Snapshots: Day 101

Snapshots: Day 101

The Snapshot: “you are a people holy to the Lord your God.” (Deut 7:6) This verse follows an exhortation to not be like the pagans that the Lord will drive out of the Land. God had called Israel to be an utterly different people, a unique people, His people who have been redeemed from the fallen ways of the world and given a new blueprint as to how to live – and it is different from everyone else in this fallen world. That is also our calling (1 Pet 2:9), to live in relationship with the Lord God Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth  (Gen 14:19,22) and be a different people, not in a super-pious,  arrogant way, but as a cleansed and purified and humbled people, full of love and goodness, a people utterly reliant on their God. May it be so.

Further Consideration:  When I was younger there was a time when Christians seemed to get themselves in a twist about holiness and in retrospect those who focused on holiness mostly seemed to demonstrate a distinct lack of it. In the Hebrew the original word from which we get holiness seems to express ‘separation’, while the equivalent Greek word in the New Testament seems to signify ‘pure’. Put together the idea seems to be separation to God, consecration to God. When this applies to God, it suggests separation of a perfect (pure) Being from material creation, and especially from mankind!

When there is a relationship between a person and God, that person takes on the holy nature of God. Holiness we might suggest, rubs off (see Ex 30:29, Lev 16:18). The fact is that when we came to Christ we entered into close relationship with God, and the reality of that was the presence of His Holy Spirit who now indwells us. The fact that the New Testament refers to us being “in Christ” also suggests the closeness which Jesus himself spoke about when he spoke of the vine (him) and the branches (us) – see Jn 15:4,5 and so again and again we see this unity that perhaps we take for granted, a unity that makes us holy.

Initially it was seen in Israel: Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.” (Lev 19:2) so when Jesus prays, “I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity,” (Jn 17:23) we cannot but infer that within this oneness comes this holiness. So, when Peter calls us “a holy nation,” (1 Pet 2:9) he knows we are this separate, distinct, pure, consecrated-to-God people. Whether we like it not, understand it or not, we ARE holy because He is holy.

It isn’t because we now follow the Law of Moses but because we have this living relationship with God the Father, earned by God the Son and administered by God the Holy Spirit, a holy Godhead who have worked to create a holy people out of the devastation of this Fallen World.

50. Personal Action Specifics

Meditations in Hebrews 12:  50.  Personal action specifics

Heb 12:14  Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.

Direction – Goals to work for: We have said that the Christian life is always a partnership between us and God and as we approach, in more detail, the things we can do, we saw three ways where, in general terms we could show weakness, ceasing to be fruitful, ceasing to remember who we truly are and ceasing to remember that we have a direction to go in this life. This leads us on to verses which pick up on specific things we can do or not do in the Christian life.

Peace: He starts with, “Make every effort to live in peace with all men.” (v.14a) We live in God’s world and there we are to seek to create the environment of the kingdom of God – peace. Sin is disruptive, hurtful and harmful. We now are to work against such things and it must start in our heads and then be translated into our lives.

Holiness: He continues, “Make every effort to… be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.” (v.14b) To be holy is to be utterly different with that unique God-like characteristic that is described by such words as wholeness, complete, perfect, pure, utterly righteous. Holiness comes with God’s presence but the warning, “without holiness no one will see the Lord,” implies that we have a part to play in being holy. As we draw near, as we spend time in God’s presence as we direct our lives on him, so we will find His glory, his holiness will be reflected in us (see 2 Cor 3:16-18) We have added an additional note at the end of this particular study.

God’s Resources – His Grace: So the first two encouragements are to focus us on our relationships with other people and with God. The Christian life is all about relationships, but these relationships with other people can go wrong and so we need God’s resources to help us: “See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” (v.15)  The grace of God here is the sum of all the resources that God makes available to us to enable us to cope with life on this fallen world. Without it we can become vulnerable to wrong ways of thinking about other people, especially when Satan sows discord between us and others. We do not expect disagreements within the Church so that when it does happen (e.g. Paul and Barnabas Acts 15:37-40) we need to learn how to disagree peaceably and not let it fester and cause ongoing trouble and embroiling others in it as well.

Linking Two Failures: But then he says two things that initially at least appear unconnected: “See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son.” (v.16) So what is the link? Well Esau’s sin, for that is what it was, was to be indifferent to his family heritage and his family’s inheritance. If you like it is not bothering about the family name. He gave it aware because of human desire, he was hungry, that was all, and he threw away his inheritance. Now what happens when someone is sexually immoral? Well starting in reverse order, they live by their desire for sex. But then they forget who they are, a holy child of God; they show that for that moment at least they don’t care about the name of God.

In both cases we have a warning not to be ruled by what used to be called ‘carnal appetites’, physical desires of the moment. How strong these things can be! Do I say that because I have been down that path? Thankfully no, but I have known a number Christian leaders who have, and those who were not leaders. In a world that declares that sex between unlimited numbers of adults is normal the pressures to give way to temptation increase and so we need to increase both our vigilance and our inner faith building. The problem with these sorts of failures is that they have big repercussions. Existing relationships are demeaned and made meaningless, and future relationships are weakened (those with regular different sexual partners find it more difficult to establish ongoing relationships and we are creating a people who grow old in loneliness and in insecurity).

The Repercussions: But it is the spiritual repercussions that are more serious.  Here comes a warning he has given at least twice already “Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. He could bring about no change of mind, though he sought the blessing with tears.” (v.17) Once he had sold his birthright, it was too late, he could not get it back. Once you have committed adultery you cannot get back to how it was before. Now there is a question of guilt to be dealt with which may hang around for decades. Now there is a question of trust to be regained should you wish to maintain our existing relationship, and that will be hard going. But then there may be all your family and friends whose love for you for damaged because of the desire of a moment.

Recap: What have we seen in these verses? In verses 14 and 15 we are reminded that life is all about relationships, with people and with God and, in a sin-inhabited, fallen world, it is so easy for those relationships to be damaged. We are challenged to “make every effort” to preserve these relationships.

But then he reminded us that so often such relationships can be broken by sexual immorality and we become just like Esau who threw his heritage away for a simple human desire – hunger – so that other powerful human desire – sex – can also cause lasting damage and may even threaten our spiritual inheritance. True repentance is always the way back, but even then immense grace is needed on all sides which is yet another reason why we need the grace of God.

Human life and experience can be very fragile and it is so easy to throw away what is good in a moment. No wonder this pastoral writer is so concerned to keep on warning and warning and warning his readers to be vigilant, making every effort to hold to their faith and to the love and goodness of God. be aware of the temptations facing you even today and turn to the Lord and cry for His help. He is there for you.

Addendum on ‘Holiness’

Being: Holiness we have said is about being utterly different, about having that God nature that is unique. First, we ARE Holy because the Holy Spirit indwells us. Second we are becoming more holy because we are bring changed, stage by stage by the Holy Spirit, more and more into the likeness of Jesus.

Behaviour: Now there are two wrong behavioural extremes, I observe, in Christians. First there is to measure oneself by how we see ourselves conforming to certain ‘do’s’ and ‘don’ts’ and, second, there is cut oneself off entirely from the culture of the world around us. Jesus did neither of these two things.

Attitude or Outlook: Holiness grows in as much as we hear and encounter God. Growth is always about response to God for the Christian. Second it is about ‘being’, as we said above and therefore we can be just like Jesus AND be part of the experience of his world around us without shame and without compromise. We look, assess, enjoy, be aware of differences and take His love to our culture, being in it but not of it.

62. Safety Measures

Meditations in Exodus: 62. Safety Measures

Ex 19:16,17   On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain.

In the previous study we started to observe the warnings that have come through the Lord’s instructions to Israel to not be casual when meeting Him. These are sobering passages. The Lord has delivered Israel out of Egypt and has led them through the desert to Sinai providing for them along the way and now He prepares them to have an encounter that is unique in history. This entire people are going to have an encounter with the Lord. It is something they should pass on to their grandchildren and to all future generations; this is what makes them a unique people.

The Lord has given instructions as to how the people are to prepare themselves and so After Moses had gone down the mountain to the people, he consecrated them, and they washed their clothes. Then he said to the people, “Prepare yourselves for the third day. Abstain from sexual relations. (v.14,15) The additional instruction about sexual relations is not because sex is wrong but because in the days to come the law will suggest various ways that you can prepare yourself to be ‘special’ if you want a special encounter with the Lord and holding back in this area is a token sign of that.

So the third day comes and they are ready. They have done all they can do and now it is for the Lord to make His move. On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled.(v.16) They are still in their camp a little way off from the foothills of the mountain and suddenly it begins. Thunder, lighting, thick cloud and the divine trumpet call. It is time to come close.

Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the LORD descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, the whole mountain trembled violently, and the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder. (v.17-19) I don’t know if you have seen such films as ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind, or ‘Independence Day’.  There the film makers use clouds and sound to create this awesome sense of ‘the coming’. This wasn’t just a cloud but it was smoke, it was like a volcano erupting but with no lava present. As it grew and grew, what made it even more eerie was the sound of the trumpet on the mountain getting louder and louder.  But this isn’t just theatrical effects, this is a personal encounter: Then Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him. (v.19b) What follows must indicate what He said: The LORD descended to the top of Mount Sinai and called Moses to the top of the mountain. (v.20) It is presumably a voice that all the people can hear and So Moses went up (v.20b)

What now follows seems rather strange: the LORD said to him, “Go down and warn the people so they do not force their way through to see the LORD and many of them perish. Even the priests, who approach the LORD, must consecrate themselves, or the LORD will break out against them.(v.21,22) It is strange because the Lord has already told Moses to instruct the people like this (see v.10-13) but the Lord adds two things here. First, the people are not to ‘see’ God and second there is a reference to priests although so far there is no mention of a priesthood. Let’s consider both these things.

First, not ‘seeing’ the Lord. There are two things that come out of scripture. First, whenever there are heavenly revelations (e.g. Ezek 1, Rev 4,5) what is seen is beyond human understanding and so the most commonly used word is ‘like’ as the observers try to grasp something of what is before them. Second, there is also the suggestion that the glory of the Lord is so bright that it would simply burn up the observer. Thus distance and obscurity are required to protect the human observers.

Next, the reference to priests. The only people who are going to get close to the Lord in the chapters that follow are the key leaders and in that they then take on the role of priest, as representing the people to the Lord. The word here, I suggest, speaks of those leaders.

So why does the Lord repeat this when He has already instructed Moses?  Possibly to add in the two above bits of information but also possibly to see if Moses himself has taken it in and so we find, Moses said to the LORD, “The people cannot come up Mount Sinai, because you yourself warned us, `Put limits around the mountain and set it apart as holy.’ (v.23) i.e. I have told the people. We then find, The LORD replied, “Go down and bring Aaron up with you. But the priests and the people must not force their way through to come up to the LORD, or he will break out against them.” So Moses went down to the people and told them.(v.24,25) There again the reference to the ‘priests’ but they haven’t got any yet, just elders. Sounds like the New Testament church where the Bible calls local leaders ‘elders’ but some parts of the church call them ‘priests’. Interesting!  Those elders will have their turn but for the moment the ‘leadership encounter’ is to be extended from just Moses to include Aaron who, after all, has played a significant part in the Exodus – but no one else. So Moses goes and tells the people.

We have already suggested that the limitation on not being able to ‘see’ the Lord was given to protect Israel from being destroyed by the incredible glory of God. Moses himself has never ‘seen’ the Lord only heard Him a number of times. Prohibiting the people from coming up on the mountain does the same thing. It is not so much that God is not to be seen as a tourist attraction but the coming together of the divine and the human is potentially very risky – risky at least from the human side. I suspect that the holiness or glory of God is one of the things we know least about even though the word holy is often used to designate the presence of God (for He alone is holy).

The apostle Paul speaks of us seeing through a glass darkly (old versions) or “as in a mirror” in modern versions. Think how people try to observe an eclipse of the sun – either through dark glasses or even using a mirror. Now imagine something a million more times powerful than our sun and the incredible marvel is that somehow the Lord manages to communicate with mankind without destroying us.  Later the Lord was to say to Moses, no one may see me and live.” (Ex 33:20) It’s not that the Lord doesn’t want us to see Him but that if we did as mere human flesh we would be instantly burnt up by the glory of the Lord. Don’t see these instructions as legalistic but expressions of God’s mercy and grace. What a miracle of His grace and mercy it is that we make it through even one day! Ponder on that and thank Him.

39. Reconciled to be Holy

Meditations in Colossians: 39. Reconciled to be holy

Col 1:22    But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.

I do like ‘joining words’. ‘But’ sets off the present verse against the previous one. In the previous verse Paul had reminded us what we were like before we came to Christ, but he doesn’t want to leave it there. For every negative about our past there are many positives about our present and future and so Paul turns the coin over, so to speak, to remind them and us what God did about these helpless and hopeless individuals who he had described as “alienated from God and … enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.”  Yes, that’s what we had been like, but God didn’t leave us like that.

No, He came and “reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death.” We considered the theme of reconciliation in verse 20, seeing it was the bringing together of two people at odds with each other when the conflict is dealt with and peace is restored. This reconciliation between God and us was brought about by Jesus’ death on the Cross. Now we have touched on that a number of times and so don’t need to spend time on it now. It is the result of his work on the Cross which stands out in this present verse, that having dealt with our Sin, our sins and our guilt on the Cross, we stand before God with all those three things removed – at least from sight. The power of Sin has been broken, the sins that spoke against us have been removed, and the guilt that ensued has also been removed and transferred to the body of Christ on the Cross.

I don’t know if you ever watch those dramas where they jump back in time to do recaps in a person’s life. Well, when we came to Christ, there was immediately a jumping back in time so that all of those three things in your life were taken back and put upon Christ as he hung on the Cross. We’ve used the illustration before, that C.S.Lewis came up with, of the picture of God standing outside of time, looking down from above on a line that is history, so He sees both our present and any other moment in history. When He looks at us when we bow before him confessing our sins and believing in Jesus, His eyes take those things from us and He sees them being dealt with by His Son on the Cross. When He looks back to us, they are gone.

Now that is the truth that is conveyed in the Scriptures. We have it in our verse above: to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.”   When He first created us in the form of Adam and Eve, we were holy, made in His image. Christ’s work on the Cross takes us back to that original state as far as God is concerned. When He looks back to us, so to speak, from Christ on the Cross He sees us as holy people, without blemish and free from any accusation from justice or from Satan. That IS how we are in God’s sight as a result of the work of Christ on the Cross.

Now this word ‘holy’ bears some further thought because I think most of us struggle with the idea that we are now to be considered ‘holy’, especially when we look at our lives and see how imperfect they are. How can we be holy?

The big call to holiness comes through the book of Leviticus which is all about ceremonial law which relates to maintaining a right relationship with the Lord. A number of times we come across the call to be holy. The call to be a holy people though came first at Sinai: “you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” (Ex 19:6) That was reiterated in the Law that was given there: “You are to be my holy people.” (Ex 22:31)

Although there are many more references to the holy in Exodus the force of it doesn’t really come until Leviticus when we find, “I am the LORD your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy. Do not make yourselves unclean by any creature that moves about on the ground. I am the LORD who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; therefore be holy, because I am holy.” (Lev 11:44,45) We did in fact look quite extensively at this subject of being holy right back in the second of these studies so I won’t prolong this too much here. The next call in Leviticus is, “The LORD said to Moses, “Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: `Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy,” (Lev 19:2) and then You are to be holy to me because I, the LORD, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own.” (Lev 20:26) The apostle Peter brings this into New Testament Christianity: “just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” (1 Pet 1:15,16)

Now what all these references do is link us to God’s being. When we are linked to God we are linked to the holy – because He IS holy (separate, distinct, perfect, unlike any other). Through the work of Jesus on the Cross, that has been legally established: in His sight we ARE holy. That opens the door for us to be forgiven, cleansed and adopted and having been adopted as His sons or children, He places His Holy Spirit within us.

We are now truly one with him as Jesus prayed in Gethsemane: “I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me.” (Jn 17:20-23)

That reflects Jesus’ teaching at the Last Supper: “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever– the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” (Jn 14:16-20) He starts by speaking of the Holy Spirit and ends by speaking of his own presence being in them; it is one and the same thing. We ARE holy because Jesus has made it legally so, and we ARE holy because he indwells us by his Spirit. The Father sees us as holy and has given us the resource to live out this holiness. Hallelujah!

2. We are holy?

Meditations in Colossians: 2:  We are holy?

Col 1:2   To the holy and faithful brothers in Christ at Colosse:

How often, I wonder, do we pass over words in the Bible and accept that we really don’t know what they mean? The word ‘holy’ comes up over 580 times in the Bible but what does it mean and what are its implications?  Paul writes to holy people at Colosse, so why are they holy? What does that mean? We’re going to have to do a study here rather than just ponder on the word.

Essentially holy means to be utterly different.  But how?  The first (and only) reference to the word ‘holy’ in Genesis is, God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.” (Gen 2:3) i.e. he made it special and different which in that case meant a day of rest, a day without work.

But then we find in Exodus it is used over 30 times, the first one being at the place of the burning bush where the Lord tells Moses, “Do not come any closer. Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” (Ex 3:5) That is interesting because what we know of that was that God’s presence was being manifest there so He could talk to Moses, and something strange was happening – a bush was burning without being destroyed. The presence of God seemed to make that place holy and because of His presence almost anything could happen!

Later at Sinai, the Lord said to Moses, “Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” (Ex 19:5,6)  Again the implication is at the least, a different and special people, but it is only when we get into Leviticus that we find, “I am the LORD your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy,” (Lev 11:44) and we realise that holiness is a description of God and wherever He manifests Himself in our midst, that place is also holy.  This is repeated in Lev 19:2 and then a little later on is expanded: “Consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am the LORD your God. Keep my decrees and follow them. I am the LORD, who makes you holy.” (Lev 20:7,8) and if we hadn’t got the message, “You are to be holy to me because I, the LORD, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own.” (Lev 20:26) and then, “Consider them holy, because I the LORD am holy–I who make you holy.” (Lev 21:8)  This idea of making people, places or things holy is conveyed a number of times more in Leviticus especially.

But is not only the Lord Himself who conveys holiness, it is also His angelic representatives: “The commander of the LORD’s army replied, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so.”  (Josh 5:15) Later in the incident of the ark being returned from the Philistines, we find, “the men of Beth Shemesh asked, “Who can stand in the presence of the LORD, this holy God?” (1 Sam 6:20) Now if it hadn’t come through very clearly before in the verses we looked at, at least, the sense comes through now that because He is holy, there is an ethical or moral dimension added that implies He is perfect morally and anyone who gets close to Him to should be the same, complying utterly with His Law or His will, His design for mankind.

Yet when we start looking at the character or nature of God we find that His ‘utterly different-ness’ is more than just moral perfection because Jesus taught, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect,” (Mt 5:48) and the word ‘perfect’ means complete or whole. God is complete and whole and lacks nothing. He is also love and He is also good (those are also attributes spoken of Him in the Scriptures). This is brought into New Testament teaching by the apostle Peter, “just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” (1 Pet 1:15)

Now let’s ponder on all this because of course we need also to remember that we are now those who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. It is His presence within us that makes us utterly different and we find that we are being changed by Him into His likeness (2 Cor 3:18). Thus He seeks to work His wholeness into our lives, His love, His goodness, His ethical perfection. Put like this there is no room for dodgy dealings, bad language, questionable relationships or whatever else the rest of the world might be into.

But even as we noted with the burning bush incident, where the Lord’s presence is (and He is within us), then anything is possible!  Do we limit Him I wonder by our unbelief, by our not realizing or taking hold of these things? I AM holy. He DOES live within me. He IS changing me into His likeness. Anything IS possible with Him.  These things do not apply just to one or two very special people, the Mother Teresa type of people; this applies to all of us who call ourselves Christian. All the people who formed the church at Colosse were holy. All of your church are holy. If only we will realise it!

28. Walk in His Ways

Meditations in Deuteronomy : 28 :  Walk in His Ways

(Focus: Deut 10:1-29)

Deut 10:12,13 And now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the LORD’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?

Yet again Moses reminds Israel of their history with the Lord. He reminds them that after the first two stone tablets had been smashed, he had had to make two new ones and an ark or wooden chest in which to keep them (10:1-3) and the Lord wrote on them as before (10:4). Then they had travelled on and Aaron had died (10:6), then further on when the Lord set apart the Levites to carry the ark (10:7-9). On the mountain he had pleaded with the Lord not to destroy them and the Lord allowed them to go to enter the land. (10:10,11) After reminding them yet again of that, Moses calls them again to comprehensively follow the Lord (v.12,13 above). Observe the language.

Attitude fear your God, have a right respect for His awesomeness. Actionwalk in all His ways. Let your daily lifestyle conform to His will for you. Heart commitmentlove him. Heart expression serve Him. Assessment of both – wholeheartedly and being obedient. Note that the complementary attitudes of fear and love and seen to be there by the willingness to serve and obey the Lord.   Service and obedience are the measure of the heart. Yet, one must add, that a cold obedience and service is NOT what is being asked of Israel; it is to be a relationship of love.

The apostle John had this in mind when he wrote, We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.” (1 Jn 2:3-6) i.e. a genuine relationship of love with the Lord is expressed by obedience to all the New Testament says, and to the leading of the Holy Spirit. Failure in these areas raises questions as to the reality of the relationship.

So, Moses has appealed to the memory of the recent past to encourage Israel to be obedient to their calling by the Lord. But he wants to yet enlarge their understanding of the Lord: “To the LORD your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it.” (v.15). The Lord who delivered them out of Egypt and drew near to them at Sinai and who provided for them and disciplined them, is the Creator of the World. Everything in all of Creation belongs to Him. That is His greatness which makes all the more marvellous what has happened to them: “Yet the LORD set his affection on your forefathers and loved them, and he chose you, their descendants, above all the nations, as it is today.” (v.15) He isn’t a distant God somewhere ‘out there’ but He has drawn near to them to enter into relationship with them.

But Israel have a problem that has been revealed by their past behaviour that Moses spoke about in Chapter 9 (which reaches its conclusion here): “Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer.” (v.16) A little bit of mixed metaphors here! Cut out from your hearts the hardness that is there so that you will no longer be arrogant and rebellions (stiff-necked).

But there is another aspect to this particular problem: “For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes.” (v.17)  God is both holy (utterly different) and righteous (always behaving absolutely rightly).  The implication is that He will not tolerate their rebellious attitudes any longer. He is a good God and He looks for goodness in them: “He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing. And you are to love those who are aliens, for you yourselves were aliens in Egypt.” (v.18,19)

So, he concludes, “Fear the LORD your God and serve him. Hold fast to him and take your oaths in his name. He is your praise; he is your God, who performed for you those great and awesome wonders you saw with your own eyes.” (v.20,21). Stick close to God, He is the cause of all praise for He is God who has done great things for you, summed up as, “Your forefathers who went down into Egypt were seventy in all, and now the LORD your God has made you as numerous as the stars in the sky.” (v.22) God has done what He said to Abraham. He is faithful to His word and Israel are the proof of it. Now live it out!

 

24. House Church

Short Meditations in Mark’s Gospel: 24. House church

Mk 1:29 As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew.

Such a simple verse but such profound meaning!  Think of religion in general and what religious people across the world think. So often it is the picture of a big, awesome, unreachable God who makes such demands, that adherents of the religion have to jump through hoops in performing their pious acts – which they only can hope will please their deity.

Then you come to this verse and look at what is behind it. A preacher, a rabbi goes into a home of some of his followers. Nothing remarkable about that until you realise that the Gospels declare that this rabbi is the Son of God himself, come from heaven for a temporary (33 years) time on earth. The Son of God? The second expression of the Godhead – this is God Himself walking into this house.

But there has been no preparation. If this had been a king the preparation team would have gone ahead and checked the place out to see if it was worthy of his visit. The security people would check that there were no likely risks to him in this poor dwelling with these fairly poor people. The people haven’t prepared themselves. They haven’t washed or carried out special rituals to enable them to meet this personage.

In fact, when it comes down to it, they are completely blind to his greatness and they just think of him as another man – and he’s not bothered by that. He is not upset that they are not falling on the ground worshipping him. He’s not upset that they don’t refine their language or clean up their habits to acknowledge his holiness – for he is holy, even if they do not realise it. No, he is not put out by their ignorance and their ordinary approach to him.

No, this is the One real God, supreme and almighty and he has nothing to prove. He doesn’t need people to give him glory – it’s his anyway and he is comfortable in being the King of Kings and Lord of Lords in disguise! In fact if they did recognise him they would flee from him and he wouldn’t later be taken by them and sacrificed as the Lamb of God for the sins of the world. No, he comes in simply humility and gentleness.

Lord, thank you that this is how you are!

40. Misc. (1)

Meditations in the Law : No.40 : Miscellaneous Laws (1)

Lev 19:1,2 The LORD said to Moses, “Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: `Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy.

Chapter 19 takes us into a batch of miscellaneous laws, a number of which pick up on those found either in the Ten Commandments or in the covenant laws of Exodus 21 to 23.  The point that is made from the outset is that these are laws given by God to make Israel distinctive (holy) like He is distinctive. This distinctiveness is because God is pure and perfect and this people is thus to be the same. These laws will make Israel stand out in the world, as a people who live according to God’s design for humanity, and as such they are to be a light to the rest of the world.

Immediately after this introduction we have a double relationship reminder: Each of you must respect his mother and father, and you must observe my Sabbaths. I am the LORD your God,” (v.3) echoes of the fifth and fourth commandments (Ex 20:8-12) Relationship is at the heart of community – of life with others. The family is the basic building block of society and a respect for God built into community life is the umbrella over it all. This is followed by a warning against idol worship: “Do not turn to idols or make gods of cast metal for yourselves. I am the LORD your God.” (v.4)  which echoes the second commandment (Ex 20:4,5). Hold fast to the One True God!

Verses 5 to 8 basically say, if you want fellowship with the Lord then make sure that when you bring your fellowship offerings you do it in the prescribed way. Fellowship with God is not to be equated with casualness: “When you sacrifice a fellowship offering to the LORD, sacrifice it in such a way that it will be accepted on your behalf. It shall be eaten on the day you sacrifice it or on the next day; anything left over until the third day must be burned up. If any of it is eaten on the third day, it is impure and will not be accepted. Whoever eats it will be held responsible because he has desecrated what is holy to the LORD; that person must be cut off from his people.” (v.5-8). Thus, as with the Ten Commandments, the initial commands are about relationship with the Lord. If we get that right, then there is hope for everything else to follow and fall into place.

This is then followed by instructions that were meant to bless the poor: “When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the LORD your God.” (v.9,10) Thus the ‘leftovers’ of harvest are to be accessible and available to the poor, as an additional form of God’s provision for them. God’s concern for the poor and needy also comes a few verses later: “Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but fear your God. I am the LORD,” (v.14) as an obvious protection for the disabled.

The verses that follow are a mixture of laws about property and ownership, and truthfulness in life. First the property and ownership laws: “Do not steal” (v.11a) is a repeat of the eighth commandment (Ex 20:15), “Do not defraud your neighbor or rob him,” (v.13a) is a general instruction to let there be right dealings in society, and “Do not hold back the wages of a hired man overnight,” (v.13b) takes the right dealing into the work place so that employers do not hold back what they owe employees.

The laws of truthfulness are, “Do not lie,” (v.11b) which is a simple and straight forward call for truthfulness to always be yours, followed by, “Do not deceive one another,” (v.11c) which takes truthfulness into behaviour as well as speech. Indeed part of that deception may include making false oaths, and so they are forbidden: “Do not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your God. I am the LORD.” (v.12) i.e. don’t try to use God’s name to bolster up your wrong doings. He is holy and so if you invoke His name in such dealings you will be in serious trouble!  This takes us into the area of justice: “Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.” (v.15) Again, let honesty prevail in society. Again, more on truthfulness: “Do not go about spreading slander among your people.” (v.16)

From there the Law becomes more general in concern for well-being in society: “Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor’s life. I am the LORD,” (v.16) but it is not only actions but attitudes: “Do not hate your brother in your heart.” (v.17a). It is not only negative or passive, it is also positive and active: “Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in his guilt.” (v.17b) i.e. if you see your neighbour moving into wrong, do something about it, go to him and talk to him. Wow, that is community care!

Positive heart attitudes will have strong effects in society: “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.” (v.18). Again and again where we have that final reminder, “I am the Lord” we are being reminded that this is to be a holy people, a people who are distinguished from the self-centred, ungodly, sinful nations of the world – or at least, that is how it was supposed to be if Israel had heeded these laws. What a wonderful society it could have been but, tragically, so often it wasn’t as they ignored or forgot about these guidelines from the Designer on how to create a good, secure and caring society. The blueprints were there, but they just didn’t follow them – just like we don’t in modern Western societies today!

24. My right hand

God in the Psalms No.24

Psa 16:8 I have set the LORD always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.

There are probably many times when we read Scripture but just don’t take in what it means. What does he is at my right hand mean?  Perhaps we’d better look, first of all, at general references to the right hand:

Gen 48:14  But Israel reached out his right hand and put it on Ephraim’s head, though he was the younger.” Israel put his right hand to make a special blessing. The right hand was seen as the hand of authority. Joseph saw what his father was doing and recognized its significance.

Ex 15:6 Your right hand, O LORD, was majestic in power. Your right hand, O LORD, shattered the enemy.” Israel saw God’s destruction of Pharaoh as an act of His right hand. It is seen as the hand of power. See similarly Psa 17:7, 20:6, 21:8 etc.

Ex 29:20  Slaughter it, take some of its blood and put it on the lobes of the right ears of Aaron and his sons, on the thumbs of their right hands”. The right side was the side designated hold, to be cleansed. The right hand was to be holy.

Psa 110:1  The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at my right handJesus is seated at God’s right hand in heaven. It is the place of intimacy with the Father and a place of rule. This intimacy is seen also in Psa 73:23, Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand.” Have you seen pictures of little children holding the hand of their parent? There is a safety and security and intimacy there.

It is this last reference that perhaps impinges most on our verse from Psalm 16. It is first a sense of safety, closeness or intimacy. He first says, I have set the LORD always before me, which is an act of will on David’s part, a determination of attitude. It’s like that which Paul says,Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things (Col 3:2). For David, his heart is open to the Lord at all times (v.7), he seeks to have a God-awareness or, if you like, a God-consciousness, at all times.

When he knows the Lord’s presence is with him, he knows that God’s authority, power and rule are there, working on his behalf. Because of this he will not be shaken, and he will rest secure (v.9). Because of this he knows that the Lord will not let death come prematurely (v.10). When he knows the presence of the Lord, he knows there will also be joy (v.11), because the Lord isn’t just there, He’s there to bless. That’s what David means when he speaks of the Lord who has eternal pleasures at your right hand (v.11). God’s right hand is also a hand of provision.

Do you see the two sided aspect of this?  We have been considering all these pictures conveying all these things at God’s right hand, but David is referring in our verse above to his own right hand. He has an awareness that in all these aspects, God is there close to Him. When it comes to his own authority and power, his own safety and security, his own provision, they all exist because of the intimacy that He knows – the closeness of the Lord to Him. He purposes to ensure this: I have set the LORD always before me. He puts the awareness of the Lord in the foreground of his life, to ensure that he is always conscious of the Lord’s presence.  Yet, to give the whole picture, his psalms indicate the reality of life – sometimes we lose that sense of God’s presence and have to step aside, be quiet, wait on Him, until we regain it. He is what he is, because God’s there, close!

3. Chosen

Ephesians Meditations No.3


3.
Chosen & Predestined

Eph 1:4,5 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ.

There is a simple word at the beginning of these verses that tells us something significant: “For”. A longer way of putting it would have been, “Because of this…”. ‘For’ takes us back to the previous verse that we saw in the previous meditation: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.” (v.3). We saw then that Paul praised God because God had blessed us. Now he expands on that blessing. He goes right back to fundamentals. Let’s look at these fundamentals.


First of all, “he chose us”. We are what we are as Christians because God chose us. It wasn’t the other way round, as we so often think it is. But it isn’t that He just chose us a week before we turned to Him. Oh no, He chose us “before the creation of the world.” This is amazing. This is God who Created this world and before He created it He looked into the future, saw what would happen, saw sin, saw the need for the Cross, saw us coming into the world and (I suggest) saw that we would be those who would respond to the good news of Jesus Christ and at that point said, “Yes, they will be my children.” We see this sense of God’s planning before the world came into being, a number of times in Scripture – Jn 17:24, 1 Pet 1:20, Rev 17:8, Rev 13:8, 2 Tim 1:9, Tit 1:2.


But there are two crucial words that we have missed, “in him” – “he chose us in him before the creation of the world.” Jesus is the way God chooses who will be His. As we noted above, it is those who will respond to the good news of Jesus who are saved. Therefore in the planning before God made the world, He looked into the future and saw that when you heard about Jesus, you would respond. THAT was the crucial means of assessment. Right back then, God had it in mind that you would become His child at this point in history and your response to Jesus was the way that would happen.


But there is a further explanation. We were called with a purpose: “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.” That is the end product of the work of Jesus and you responding to the wonderful news that he has died for your sins, guilt and punishment, means that God may declare you holy and blameless in His sight! Because you have surrendered your will to God, declared your belief that Jesus has died for your sins, and sought His forgiveness and lordship, He has declared you forgiven
AND cleansed so you ARE holy and blameless in His sight. Yes, we know there is a practical day by day righteousness to be worked out and that will be a process of change that goes on until we die and go to heaven, but as far as God and justice is concerned, you ARE holy and blameless NOW . That is the wonder of this salvation of ours. Yes, we know there is an ongoing work of change to be continued throughout our lives but we are not having to focus on getting right in God’s sight, we are not having to earn His approval, because He has declared it already. That is why the Gospel is GOOD news! How wonderful”


But Paul isn’t content with saying it once; now he repeats it: “ In love he predestined us.” Now because the original didn’t have punctuation, you will find a note in your Bible that the words “in love” may come at the end of the previous sentence. It doesn’t really matter where they come because both sentences say the same thing, but it is important to note that this work of God is a love work, something He does because He is love (1 Jn 4:8,16). This is all about God’s love being expressed to whoever will receive it.


But now he uses the word ‘predestined’. Some of us get very caught up in the sovereignty of God with the use of this word. Yes, the Lord is sovereign but, I suggest, the Bible does include our free will in this. There’s no room for boasting in this. I have no idea why I responded to the Gospel and a friend didn’t, but free will is suggested when Peter uses the expressions about God knowing beforehand: “God’s set purpose and foreknowledge.” (Acts
2:23) and “who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God.” (1 Pet 1:2). Predestination, we suggest, therefore is more about God choosing the ‘method’ of choice and knowing who would respond, rather than making people believe or not believe, which would lead us into a cruel God scenario.


The things we have been starting to consider (and they will come up again) are seen widely in the New Testament, e.g. “we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you.” (1 Thess 1:4), “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 . For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son.” (Rom
8:28 ,29) and, “from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.” (2 Thess 2:13). So there we are, chosen by God, for a purpose and it’s all about blessing and love. How wonderful!