23. The Significance of Vision

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 4 – Pondering on Vision

23. The Significance of Vision

Prov 29:18 (NKJV) Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint (or ‘no prophetic vision’)

Prov 29:18 (AV) Where there is no vision, the people perish

Prov 29:18 (Message)  If people can’t see what God is doing,  they stumble all over themselves; But when they attend to what he reveals,  they are most blessed

Eph 2:10 we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

At Last:   At last we come near to the subject of the Church itself. In Part 1 we considered reasons for approaching the subject of the Church, in Part 2 we considered what made Christians different, and in Part 3 we considered the making of a Christian, or what happens to change the person.  The Church is made up of people, that’s what ‘church’ is, we saw from the early days, and so it was important to cover these previous studies, but now we come to what church actually is, and in so doing I hope we may be able to get a completely fresh insight into who or what this body of people is supposed to be, at least according to the New Testament, the whole of the New Testament, and we will do it in this particular Part by focusing on the subject of ‘vision’. In this short Part we will cover:

23. The Significance of Vision

24. More on ‘Why Vision?’

25. The God Focus

26. Spiritual Expressions

27. Building People

Vision?  I couldn’t help using the Prov 29:18 reference (which we may come back to later) because it always has been a key verse people use for this subject. Having said that, I would simply like to ponder on what vision is and why it is so important. A small anecdote might, however, bring a warning against just going through a procedure. Quite a number of years ago, the church that I led decided to go down this path and so we spent some time waiting on the Lord and formulating that we felt He was saying to us. We came up with a ‘vision statement’ which was relatively general, could be easily understood, fitted scripture, and could be applied to any church. Yet it did have specifics that we could work towards. This we did. A number of years later I was aware that we had worked well on this vision with one exception. There was one part we had not got to grips with. Nevertheless, I felt we were still on track. That was until someone said one day, “We don’t have a vision!” To cut a long story short, with an extended leadership team, we spent another complete year, starting from scratch, praying and seeking for clarity. By the end of this long and not always happy process, we came up with an end result. I will never forget the day that one of the newer members of our leadership team looked at this end product and said, “You know, this is identical to the one we had those years back.”

Lessons? I think, having gone through that double process, there are some lessons to be learnt. First, it is good to wait on the Lord to seek for a sense of purpose and direction. Second, if you do formulate a ‘mission statement’, it should have specifics within it that you can work towards in such a way that you know you have achieved them, i.e. in some way or other they should be measurable. Third, it is vitally important I believe that we convey the statement to the church and catch their heart with it so that they are all on board with it. That means, as I noted above, that it is in line with scripture and easily explainable and people can see what they are working towards. Fourth, it is equally important that it is not merely a piece of paper that is trotted out at an annual ‘vision Sunday’ but is something that a) the whole leadership buys into, b) is constantly brought before the church as a reminder of where we are going, and c) we constantly check all we are doing against.

But why? It is important that we understand that the vision we have been talking about is something we, collectively as this local church, are working on to achieve something we can all understand. But why, I still hear. Stop and think of some of the things we have covered previously. How we come to the Lord: conviction, repentance, conversion, and so on. We have become a Christian and we have a life that is now (or at least starting to be) as different as chalk is from cheese in comparison to what it used to be. We know, at the outset, little of the teaching of the New Testament (if not the whole Bible) about God, Jesus and who we now are. There is a whole new world and whole new future ahead of us. We need teaching. On a desert island over many years, alone with a Bible, we could come to our own conclusions, but we are now relating to a whole bunch of other people who have also arrived at this same point as you – some of them many years back, and we find they have ideas, standards, approaches to life, that are quite alien to what we have known in the past.  Moreover we find that we too have a different way of thinking about the world around us and we soon catch the idea that the Bible has a lot to say about all of this.

We need teaching:  But then these things start to really sink in and we realize we are part of a corporate body, that the Bible speaks about and so when we are harmonising and working together with others in this ‘body’, the church, we can achieve greater things. How and why?  We need teaching. Now this process of us as individuals and us as a body is a long-term process. It is going somewhere. I touched on this in Study no.3 in Part 1 when I gave an example of a part of a vision from the past: “It would be a place where learning was normal, new believers shown the way, introduced to the Bible, prayer, fellowship, worship and witness, and introduced to the life in the Spirit, introduced to gifts and abilities in the kingdom of God, released, and equipped to find their place in the body that expresses the kingdom of God.”  (We also considered the subject of learning in Study No.18). Now I wonder if this is the outlook, expectation, or vision of your local church, or do people simply turn up week in, week out, participate in the service and go away without any ‘big picture’ of an underlying purpose to what is going on (which will be much bigger that just this element – the whole of this Part really answers this).

Less formally: Sometimes the formal approach is limited, I believe, in conveying something of what we believe the heart of God wants for us. Here is another example of part of a vision that came from one of the women members when I invited our church years back to write: “It would be a place where people meet with Jesus and their lives changed. People would leave wanting more. The place would be used at other times for Bible studies, full of relevance and LIFE!!! Banquets to invite friends to …. not Outreach, no, no, no! It would just happen as people came in contact with those who knew Jesus, as they saw our lives and community. Old people’s groups, coffee mornings, drop in centre, toddler group, creative group, singing, kids, young peeps having coffee, discussion, a place to be. Stillness group, listening group. The Police would be dropping in often to chat, we would be able to work with them and minister to them too. Other counsellors, people in the community, would also just turn up, be interested, involved. Much prayer, much ministry, all sorts, vibrant, real, true.”

Life Flowing: Wow! I emphasized that it was written by a woman, because I think it just oozes ‘relationships’, because so often the women of the church are so much better at that aspect. In fact, strangely enough just recently, we brought together a small group to meet for an evening to wait upon the Lord and just be His kids together and see what would happen, and it just happened to include the lady who wrote that passage many years ago. After the evening she instantly instigated a Whats App group for this little gathering which will meet monthly, and instantly there was banter and chatter and relationship communication that would have not been possible twenty years ago. My instinctive reaction was, “Wow, how wonderful – life! Life flowing between the members of this group in a dimension that had not been possible on that first evening. Incredible! Relationships! Awesome!”

And so? And so in this first introductory study about vision, although I haven’t identified it as such, I have been talking about expressions of what Paul spoke about to the Ephesians: “we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do,” (Eph 2:10) and as much as I think that applies to us as individuals, I also believe it applies to us as the corporate body we call the local church. There is much more to say and we’ll say some of it in the next two studies. For the moment can I finish with some outline notes I sent to a colleague a year or so back as he was struggling with the whole concept of vision:

Vision is:

a) a picture of how the future can be, combined with

b) achievable goals that are understood by the people and are seen to be do-able by the grace of God,

c) an action plan of a course to be followed that:

i) identifies the gifts within the church,

ii) releases people and enables people to use their gifts (and thus feel fulfilled),

iii) includes teaching that envisions the hope and the means of achieving it, and

iv) specific training that equips and releases people to play their part in the body.

Vision is about getting:

  1. The heart of God for our future
  2. The wisdom of God how to achieve it
  3. The power and anointing of God for it to be achieved by God through us.

Vision, to become fruitful, must

  1. Come from the heart of God
  2. Touch the lives and hearts of the people
  3. Be bought into by the majority
  4. Be spoken of regularly
  5. Be worked at continually

It is not restatement of where we are but where we’re going.

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9. Believers

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

9. Believers

Jn 3:16   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.

Acts 2:44  All the believers were together and had everything in common.

But why? There may be some of you who look at where we are and wonder why we need to spend time considering the most obvious of things about Christianity and the Church. My answer is that a) they may not be obvious to everyone and b) what we think of as obvious may have aspects to which we have not given much thought. In the previous study I distinguished church from clubs and from other ‘spiritual’ groups and maintained that the first big difference is that those who comprise ‘the Church’ are those who have been called by God. But it is a bit more complex than that.

Sufficient Knowledge? I recently was in a service where, at the end, a man responded to what had been going on and joyfully said, “I have found God in this service,” and I couldn’t help feeling, no you’ve been pointed in the right direction, but we need to introduce you to Jesus. If I had had the opportunity to question him, I might have asked, “What is it that you believe?” I suspect he might have answered, “Well, I believe there is a God and I have sensed His love in this service and that is wonderful.” Yes indeed, it is wonderful, but it isn’t the same as coming to Christian faith and becoming a believer in the terms that we find in the New Testament. I have written elsewhere on this in other series’, that I am sure when many of us do come to real and genuine faith, the extent of our knowledge is strictly limited but God sees that what we do know has provided a sufficient foundation for us to be ‘born again’ (which we’ll consider in the next study).

What Knowledge? If you are going to become a believer, one who constitutes the Church, a Christian believer, then there surely has to be a minimum of things we can say we believe. Now this can lead us into deep waters, some of which we need to explore in the coming studies and so I am reticent to lay out that ‘minimum’. However, let us rest in the fact that to be a Christian – and the Church is made up of Christians (sorry I took that for granted before) – there has to be a body of belief which led us through the narrow gate (Mt 7:13,14) and into this new life. Although being reticent in laying out too much detail at this point, nevertheless we should perhaps be definite that believing in Jesus really should have three aspects although, as I’ve said above, they often only filter into our consciousness in stages. They are that a) he is the unique Son of God, God in the flesh, b) he has come to be Saviour of the world, and also c) he is Lord. Let’s consider each of those briefly.

Son of God: So-called believers often appear unclear on their beliefs, even about Jesus, so let me ask various simple questions. First, would Jesus have been able to do the things he did if he were not the Son of God? The apostle Peter hinted at this in Acts 2:22. For Peter, in those early days, the emphasis was that Jesus was the Messiah expected by his audience (Acts 2:31,32, 3:30 accredited by the resurrection). It was only when Paul (ex-Saul) was saved that the message that Jesus was the Son of God was truly preached (see Acts 9:20) and written about (e.g. Rom 1:4,9, 5:10, 8:3,29 etc. etc.) The apostle John identifies him thus in his Gospel – written a lot later to remedy the earlier omissions (see Jn 1:49, also 3:18, 5:25, 10:36, 19:7, 20:31).  Second, if the Scripture teaches that Jesus is our substitute (and it does), dying on the Cross to take our punishment, would anyone less than God Himself be ‘big enough’ to be able to do that for every single sinner who turns to Him? Third, what are we to make of Jesus’ teaching, seen most obviously in John’s Gospel, where Jesus claims divinity for himself, if he is less that the unique Son of God, God incarnate, God in the flesh? This must be the first foundation stone of belief.

Saviour of the World: The biggest problem we have to face (and we’ll look at this in more detail in a later study) is that every one of us is a guilty sinner who is confronted by a Holy God.

Justice demands that God cannot simply shrug His shoulders and say, “Oh well, very well, I forgive you, let’s forget about it.” No, justice demands that sins be punished and with the weight of all our sins that pile up through a lifetime, that bulk of sins, demands death. The angel instructed Joseph, you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.’” (Mt 1:21). Another form of ‘Jesus’ is ‘Jeshua’ or ‘Joshua’ which means deliverer. It was not to save his people from the Romans but to save them from their sins, from the sword of Damocles, the judgment of God, that hangs over every sinner as demanded by justice. We may come to accept the first point, that Jesus was and is the unique Son of God but unless we go the next step and see him as our saviour, we simply make him a disinterested deity who looks on and leaves us lost and helpless. But no, God did not send His Son into our awareness to do that: “he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (Jn 3:16)

Lord: The apostle Paul said, “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.” (Eph 1:18,19) Speaking about the salvation Jesus has bought us, he shows that by his revelation we will come to know, (in the words of the Message version, “(a) exactly what it is he is calling you to do, (b) grasp the immensity of this glorious way of life he has for his followers, oh, the utter extravagance of his work in us who trust him— (c) endless energy, boundless strength!” (My divisions to emphasise) There the Message suggests hope is about the life Jesus is leading us into, the riches are the incredibly blessed life he has for us, and that power is what enables us – physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually – to live that life. But it is all about Jesus leading the way into it and he can only do that if we let him or, to be more specific, if we follow his instructions, directions and commands, i.e. we let him be lord of our lives.

The work of God: So when Jesus says, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent,” (Jn 6:29) he lays out the will of God for believers – to believe Jesus!  The Amplified Bible builds it out to include, “This is the work of God: that you believe [adhere to, trust in, rely on, and have faith] in the One whom He has sent.”  Believing is not merely mental assent, it is having a life that is changed by that assent, that doesn’t merely believe things about a Jesus who is ‘over there’ but lives out a real and living relationship with him.  Mental assent will mean a changed life. Believers reveal they are believers by the life that ensues, a life that is not merely good and loving but is obviously endued with power from on high, which we will consider next.

13. Security

Reaching into the Psalms 1 to 4: 13. Security

Psa 3:5    I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the Lord sustains me

Watched Over: I have struggled with this verse. As you are probably aware as you read these notes, often I find the paraphrase versions shed light on my ponderings, and I often like the way the Message version expresses it, but in this instance there is something crucial missing: “I stretch myself out. I sleep. Then I’m up again—rested, tall and steady,” i.e. there is no mention of the Lord! The Living Bible is better: “Then I lay down and slept in peace and woke up safely, for the Lord was watching over me.” That, I think, conveys more of the sense of what David is writing here.

But to backtrack, it’s an odd verse because you might think that the Message version is right in that that is how things are, surely, we get tired, we go to sleep and wake refreshed; that is what is called common grace, that is what happens to all of us. If only! Modern man seems to be more self-aware than his predecessors and sleep is one of those things you can read about in abundance. But the mere fact that so much is written about it, with changing ideas appearing from ‘experts’, suggests that sleep is not always as simple and straight forward as we just suggested.

The truth is that we can have difficulties with sleep. Yes, we can have trouble getting to sleep and we are told it may be an over-active mind, or eating or drinking too much too late, or we may be turning over worries of the day in our mind. I know of someone who has music or a story playing quietly in the background to help overcome the concerns of the day. When we do eventually get to sleep it can be just as bad and we may only have shallow sleep, sleep that is broken and comes to wakefulness from time to time, or that semi-wakefulness can be invaded by particular concerns that go round and round and just won’t stop. When that happens I now get up go downstairs, look at the stars, make a cup of decaffeinated tea, sit at my computer for half an hour and then invariably go back and sleep soundly. There is one school of thought that suggests that our ancestors tended to usually have two-periods sleep just like this.  The older you get, they say, the less sleep you need, and you certainly worry less about broken nights. In sleep, bad dreams can be an indication of worries (as well as eating wrong food before going to bed!). And so we could go on. The fact is that mind and body work together and, when we are not careful, conspire together to cause all these various problems.

But David is testifying to the Lord’s presence and provision. He has said He is like a shield who surrounds him, sheds His light on him and encourages him (v.3), that he can cry to the Lord and knows that the Lord will answer him (v.4). Yes, he may be on the run from Absalom, his throne has been taken, his rule may be ended, and he may never see Jerusalem again – and indeed his very life is under threat – but he has learned that although the Lord is disciplining him, He is still on his side and so he can further testify, “I will not fear though tens of thousands assail me on every side.” (v.6) He knows, as Job had come to learn, that the Lord may discipline him and even use Satan and his agents to come against him, but the instruction to the enemy is always summarised as, “Thus far and no further.” God has been there for him in the past, and although he has sinned and is under discipline, David has learned something we need to learn – God has not given up on him. God is still in the business of redeeming his life and He hasn’t finished with David.  Whatever your failure, as long as your heart is still pointed in God’s direction, He has not given up on you.

I like even more the ‘Easy-to-Read Bible version of verse 5: “I can lie down to rest and know that I will wake up, because the Lord covers and protects me.” That touches on something that is peculiar to David’s situation.  David has known by past experience that it is possible to creep into an enemy’s camp in the middle of the night with the possibility of assassinating the leader. (1 Sam 26:7) Not only is David secure in the knowledge that if a mass-army turns up, the Lord will still be there on his side, but that divine protection extends to keeping him secure from assassins.  Physical strength restored, mental peace assured, spiritual resources recharged, these are all part of the design and work of the Lord and now, as well, complete security.

Perhaps nowhere is this assurance conveyed more clearly in Psa 121 which starts, I lift up my eyes to the mountains— where does my help come from?” The mountains could be a source of threat, for surrounding Canaan were mountain tribes and peoples who would sometimes come down and invade. In the mountains so often Israel had the so-called ‘high-places’, places where images (idols) were set up and worshipped, false idols, false worship. These were the possibilities open to the psalmist as he wrote that psalm.

But he will not be put in a state of fear by such threats and he will not turn to false gods, for, “My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” (v.2) Yahweh, the Eternal One, the Creator of all things, He is his source of security. “He will not let your foot slip.” (v.3a) i.e. he will make me secure so I can stand firm in the face of all threats. But there is something wonderful about the Lord – He is on the job twenty-four hours a day: “he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep,” (v.3b,4) and so he could say, “The Lord watches over you,” (v.5a) but God doesn’t watch inactively, He watches to protect.

So, continues the psalmist, it doesn’t matter what is going on around you because, “the Lord is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.” (v.5b,6) i.e. total protection. Indeed, “The Lord will keep you from all harm— he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.” (v.7,8) The Lord watches over His children to keep them from harm. (This is not to say we can’t walk out from under His protection foolishly and suffer harm). Yes, persecution may come but whatever threats come, nothing can take you away from the Lord’s love (read Rom 8). In the midst of ‘whatever’, the Lord is there and His command to the world is “thus far and no further”. For David under God’s discipline that was the sense of security that he had and thus he can testify as he has. May we be able to do the same.

10. Prayer of Testimony

Reaching into the Psalms 1 to 4:   10. Prayer of Testimony (1)

Psa 3:3    But you, Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, the One who lifts my head high.

Approach: In our introduction to Psalm 3 we suggested that verses 1 & 2 were David praying out his concern while he was on the run from Absalom, verses 3 to 6 are a prayer of testimony and then verses 7 and 8 a prayer of request. It is thus a psalm that shows us different aspects of prayer – acknowledgement, declaration, petition. I have a feeling that I have read all the psalms many times and yet have only a surface understanding of them and verse 3 that we are moving into is no exception. Some of it appears obvious but as I pause over it, I suspect it is not as obvious as I have usually thought. Let’s approach it slowly and carefully.

Contrast: Circumstances versus reality: The verse starts with a ‘But’. That always suggests a contrast with what has just gone before. In verses 1 and 2 David spoke of his foes and those who had risen against him, and the fact that many were saying that God will not save him. Such verses imply gloom and doom and leave a sense of concern, worry, anxiety, insecurity, threat; that is the cloud that hangs over him because of Absalom, those are the circumstances that bring the ‘down’ feeling. Isn’t that just how it can be so often, the circumstances look and feel bad and the temptation is to sink under them, but David shows us another way. He declares the truth that he has found through his experiences of the Lord. The reality is that God has been there for him. The classic illustration of that was when he testified to Saul in respect of Goliath, “The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.”  (1 Sam 17:37) i.e. God is with me and for me, that I know, because that is how it has always been. Now there are four things to note in the verse in respect of his testimony.

Yahweh/Jehovah/The I AM: Note how he addresses God: LORD, with the capital letters denoting the name given to Moses (Ex 3:14), “God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”  The One upon whom David relies is the ‘I AM’ of Israel’s history, the God who revealed Himself as, “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob,” (Ex 3:6) and subsequently the God of Moses, the Exodus and the conquest of Canaan. This is the One he has experienced and knows, the Eternal One, the Mighty One who is there for His people. This is the starting place of his confidence which rises up to suppress all the negatives of verses 1 and 2.

A Shield: A shield is an instrument of protection against incoming missiles or other weapons. But David says God is a “shield around me”. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a futuristic sci-fi where a town is covered with a barely visible ‘force field’ that protects it. It completely covers it and protects it and that is how David sees the Lord’s presence, so it doesn’t matter if there is an army against him, he is safe. Elisha understood this concept although he expressed it in a different way. Do you remember when he and his servant were staying in Dothan and an enemy army surrounded it and scared the life out of the servant out for an early morning walk on the walls of the town. He ran to Elisha who knew it was simply a matter of revelation and so prayed for his servant, “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.” (2 Kings 6:17) There was the Lord’s shield for them, the angelic army of the Lord!

Glory: But he also refers to the Lord as, “my glory”. We see, “But you, Lord, are … my glory.” We know what the Lord’s glory is, for we see it at Mount Sinai (Ex 24:16,17), and as Israel travelled through the desert and it lit up a cloud by day and appeared as fire by night. When the Tabernacle was constructed according to God’s instructions, the glory of the Lord filled it (Ex 40:34). It was a bright light, so when David says you are ‘my glory’ he is saying, ‘You are the One who lights up my life with your splendour, revealing me for who I am, your chosen and anointed servant.’

Affirmation & Encouragement: There are perhaps a number of words that apply into what follows: “you, Lord, are …. the One who lifts my head high.”  All of the negatives of verses 1 and 2 weighed heavily on him, especially as he knew the ultimate cause of them, for they were God’s disciplinary judgment on him. I like how the Living Bible puts it: “You alone can lift my head, now bowed in shame.”  Have you noticed how people with very low self-esteem, those who feel utter failures, walk with the heads bowed down, their eyes on the floor; it is a common thing. So why is David’s head lifted?

God with us: Emmanuel: First, because the Lord is with him and with God on your side, God beside you, and in our case, and with God indwelling you as Lord and Saviour, you are someone special with no reason to have a bowed head. Yes, the enemy is there, the circumstances are bad, and the outlook is bleak, but with the Lord there with you, for you, in you, all that doesn’t matter. The Isaiah prophecy about Immanuel – God with us (Isa 7:14) – and fulfilled in Jesus (Mt 1:23), says it all, God is with us, not far off, not off down the other end of the universe, no, He is here with us!

God the encourager: I said there are perhaps many words that describe what God does for us, to lift our heads, encourage, affirm, empathize and comfort, declare victorious, the list can go on. It isn’t just that God is with us, it is that He is with us to do things, to bless us, deliver us, lead us in victory, and all these things work to the same end, they lift our down-turned faces in the face of the negative circumstances and negative enemies.

And Us? Are we confronted by negative circumstances (in this Fallen World there are usually plenty of them!) or negative enemies?  What is the answer? Not to dwell on their presence but to realize the Presence of the Lord God Almighty and His Anointed One with us, and as we realize that presence, to receive from Him all the good things He wants to bring to us: grace, goodness, love, joy, peace, patience, perseverance, endurance, affirmation, comfort, encouragement; they are all there in His outstretched hands to be received. As we pray, let’s remember who He is and who we are and rejoice in that wonder and put into perspective the negatives of the world. Amen? Amen!

60. The Challenges of the Kingdom

Focus on Christ Meditations: 60.  The Challenges of the Kingdom

Mt 6:9,10    Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Before we come to the end of this series, we should note how all this talk of Christ’s kingdom affects us or, to be more precise, how it affects our will. So far we have sought in various overviews to see that all authority has been given to Christ to reign, and we saw how Jesus reigns and we saw the way, from our perspective at least, we might consider that reign has limitations (sometimes he saves from death, sometimes he doesn’t). But all of that is really about how our lives benefit from being in his kingdom in a fallen world, but there is another view that needs considering and that is how we exercise our will in respect of our king.

Options: We know that the Fall took place because Eve and then Adam exercised their will, contrary to the will of God and that is how every person since has expressed their will. However, we are now in his kingdom and under his rule, and so we need to remind ourselves how we came to be here and what is expected of us in his kingdom.

Our entry into the kingdom:  We are here under the rule of Christ because, at some point in time, his Holy Spirit convicted us of our sin and our need to get right with God and accept the salvation that He offered us through the finished work of Christ on the Cross. In other words, we surrendered our lives to him. We took Jesus as our Saviour but to be able to receive all of what the package of salvation means, we also had to accept him as Lord. Now this is critical to who we are and our future, both here on earth and with him in eternity.

A Partnership Formed: When we surrendered to him, we were adopted into God’s family, declared justified by Jesus and were then ‘born again’ (Jn 3) when he placed his own Holy Spirit within us to empower us for the years and eternity ahead. But the crucial point is that a partnership began at that point so there is Jesus inspiring us and encouraging and guiding us, as he directs from heaven, at the right hand of his Father where he is ruling, and we receive all that by his Spirit within us. That is one side. The other side is the fact that we still have free will, and so we have the capability of choosing to obey – or not.

Consequences: Now there are two things to be observed at this point. The first is what we have just been considering, that the Christian life is a combination of Christ blessing us and us responding to him. How we respond is what is crucial here. The second is the significance of our obedience or disobedience. Now under the Law, Moses was given this as a number of propositions seen as blessings (Deut 28:2-14) and curses (Deut 28:15-68) i.e. God’s decrees of good or for bad. With God, life would be wonderful, without Him, everything would go wrong.

Now although we aren’t told in that chapter ‘how’ God will do these things, an examination of the judgments of God throughout the Bible reveals that most of the time when the Lord does the negative things, it is disciplinary (with the intent of drawing the person or people back to Him, i.e. to change their behaviour) and it becomes clear from Roman 1 and the book of Judges that so often it simply means that He will lift off His hand of blessing and protection (as our disobedience indicates we want!) and we become vulnerable to the enemy in this fallen world, and things go wrong. We may attribute these things to natural causes because when you eat too much, obesity results and obesity means the body breaks down in a variety of ways.

That example may be multiplied many times and we see these ‘fruits’ throughout our Western society although perhaps because they are so familiar, the world takes them for granted or tries to ignore them. Nevertheless, they are there, and this is how God has made us to work but it isn’t only ‘natural causes’, it is also the direct working of God who always works for our benefit. The short term may appear painful, but the long-term intent is always for our good, and that works out best when we are in a genuine living daily relationship with him. THEN he may guide us, direct us, inspire us, encourage us, give wisdom to us and generally bless us. When we are pointed in the wrong direction, if we may put it like that, He cannot do that.

Our starting verse from what we tend to call ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ is fundamental, the desire for God’s will to prevail throughout the earth. Now we cannot ensure it for the rest of the world, but we can for our own lives, as we ensure we have that daily, real and genuine relationship with Him. This happens when we seek to be open to Him, to hear from Him and receive His guidance, blessing etc., and when we seek to do all we can to ensure we are living our lives in accordance with the teaching of the New Testament.

This will involve our lives gradually changing to become more and more like Jesus in both character and service, as he teaches us through his word and Spirit, the way for us to walk. That is a gradual and continuous process which will continue throughout our time on earth and which we call ‘sanctification’. The more this process continues, and we co-operate with it, the more the kingdom of God will be expressed in and through us. The more we change, the more we become open to be used by him, tends to be a truth. Then the more we are used by him, the more we will impact and change the world around us, and this is our part in bringing that prayer into fruition: “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  May it be so.

29. Aspiring to Worship

Aspiring Meditations: 29.  Aspiring to Worship

Ex 8:1    Let my people go, so that they may worship me

1 Chron 16:29  ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name. Bring an offering and come before him; worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness

Isa 29:13  “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men

In the modern church, when someone says, “Let’s have a time of worship,” often all that is meant is ‘let’s have a time of singing praise songs’. Not wanting to be too disparaging of this, let’s acknowledge that it is a good starting place but worship means more than this. My dictionary has, “Worship = reverence or devotion for a deity; religious homage or veneration, a church service or other rite showing this, extreme devotion or intense love or admiration of any kind.”

Notice the key words: reverence, devotion, homage. These are heart and commitment words, words that go further than mere outward acts. Indeed Isaiah was most scathing about this as he brought the word from the Lord: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” (Isa 29:13) What a condemnation. The people came into the sanctuary, actually bowed down before God and yet their hearts weren’t in it, they we doing it because the Law told them to, not because their hearts were filled with love for God. But is that what we do week by week, simply because we’ve got into the habit of doing it?

Let me give another definition of worship: the reverence, by bowing down and paying homage, that is shown by a lesser being to a greater being. Now that ‘bowing down’ may be literal or simply in the heart and it is an acknowledgment of greatness and of superiority of the one being worshiped. The moment we say that is the moment we see the distinction between true and false worship that is seen in so much of the Old Testament. True worship can only be worship of the one true God for He alone has greatness and ultimate superiority. Worshiping anyone or anything else must be false worship because, whether it be wooden idols or even people, none of them can fit the definition of greatness and superiority. A king in olden times was only great as long as his army supported him. In himself he was nothing.

This was seen in the account of Moses confronting Pharaoh in Egypt as again and again he brought God’s word, “Let my people go that they may worship me.” The only trouble with that was that Egyptian culture declared that Pharaoh was a deity to be worshiped – but then so was the Nile! Like the various Roman emperors centuries later, the call to worship God challenged the cultural call to worship the king. It was this that so often caused persecution of God’s people. Reality in the cold light of day, says why should we worship a mere human being who is exactly the same as us in his daily habits and his vulnerability to getting colds or other illnesses.

Worship is reserved for the ultimate deity, the Lord Himself and only Him. As David wrote in his psalm, “ascribe to the LORD glory and strength, ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name.” (1 Chron 16:28,29) i.e. give God the glory that is due to Him. When we truly worship we bring ourselves in line with reality. God is great, God is glorious and all we are doing is acknowledging the truth of that and acknowledging that we are vastly inferior. True worship brings a right perspective.

The writer to the Hebrews recognized this in the light of the work of Christ which was bringing the kingdom of God, or the rule or reign of God, onto the earth in a new way, the presence of the Lord coming to the earth in a new way: “since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe.” (Heb 12:28) When we really think about what Christ has achieved, and now what is going on in our midst as his Spirit works, convicts and brings individuals to their knees before the Lord God Almighty, we realise that He is here in His world working and moving and that should create in us a sense of reverence and awe (but that will only be perceived with those with spiritual eyes to see).

But the apostle Paul saw the significance of this and realised that true worship was to be an utterly wholehearted thing, something that involved every aspect of our being if we are born-again believers: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God–this is your spiritual act of worship.” (Rom 12;1) We may, we say, have given our hearts to the Lord when we came to Christ, but hearts are expressed by daily physical lives lived out and so, says Paul, the logical outworking of this is that you give your entire body to God as an act of worship, every single aspect of your lives being submitted to Him in reverence. Nothing, but nothing, of our lives is thus outside of this attitude.

There are many more verses from Scripture that we could cite in respect of worship but let’s conclude with the thought that in our testimony, like the apostle Paul, we should be free to acknowledge we worship God: “I admit that I worship the God of our fathers as a follower of the Way.” (Acts 24:14). Yes, I need to aspire not only to seek to put meaning into Sunday morning singing, I also need to look at all aspects of my life and lay them down before Him for His inspection or whatever else, and also unashamedly declare, “I admit that I worship God” and in so doing testify to His greatness. Yes, definitely something to be worked on here.

73. The Presence & Glory of the Lord

Meditations in Exodus: 73. The Presence & Glory of the Lord

Ex 33:13  If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people.”  

We come now to a beautiful interchange between Moses and the Lord. It is a passage that many commentators skim over because it has a number of unclear elements to it.  However, this has to be the greatest interchange recorded in the Old Testament between a man and God. We have just seen that the Lord would speak to Moses face to face, and this is an example of that. Moses has a worry. The Lord has just said, “I will not go with you, because you are a stiff-necked people and I might destroy you,” (v.3) and that leaves Moses worrying.

He starts out expressing it by telling the Lord that he is aware of his incredibly privileged position: Moses said to the LORD, “You have been telling me, `Lead these people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. You have said, `I know you by name and you have found favor with me.(v.12) i.e. I know the job you have given me, but it is a big job so who is coming with me to share it. You have shown me that you know me and that I have found your favour and that is good for starters but I need more if I am to succeed in doing this.

Then he makes the first of two (or possibly three) requests of the Lord: If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people.(v.13) i.e. if I am to succeed with this job, I have learnt I need to do it your way and I need to know your way or, to be more precise, your ways. I need to know how you work so that I can work in the same way and be pleasing to you and get it right. These are your people after all and if I am to care for them and lead them, I really need to have this insight. We seem to have got on all right so far, (implied) but I sense there is much more to come and I need your wisdom.

He gets his answer: The LORD replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.(v.14) It would appear that Moses’ recognition of his need makes the Lord backtrack on his original, “I will not go with you.” The Lord’s presence had been with them in the pillars of cloud and fire and clearly up on the mountain, but with their greater revelation of Him or greater awareness of His holiness through the mountain experience, there is a fresh awareness of just what it means to have His Presence with them. It could mean their destruction but with Moses’ request the Lord responds with, “and I will give you rest.” Now whether that means I will take you to your rest in the Promised Land, or I will take away the burden of leading this people and so by my presence will make it easy for you, or something else, is unclear.

Moses doesn’t ask for clarification but merely notes that the Lord’s absence would make going up to the Promised Land an impossibility: Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth? (v.15,16) i.e. (as a future prophet will say) we are called to be a light to the nations but we can’t be that without your light in our midst, without you we are no one special. Moses is beginning to catch on! And so, the LORD said to Moses, “I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.” (v.17) The Lord gives two reasons for complying with Moses’ request. First, “I am pleased with you.”  i.e. what you have done so far has been exactly in line with my will and you have lead this people out of Egypt and been my mouthpiece to them, and that has been good! Second, “I know you by name.” i.e. you and I have a face to face relationship, I know you (and by implication) and I enjoy your company and who you are.

Moses clearly feels he is now on a good footing and so asks for something else: Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory. (v.18) i.e. show me more of yourself, don’t just hold yourself at a distance, please let me have a greater vision of you. To this we see, And the LORD said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.” (v.19,20) i.e. you will be able to catch a sense of what I am like – merciful and compassionate full of goodness – but to actually see me is a bridge too far. (for the reasons we mentioned previously).

But the Lord isn’t going to leave Moses in a completely frustrated position, He will allow him to have a greater vision than he’s had so far: Then the LORD said, “There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.” (v.21-23)

I don’t know if you have the same question mark that I have? Up on the mountain Moses and the elders had ‘seen’ the Lord so why does Moses ask what he asks and why does the Lord respond like this? We must conclude that the revelation up on the mountain was limited and although they were fully aware of who was before them, somehow it was not a full and clear revelation.

Now what does this all say to us? Well the first thing it screams to me is that there are various ways the Lord reveals Himself to us with varying degrees of revelation. I think this accords with my experience; I have had revelations of who the Lord is that vary in depth of understanding and had various experiences of Him. No, I have never ‘seen’ Him (which is why I am still alive).  I have seen things about Him as I have read His word inspired by His Spirit. I have sensed His Presence so strongly that it made me tiptoe around the house for the remainder of a day. I have been in a room where lights, His limited glory, flickered around the room for five minutes. I have been in a prayer time where His presence was almost tangible. Yes, there can be many variations of our interaction with the Lord from the cold me speaking words into the air, to some of these more intimate and (as I’ve used the words) almost tangible presence.

But there is another question lurking in the background? How much do I want to ‘know’ the Lord – I’ll have to be content with that for I cannot ‘see’ Him. The Bible challenges me that I can “draw near” to Him, e.g. “let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith.” (Heb 10:22) Will I take time to do that or be content with the cold questioning prayer?