45. Judgment or Precursor to Revival?

‘Living with Uncertainty’ Meditations: 45. Q.7 Judgment or Precursor to Revival?

Hab 1:2,3,5    How long, Lord, must I call for help,  but you do not listen? …. Why do you make me look at injustice?  Why do you tolerate wrongdoing? …. “For I am going to do something in your days  that you would not believe, even if you were told.   

Hab 2:1  I will stand at my watch and station myself on the ramparts; I will look to see what he will say to me

The Questions:  There are times when things happen on the earth which should raise questions in the wise – what is happening, why is it happening? The arrival of Covid-19 in the early part of 2020 is one such thing.

Habakkuk’s Experience: Habakkuk was a prophet, ministering, probably just a few years before the fall of Jerusalem to Babylon in 586/7, who looked at the unrighteous state of his nation and asked God, “Why, why do you put up with this?”  When the Lord said He was going to bring disciplinary judgment on his people by bringing the Babylonians to deal with this nation, this left Habakkuk amazed and confused. His response: I’m going to have to go aside and listen and watch to see what He will say.”

God and Judgment (For detail go to my link ‘The Judgments of a Loving God): How God brings about a particular judgment is in some ways irrelevant. In Job we see Satan allowed to come against Job and he does it initially by stirring up the Sabeans to plunder his goods (Job 1:12-15). Howe did Satan do that? Did he make them attack? Only, I suggest, by whispering in their ears that Job was a good target. How did the Lord fulfil His word getting Nebuchadnezzar to attack Israel? Only, I suggest, by getting one of Satan’s emissaries (see 1 King 22:20-23) to go and whisper proud thoughts to him. God doesn’t need to make people do evil, He just lets Satan stir their already sinful attitudes to go that way.

Covid-19?  Is Covid-19 a judgment from God? How did it start? As one website puts it, “The source of the coronavirus is believed to be a “wet market” in Wuhan which sold both dead and live animals including fish and birds. Such markets pose a heightened risk of viruses jumping from animals to humans because hygiene standards are difficult to maintain if live animals are being kept and butchered on site.” It would also appear there was a Chinese doctor who warned about it but was disregarded. Careless workers plus disregard by the authorities? Sounds like the work of the enemy allowed, we have to say, by the Lord. But why?

The Effects: Consider what has happened. The world has ground to a halt, economies are under threat, proud authorities are lost as to how to deal with it, and relatively few numbers have died (over an above those who would have died in the northern hemisphere winter anyway.) Mankind has been humbled and people shut off from their usual activities given time to reflect on life. Discipline? Most certainly.

But Why? Well, what was God’s intent in bringing Nebuchadnezzar to destroy Jerusalem? To discipline and humble the people, to stop the ongoing sin of idolatry that He had spoken against for so many years through both Jeremiah and Ezekiel, to cleanse the people of their sin to prepare them to return to the Land with a new outlook. What, if we are right and God is behind it, even if it is simply Him standing back and letting the sinfulness of mankind bring it about, is He seeking to achieve through it? Well of course only time will tell but what we have already noted might give us a clue: mankind is being humbled and people given opportunity to pause up in their lives and ponder on the important things of life. For some time now, various voices from around the globe have been hinting at the possibility of God coming with worldwide revival and such as this would appear to be a way of preparing people’s hearts to receive Him. The ministry of John the Baptist may be what should be the ministry of the Church to the world at the present time. Check out Isa 43:3, Mal 3:1, Matt 3:3 and see if they speak to you.

Revival or Renewal: But  I find a question rising in me, an uncertainty if you like: does God want to bring Revival or would He prefer to bring Renewal? We need to understand the difference and then listen carefully. Revival, history shows, is God coming in sovereign power for a limited period of time both inside the Church AND outside it bring in a great harvest of the lost. Renewal is where God comes by His Holy Spirit to reinvigorate the Church.  Restoration tends to refer to a restoring of gifts and ministries of the Holy Spirit. If we have renewal and restoration together we have a reinvigorated ‘body of Christ’ that is equipped, empowered, and envisioned to continue to work of Christ as we have never seen before.

Christ’s Calling to the Body: Consider what Jesus said of himself: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour,” (Lk 4:18,19) and “report to John what you hear and see:  The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.” (Mt 11:4,5) As we have seen previously, Jesus sent out the twelve to do these things, then the seventy-two and concluded with an ‘all-church’ commission: “go and make disciples of all nations… and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you,” (Mt 28:19,20) having already declared, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing.” (Jn 14:12).

How to Pray: Praying for Revival is easy: “Lord, please come and sovereignly do all the work.” Praying for Renewal and Restoration is harder: “Lord, please come in the power of your Holy Spirit to bring us together and equip, empower and envision us to be the body you called us to be so that through us you can reach this world – that you have prepared with this virus – with your power and your revelation.”

And So? Uncertain about the days in which we live? Pray.  Uncertain about God’s intents? Pray. Uncertain about your availability? That is down to you, your act of will, just declare it and make yourself available to Him, not only to pray but to be available to do whatever He wants to do as we pray. Amen? Amen!

Snapshots: Day 14

Snapshots: Day 14

The Snapshot: “The woman you put here with me gave me the fruit.” Don’t blame God. It’s the natural thing to do but the wrong thing. When God gave us each other, it was to bless us with yet another expression of His love. But how easy it is to make another person my scapegoat instead of facing my own shortcoming, and in so doing we trample love underfoot. Don’t blame God for bad situations that we bring about by our own folly, and which continue and multiply because we fail to be honest, confess, seek forgiveness, restoration and healing to resolve the past. Judgment falls on dishonesty and loss of integrity, but security opens the way for honesty and integrity to be restored. Lord, help us create a secure community that can become an honest restorative community.

Further Consideration: Over the last two days we have considered the outworkings of the Fall – a sense of guilt with a desire to hide from God because of fear of what might follow. But now they are called out into the open. I have this feeling that when we each one stand before God at the place of Judgment at the end (which may simply be the end of our time on this earth, the end of our life here) we may be brought ‘out into the open’ where God shows us with His perfect vision, two things. (this may be a split second or longer; this is just a reasonable speculation).

The first is that He will show us ALL the wrong thoughts, wrong words and wrong deeds throughout our entire lives – so that we may see our need of the Cross.  The second is that He will show us all the good achieved through our lives by the working of His grace and His Spirit, the outworking of the Cross in our lives. I suspect both will be considerably greater than what we usually perceive. But this will be God calling us out ‘into the open’, to stop hiding from the truth, to face the awfulness of the failure of Sin, and the wonder of the working of God in and through us. THAT is a balanced picture.

But the Lord doesn’t want to wait until Judgment Day for grace and truth to saturate and permeate our lives. Growing to maturity means we learn to come out into the open and face the reality of our lives, in the presence of the light of His love. Of myself, I am a total failure – yes ‘total’ is true. But I am no longer by ‘myself’, I am in Christ and in Christ, I am something else! “I can do all things through him who strengthens me,” (Phil 4:13) and that includes all the good things He has planned for me (Eph 2:10). Facing the two sides of this coin is what maturity is all about. I am not to wallow in my failures but let them keep me humble. I am not to be overly triumphant but soberly with rejoicing know my place – ‘in Him’. Hallelujah!

12. Needing to be ‘saved’?

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 2 – A Different People

12. Needing to be ‘Saved’?

Heb 2:3,4 ‘This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.

2 Cor 7:10  Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death

Salvation?  In the previous study I faced the challenge about the language of ‘salvation’. Apart from the Salvation Army the word salvation gets rarely used in modern life and so for some, the use of this language in a religious context appears either old fashioned or overly emotional. Yet it is a word that appears in the New Testament many times. Talk of ‘being saved’ is slightly more common in modern life for we use it of people being rescued from a sinking ship or people being rescued from a burning building, or even of captives being rescued from the hands of terrorists. In every such case, ‘being saved’ means being delivered from the threat of death. In the Bible that death is seen in the light of the Judgment of God.

A God of Judgment? Because there is a modern tendency to view God through rose-tinted glasses and many see Him as a distant figure who, having once set everything in motion, now just sits at a distance watching us make a mess of things. (That is ‘deism’). The thought of God intervening or interfering in human life is, to such people, almost abhorrent. Religion, for them, comprises performing acts of devotion (going to church and performing the rituals) but expecting no more. The talk of interaction with God and encountering the power of the Holy Spirit, simply frightens such people. But the truth of the whole Bible is that God does judge, God does intervene – now! – and not just at what is referred to as the Final Judgment. But the bigger picture shows a God who does judge but also provides a way of avoiding that judgement through repentance and trusting in the finished work of Christ on the Cross. That is salvation.

The focus of salvation: Because it may be that some might think I am exaggerating here, we do need to eyeball this truth. When the angel came to Joseph in a dream, he said to Joseph, speaking about Mary, “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus,] because he will save his people from their sins.” (Mt 1:21) You may find an additional footnote in your Bible that Jesus is the Greek form of Joshua which means, ‘the Lord saves’, i.e. another way of saying he will be a deliverer – from sins, and by implication, from the death that follows: “the wages of sin is death,” (Rom 6:23) i.e. death is the end product of sin, of this life that I have referred to as being self-centred and godless.

That is what this is all about, of God providing a way whereby we can be delivered from a self-centred and godless life and from the death that it brings. NB. Death here should be contrasted with the eternal life that is so often referred to as the outworking of salvation: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (Jn 3:16)

The Language of Salvation: But this is not a rare or occasional use of this language. Let’s spend a little time considering this by picking out a few of the verses of the New Testament. Observing the apostles in Acts, we find as Peter speaks about Jesus, Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) That is somewhat uncompromising, especially in this modern world that wants to be all things to all people.

Again, speaking of this coming to the wider world and not just the Jews, the apostle Paul declared, “I want you to know that God’s salvation has been sent to the Gentiles,” (Acts 28:28) and then to the Romans he declared, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.” (Rom 1:16) There we see it, a declaration that the good news of Jesus coming as a saviour-deliverer, came to the whole world, Jew and Gentile. But was it a passive thing, simply an act of God so now we can ignore it because God has simply forgiven us, and we are all saved? Well, not exactly.

“And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit.” (Eph 1:13) So writes the apostle Paul to the church at Ephesus.  This takes us back to an earlier study (No.7) about Christians being believers, and belief is the first stage towards all that subsequently follows. What follows is a transformation that we have considered in Study No.8, first at the act of conversion, of us being ‘born again’ and then in the ongoing life: continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfil his good purpose.” (Phil 2:12,13) There salvation is seen, not just as what happens as we surrender and repent, but everything that follows in our lives thereafter.

We started this section with a quote from the apostle Peter in Acts, so let’s finish it with a quote from his first letter: “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (1 Pet 1:8,9) Faith opens a door to life with Christ and Christ delivers us (an ongoing process) from our old self-centred and godless life. Being a Christian thus means receiving and living out this life of relationship with Jesus. (You can check out a few further ‘salvation quotes’ in 1 Thess 5:9, 2 Tim 2:10, Heb 2:3, 5:9.)

And So? What are the key points that stand out in what we have been considering in this study? First, I would suggest, this language of ‘salvation’ is not merely common to the New Testament, it is fundamental to it. Second, it is seen as something available for the whole human race and yet only applied in conjunction with belief.   Third, it is spoken of so many times and in such a basic and fundamental way, because the big issue that the New Testament deals with, is how can sinful men and women (all of us) be saved from the demands of justice, applied by the judgment of God? Fourth, but it doesn’t stop there; having been saved from it once, how can that deliverance be continued on throughout our lives on this earth, in such a manner that justice is still being satisfied? The answer to this, more fully, is how God then views us, and that will take us into exactly what happens, as far as heaven is concerned, at our point of conversion, and that is where we will go on to soon.

16. Redeeming Israel – the Promised Land

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 16. Redeeming Israel – the Promised Land

Ex 6:6-8 ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians….  And I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. I will give it to you as a possession. I am the Lord.’”

 Redemption and the Covenant: In the previous study we considered the fact of the Exodus as an act of redemption. Now we focus more tightly on the wider act of the Exodus for, in the verses above, we see the Lord revealing a two-part plan: a) to deliver Israel out of the slavery of Egypt, and b) delivering them into the freedom of the Promised Land.  He also reveals that this will come about by ‘mighty acts of judgment’ – which we come to know as the ten plagues, and then the destruction of Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea – and then He will enter into a new relationship with them as a people: “I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God.” (6:7) At mount Sinai He speaks about that as a “covenant”, a legal binding agreement.

Awareness and Cooperation: Now the question arises, why does this word ‘covenant’ arise so many times in the Bible? For instance, it is first used with Noah (Gen 6:18 – basically you build an ark, I’ll flood the world but will save you) then Gen 9:9-17 not to flood the world again. Next came the covenant with Abram (Gen 15:18 on) and with Isaac (Gen 17:21) and at various times God referred back to His promise to Abram. Now we have ‘covenant’ arising again but this time it is with the newly constituted nation, Israel, at Mount Sinai, to be a ‘treasured possession’. Now here is my question. We know from seven New Testament references that God’s plan of salvation through Jesus was formulated by the Godhead, before the foundation of the world. Now that plan was going to be operated, if I may put it like this, through the ‘environment’ that was the nation of Israel. So if this plan was in the mind of God from the outset and all the things we are observing are a part of that big over-arching plan, why did the Lord bother to announce it; He was going to do it anyway? The answer has to be because He wanted them and us to be aware of it and in being aware, be an active part of it, cooperating with Him in it all the way along.

Land and People: It is clear from the Lord’s original declaration in Ex 6:6-8 that His plan involves a) them as a people (Ex 6:6,7) and b) Canaan as the land He had promised to the Patriarchs (Ex 6:7,8). For us today that is expressed as a) the Church, the redeemed community of God’s people, and b) the kingdom of God, wherever and whenever and however His will is expressed on the earth through us today. People and purpose. The Promised Land was to be the environment in which Israel existed and revealed their relationship with God. Today we do not have a physical land because the ‘kingdom of God’ is revealed anywhere in the world where the people of God express the reign of God.

God’s Purpose for the Taking of the Land: It is clear from the Lord’s declarations that His intent in respect of the Promised Land also included bringing judgment on the inhabitants, the Canaanites. As the other aspect of it was to give Israel a home of their own, it meant that He wanted to use Israel to bring that judgment on the Canaanites.

Understanding the Judgment on Canaan: Now there is often so much mis-information, ignorance or even confusion about this, that we need to deal with it here. First of all, when we consider God’s instructions to Israel and His statements about His own involvement, we find there are 31 references to the Canaanites being DRIVEN OUT, and only 4 references to them being DESTROYED and only 4 to them being WIPED OUT. God’s overall purpose was that the Land be cleared of the Canaanites and their pagan practices, and that achieved by driving out those pagan inhabitants, so only if they resisted in battle would they need to be overcome and destroyed.

Possibilities: Now those pagan practices could be removed (and that is the objective of the judgment that is Israel on them) by a) the people leaving the Land (hence ‘driven out’) or b) they submit to Israel and become part of Israel – and that we see happening in respect of Rahab (see Josh 2) and the Gibeonites (see Josh 9). When God said He would drive them out, it is clear He means a) using fear (e.g. Deut 2:25, 11:25, Josh 2:9,11, 5:1) and b) using Israel themselves.

Failure & Discipline! Now when you study what actually happened, you realise a) Israel failed to do what they were commanded to do, AND b) the Lord accommodated their failure into His overall plan! This becomes clear when we move on into the book of Judges. Their failure is first recorded in Jud 1:27-36 and He holds them to account over this (see 2:3 which echoes Num 33:55 and is seen in Josh 23:13.) The warning had been clearly given that if they failed to clear the land of its people then, those you allow to remain will become barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides. They will give you trouble in the land where you will live,” (Num 33:55) God had fulfilled His covenant with Abram etc. (see Ex 33:1, Numb 14:23, 32:11, Deut 1:35, 10:11, 31:20,21,23. 34:4, Josh 1:6) and Israel should have trusted Him but didn’t. That was their failure which was now seen in their failure to completely clear the Land. Now He declares, “I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations Joshua left when he died. I will use them to test Israel and see whether they will keep the way of the Lord and walk in it as their ancestors did.”  (Jud 2:21.22)

God’s Persistence: We will see the outworking of this in the next study but what is amazing is that, as can be seen in the way the people grumble leaving Egypt, the way they grumble in the desert on the way to Sinai, the way they turn away so quickly at Sinai, the way they grumble on the way from Sinai to the Land, and their refusal to enter the Land, CONSTANTLY they fail to apprehend the wonder of the Lord’s presence with them and trust Him, and CONSTANTLY they fail to be obedient to Him. Now in Ex 19:5, one of our starter verses above, “if you obey me fully,” is the crucial condition required of Israel but, as we’ve just seen, they fail to do that again and again.  So what is amazing is God’s determination in working this through with Israel. One way or another His is going to redeem them and bring them through to the place where they will indeed be a light to the nations.

Lessons for Us? We must, as we’ve said before, never be casual about sin and never settle for a path that leads us away from receiving all that the Lord has on His heart for us. It is important that we do not live our lives based on our emotions that will go up and down. Growing ‘in Christ’ means we come to rely on the truths of the Gospel, the things we are considering here. However, there are in all this, two things that are really encouraging.

Redeemed from godlessness: The first is that the Lord will not give up on us just because we make a mess of life. In fact the truth is that many of us came to Christ because we realized what a mess we were making of life on our own, and we recognized our godlessness – yet on our own we were incapable of changing that. It was when we called out to Him that we found He was there for us and all of our mess didn’t matter. He died to redeem us from our mess.

Redeemed from the failures: The second thing is that although we may continue to get it wrong, and we continue to ‘trip over our feet’, the Lord is there constantly working to get us through to the end where we can come confidently face to face with Him in eternity. Yes, this account of Israel entering the Promised Land and yet not fully taking it, so often epitomizes our lives. We’ve entered the new life in the kingdom of the Son (Col 1:13) and yet how imperfectly we live it sometimes. But not only does the Lord not give up on us, He perseveres in His project which is to change us and see us through to the end, and that is where discipline comes. He will, like Israel in the imperfectly taken land, use the things we tolerate – against us – to help change us! Those things we think are OK, so we don’t get to sort them out, He will use to discipline us until we see what is going on and take steps to completely remove them from our lives. This process is life-long, and it is what theologians call sanctification.

22. God of Mercy

Meditations in 2 Peter : 22 :  God of Mercy

2 Pet  2:5-9  if he did not spare the ancient world when he brought the flood on its ungodly people, but protected Noah, a preacher of righteousness, and seven others; if he condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by burning them to ashes, and made them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; and if he rescued Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the filthy lives of lawless men (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard) if this is so, then the Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials and to hold the unrighteous for the day of judgment, while continuing their punishment

So we took the hard side of these verses in the previous meditation. He had cited two specific historical catastrophes that we find in the early part of the Bible – the Flood and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Previously we consider the validity of God’s judgements but now we find something else.

We find two other examples, examples of God saving men from those catastrophes. First there was Noah who was saved from the Flood and then there was lot who was saved from Sodom. Prior to the Flood we read, “The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain.” (Gen 6:6) This was the Lord anguishing over His world which was on a runaway course with Sin. But then we read, “Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God.” (Gen 6:9)  That explains why the Lord saved him, but when we come to Lot I find Peter’s description of him very gracious.

When you read the accounts of Abram and Lot, we find Lot choosing what, at first sight, seems the best part of the land, when they divided it up, and we read, “Abram lived in the land of Canaan, while Lot lived among the cities of the plain and pitched his tents near Sodom. Now the men of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the LORD.” (Gen 13:12,13) Clearly Sodom had a reputation and yet Lot still went and lived near there. Not long later we find he is living actually in Sodom (Gen 14:12). By the time God’s angels go to Sodom we find, Lot was sitting in the gateway of the city.” (Gen 19:2). Now the gateway was the place that the elders of the city sat to preside over the affairs of the city – that was the extent to which Lot had now gone. I always feel, therefore that Lot doesn’t show up very well thus far. He certainly does take care of the two angels and protects them from the crowd, even been willing to sacrifice the purity of his two daughters to do it.

But it is to Peter that we turn for a fuller picture: a righteous man, who was distressed by the filthy lives of lawless men (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard).”   Peter portrays a man who has got himself to a place that he regrets, where the society is godless and unrighteous and this tormented him. Well that is good news. That paints a better picture of Lot.

So the Lord saved these two men (and their families) from the destruction that He was bringing because they were righteous. But Peter hasn’t finished. In fact he is about to bring us to the climax of his argument for all that we have considered so far is the basis for a logical conclusion to follow. See his “If… then…” argument. if this is so, then.”   If God rescued those two men from the judgments He was brining in their days, then we may conclude something else. What is that?  It is twofold.  First, the Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials.”   Even when the rest of the world is going bad, the Lord will save His righteous children from the midst of the judgment that He is bringing. That is the first part. The second part is, to hold the unrighteous for the day of judgment, while continuing their punishment.”  The unrighteous may appear to be getting away with their unrighteousness but God is just waiting for the appropriate time to bring it to an end by bringing His judgment. The wicked will not get away with it!

These are the two crucial points that Peter has been working towards in this chapter. There has been a clear train of thought that started from, “I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things.” (1:14,15) He then emphasized that the gospel wasn’t made up and he knew that because they had been eye-witnesses to all that had gone on. More than that, it all conformed to the prophetic Scriptures which had come through prophets inspired by God.

Then, as a continuation from all that, it’s as if he says, “But be careful because not all prophets are good prophets and there will be those who will teach wrong things and seek to lead you astray – and you will see much of that in the world – but hold onto this truth: while the world is going astray, as long as you remain faithful, God will keep you and save you and bring you through whatever days of judgment He brings, and don’t worry about the unrighteous, God will eventually deal with them. Their time WILL come. Understanding all this – be at peace!” That is the gist of what he has said so far.

57. Church Judged

Meditations in 1 Peter : 57: The Church Judged

1 Pet 4:17-19 For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And, “If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”  So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good

Talk about judgment coming on the church might send us into a nervous breakdown! Surely we say, Jesus has died to deal with all our sins and so there is no condemnation, no guilt and no punishment. Well, absolutely right in eternal terms but Scripture is clear that Christians still have to live with the consequences of what they do or don’t do. Paul’s declaration that A man reaps what he sows,” applies to us as much as to the world. We should be sowing righteousness and reaping its rewards.

If we are foolish and doing silly or wrong things, we will reap the same things as the world. A good example would be a young Christian who gets swept up with the mentality of the world and so has sex with a number of partners, as is common behaviour in the world. That Christian should not then be upset when they catch a sexually transmitted disease. Similarly a person who does not allow the Lord to deal with their unrestrained anger should not be surprised when that anger breaks loose and ends up with them in a fight and in police cells. The same is true of the Christian who is unrestrained in their drinking habits and likewise ends up in police cells. These are all simple and obvious examples of silly Christians who have not realised that Jesus will not cover up their ongoing sin, but will in fact, deal with it.

‘Judgment’ is simply an act of God to remedy a bad situation. At the extreme end (in our view at least) it may involve death. At the other end of the spectrum it may simply involve corrective discipline that makes the sinner face up to their foolish behaviour and then change it.  In the New Testament, the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira would fit the description of judgment. Did they lose their eternal destiny? There is no indication of that; simply that they were taken home prematurely. The apostle Paul had to chide the church in Corinth for their behaviour at communion and concluded, “For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep,” (1 Cor 11:29,30) which was a gentle way of saying that some of them had died because of their behaviour! He was saying, you have brought God’s corrective action on yourselves!

So now we come to Peter speaking prophetically about what is about to happen in the church: it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God.” Things are about to happen which are at the instigation of God to bring about a fresh sense of righteousness and holiness in the church. God is coming to do a cleaning up in the church! (And that is nothing to do with dusting the pews!) The Lord is about to draw a marker in the sand and say, there are standards to be adhered to if you call yourself a Christian! Live accordingly! Some commentators point out that the preposition is actually ‘from’ not ‘with’. i.e. judgment starts from, but I can see no difference in the outcome. The Lord brings correction and works outwards from the Church.

A little later, he confirms this viewpoint with the words,And, If it is hard for the righteous to be saved,” which seems a quote from the Greek Old Testament, “If the righteous receive their due on earth, how much more the ungodly and the sinner!” (Prov 11;31) but it is still a warning about what is about to start with the Church. Yes, it is also a warning to the world for, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And …. what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” If God is going to discipline and make an example of His Church, what will He do to unrepentant unbelievers? World, you need to think about this!

But then he brings it back to the subject of suffering through persecution: “So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.” It would seem that the discipline to bring cleansing and purification is, in fact, going to come in the form of persecution. One has to admit, observing the church around the world, that those countries where persecution of Christians prevails seem to have a healthier church. It is a sad thing if the church can only be holy, righteous and pure when persecution and opposition are experienced, but that so often seems to be the case.

Does God bring the persecution? No, He simply steps back and allows the sinfulness of mankind and the work of Satan, to prevail unrestrained. He uses that persecution to purify the church; that much is obvious. How much better it would be if we had the sense to put the house in order ourselves, without having to be pressurized into it by the Lord’s corrective processes.

 

15. Wrath of God

We return to our series in Romans

Meditations in Romans : 15 :  The Wrath of God

Rom 1:18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness

Mostly we associate ‘wrath’ or anger with unrestrained outbursts of extremely hostile emotions witnessed by words and even deeds. Because we are so often unclear on the characteristics of God we think of God’s wrath or anger in these terms but an examination of Scripture indicates that this is not so. The wrath of God is a cool, calm, purposeful bringing of judgment that is deserved. It is a bringing of justice. Yes God is upset by our foolish godlessness and unrighteousness and yes He does rise up to take action against such attitudes and behaviour, but God’s anger is never out of control.

Anger, a dictionary of pastoral ethics suggests, is… ‘a response to wrong doing… may be negative or positive, unloving or loving…. redemptive or destructive… a neutral emotion.’  Wrath it seems in Scripture refers to anger in action. It is right to feel emotional about wrong doing and anger is an emotion that says ‘this should not have been’ or ‘this should not have happened’. Anger shows an absence of complacency about such wrongdoing, and God is never complacent. Wrath is anger that has determined that action should be taken against this wrong-doing. It is anger moving into retribution or judgment or correction. God doesn’t get angry over our stumbling attempts as His children to get it right when we make mistakes.

From what Paul says in our verse today God’s ‘anger-in-action’ is directed at godlessness and wickedness. Wickedness is wrong that is done with evil intent. The intent of the person is to positively do evil, wrong, harm etc. It is righteous to be angry at wilful, positive-intent evil! God has made us with a wonderful world and with immense individual potential – specifically to be and do good, in the image of our Creator. To purposefully go in the opposite direction to cause hurt, harm or damage in a purposefully destructive manner whether it simply involves words or, more likely, specific acts or hurt or harm, is a cause for negative emotions of indignation and displeasure and these are the expression we call anger. God is right to show this indignation and displeasure when He observes this wilful godlessness and unrighteousness that we call evil.

Now we mustn’t confuse the outworking of God’s anger with the emotion of His anger. Anger is the emotion and the emotion, in some situations, is closely linked with His calculated decision to take remedial action. We do need to note in passing that when God brings discipline or judgement, it is a form of remedial action. It is either to stop permanently a course of action by removing the person who God sees will not change whatever He says or does, or it is corrective in the way it stops a person following the course they are following so that they follow a new path that is not hurtful, harming or destructive. Now we are going to see in the verses ahead that God takes action (wrath = anger-in-action) and the form of what we would call judgment is clearly corrective, i.e. designed to bring change of behaviour.

Thus we should see that although God’s wrath is obvious, it isn’t necessarily destructive, it isn’t designed to kill or destroy people. We will see that soon in the verses ahead. So, we shouldn’t misunderstand God’s ‘wrath’ and see it as a vindictive or spiteful act, which is what it so often is in human beings. God’s wrath is thus seen to be His anger or indignant displeasure that is of such a magnitude, because of the nature of the sin, that it results in action by God against those committing the sin.

Perhaps a final thing we should emphasise is that so often men’s wickedness is both an expression of and an outworking of men suppressing the truth. First of all they suppress the truth by denying it, denying God and denying the way He has designed the world to work best, and they then proclaim and live a lie. Second, in the way that they do evil and wickedness, they prevent truth, the truth of God’s design being lived out as He wants it to be. They stop goodness prevailing, and they stop love prevailing.

This is the truth of how God has designed us to live and they stop that happening. It is a wilful, self-centred, pride thing and it is something human beings do purposefully. We don’t accidentally fall into it. It may happen gradually as we take one small step after another into a life of utter godless self-centredness, but each step involves an act of will. It is not just one step but many steps, many times when we make these acts of will in rebellion against God and rebellion against the truth. It is a downward spiral away from the truth and into a life of deception that is destructive in every way. If we live like this then let us not make any foolish talk about God’s harshness. It is right to be angry against such lifestyles and it is right of God to take action against such things to protect His world.

64. God corrects

Meditations in Job : 64. God of Correction

Job 36:5,6 God is mighty, but does not despise men; he is mighty, and firm in his purpose. He does not keep the wicked alive but gives the afflicted their rights.

Elihu is aware that he is giving a long answer to Job: “Bear with me a little longer and I will show you that there is more to be said in God’s behalf.” (v.2)  He believes that what he has to say comes out of his relationship with the Lord: “I get my knowledge from afar; I will ascribe justice to my Maker. Be assured that my words are not false; one perfect in knowledge is with you.” (v.3,4) His knowledge comes from the Lord and he will show that God is just, for God is here to make it clear.  Then he makes the declaration we have in our verses above, that although God is great He doesn’t look down on men. He is true to His nature, true to His purposes for the earth – He will disregard the wicked and bless those who are in need. He comes to bless the righteous: “He does not take his eyes off the righteous; he enthrones them with kings and exalts them forever.” (v.7). He purposes to exalt them.

But then there are those who are suffering because of what they have done: “But if men are bound in chains, held fast by cords of affliction, he tells them what they have done– that they have sinned arrogantly. He makes them listen to correction and commands them to repent of their evil.” (v.8-10) He comes to them and points out the reason why they are like they are; He brings conviction with the objective of bringing change to them: “If they obey and serve him, they will spend the rest of their days in prosperity and their years in contentment.” (v.11)  Yet, He will not force them and so, “if they do not listen, they will perish by the sword and die without knowledge.” (v.12)

The reality is that there will always be those who refuse to heed Him: “The godless in heart harbour resentment; even when he fetters them, they do not cry for help. They die in their youth, among male prostitutes of the shrines.” (v.13,14) They have no one to blame but themselves, for those who have an open heart will heed Him for He speaks to them, calling to them: “But those who suffer he delivers in their suffering; he speaks to them in their affliction.” (v.15)  What is He doing?  He is wooing you from the jaws of distress to a spacious place free from restriction, to the comfort of your table laden with choice food.” (v.16)  i.e. He is trying to draw you to a place where you can face the truth about yourself and be set free.

But not everyone will let God do that: “But now you are laden with the judgment due the wicked; judgment and justice have taken hold of you.” (v.17) This appears to be directed at Job. Read it carefully though. He’s suffering from the judgment that is usually reserved for the wicked and has become the focus of a whole argument about judgment and justice. This doesn’t necessarily mean that he has been judged, just that he’s in a place where he’s suffering in the same way as those who are judged. A fine distinction!

In this place of suffering it is easy for our thinking to be distorted and we can be vulnerable to temptations, so Elihu warns him, “Be careful that no one entices you by riches; do not let a large bribe turn you aside.” (v.18) i.e. in your thinking, don’t let the thoughts of riches, of the life you’ve known in the past, bring you into wrong thinking. Don’t even think that a bribe could get you out of this. No, don’t even let your mind go in that direction; money can’t help in this sort of situation: “Would your wealth or even all your mighty efforts sustain you so you would not be in distress?” (v.19) No, nothing of what you have known in the past can help here.

Don’t let your imagination wander to getting back at others who are less fortunate than you when no one else can see: “Do not long for the night, to drag people away from their homes.” (v.20) Elihu has heard Job scrabbling to make sense of what has happened, almost coming to the end of himself and the end of his righteousness, so he gives him a further nudge in the right direction: “Beware of turning to evil, which you seem to prefer to affliction.” (v.21)  Don’t give up, don’t step over the line, off the path of righteousness.

Then he turns back to the Lord again and maintains His greatness and His integrity: “God is exalted in his power. Who is a teacher like him? Who has prescribed his ways for him, or said to him, `You have done wrong’?” (v.22,23) Make sure you maintain a right perspective about the Lord: “Remember to extol his work, which men have praised in song. All mankind has seen it; men gaze on it from afar. How great is God–beyond our understanding! The number of his years is past finding out.” (v.24-26) In the closing verses (v.27-35) he speaks about the way the Lord works in nature, revealing His mighty power. The inference is that we would do well not to contend with such a Mighty One.

There are commentators who are very negative about Elihu’s words in this chapter. I have sought to interpret them in line with the grace that comes from this young man earlier on. He has shown that he respects the aged and so I believe his words are gracious words. I believe he recognises, with the wisdom given him by God, that in deep anguish our minds wander (v.18-21) into wrong thoughts. How many of us fanaticise about what we might like to do – but that it very different from what we would actually do!   Elihu, I suggest, is helping Job face his fantasies and thus see that they are foolish. Perhaps here is a very great lesson that comes through in Job.  It is one thing to let your mind wander all over the place, even into completely wrong thinking, because who knows how much of that is inspired by the enemy, but the righteous, at the end of it all, will still remain righteous and will not give way to those thoughts. Take hold of what you think; assess it and make sure you do not step off the path of righteousness in what you then say and do.

20. Judgment & Mercy

Meditations in James: 20 :  Judgement & Mercy

Jas 2:12,13     Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!

Sometimes in Scripture we move into areas where there is language being used that is not used in common, every-day life, and which, therefore, requires some definition.  This is one such place. ‘Judging’ is fairly easy because we have TV programmes where people have to perform and are then ‘judged’ by a panel. When we talk about judging, we talk about assessing or, to use an older phrase, being weighed in the balances. ‘Mercy’ is not so commonly used. Mercy is unfounded compassion. Mercy isn’t earned or deserved; it is just given. Now we have to apply these two words to see what James is saying in these rather complex verses.

First of all he makes a call in respect of our behaviour – speak and act. But we are to speak and act in a particular way, a way governed by what is going to happen to us in the future. He says, when you speak or act remember that you are going to be judged or assessed by the law of love that we have been recently considering. That law of love brings a freedom of movement; it allows us to reach out and touch others in very positive and purposeful ways. The law of love will be the yardstick by which we are measured.

Now earlier we didn’t go the full extent with the definition of judgement because it doesn’t only refer to the act of assessing, it also involves the act of determining what happens to the person being judged.  On these performance-TV shows the person or couple who is judged to have been bottom of the contestants, leaves the show and doesn’t appear any more. When we read of judgement in the Bible it can be either eternal judgement – where our eternal destiny takes us – or judgement that is short-term discipline, or even long-term if that discipline doesn’t bring the fruits that God is looking for when he brings it.  Judgement is also used in terms of rewards in heaven.

There is a clear Scriptural teaching that we Christians will receive in heaven according to how we have lived here: If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.” (1 Cor 3:12:12-15) and For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad (2 Cor 5:10) and Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done.” (Rev 22:12). The message is very clear. When we are Christians we have an eternal destiny in heaven with God, but the nature or character of that destiny (to start with at least) appears to be determined by the nature or character of the lives we lived here.  That is the judgement that James is possibly referring to.

But we need to consider his comments about mercy as well. Remember that he has just been speaking against favouritism and favouritism puts some people down while it elevates others. The poor needed our kindness and we didn’t give it.  We failed to show them mercy is what James is implying.  Oh yes, this isn’t a branch off to some completely different subject; this is an extension of his argument about treating all people equally and well.  If you don’t show people mercy, is what he is saying, you will not be shown mercy when it comes to your judgement time.  When you have finished your performance and are being assessed on it, if you haven’t included mercy in your performance, don’t expect to be shown mercy.  Expanding that word, if you haven’t shown undeserved compassion to those who needed it, don’t ask for special favours to get more than you deserve in heaven. Everything we have and will have, comes by God’s mercy and grace. He doesn’t HAVE to give us anything. We deserved eternal punishment, but in His mercy, His undeserving compassion, He offered us salvation through Jesus. That gave us a new eternal destiny.

But within that new life, He still gives us free will to choose how we will respond to His word and His Spirit and, therefore, we can be dilatory and casual and fail to be the people He wants us to be. If we are like that, we need to realise there are consequences. We may not loose our eternal destiny (though I believe Scripture indicates that is possible where there is apostasy) but we may not get all we could get if we had fully entered into the will of God, what He desired for us – which included letting His love reach out through us to those who were poor and needy.  Oh yes, there are definitely long-term consequences to what we do or don’t do today, and we really do need to consider those in determining how we will live now.

37. Redeemed

Meditations in Job : 37.  A Redeemed Relationship

Job 14:15b-17 you will long for the creature your hands have made. Surely then you will count my steps but not keep track of my sin. My offenses will be sealed up in a bag; you will cover over my sin.

I have a feeling that in reality the measure of where we are boils down to two things: the revelation we have received and what we did with it. There was once a fascinating dialogue between Jesus and his disciples: The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?” He replied, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance.” (Mt 13:10-12). Jesus spoke in parables so that only those with hearts that yearned to know and understand would receive what he was saying. As they received it and lived it out, so he gave them more revelation.

Jesus spoke another simple principle of spiritual life: “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” (Lk 12:48). When we get revelation, the Lord expects us to respond to it. The Lord also measures accountability on the basis of revelation received. The Israelites at Sinai (Ex 19-) received an incredible revelation and so after Sinai the Lord held them to a stricter accounting than before. Job had very real revelation and, as we’ve noted before, if his book is one of the oldest in the Bible, he would not have had any of the revelation of God’s dealings with Israel and he certainly didn’t have the revelation of His Son that we have. That’s what makes some of the words in the next passage before us, so amazing.

“If only you would hide me in the grave and conceal me till your anger has passed! If only you would set me a time and then remember me!” (v.13). These two ‘if only’ desires are quite amazing. Job believes that he is experiencing the anger of the Lord, for surely, as his friends have been saying, suffering is a sign of God’s judgment, or God’s anger against sin. Yet he believes God’s anger will pass and then there will be a renewing of their relationship – then remember me. Until that anger abates, Job is quite happy to rest in death but what this clearly suggests is that Job believed in a life after death where it was possible to experience and know the Lord! Job is wiser than many people today!

Listen how he continues: “If a man dies, will he live again? All the days of my hard service I will wait for my renewal to come.” (v.14). The big question is all about whether there is something more beyond this life. This is Job in the midst of his pain and anguish, in the face of the negatives from his friends, who catches something in his spirit of the wonderful truth that we now know so surely through Scripture. Life may be tough on this earth, he feels, but there is going to come a time when he will be renewed by God; there is going to come a time of resurrection! This is incredible! Later he will refer to one who he considers will be his defender or redeemer before God (19:25). He, in the midst of his anguish, is catching something of reality that many people, even today, struggle with: God’s desire is to redeem or restore and reconcile people. Death is not the end.

He imagines this time of life after death, when God’s anger has passed and their relationship has been restored: “You will call and I will answer you; you will long for the creature your hands have made.” (v.15) There will be a future interaction when the Lord desires to communicate with the one He has made, after the trial of earth has finished. In all this there is a clear and distinct and gradually emerging future hope. Listen: “Surely then you will count my steps but not keep track of my sin. My offenses will be sealed up in a bag; you will cover over my sin.” (v.16,17). That is incredible! He believes there will come a time when the Lord will look over his whole life (count my steps) but will not be concerned with Job’s sin. What revelation is this? Job’s friends have been going on about the God of Judgment but Job is speaking about a God who puts away sin and takes no more notice of it. How can this be? Is it because of the redeemer we referred to just now? Whatever it is, it is an act of God who will seal up his sins so they can’t be seen or referred to again, an act of God whereby He will cover or deal with those sins by some act of divine justice perhaps. God will deal with Job’s sin so that it will not hinder their relationship. THAT is the wonderful revelation Job is teetering towards.

There is a major lesson here. It is that we don’t have to wait until everything is right and the sun seems to be shining on our life until we receive revelation. This incredible truth that Job is receiving and speaking out, is coming in the midst of his anguish, in the midst of a time when he feels that God is against him. That is amazing. He is sensing truth in the most adverse of circumstances!

What do we fill our minds with?  Paul said, “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.” (Phil 4:8) If we do this we find our minds harmonizing with God. As Paul exhorted us, “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” (Col 3:1). When we do this, we find the Father sharing His heart with us. If you never think on these things, don’t be surprised that you have so little understanding of these things – but be sad about that! Job didn’t have the Bible, but he sensed amazing truths. He was receiving revelation. We have a whole book of revelation. What do we do with it? Remember, as we said earlier, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” (Lk 12:48).