9. The Certainty of the Kingdom

‘Living with Uncertainty’ Meditations: 9. The Certainty of the Kingdom

Ex 3:7-9   I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt….. So I have come down to rescue them ….I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.’

Ongoing: The good news is that there was only one Exodus and so the Lord will not be sending you and me to deliver a nation….. or will He? Well not a whole nation perhaps, but who knows what He has on His heart for you and me yet to achieve? In the uncertainties of this world in which we live, as we worry about getting by, perhaps we need to go back to that well known verse, seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well,” (Mt 6:33) which we might put as, “put seeking God’s will and then doing it first of all, before all things, and then all the rest will fall into place as He provides for you.”  Let’s ponder on this a bit more.

Moses? If you were a friend of God and you were standing beside Him as He spoke to Moses beside the burning bush, I have a feeling you might be feeling ever so slightly exasperated with the Prince of Egypt who is now a shepherd. In fact you might be wondering why the Lord had decided to stop by and talk to this guy. After all, he had squandered an amazing lifestyle in the royal palace in Egypt by suddenly getting the idea that he could be the savior of his own people, Israel. See how that worked out! Well actually it had worked out by him fleeing Egypt and becoming a shepherd – a shepherd!!! an outcast in the desert with only sheep for company –  for forty years! He’s a nobody, so what are we doing here at this burning bush trying to suggest a path ahead that he’s clearly not interested in. In fact it’s much stronger than that, he’s dead set against it! So why is the Lord bothering with him?

Well pause up a moment, will you, remember we’ve said the Lord doesn’t make mistakes? Tack on to that one or two other things we know – the Lord takes the weak and foolish things (people!) to confound the strong and the wise, and He clearly knows people and what He can get them to achieve. So Moses? Well let’s add in a few more things the Lord says in this rather strange two-chapter conversation. I will be with you,” (3:12) and, I will stretch out my hand and strike the Egyptians,” (3:20) and then He gives him two miracles (4:2-8), and He then lays out the plan (4:9), and I will help you speak and will teach you what to say,” (4:12) and then He gives him Aaron his brother to help him (4:14-16) and, finally, He had said his past is gone and will not come back to bite him (4:19). In other words, the Lord covers all the bases, Moses has nothing to worry about. It may be a bit of a rocky ride but the Lord will be there AND He will be doing the stuff – through Moses – so what more is there to worry about?

And Jesus? Put like that it sounds simple doesn’t it, but it still required Moses to step up to the mark and do his side of it all, and that is pretty scary and coming to think about it, stepping out of a boat and walking on water is pretty scary, but with the Lord we can do it – IF he calls us to do it!  And this takes us back to the talk about the kingdom that we are to seek – Jesus’ reign on his Father’s behalf that he spoke about as soon as he started speaking and ministering in Galilee. It was the message of John the Baptist – “John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near,” (Mt 3:1) and it was Jesus’ message – “Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (Mt 4:17) It is also the message of the apostles: the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” (1 Cor 15:24-26)

Establishing the Kingdom: ‘The kingdom’ is all about Jesus’ reigning in the midst of his enemies (Psa 110:1,2) working to destroy all the things that were NOT there in Eden when the Father first made the world. The last thing is to be death, but before that there is Sin in all its many forms to be dealt with. He deals with that by first of all convicting us by his Spirit so that we repent and die to the old life. The root of sin in us is thus dealt with and the ongoing, indwelling Holy Spirit within us will be working to overcome any resurrection-of-the-old-life attempts by the enemy. And every time we blow it, the Spirit is there, seeking to convict us afresh about that thing so that we may bring it back to the Lord, receive fresh forgiveness and cleansing and the thing be put to death and put under our feet. And so his work in dealing with the things of ‘the old life’ continue as he seeks to destroy them in us and replace them with the fruit of his Spirit. That’s the way he starts to bring about and establish his reign in us.

Expanding the Kingdom: ‘Establishing’ is all about working character into us, Jesus’ character, but while He does that God does not wait around until we are perfect before He can use us. As we saw with Moses, God takes us with our failures and sets us off down the path of service, because He knows that the very progress down that path will help bring about those character changes we referred to above. We get changed as we go, as we do, as we let Him lead us into joining Him in expanding that work of establishing the kingdom in others.

Trying to tie down how that happens is an impossibility because every situation, every moment with God, is unique. The way He used Moses against Pharaoh was one thing, the way He used Joshua to take the Land was another. The way, for instance, He used and worked through Elijah was one thing, the way He used and worked through Elisha, is another. Every person is tailor-made for the situation God puts before them. Every situation ultimately has the same goal – to bring the situation under the rule of Jesus for him to deal with and put to death all the wrongs that came post the Fall – but the way the Lord brings it about will be unique for you and unique for me.

Refocusing:   So here we are thinking through some of the ways this fallen world manifests uncertainty, pondering our part in it all and, in this study, seeing that part in the light of the kingdom. Very often believers find themselves swamped by that uncertainty because they forget (or maybe never learnt) The Certainty that we have been considering here. It isn’t ‘just Jesus’ but Jesus whose goal is utterly set in concrete, to establish and expand the kingdom of God to fulfill the purpose established by the Godhead before the foundation of the world: it is to restore us after the Fall, to redeem us, so that we can enter into a relationship with the Father whereby we can receive all the good He has on His heart for us, be transformed and know the wonder of being His children here on earth as we prepare to enter in more fully to that as we move on from this life to the one in heaven. If you’ve never seen it like that, grab hold of it and never let it go.

And Us – along the way: We’re usually OK with the ‘establishing’ bit but may be a bit fearful about the ‘expanding’ bit. If that is so, remember the things we saw with Moses: the Lord comes with us, never leaves us, is there to guide us and resource us, and provides others alongside us so we are not alone in it (whatever the ‘it’ is) and remember, I used the phrase ‘tailor-made for the situation’ just now. God chose the path He has for you and me knowing that with Him we CAN handle it. There may come times when we don’t feel that and even the great apostle Paul confessed that there were times when he and those with him “despaired of life itself” (2 Cor 1:8) but, remember, when he wrote that he was looking back so that the truth was the Lord had brought him through that and he was still going strong. The Lord never promises that it will always be easy (though it will be sometimes) but that He will be there with us to see us through to the end, i.e. “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Phil 1:6)  In the midst of the uncertainties of the world around us, let’s make sure we hold on to this confidence, this certainty. Amen? Amen!

12. Offers & Rebuke

PART TWO ‘A’ – The Northern Kingdom

Struggles of Israel Meditations: 12. Offers & Rebuke

1 Kings 12:20  When all the Israelites heard that Jeroboam had returned, they sent and called him to the assembly and made him king over all Israel. Only the tribe of Judah remained loyal to the house of David.

God’s Intent Declared: So, having sought to gain some historical and geographical perspective in the previous study, we now need to step back into the flow of history as it affected Israel. Following God’s word to Solomon about dividing the kingdom, we next need to see the word from God that should have established Jeroboam in creating the northern kingdom: “the God of Israel, says: ‘See, I am going to tear the kingdom out of Solomon’s hand and give you ten tribes. But for the sake of my servant David and the city of Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, he will have one tribe.” (1 Kings 11:31,32) As a declaration, for the moment all it tells us is that the kingdom of Israel is going to be split in two with ten tribes following Jeroboam, forming the northern kingdom, and just two tribes left with Rehoboam as the southern kingdom.

The Terrible Fall:  But then comes the explanation for this: “I will do this because they have forsaken me and worshiped Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, Chemosh the god of the Moabites, and Molek the god of the Ammonites, and have not walked in obedience to me, nor done what is right in my eyes, nor kept my decrees and laws as David, Solomon’s father, did.” (1 Kings 11:33)

The “they” in that verse must refer to the nation with and after Solomon, now under Rehoboam. That is the state the land had fallen into after Solomon had turned from the Lord and followed the gods of his many foreign wives (see 1 Kings 11:1-6).  From being a great nation under David and an even greater one under Solomon in his early days – so great the Queen of Sheba had declared the greatness she found there (see 1 Kings 10:6-9) – the nation had followed Solomon’s example and followed all his false gods, instead of remaining the holy nation they were called to be. What an incredible and terrible fall!

Jeroboam’s folly: But this word that Jeroboam had received becomes more personal and goes on, “I will take you, and you will rule over all that your heart desires; you will be king over Israel. (The general offer – but see the condition)  If you do whatever I command you and walk in obedience to me and do what is right in my eyes by obeying my decrees and commands, as David my servant did, (the detailed offer) I will be with you. I will build you a dynasty as enduring as the one I built for David and will give Israel to you. I will humble David’s descendants because of this, but not forever.’” (1 Kings 11:37-39) See the five times he refers to ‘you’.

So he knew why the Lord was acting against the nation as a whole and he knew how he should behave as the leader of the new northern kingdom – faithfully to God. So what does he do? Does he rejoice over this wonderful opportunity that is being handed to him, does he take careful note, not only of the offer being made but the conditions attached to it?  No, he doesn’t, he does none of these things! He sets up two idols, one on the boundary at the south and one on the boundary in the north – golden calves no less!!! (see 1 Kings 12:26-33) Moreover he instituted a priesthood of his own and established copy-cat festivals in order to stop the people drifting south to Jerusalem to follow the Lord there.

To see the terrible significance of this, if you read the history-of-Israel part of the Old Testament, watch out for a description that occurs again and again of subsequent kings of the north: He did not turn away from the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, which he had caused Israel to commit,” (for example see in respect of each of the final kings in 2 Kings 15:9,18,24,28). The idols he set up were never removed and their presence seemed to give legitimacy to everyone in the north in the years to come to have their own idols. Even when the king appeared to be on the right track, the people generally weren’t!

Watch what follows. THIS is at the heart, the cause if you like, of all the struggles and eventually destruction that the northern kingdom face. That’s why we are considering this.  “Even after this, Jeroboam did not change his evil ways, but once more appointed priests for the high places from all sorts of people. Anyone who wanted to become a priest he consecrated for the high places. This was the sin of the house of Jeroboam that led to its downfall and to its destruction from the face of the earth.” (1 Kings 12:33,34) If you want to see the awfulness of all this, do a study in Deuteronomy sometime and see the number of times Moses warned and exhorted Israel against idolatry that would separate them off from God (start with 4:15,16,23,25).

And So? What is surprising, and you see it more and more as you follow the history of Israel, the Lord allows these various sinful kings to continue. Why does He do that? Why does He not destroy this people who keep idols at the heart of their national and individual lives? I have pondered this in the past and the following are the reasons I conclude must be there:

  1. He allows us to do what we will, to reveal our sinful natures and reveal our need of His salvation.
  2. He allows sin to build up to show our potential for evil without His intervention.
  3. He allows us free rein because He wants to give us space to repent.
  4. He allows our sin to build up as nations to act as self-destructive discipline.

And Us? Now isn’t that just how it is for us? Some of us grew up with Christian parents and a strong moral and spiritual background, others came from non-Christian backgrounds but were called by the Lord out of that. But whatever our background we are still individually responsible before the Lord for how we live out our lives – today. From time to time (often or occasionally) we may fall short and (often or occasionally) we may experience the discipline of the Lord to bring us to repentance. What is tragic is that most of us do not realize what is going on in our lives in this respect.

What we should be quite clear about is that a) the Lord has blessed us greatly, b) He wants us to live lives that are characterized by thankfulness, goodness and love, c) we are always prone to failure and therefore need to be on our guard against this and be ready to repent quickly when we do fail, and d) the Lord is always therefore working for our good, working to redeem us, working to change us and working to bless us and take us on to maturity and to receive our inheritance in heaven. Part of His working, we should also realize, involves discipline and discipline is always designed to break us free from our reliance on the idols of modern life and get us back on track. Hold on to that in all these studies.

11. Historical & Geographical Context

PART TWO: POST DAVID AND SOLOMON

Struggles of Israel Meditations: 11. Historical & Geographical Context

1 Kings 12:20  When all the Israelites heard that Jeroboam had returned, they sent and called him to the assembly and made him king over all Israel. Only the tribe of Judah remained loyal to the house of David.

Health Warning:  I think as we progress with this series I need to give a health warning – it is not for the faint-hearted. I have the feeling that this is possibly the most intense series – in terms of the amount of information and biblical quotes included – that I have ever written. It may be that you might find it more helpful to copy and paste the material (if you are reading it on something capable of doing that) in order to use this material as a future resource. I don’t think the church is usually very good at teaching of the history of the Old Testament and my hope is that this series may in a small measure remedy that or at least provide material to do that.

Recap: We have noted David’s successes and his failure and the consequences, and then Solomon’s success and then failure and further noted the Lord’s word to Solomon about dividing the kingdom. We now need to see how this works out and how the outcomes ‘fit’ our overall goal of examining the struggles of this nation. To do this we will have to now follow two streams, that of the north and that of the south. We will start with the northern kingdom as they lasted for roughly 135 years less than the south.

As we move on we are going to find a string of names of the various kings and I will endeavor to clarify them by printing them in bold. I will also seek to pick out their enemies similarly.  2 Chronicles describes the activities of the southern kingdom and 1 & 2 Kings mostly follows the northern kingdom (although there are some descriptions of the things of the south). For this reason, in the next part where we cover the northern activities, our resources will come from 1 & then later 2 Kings.

Warning: Now I am aware that as you read through this particular study, as I indicated above you may feel overwhelmed by ‘information’ which may leave you feeling that this is purely an academic study. In no way do I suggest you will remember all this detail but it may be in the subsequent studies you may wish to return here to put everything that follows into the historical and geographic context that I hope to provide here. I will make further comment at the end of this study.

Context:  Earlier on in the series, in Study No.7, we identified the various tribal nations that occupied Canaan when Israel went in to clear it out. Now many years later we will keep finding reference to other nations who the Lord used as a thorn in Israel’s side. It will be helpful therefore if we focus in this study  on the various nations interacting with Israel, and we gave a mini-description of each of these:

In study no.7 and into no.8, we covered the Philistines and saw them throughout David’s story. After that they ceased to be seen much and perhaps because of their geography (coastal plain in the south) they did not feature with the northern kingdom.

When Israel were transiting up the east side of the Dead Sea before entering the Land by crossing the Jordan, we identified the various nations to the south and east of the Dead Sea as follows: to the south is Edom, north of them is Moab and north of them Ammon, west of which dwelt the Amorites at the city of Heshbon, and then further north still, Bashan. Let’s pick up on some of these who also appear later in Israel’s history:

Edom: Edom was another name for Esau (Gen 36:1) and so the Edomites were descendants of Esau, who had clearly migrated there very early on (Gen 32:3, 36:1-8), absorbing the Horites who already lived there (Gen 14:6). Seir, which is often mentioned, was first a mountain in that area and then was the land in that area that became better known as Edom. Saul had fought against them when he came to rule (1 Sam 14:47), David subsequently conquered them (2 Sam 8:13,14). Later in Jehoshaphat’s time they joined with the Moabites and Ammonites to fight against the southern kingdom. In the reign of Jehoram in the south they rebelled (2 Kings 8:20-22). They were thus an opposition in the south mostly against the southern kingdom. They helped the north on one occasion (2 Kings 3:9)

Moab: Moab was the son of Lot (Gen 19:37) whose descendants settled the land that was to the east of the southern half of the Dead Sea, north of Edom. As we saw in the third study, they were protected by the Lord when Israel passed by on their way to enter the land further north. (Deut 2:9) Saul later fought with them (1 Sam 14:47) and David later subdued them (2 Sam 8:2). After Ahab died they rebelled (2 Kings 1:1, 3:5) against Joram but were routed by Joram, Jehoshaphat and the king of Edom (2 Kings 3:24). Later they simply took to raiding Israel every Spring (2 Kings 13:20). They were later subdued by Assyria until their power waned.

Aram: Otherwise known as Syria, the history is murky and complex but the name becomes associated with a people of the north and east of Israel, a land that stretched eastwards including northwest Mesopotamia, who are clearly established in the time of the Judges (see Jud 10:6). Absalom married a daughter of the king of Geshur and later fled there (see 2 Sam 3:5, 14:23, 15:8 – Geshur being identified as being in Aram).  David defeated a king from there (2 Sam 8:3) – Zobar is to the north-west of Damascus. Ben-Hadad king of Aram, attacked Samaria in the days of Ahab but was repulsed (1 Kings 20:1,29,30). It was the Arameans that Elisha spared at Dothan (2 Kings 6:8-23). Nevertheless Ben-Hadad again laid siege to Samaria but had ending up fleeing (2 Kings 6:24, 7:6,7). After Hazael killed him (2 Kings 8:15) the Lord used Hazael to subdue Israel (2 Kings 10:32) continuing into the reign of Jehoahaz (2 Kings 13:7,22)

The Kings of Aram we come across in the text are:

  • Ben-Hadad (there may have been a first and second) in days of Ahab (2 Kings 6:24, 8:7-15)
  • Hazael (843BC-) in later days of Ahab and into reign of Jehoahaz (2 Kings 8:7-15, 9:14, 10:32, 13:3-6,22
  • Ben-Hadad (the third possibly, 796BC-) in days of Rehoboam II (2 Kings 15:20)
  • Rezin – (pos. 750BC-) fought against the southern kingdom in the reign of Ahaz, but later killed by the king of Assyria (2 Kings 15,16, Isa 7:1)

Assyria: focused on the Tigris and upper Mesopotamia, in the period of our studies. Went through many phases through ancient history, and was strong and starting to expand about 900BC, lasting until the fall of Nineveh at the hands of the Medes/Persians and Babylonians, Chaldeans in 609 BC.

The Kings of Assyria mentioned in the text are:

  • Tiglath-Pileser III: (745BC-) built the empire and came and deported some of Israel in Pekah’s reign (2 Kings 15:19, 29)
  • Shalmaneser V: (727-) came against Hoshea, overcame Samaria (722BC) and deported the rest of Israel (2 Kings 17:3,5, also 2 Kings 18:9-11))
  • Sargon II:  (722-) came and took Ashdod in the south (Isa 20:1)
  • Sennacherib: (705-) came against the southern kingdom (after the fall of the north) later in Hezekiah’s reign (2 Kings 18 & 19 & Isa 36,37) but was withstood, and then later assassinated by his sons.
  • Esarhaddon: (681-) Sennacherib’s son reigned after his death (2 Kings 19:37)

Babylonia: In Babylon, which had earlier been part of Assyria, the rise of the city state under Nabopolasser (625-605) meant the end of Assyria in 609 and the ascension of Babylonia under Nebuchadnezzar (605-562) and subsequent kings, until the fall of Babylon in 539BC to the Persian, Cyrus, (539-530) who eventually sent the remnant of Israel back (538) to start to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem (537). For the fall of Jerusalem and what followed see 2 Chron 36 etc. (All dates from The New Bible Dictionary)

And So: As I said at the beginning, lots of information and while we may not hold all of it in our memories, I hope that it may enlarge our perspective to see that Israel were just one small nation in a world of change, a world where nations grew and declined, grew and declined. It is for this reason that different nations appear at different times. The nations immediately to the east and south such as Moab and Edom, come and go as irritants in the life of Israel, but the bigger ‘empires’ such as Aram, the Assyrians and later the Babylonians became giants of influence over that area of the Middle East, as we now call it.

As we start to see the geography and see that these latter three empires all come from the north and north-east, we can understand why Isaiah prophesied about Galilee in the north, “In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honour Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan— The people walking in darkness  have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned,” (Isa 9:1,2) when he prophesied about the coming of Jesus. The north of the country had taken the brunt of the big powers from the north and north-east and in many ways had become a place of ‘darkness’.

And Us? From an intellectual point of view, may we be those with hearts open to learn. From a spiritual point of view may we catch something of the greatness of the working of the nations and, as the Bible shows it, the activities of the Lord as He interacts into all that is going on. In the studies as we progress, may we see this more and more and worship Him.

11. Repentance & Conviction

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

11. Repentance & Conviction

Mk 1:15 ‘The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!’

Jn 16:8 when he comes, he will convict the world of its sin, and of God’s righteousness, and of the coming judgment.

To Recap: In the previous study we examined Jesus’ specific words to Nicodemus, about the kingdom of God, being born again, the (Holy) Spirit, and coming into the place of God’s blessing, having surrendered to Him and having had a life-changing encounter with Him through His Spirit, all made possible through the death of the Son. This followed a previous study that focused on the major difference between a Christian and a non-Christian, that the Christian has been called by God, has been ‘called out’ to become part of this assembly we now call ‘the Church’. But in the last study I did say we would need to look in more depth at the process of this ‘calling’.

A Change of Direction: The starting point for this means we have to examine the word ‘repentance’ which simply means a complete turnabout to create a change of direction. No one will become a Christian (in the Biblical sense, not a sociological sense) unless they had had this change of direction. Now we need to understand this change of direction more fully because it is not just because we liked the idea of the Christian life, we liked the idea of the ethics involved. Someone might join a political party because they hear about and agree with a particular political viewpoint, but that is NOT what happens here. Someone goes into a church building and they like the architecture, they like the beauty they find there, they enjoy the liturgy and go out saying, “This will be my church,” but that doesn’t make them a Christian. Yes, there is a change of direction, but the cause is completely self-centred. For a person to become a Christian, there almost has to become at some point what I can only describe as a revulsion of their self-centredness linked, with an awareness that previously, in reality, they have been godless.

Self-centred godlessness: The apostle Paul nailed it when he was speaking about our pre-Christian lives: “We all did it, all of us doing what we felt like doing, when we felt like doing it, all of us in the same boat.” (Eph 2:3 Message version) In that he was describing a life where ‘self’ reigned, and God never came into the equation. We might have even appeared ‘nice’ people but the fact was that we were self-centred and godless, and in that we were running in exactly the opposite direction to the way God had designed us to be: Him-centred and thus godly. It is the recognition that we have been living in this way – linked to a growing dissatisfaction about it – that works to start bringing about the other word we are focusing on here – conviction.

Conviction? We don’t realise it at the time, but it is the working of the Holy Spirit who brings about this conviction. As Jesus put it in our verse above. The Message version builds it out: “When he comes, he’ll expose the error of the godless world’s view of sin, righteousness, and judgment: He’ll show them that their refusal to believe in me is their basic sin; that righteousness comes from above, where I am with the Father, out of their sight and control; that judgment takes place as the ruler of this godless world is brought to trial and convicted.”  See the key words and phrases.

First there is, “the error of the godless world’s view of sin.”  When we were ‘godless’ we got upset at being called ‘sinners’ and, anyway, who uses that old-fashioned word ‘sin’ any longer, doing right is just what you feel is right? Right? Well, actually, no! The word that the Bible often uses, ‘sin’ means just this – self-centred godlessness that leads to wrong thinking, wrong words and wrong actions that the Bible summarises under the umbrella of one word – unrighteousness. As we start being convicted by the Holy Spirit, we find a growing awareness that this is what we are like, if we can only be honest about it.

We struggle and we argue about it, but deep down He is working to help us face the truth – and we don’t like that truth.  That is conviction and conviction leads on to repentance which involves i) acknowledging this truth, ii) asking God to forgive us for it and iii) asking Him to save us and give us a new life, a new direction, with new power and purpose.

That is what HAS to happen for a person to be ‘born again’. I often say this but it bears repeating, I am sure many of us when we are born again are not fully aware of all these things but the Spirit is bringing them to bear on our will so that we surrender, and the reality and fuller understanding of them only follows afterwards. Sometimes there is an immediate clarity but often it only follows gradually.

Believing in the Cross? But perhaps we ought to pick up more on some of those things in that Message version of Jn 16:8-11. “He’ll show them that their refusal to believe in me is their basic sin.” That is at the heart of all this, that these godless lives we’ve been referring to are, in reality, lives that have not believed in Jesus and why he came. The New Testament clearly teaches that Jesus died on the Cross to take our punishment for our sins and up until this time we’ve been talking about, we didn’t see our need, we didn’t realise the extent of our self-centred godlessness that leads to unrighteousness, so we couldn’t see the point of Jesus dying. That simply demonstrated our blindness, the blindness that is part of the expression of Sin in our lives. Sins are the individual acts of our wrong thinking, wrong speaking and wrong doing. Sin is the propensity or tendency that we all have to be self-centred and godless with all the rest following.  Jesus died to take our punishment, remove our guilt and open the way up for us to be restored to God the Father.

I can’t be righteous: However much I try, it is still the old self-centred me, I can never be perfect and, however much I try, failure is going to happen somewhere. Hence Paul spoke of the fact, “that righteousness comes from above”. God decrees us righteous when we simply say, “I believe” (and of course, mean it!) It is about how God views us. When we believe in Jesus as we’ve just been saying, God says we are now assessed as ‘righteous’ in His eyes and as far as judgment of sin is concerned and justice satisfied.

Now of course we know that the rest of our life will be spent changing to ensure our now God-focused lives are righteous in terms of the things we are now thinking, saying and doing, but now Jesus, by his Spirit, is there indwelling us, as we saw in the previous study, and helping and guiding and directing and empowering us to live this new life.

A Relationship: Once this happens, we no longer strive to appease God or win over His approval, because He has now given it the moment we believed. As the Spirit convicted us, as we repented and declared our belief and surrendered our lives to Jesus to save them, take them and lead them from now on, it is now not a matter of ‘following the rules’ but living in a new relationship with the Father and the Son, enabled by the Spirit.  Relationship is all about interaction: we pray, He responds; we need help, He gives it; we need guidance, He gives it; we mess up and ask again for forgiveness, He gives it; we need a fresh start, He gives it.  (We’ll consider this again in more detail in a later study).

THAT is what this Christian life is all about – being convicted by His Spirit, coming to repentance, surrendering our life to Him, believing in Jesus, being led by Him in a living, loving empowered relationship – and receiving a glorious new future, new future meaning all the days we have on this earth and then into eternity. Hallelujah!

A final word: Again, just in case anyone reading this study finds themselves responding, “But I’ve never known this, I’ve never experienced these things or this ‘new birth’ you’ve been referring to”, it is never too late.  Consider the ‘ingredients’ of all this, if I may refer to them like this.

  • First, a recognition that I have been self-centred and godless.
  • Second, a desire to change.
  • Third, a recognition that I need to say sorry to God for this and need His help to change.
  • Fourth, a recognition that Jesus is God’s unique Son who came to die for me in my place (even though I may not fully understand that) and my need to declare that belief.

Fifth, the pathway to God is to come to Him and pray all this out, telling Him you are sorry, telling Him you believe in Jesus, asking Him to forgive you, take your life and lead it, and make you anew. Then leave the rest up to Him. Have a wonderful new life!

39. Exercising Authority

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 39. Exercising Authority

Rev 2:26,27 To the one who is victorious and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations …..  just as I have received authority from my Father.  

Right, back to our being seated with Christ in the heavenly realms, working with him to bring in the kingdom or rule of God on the earth. Just a reminder: it is not us, it is him in control. Jesus is the one seated at his Father’s right hand. At the end of Matthew’s Gospel, we find Jesus telling his disciples, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations.” (Mt 28:18,19) Note the ‘therefore’ that links him with us. We also see, When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal those who were ill.” (Lk 9:1,2).

Authority in this case is the right to operate under God’s name to bring about the rule or kingdom of God on the earth. We have the right from God to, in general terms, go and make disciples for Jesus and as he leads us, to cast out demons and bring healing. To actually do this requires faith, a positive response to his words. We speak as he speaks, we act as he prompts us to act. Much of the time we just witness, share Jesus, the Gospel, with seekers, but sometimes, especially when the enemy is clearly evident and present, we are called to exercise Jesus’ authority.

Depending on the way the Holy Spirit leads us in prayer we may:

  • PROCLAIM the truth to set free (Jn 8:32)
    • this often releases faith and action
  • TESTIFY to the truth of the situation (see Rev 12:11)
    • this overcomes the lies of the enemy
  • COMMAND something to happen (see Mt 21:21)
    • giving instructions by faith as led by the Spirit to remove an obstacle
  • BIND the enemy (see Mt 18:18)
    • to stop enemy activity we declare on earth what has been decreed in heaven
  • LOOSE people or situations (see Mt 18:18)
    • we release people who have been bound up by the enemy
  • PRONOUNCE the name of Jesus into a situation (“in Jesus name”)
    • we speak as Jesus into the situation

Let’s check each of these out. First, proclaiming. (See Jesus Lk 3:18, 7:22) Here is the person who is suffering because they have believed the lies of the enemy and yet they have come for prayer and are open to the Lord moving on them.  As we pray over them, we proclaim the truth: they are a child of God, loved by Him, not condemned but loved. As we pray with authority and anointing, the Spirit takes our words and applies them to the heart of the person being prayed over and suddenly they know that is the truth and they are freed. The kingdom has come.

Second, there is testifying. (See Jesus, Jn 8:18) Again, this is declaring the truth of what has happened to us and as we so do it, the Spirit confirms it with assurance and faith is released. It tends to be that we proclaim over other people and testify for ourselves, but in both cases the Spirit affirms the truth and change is brought. The kingdom comes.

Third, there is commanding. This is declaring the authority of Jesus, as he leads, to bring about change. I was in a house group situation recently where two of the women prayed over a third woman and as the Spirit led them, one of them commanded a sickness to go – and it did. Jesus often did this with both healing and deliverance; sometimes he instructed the demon or sickness to leave, other times he instructed someone to do something. He also commanded and took control over the elements (e.g. Lk 8:29, Mt 8:3,13,26, Jn 9:7)

Fourth, there is binding. Jesus taught his disciples, “whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”   (Mt 18:18) When we bind something (usually the enemy, often in the form of an evil spirit) we limit or restrict him. If in the process of casting out a demon, it seeks to make a lot of noise and gain publicity for the enemy and create fear, you may bind him and silence him (see Mk 1:25) and then proceed to command that he leaves. Binding is about restricting the enemy, limiting his activity, and the kingdom prevails.

Fifth, there is loosing, the exact opposite of binding, when we release someone who has been restricted or limited by the enemy. Again, Jesus did this with demonically oppressed or possessed people. (see above)

Finally, there is pronouncing, “in Jesus’ name”. Very often people use this phrase almost as a good luck talisman at the end of a prayer. When the Holy Spirit is leading us in ministry we speak that out as a declaration of the Spirit-inspired, Jesus ministry, that we ARE doing or saying what Jesus IS saying from heaven.

Remember, these things we do as we learn to let the Holy Spirit lead us by putting these things into our minds at the appropriate moments.  In each case it is the WORD OF GOD, from God for us at that moment, imparted by the Spirit TO HAVE EFFECT.

When we speak out the word BY FAITH in response to the Spirit’s prompting, we may expect things to change in the heavenly realm, which in turn will change things here on earth.  Remember, it is AS WE ARE LEAD BY THE SPIRIT that these words are released in us so that we may release them OUT LOUD, either to PRAY or to PROCLAIM.  It is speaking them out that is the act of faith on our behalf which enables the Lord to bring change.

In this way our words act as weapons of the Spirit and the enemy is defeated and the rule of God, the kingdom, is expressed, just as it was when Jesus was on earth in a single human body. Now he is here through multiple bodies.  All he looks for is his disciples who will be open to hear him, be sensitive to the leading of his Spirit, and who will speak out and become the channels of his power and authority here on the earth.  Hallelujah!

38. When the sky falls down

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 38. When the sky falls down

1 Pet 4:17   it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household

We always try to maintain balance and I am aware that for some, the past four studies seem almost too good to be true, but the truth is that this is how it can be – but not always. I seem to remember, when our children were small, reading the story about Chicken Licken (or Chicken Little) and the frequent reference to the ‘sky falling’. Well there are times in life when, to use a variety of phrases, it all goes pear-shaped, all hell breaks loose, or the sky falls down, and I think we need to remember that and carefully hold the balance.

Only the other day someone said to me, “Yes, but Christians get cancer and there are as many divorces in the church as outside it.” He was making this point that things go wrong and that for Christians as well, and he was right, but there are comments to be made. My first reply was, “Well yes, but as far as the divorces in the church goes, that is more a condemnation of the poor spiritual state of the church in the West.” I went on to talk about the fact that we live in a fallen world where things go wrong and we are living as part of that but, I concluded, the big difference is that we have the Lord with us for when he said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you,” (Heb 13:5) He meant He would always be with us in whatever was happening. We also have the encouragement of Rom 8:28 that He will be there working for our good in it. The illustration of Jesus at the tomb of Lazarus (Jn 11), shows that he doesn’t stand there dispassionately, even though he knows the will of God is being worked out, but he grieves with us in it.

But Jesus being there and feeling with us in it, doesn’t take away the pain and anguish that such circumstances seem to bring. How do we respond in the crisis when natural responses are, “Why should this happen to me?” or “Where is God? Why doesn’t God turn up to help?” Perhaps understanding some of the dynamics of the kingdom of God in which we live might help.   A kingdom, after all, is ruled over by a king, and our king – Jesus – the Son of God, as God, is all wise and he knows that our lives can only change and improve (and that includes our families, our learning, our business and our social and community lives) when they are brought in line, and are lived out, in accordance with the design and will of God. Now if we had an indifferent God, He would simply sit back and let us stew in our own mess, but He’s not. He is love and love constantly looks for and works for the best for the object of its love – you and me.

There are certain passages of Scripture that we dislike. For instance, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds.” (Jas 1:2). There is also, “the Lord disciplines the one he loves” (Heb 12:6). If we are honest, thoughts of discipline and of trials don’t thrill us! That is natural but both those things from God are designed to bring us into a better place than we are now. I am sure sometimes the Lord looks at the path we are taking or the attitude we have and He, knowing all things and knowing the future, sees that without realising it we are taking a path that is likely to have severely negative consequences.

Understanding how God disciplines and how He brings trials might help. My studies of the judgments and disciplines of God suggest that sometimes the Lord just lets us continue down that dangerous path knowing that at some point it is going to cause the sky to fall on us. As we said earlier, He will be there in it with us and will be working for our good, but the pain of the circumstances we have brought upon ourselves, will teach us and, like chastened prodigal sons, we may come to our senses and return to the father (see Lk 15). When He sees the folly of mankind settling in us – pride, self-confidence, self-reliance (check out Jer 2:13), apathy, indifference, self-importance, even godlessness, conceit etc., He knows there needs to come a time of correction before those things utterly destroy us.  Whether we hear it or not (because it often comes in that ‘still small voice’ format) the Lord always warns and warns again about the path we are taking, so if the discipline comes, it means we either didn’t hear, or ignored it. But He’s not put off!

But I believe, reading His word, that He not only sometimes, allows us to fall into the pit of our own making over a long period of time, but sometimes He shortens the time, by either lifting off His hands of protection or restraint from us so the crisis comes sooner than later.  Sometimes He simply lifts off His hand of protection from us and illness strikes (see 1 Cor 11:29-32) and we are chastened and repent or even, on occasion, His children go to be with Him prematurely. Face the truth of His word. Removing restraint is something else. Most of the time, I suspect, we are not aware of the Holy Spirit’s restraining work in us and it is the only way that I can explain what I have seen a number of times – Christians who otherwise appear wise and bright, who for some inexplicable reason open their mouths wrongly or take an obviously stupid course of action, and the sky falls on them! (I have been there!)

As Christians, we tend to suffer two major failures. First, we just do not realise how much God loves us. Second, we fail to remember He is a holy God who calls us to be holy, and a simple definition of holiness is “to be utterly different like God.”   Put the two things together and we have a loving and holy God who is determined to do all He can for His children to get them to heaven, and to do that He has to be there, working on our behalf for decades, to counter the works of sin, self, and Satan, that are the biggest threats to us. (Remember, when it comes to Satan, the Lord may use him and give him some space to move upon us, but it will always be “thus far and no further” – see Job 1 & 2 + Lk 22:31,32 + 1 Cor 10:13)

To conclude, ‘to discipline’ means to ‘bring about a process of change in us, to get us to conform to His likeness, to His perfect design for us’, to be even better than we are now. Trials come to test our faith or our faithfulness. Will turning to Him be the first thing we do when a problem or difficulty arises? Are we regularly inputting and feeding on His word so that we have inner resources when the temperature rises? When the pressure comes will we endure, persevere, hang in there, and remain faithful to Him? Those are the sort of things trials reveal.   A crisis never happens just like that in the kingdom of God; it always builds and builds, even though in our short-sightedness we fail to see it, until suddenly the sky comes down. And when it does, most surely, we will moan and groan, and yet hopefully with His grace we’ll come through, scathed and changed with the marks of the cross on us, and a new and stronger spirit in us, and when we get to heaven (and we may have to wait until then to see the whole picture), we’ll then say ‘Thank you!”

36. Hearing leads to Action (3)

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 36. Hearing leads to Action (3)

John 2:5   His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

We continue pursuing a fictitious example of a listening prayer group and the revelation that came, as an example of how we may cooperate with the Lord, seated with him in the heavenly realms, bringing in the kingdom of God on earth.  Let’s move on to see what happened next.

(Alan’s Boss)

It had been two days after the prayer meeting that Alan had been in his boss’s office talking through various pieces of work. When they came to the conclusion of it, Alan realised there was something he needed to mention.

“Boss, I’ll be off in a couple of days, just for the one day, I’ll take it out of my annual leave. It’s just that my daughter is applying for Uni and we want to go with her to the Open Day of one she has her eye on, if that’s all right with you?”

“Yes, no problem,” the boss replied and then added almost as an aside, “I wish I had got stuff like that happening with my kids.”

“Sounds like it’s not going well?” Alan enquired lightly.

“You’re joking. My boy, the older of the two, is coming up to his A-levels and we just can’t get him to work. And then my wife caught the younger one, my daughter, and she’s only thirteen, talking to a friend on the phone about using Cannabis. I really don’t know about kids today! Who would have ‘em!”

Alan made non-descript noises and made for the door, then paused in the opening, “Mind if I pray for them, boss?”

His boss didn’t answer and just turned back to papers on his desk.

Alan left feeling a little rebuffed – but that night he did remember to pray for them.

It was the day after his day off, when he was back in the office, and again had to talk some business stuff through with the boss. His boss seemed a bit more irritable than usual – which was saying something! – but they talked through the stuff and then as Alan was about to leave his office, his boss said in a casual but nervous, if not embarrassed tone, “Er… I don’t know if you prayed about my kids the other day but there’s been a remarkable change in them in just a few days. My wife has managed to have a good talk with my daughter about the dangers of drugs – which she seemed to accept – and my son suddenly seems to have got down to revising for his exams like there’s no tomorrow.” He winced.

“Are you all right, boss, you look like you’re in pain?” Alan ventured.

“Yes, I don’t know what it is; I woke up with a stiff neck this morning. I can hardly move it and it’s agony!”

Now it was Alan’s turn to feel nervous. “Er… would you like me to pray for it?” he ventured again.

“You can do what you like; I’ll take anything to get rid of this!”

“No, I mean would you like me to pray for you now, here, this minute?”

His boss looked uncomfortable. “Well shut the door then.”

Alan shut the door and went over to his boss. “I’ll just put my hand on your shoulder as I pray, if that’s all right?” His boss said nothing, so he did. “Lord Jesus, I know you love us both and I know you healed anyone who was ill when they came to you when you walked on this earth, so can I ask for you to heal this neck right now. Father, please let it be, in Jesus name. Amen.” His boss said nothing.

Alan opened his eyes and to his surprise saw tears running down his boss’s face and the older man was swivelling his head.

“That’s amazing. How did that happen? The pain’s completely gone!”

“Jesus just healed you because he loves you,” Alan found himself saying.

“Sit down, I need to ask you some things,” his boss replied.

Forty minutes later Alan came out of his office very thoughtful and with tears in his eyes.

Now this may be making some of us seriously uncomfortable. I was recently in a well-known annual ‘Bible Convention’, led by good evangelicals and they had invited a delightful head of a bible seminary to take the morning Bible studies – and she was excellent. On the last one, as a natural outflow of the Bible book we had been following, she suggested that the Lord might want to heal people there, that morning, and graciously turned to the man who had been compering the morning, if that is the right word for such a time, and said, “I’m just a visitor here, how do you want to do this?” I have never seen someone look so discomforted and he replied after a moment, “Well, people can just pray for each other where they are,” which was not a faith-filled answer as she had already spoken about people with real needs coming to the front for prayer. Many of us are good at receiving ‘the Word’ but as soon as it means stepping out in faith, we move to the back of the boat and let the brash Peters of the world step over the side. God delights in His children who ‘risk it’.

Alan, with the sense of high expectation that we mentioned yesterday, ‘stepped out of the boat’ and God turned up. He had already pushed the boat out (to change the metaphor slightly) by offering to pray and when he got no answer, just went home and prayed – and things happened! Because they happened, when his boss was in such pain he was past caring what happened, the way was open for Alan to pray for healing and leave the answer to the Lord – who healed!

I was at a brunch for the vulnerable in society recently and a young man (well a good bit younger than me) walked in, a man I had known some ten years before and whose family and work situation was dire! I noticed that he could hardly hobble his way in, with back and leg problems, so I greeted him and, knowing he had been anti-Christian and had forbade his wife to go to church, nevertheless sought to reach out to him. (We’ll call him Rick.) When I offered to be available to pray for him in private he hedged. “Look,” I said, “the best that could happen is that you get healed completely, the next best is that you get partly healed and the worst that could happen is that nothing happens! You can’t lose.” He still went out refusing prayer. How crazy is that! Make yourself available with humility and gentleness, and the worst that can happen is nothing and they might think you rubbish. The best that might happen is they get healed and might just turn to the Lord. “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” (Mt 6:10) Go for it!

31. Openness to ‘Hear’

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 31. Openness to ‘Hear’

1 Sam 3:10  Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

I ventured yesterday into an area that many might consider very subjective, the reality of ‘hearing’ the voice of God, an area that I think is vital in respect of Christian growth, and as a part of the experience of being seated with Christ in the heavenly realms, as he brings in the kingdom of God on earth.

Watch & Listen for God: I believe the Lord has a sense of humour (after all, where do we get a sense of humour from, except made in the image of God!) and it is particularly obvious in the way He deals with us sometimes. Our starter verse above comes from that delightful story about young Samuel. I don’t know if you have ever thought about this, but it would have been so much easier for the Lord to have simply sent an angel to Samuel and explained to him about listening to God, but instead we have this little learning exercise which, I suggest, was given largely for our benefit!

My American friend: I have watched this with a particular friend of mine, someone I respect and esteem very highly and have had the privilege of knowing for nearly 20 years, an American pastor, now retired. I will spare his blushes by not using his name. My friend is very knowledgeable, a great teacher and about as cerebral as you can get, except from the earliest moments of our friendship he exhibited a hidden (and he would deny it) desire to know more of the things of the Spirit. Everything from my life (well some of it) he would have said was subjective and so our ‘discussions’ have always been about which of us is the most ‘Bible based’ (fun times with much laughter). A number of years ago I received a phone call from him from across the Pond in which he said he wanted my opinion on something and went on to share that he felt the Lord had been speaking to him about a potentially life-threatening semi-evangelistic project abroad which, at first hearing, sounded absolutely crazy.

Certainty: Now bear in mind my friend does not do ‘emotional’. He is a hardened ex-Vietnam vet. After I questioned him on the details and the ‘why’, I pushed him, almost to get him to back away from it, with, “Come on, the crucial thing, what is it that makes you so sure this is the Lord?” He almost whispered back, “Because it won’t go away,” and I realized he was in tears. To cut a long story short, he did this crazy thing and the Lord blessed him abundantly. The same thing happened a few years later, almost identically. He is a man who was called to two absolutely crazy, potentially life-threatening projects, both of which meant we might never see him again. I was there on the first one, when he left, and we were all saying a final farewell and believed it was probable we would never see him again or it we did it might be at least ten years later. It was terrible!

Now I share this precious story which has had some amazing outworkings because my absolutely Bible-based, evangelical friend who is all brain, ‘heard’ God and it defied all of what he knew, but he could not escape it. It doesn’t happen to many of us like that – but God DOES speak to His people TODAY in ways that we struggle with.

The ‘Wise Men’? Every Christmas I struggle with the fact of the ‘wise men’ these men from the east, who came at the leading of a star and goodness knows what else (they might have been astrologers!) but in the midst of it was God leading them to glorify His Son and become the ‘bankers’ for his early life (serious gifts of great value to be sold).

A story of my own: I could tell you of some extensive ‘training’ the Lord has put me through in respect of ‘listening’ to Him but it would take too long. I will tell you of one very simple experience we had that challenges our cerebral approach. I had only known the Lord a short time and the Lord had given me a beautiful Christian fiancé whose spiritual pedigree was much greater than mine. She suggested we volunteer in the summer to work on a mission or camp with a well-known Christian organisation in the UK. To cut a long story short we volunteered, and they sent us to be part of a team on a ‘beach mission’ to children and young people for two weeks on the coast in the west of the UK.  Somehow or other they asked me to lead the teenagers’ team. All went well and it was fun. The next year we were getting married and were not available. The following year we received a letter early in the year saying the present leader of the mission was retiring from it and would I take over. We prayed, and I eventually said yes.

An ‘Impossible’ Problem: We would probably have a team of between fifteen and eighteen, probably late teens, early twenties, but the only problem was that the accommodation the teams had used previously was now not available. We visited the place at Easter and checked everywhere, but there was no accommodation to be found for these two peak weeks of the summer holidays. We came home and prayed. Now this is no exaggeration, but this is how it happened. I worked in the city of London and was one morning walking from the station to my office when suddenly ‘that voice’ came into my head. “In my father’s house are many mansions. I have prepared a place for you.” Put aside the AV version, that’s all I knew then. I was a sufficiently young, naïve and brash young Christian that I dared to challenge the Lord and immediately ‘thought back’, “Excuse me Lord, but your word says, ‘I go to prepare a place for you.’” (Jn 14:2) Back came, “I have said what I have said.” I went home later and shared it with my wife who, bless her, trusted my ‘hearing’. We decided we would go.

We’re doing it! We checked with the local tourist information people at the mission town and they confirmed the place was sold out for those two weeks. We wrote to each of the team volunteers and we told them the situation and said, “We are going down the day before the start of the Mission and as far as we are concerned God will provide and the Mission will go ahead, but we realize that not all of you might feel comfortable with this so we would like you to share this with your parents and if you feel unable to come, we understand completely. (They all came!)

Provision! My wife and I packed all our stuff into our car and arrived after a long journey, camped in a small tent and first thing on the Saturday morning we started praying and looking. At one small caravan campsite the owner said, “Well we don’t have any caravans, but we have two old bungalows we are renovating, which are virtually finished, you could have them. They are for letting later in the season.” They became our home for the two weeks for the following years while we continued to do it every summer. Oh, yes, we had found a caravan booking on another site that had been cancelled that week and so when the team arrived at midday we had exactly the right amount of accommodation for them all and had a great two-week mission, the first of a number to follow that we led.

And so? Now I have taken time to use testimonies rather than the usual exposition, because at the end of all this, you will believe and hear God and go on to do exploits (which I’ll talk about tomorrow) or you will deny what you hear and miss some wonderful opportunities to be blessed by God and be a blessing to others. Stay with me if you can.

29. The Arrival of ‘LIfe’

Part 3: Ascended & Ruling:   3B. Practical Applications

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 29. The Arrival of ‘Life’

Jn  1:4  In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.

Jn 5:21  For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it.

Facing the Tidal Wave: Twice I have preached/prophesied about tidal waves, or tsunamis. The first was back in 2006/7 about a coming financial crash, the second is now. Prior to yesterday’s recap we took what many might consider a tangent or divergence from our path but which, I would gently suggest, is likely to be one of the biggest and most significant warnings you will ever find on these pages. It was the subject of relevancy in the face of the incredible tidal wave of change that is coming to our world in the immediate future. The only thing about such tidal waves is that many on the ‘beach’ are too taken up with playing sand castles to note what is coming.

More than Words: Now, again, yesterday I made two theological assertions about God and about mankind, and now I am going to make a third assertion that should bridge between those ‘spiritual and theological’ truths and the panorama of change. It is this: modern man doesn’t want to just hear words, he or she wants to see it, and this comes as a particular challenge to the church that is either wrapped up in its organisation and culture, its dogma and its ritual and sacraments, or is wrapped up in its particular expressions of the evangelical, Pentecostal and even charismatic wings of the Church.

Like the Pharisees? If we are not careful, history will show us in the same light that we view the Pharisees or Sadducees of Jesus’ day, religious groups, often ignored by the majority but seeing themselves as all-important – yet irrelevant to the world around them. It took Jesus coming with the power and authority of the kingdom to start bringing change. We have commented before on the fact of the demon possessed being able to be part of the life of the local synagogue, and so it was only when the Son of God came, and the presence of God was manifest, that they were disturbed and then ousted (see Mk 1:21-27).  Similarly, the sick or disabled were allowed to exist unchanged until the Son of God came (see Mk 3:1-5). If Jesus came in physical form exactly as he appeared two thousand years ago, and came into your congregation and mine, how many lives would be changed as needy people (whose needs are not being met now) crowded around Jesus and he did exactly what he did then and set the captives free? Please don’t let defensiveness shy us away from such thoughts. So often we focus on ‘salvation’ and ‘making a commitment’ – and that is absolutely right – but if it stops there we do a disservice to the word of God and the kingdom of God.

Building the Body through the Word: Preaching and teaching are, you’ll be pleased to hear me say, absolutely essential to bringing ‘life’. I dislike short homilies or clever, contrived sermons that hardly look at what the word of God says.  Exposition, which includes application, is still, I am certain, the way of transforming minds and lives. But it doesn’t end there. We recently touched on the concept of the ‘body of Christ’, the church, and the minister, leader or whoever he is, is merely one member of the body and if we leave it to one man, the rest of the body becomes atrophied (Defn. ‘gradually decline in effectiveness or vigour due to underuse or neglect’.) An encouraging sign that I have noticed in various churches, is the opportunity for individuals to receive prayer at the end of the service on a Sunday morning – by other members! Let me share a recent experience.

A Corporate Example: Twice last summer, once in my own church and once in a church in the States, I was speaking about this all-member body ministry and ended the preaching time as follows. I suggested that every time we prayed over somebody with listening prayer (see Study No.13 in this series) something happened. I believe that when we listen and take God’s leading as we pray over one another, He moves and does something.  I asked if there were twelve people who would like that ‘something’ and if there were, would they like to come and sit on the front row? Immediately twelve came out and sat there. I then asked for twelve (or it could be more – up to twenty-four) ‘volunteers’ who would like to step out in faith to come out and pray under my direction.

In each case at least twelve came out and we stood them in front of the seated people. “Now,” I continued, “I want you praying people to just stand with eyes closed, I want you to imagine Jesus standing here with your to-be-prayed-for person. I want you to sense what he feels for them, perhaps even catch a look on his face, and catch a sense of what he wants to say to them and do for them. Only then do I want you to pray out loud for them. I don’t want you to enquire about what they think their need is, but sense instead what Jesus wants to say and do for them.”

Effects: Now I am aware that his is probably completely alien to some and scary for others, but all I know is that when we dare step out in faith like this and risk getting it wrong, more often we get it right, and the few times we get it wrong, the Lord just causes forgetfulness to take away any wrong prayers. But in such times, I know three things. First, the people who come forward are stepping out in faith and they are invariably blessed. Second, those who step out in faith to listen and pray find a beautiful awareness of the Lord’s presence and are never the same again. Third, there is a beautiful sense of the body moving together. When people minister together, they love together and are bonded together. The body is built up and as individuals we grow. Consider what I have described.

First, it is risky. People might just pray what they think the person needs with their natural knowledge of that person but there are four things that militate against that happening. First, when people come forward like this to minister to others, they come with a sense of weakness and yet excitement and that transcends the “What I think” possibility. Second, in such times people do genuinely seek the Lord. Many feel out of their depth but nevertheless step out of the boat and ‘walk on water’ in faith, and in the process lose any sense of preconceived ideas. Third, the Lord will be on their case and there is often a sense of His holiness present which restrains personal thinking. Fourth, the leader (me in that case) is present to watch over all that takes place and discern anything going wrong and be there to bring gentle correction or reassurance as necessary.

Second, it promotes faith and growth: Both groups of people step out in faith and will be blessed by it, because faith pleases God and when God is pleased, He blesses. Both individual and church are blessed and grow and are built up. The bigger thing – ‘life’ is released, the life-changing power and presence of the Lord is there, and the kingdom is expressed. Hallelujah!

 

28. Recap 3A

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 28. Recap 3A

Eph 2:6,7 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.

Perspective of the Ascension: Before we move on to more practical matters, we would do well to go back over the lessons in this third Part which have been about the Theory to do with this idea of reigning with Christ’. We started out by seeking to put this whole section in the perspective of the ascension of Christ and linked that with our verses above.

Us seated in the heavenly realms: We looked first at the fact of Christ’s ascension which concluded with him now reigning at the right hand of his Father in heaven, and we made that link of us being seated with him in the heavenly realms. We faced the fact that we live in a Fallen World where free will reigns and thus the work of Jesus (with us) is to overcome the effects of that Fallen World. Personal growth comes as we start to really understand these things and move into them, thus fulfilling Jesus’ expectations of us.

A New Perspective: We moved on to consider that it is all a matter of understanding our position in Christ, reigning on high with him, bringing about the will of the Father, cooperating with the Godhead, allowing the Spirit to lead us. This taking hold of a new perspective means that we put the will of God the Father first with everything focusing on Him. Because this ‘position’ is in heaven, it is a place of revelation from on high, a place of power and authority, a place of awareness of the holiness of God, and a place where the strategy of God is worked out, countering the effects of the Fall and expressing the kingdom of God, the kingdom of heaven, on earth.

Considering the Kingdom: Having touched on the concept of the kingdom, we went on to consider that in more detail, starting with the reminder that it is all about demonstrating the will of God in heaven, on earth (note the ‘locational’ aspects). Talk of a kingdom also speaks about a ruler who presides over his followers, who conform to his rules or laws. However, because we live in a fallen world there are likely to be those who resist the rule of the king.  Whether it is people or characteristics of living that run contrary to God’s design, the work of the kingdom comes to overcome those ‘enemies’, which will continue until Jesus comes again.

Us called to reign: From here we went into Revelation, chapter 5, to see us designated as a purchased people who were called to reign on earth. We acknowledged that there is a timing uncertainty – now or the future –  which is also seen in one of the early church sayings used by Paul writing to Timothy. However seeing what he says to the church at Corinth, seeing his call and expectation of us to grow up, we see that part of that is learning to reign now and in fact growing in that. We concluded that thought with the observation that in the period after Jesus coming again, his followers’ role is to reign with him. For us, in the present day, our role is to learn to share with him as he works to overcome these ‘enemies’.

The Body of Christ: From there we went on to consider the idea of the ‘body of Christ’ as the church is called in the New Testament and we noted various things about it – that it’s role is to do the will of God, that it is made up of every Christian, and we are all different with different gifts etc., and that it is designed to grow and develop. That growth comes about, we saw, as we live out our relationship with Christ, as we develop relationships of love within the body that strengthen and hold us together, as we each use our gifts, talents, abilities etc. under his leading, and in accordance with the plans that God has on His heart for us, which are conveyed to us by Jesus, our head.

Relevancy Today? We continued in this Part considering whether we are relevant in the light of the threat or challenge that the enemy might seek to bring in the midst of the tremendous changes that are taking place in the world, especially in the realms of technology in its very wide application in so many spheres of life today. Whatever they may be, we concluded, they do nothing to change the existence and reality of God, and the state of sinfulness of mankind that will still need a saviour. The challenge is not to lose a true perspective.

Carriers of Love: Because God ‘is love’, the kingdom is all about love. We observed human need which needs so often strengthening, encouraging and comforting and we saw this is part of the ministry of Jesus to be expressed through His body, both within the Church and to the world outside.

A Community of Goodness: Finally we considered another characteristic of God and of Jesus that should be exhibited in the church – goodness. It is a difficult concept to grab hold of, and yet one with which we are all familiar. However we perceive it, it is to be something we think about and work for, as we seek to represent Jesus and rule with him as he expresses the kingdom

Summary: So let’s try to summarize all these things: Christ is ascended on high and we are to consider ourselves seated with him in his position as a ruler over all things, as he works in this Fallen World to bring the kingdom or rule of God on the earth through his body, the church, and in this manner we will ‘reign’ with him as we allow him to lead and guide and empower us as he works to bring down all those things that run contrary to God’s design for this world, and replace them with his love and goodness.

Wow! That needs rereading more than once, I suggest, but it does sum up what these principles within this Part have all been about. Now we need to try and see how they can be worked out in practical ways. That is what the next Part will be about.