son, Jesus Christ.

So do we no longer have laws that apply to us today? Change the word ‘laws’ for ‘instructions’ and you will find that the New Testament is full of them in the Gospel but mostly in the Epistles. There are there to act as guidelines for us. We aren’t saved by keeping them, only by turning to and trusting in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the Cross, but they are there for guidance for daily living. Some are specific and some are general: “Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat (Specific). And as for you, brothers, never tire of doing what is right.” (General) (2 Thess 3:12,13). The epistles are full of such instructions and they are things to be followed as we work out our relationship with the Lord on a daily basis. And they are there to bless us, because they come from a God of love!

11. Spin a Coin

Meditations in Acts  : 11 :  Spin a Coin

Acts 1:24-26 Then they prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.” Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.

Perhaps we don’t get the significance of these verses until we line them up with say what happened in the church at Damascus a few years on: “While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.” (Acts 13:2,3) Do you see the difference?

In today’s verses we have prayer plus spinning a coin (well that would almost be the modern equivalent, although of course we do still draw lots). I mean, to be fair to them, this does seem similar to the practice of the Urim & Thummin of the Old Testament period but that is still very different from what we find in the church period, which is after Pentecost. Spinning a coin, drawing cards or whatever other method you use is very impersonal and requires no direct contact with God. It almost forces God to act in its thinking, i.e. we are going to do this so God will you add your bit to this by determining which named card will come up.

This is where this between Christ and the Spirit-interim-period that the disciples are in at the moment, is so different from pre-ascension and post-Pentecost. With Christ they could talk directly to him and get their guidance. Once the Spirit came, they had another Counsellor who could speak to them directly.

Please note that they had what we call the Old Testament Scriptures and indeed they made reference to them (and the Gospels are full of such references) but they could only be used for general guidance. It still needed the Holy Spirit to impress on them the significance of the particular Scripture but that wasn’t so good as the Spirit imparting a prophetic word that directly applied to a specific situation and made clear the intent of God for them. This is the difference between being in the period of the Spirit (post-Pentecost) or before it.

We really do need to emphasise this difference because it is crucial in modern church life. It is the difference between relying upon the written word (in this case in the Old Testament only) or on the word plus the Spirit. It should never be one or the other but always, both!  Now the danger here is that some of us who are Christians may feel defensive here and shout, “Sola Scripture,” the word alone, which tends to be our cry when we seek to oppose beliefs in part of the Church that relies upon Tradition plus Scripture, when appealing to matters of authority.

Now we must be quite clear that Scripture IS our ultimate authority and anything that goes contrary to it must be considered error – whether it be preaching or prophecy or words individually received. Anything that leads us to think or live lives that are contrary to the teaching of Scripture is error and is to be rejected.

However, we have only got to study the pages of the Acts of the Apostles to realise that the guidance and direction of the Spirit is essential for some specific guidance situations.  First of all, in simple power or boldness cases, in the new era, it is the Spirit who empowers and directs God’s servants, e.g. Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them….” (Acts 4:8)  Later on when they prayed, they used the Scriptures as the basis for their praying (see Acts 4:25,26) but it was when the Spirit came on them that they spoke boldly (4:31). So much for empowering, how about guidance?

It was an angel that directed Philip to leave his evangelistic campaign and go south (8:26) and then the Spirit who directed him to the Ethiopian (8:29).  It was in a vision that the Lord directed Ananias to go to Saul (Acts 9:10). Similarly it was in a vision that Peter was prepared to meet Gentiles (Acts 10:10-) and it was the Spirit who prompted him to go to speak to them (10:19).  It was by the Spirit that Agabus prophesied and warned of a coming famine (Acts 10:29). It was the Spirit that directed the church at Antioch to send out missionaries (Acts13:2). It was the Spirit who directed Paul where not to go (Acts 16:6,7).

Thus we see from these many examples, that the life of the church and its guidance should be a flow of the Spirit. This in no way denigrates the Scriptures, but simply means that we are living in a period of grace where the Spirit has been imparted to every believer and as such, we now have a means of communicating with God where, if we are living in harmony with Him, and are being obedient to Him, God will direct us personally and directly. This is, I believe, THE challenge for the church today. Will we be a church of the Word AND the Spirit?

41. Heavenly Watcher

Meditations in 1 Peter : 41 : The Heavenly Watcher

1 Pet 3:12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”

The biggest lie that Satan tells people is that they are alone in life – that there is no God, and if there is one He doesn’t care about them. Nothing could be further from the truth and this is the witness of the whole Bible – that God IS there and He is active!    One of Francis Schaeffer’s early books was called, “The God who is There” and it was all about knowing that this is true. The Bible never explains it; it takes it for granted that God is there and He moves and does things and communicates with people.   Take God’s movements and activities and words out of the Bible and you will have nothing left; it is that simple!

Yet again our verse above starts with a ‘For’, a connecting word. Peter has just quoted from Psalm 34 and the prior verses give guidance for living a good life and it then concludes with a word of motivation which could have started with the word ‘because’. In its shortest form this could be put, “Do those things to live a good life because God is watching and He responds to what He sees!”

Now the actions of God in this verse are not what you might expect. They are responses to the righteous and those who do evil; two groups of people who evoke two different responses from the Lord.

First the Lord is watching and listening to the righteous: For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer.” The Lord sees the righteous and He listens when they pray, i.e. He is attentive to them and the implication is He is doing this in order to bless them. The Lord is positive about those who are righteous. That may sound an obvious thing to say but it is true. That is the motivation, in Peter’s mind, for us doing good and seeking to be righteous, because the Lord responds well to such people and blesses them.

The other side of the coin is slightly strange at first sight: the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” This rather suggests that He turns His face away from such people and leaves them to their own devices. Now why should such a thing be? It is, I suggest, because Scripture testifies again and again that the wrong things that people do come back on them. It is like a form of judgment but it doesn’t need God to take action for He’s already allowed for it in the way He’s designed the world. We often think that God has to act against evil people but the Bible testifies that they will get what it coming to them simply through the way that the world works.

For example, “A man reaps what he sows.” (Gal 6:7), i.e. what he sows, his bad actions, will eventually develop and grow into something that will come back on him. It’s a simple law. Of course there are also Paul’s famous words in Romans: “Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another.” (Rom 1:24) and “Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts.” (Rom 1:26 and “since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done.” (Rom 1:28) In each case God just stood back and did not try to restrain them but allowed them free rein to get deeper and deeper into sin which was destroying them. His judgment is already built into the way things work. Unrestrained sin brings destruction. You see this especially clearly in respect of sex and of taking drugs. Unrestrained expression brings destruction – literally!

It is possible that the latter part of this verse can mean that God does act, for “the face of the Lord” being against someone can also mean He does act against them. It can be taken both ways, and there are times when the Lord stands back and lets evil destroy itself and there are times when the Lord steps in and brings action that prematurely destroys it or even brings someone to their senses. There are examples of both in Scripture. The Lord is not bound by a situation but exercises His knowledge and wisdom to decide the best course of action to be taken in the light of the sort of people involved.

This concept, of alternative responses from the Lord, is seen throughout the Bible. For example, “If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the best from the land; but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.” (Isa 1:19,20) There was a clear warning to Israel: obey and be blessed, disobey and be destroyed.  Sometimes it is a simple word of encouragement through the promise of blessing for obedience: “Follow my decrees and be careful to obey my laws, and you will live safely in the land. Then the land will yield its fruit, and you will eat your fill and live there in safety.” (Lev 25:18,19) At other times alternatives are given: “All these blessings will come upon you and accompany you if you obey the LORD your God…. However, if you do not obey the LORD your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come upon you and overtake you.” (Deut 28:2,15) Promises of blessing and warnings against destruction abound in the Bible. God’s desire is to bless us but if we refuse to heed His guidance, then the alternative is there and no one should complain about it. We choose the path we take and what goes with it: “wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life.” (Mt 7:13,14)  Choose rightly.

49. God who Guides

(This will be the last addition for a few weeks while we have a Summer break)

God in the Psalms No.49God who guides

Psa 31:3 Since you are my rock and my fortress,  for the sake of your name lead and guide me.

In a previous meditation we did consider the God who leads but the emphasis there was on God who initiates and opens a way ahead. This verse has s slightly different emphasis. Many people have written books on God’s guidance, it is a big subject and it is because when we become God’s children we want God to show us the right way ahead. We want to know how God wants us to live, what He wants us to do. Making decisions in a major part of life and Christians want to know who to marry, what career to follow, where to live, and so on. The assumption is that God will guide us. An old hymn goes, ‘Guide me O thou great Jehovah’. We want to be led. We want God to lead us.

Now when we come to this song of David’s, he first of all gives us a reason why he expects God. Notice the starting word, ‘Since’.  Because you are this, he reasons, I expect you to do that. Now we have considered God as rock and fortress, a place of security and so what David is saying here is, since you are the one who provides my complete security, to ensure that that happens every moment of my life, I need to know you leading and guiding me.

Imagine the pilot of a ship approaching the land. He’s been taken out to the ship from the land. He knows the land and, more important, he knows the shape of the coast here. So he’s taken out to the ship to guide it into shore, guide it into harbour. He will guide it through the shoals, he will guide it between the rocks so that it is not harmed. He sees it safely into the shore. That’s what God’s guidance is all about. It is about guiding us in such a way that we know we are safe and secure in His hands. Security comes from knowing that we are in the hands of the all-knowing, all powerful, God of love. Put those three characteristics together and they spell ‘security’.

After God had led Israel through the Red Sea and killed Pharaoh and his army, Moses and the people sand a song of triumph.  In it they sang, In your unfailing love you will lead the people you have redeemed. In your strength you will guide them to your holy dwelling.” (Ex 15:13), They were able to sing about the future because of what had just happened in the recent past. Note the two characteristics they highlight – love and strength (or power). They feel secure because of the way God had led them out of Egypt. Now He guided them: “By day the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people” (Ex 13:21,22). Yes they knew God as their Guide and they felt secure.

Centuries later Nehemiah’s Levitical team declared God’s goodness: Because of your great compassion you did not abandon them in the desert. By day the pillar of cloud did not cease to guide them on their path, nor the pillar of fire by night to shine on the way they were to take.” (Neh 9:19). Israel knew God was their guide. The psalmists sung of God guiding them with His truth (Psa 25:5, 43:3) and with His counsel (Psa 73:24). Isaiah prophesied that God would guide the blind so they could see (Isa 42:16) and that He would lead His people into places of refreshing (Isa 49:10). Guidance was part of the ‘restoration package’ promised by the Lord (Isa 57:18). Oh yes, God guides His people into goodness, into a place of safety and security. it is good to be guided by God!

24. Trust

Lessons from Israel: No.24: Trust

Ex 14:11-14 What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? 12Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!” Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.”

What happens when everything seems to be going contrary to the way you expect or want or hope it would go? How do you act when the sky seems to fall on you? It has been said that a measure of maturity as a Christian is the length of time that it takes to move from panic to serenity. The problem with things going wrong is that mostly they happen without any warning. If we had an angel appear at the foot of our bed each morning to give us a ‘warning bulletin’ for the day, we might possibly cope better. It is the fact that stuff happens when everything had been going well, peace reigned and you were thinking just how good life was. Then the car broke down, someone ran their car into your car, you fell down and broke a hip, and so on!  It gets worse when you went to someone you trust for advice, they gave it, you followed it, and it all turned out badly! It gets even worse when the one you were consulting was God, you were certain of His guidance, and then it all went wrong when you followed that guidance.

We have an expression: “better the devil you know than the one you don’t.” That’s how Israel reacted when they realise that Moses (at God’s leading) had led them into a place where the sea was before them and the enemy were coming up behind them and there was no way out. “See,” they said, “we said we should have stayed in Egypt! Pharaoh, who is as angry as can be, is going to kill us all, out here in the desert!” It is at such times that leaders are revealed. Moses speaks out of his total assurance that God is going to do what He said He would do. The penny dropped, as we say, for Moses. Suddenly he knew that all that God had been saying about Pharaoh was about to happen. He had heard the Lord again and again speak about Pharaoh’s downfall and now he knew that this was the time. It’s all right, was what he basically said to his people, hang on in there. Just watch and see what happens. God will deliver us (somehow) and it will be in such a way that we’ll never the see the Egyptians again! God will do this. You don’t need to do anything; just watch. You see part of growing up is learning to trust Father!

So what happened? “Then the angel of God, who had been traveling in front of Israel‘s army, withdrew and went behind them. The pillar of cloud also moved from in front and stood behind them, coming between the armies of Egypt and Israel. Throughout the night the cloud brought darkness to the one side and light to the other side; so neither went near the other all night long.” (Ex 14:19,20) The first thing was that God separated Israel from the Egyptians by means of the pillar of fire so that that night it was dark for the Egyptians but light for Israel.

What happens next? The Lord parted the water to let Israel through (v.21,22) and then the Egyptians tried to follow them but were thrown into confusion (v.23,24), they suffer mishaps (v.25), and then the waters came back and they were all drowned (v.26-28). What was the result? “And when the Israelites saw the great power the LORD displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the LORD and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant.” (v.31) Now Israel began to realise a little more as to who it was who was with them and for them. Up until then they had been largely just observers of the plagues but this time they were right in the midst of it. This had been a matter of their lives being under threat – and God had saved them – and they knew it!  This had been a major miracle. Yes, all the plagues had been miracles, but this was the final chapter and now they were free and now there was no one pursuing them!

What’s this story all about? It is about learning to trust God. There is an oft quoted verse from Paul’s writings which is most apt here: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Rom 8:28). Note that God is working for our good in ALL things, i.e. at all times. We may say, ‘Oh yes, I believe that,’ but it is easy to say it when you are not going through the trial. When your child is seriously ill, when a loved one has just died, when you have just been made redundant at work, when things break and you don’t seem to have enough money, will you still be able to say, ‘Yes, I believe it!’? I believe the truth is that we will all spend the rest of our lives learning it. I suggested earlier on, a measure of maturity as a Christian is the length of time that it takes to move from panic to serenity, and that is something you are going to be able to watch in yourself for years to come, for the Lord will test you on it many times before you go to heaven.

Is that a gloomy prophecy? No, it’s a recognition that living in a fallen world, things go wrong and the Lord allows those things both to test and train and build faith in us, and also to display His love and glory. Holding back, when Jesus was told about Lazarus dying, he told his disciples, “for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe.” (Jn 11:15) for he knew the outcome would involve them believing in him more strongly. When confronted with a blind man and the disciples’ questions, Jesus declared, “this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” (Jn 9:3) No, God’s didn’t bring it about, but He would certainly use it. He’s here for our blessing; He’s here working for our good. Let’s learn it and cut down the time between panic and serenity!

33. Into Waiting

ADVENT MEDITATIONS No.33

33. Into Waiting

Matt 2:21-23 So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel . But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth.

We’ve seen over these past weeks that it’s all about God communicating with ordinary people and doing extraordinary things with them, as He brings His Son onto the earth. We’ve commented on how it’s so easy to become over familiar with the story and lose the wonder of what was happening. It’s a story of angels and of miracles of conception, of movement around the country at the whim of an emperor, and then out of the country by the guidance of God. Yes, we saw all the preamble, the birth, the shepherds, the wise men, the welcoming team in the temple and the flight to Egypt.

It’s like we’ve come to the closing scene of an epic film. All the big events have happened and now it’s anti-climax at the end. If you saw the Lord of the Rings films, you may remember at the end of the first film, after all the fighting, the hero and his helper slip quietly away in a little boat. After all the things that had gone before, it’s now a quiet, low-key ending – but we all knew there were lots more to come! That’s how it is at the end of what we refer to as ‘The Christmas Story’.

Joseph’s had his dream with an angel and starts to take the little family home. When he gets back to Israel he hears that the Herod dynasty still continues and so keeps on going, back up north to Galilee, to Nazareth. There’s mention of a dream – whether it’s the original one saying go home, or another one, is not clear. The fact is they reach home in the north and that’s where they settle. For us, in a few days time, Christmas and all its activities will be a past memory, and we look forward to just getting back on with life after the holidays, back to normality. That’s possibly how it was with Mary and Joseph. The great adventure, all the travelling, has come to an end, and so now they can settle down to normal life as a family. That’s how it will be for twelve years, until Jesus gives his mother cause to wonder some more (see Lk 2:41-52). It will be about thirty years before it all really starts to happen and until then it’s just a time of waiting, although they might not have been very sure about that. But that’s how life with God is: exciting one day, unsure the next.

Well, the year is almost at an end; in a day or so it will be New Year’s Day, and another year awaits us. What will it hold? We don’t know. What we do know though, is that God is there working out His purposes in perfect precision – which often means slowly – and so the call on us as we come to the end of this Advent series, is to remember the truths we have learned and to so remain faithful to the revelation we’ve had so far, and to watch and wait and be obedient as He leads us out in His purposes.

21. If God says

ADVENT MEDITATIONS No.21

21. If that’s what God says….


Luke 2:21,22 On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise him, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he had been conceived. When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord

“Well, what I think…” How many times have you heard those words? Somehow we try to assert our individuality or create our uniqueness by opinions, as if what we think is THE all-important thing in life. Anyone who has any public role in life – whether it be a politician, TV pundit, newspaper writer, or even simple manager – constantly faces the great temptation to believe that their view is the right one. Politicians probably hold the most extreme position in this respect, when they have to follow a ‘party line’, but we all do it in a lesser measure; we all hold a particular line. I once heard a group of about fifteen men discussing a particular contentious subject with an amazing degree of unity. It was only after about ten minutes that I realized that they had all watched the same documentary on TV the night before and were now all holding the same view. The only problem with all this is when a contradictory view appears in another ‘documentary’ some months later.

With this in mind it is refreshing to observe the simplicity of Mary and Joseph. They don’t go on their own ideas; they, quite clearly, follow God’s views. God has said, through the two angels, that the child is to be named Jesus – so they name him Jesus. Next, being part of the Jewish race, having the Law of Moses, the Law given by God to Israel through Moses, they go to do what the Law required. The Law required the couple to go to the temple after a prescribed period after the birth and present an offering to the Lord. Now this is not the place (with insufficient space) to explain the sacrificial system for the Jews, simply to reiterate that it had been given to Israel to follow. Mary and Joseph therefore followed the dictum, if that’s what God says then we’ll do it.

As we look back over the story so far, we can see that this couple received their guidance from God through direct heavenly communication (the angels), through circumstances (the emperor), through other people (the shepherds), and now through the written word of God (the Law). Similarly today we receive our guidance through heavenly communication (the Holy Spirit – see Gal 5:25), through circumstances, through other people (see esp. Eph 4:11 for ministries and 2 Pet 5:1,2 – shepherds!) and through the Scriptures (see 2 Tim 3:16,17). What a wealth of guidance available to us! I wonder if we avail ourselves of it, or do we only go by what we think, our opinion, our ideas? Such people frequently go astray.

So here is this beautiful couple being led of God. The truth is that it is probably Joseph taking the lead and his capability for following dreams, as we’ll yet see before the story finishes, suggests that he is particularly good at following God’s guidance. Mary, we suggest, simply follows – she’s probably a bit younger than him as well, and following your man was the teaching of the day – and because he’s won the right to call her to follow his headship by first having laid down his life for her. See Paul’s teaching on this (Eph 5:22 -25) which is beautifully epitomized in this couple. So for Mary, she has the additional form of guidance, so alien a concept in the modern Western world, of a life-giving husband, winning her love and submission by his attentiveness to God’s voice and God’s will. Amazing! Is that not beautiful?