Snapshots: Day 78

Snapshots: Day 78

The Snapshot: “the Book of the Covenant …. we will obey.”(Ex 24:7)  Moses writes down the laws given to him by God and then reads them to the people and they respond, “We will do everything the Lord has said; we will obey.” Good intent but not followed through. The history of Israel sadly reveals idolatry, disobedience and rebellion against God but in that they are under a microscope that shows the world what we are all like.   We think keeping rules (God’s, ours, other people’s, the church’s) will be enough but it isn’t.  Rules raise up resistance, followed by failure and guilt, causing consequences, producing pain. The intent may be good but rules are not enough, only a living, loving relationship with God Himself through Jesus, will work.

Further Consideration: The question of calling people to a point of decision at the end of a sermon, message, call it what you will, is tricky. On the one hand leaving people with information but no challenge to apply it simply leaves an uncommitted intellectual congregation. On the other hand, calling people to make a decision in respect of the teaching just given helps many people to make a step forward – but not always. Israel said, “we will obey,” and at that moment their intentions were good. A few weeks later, and a change of circumstances, that resolve went out the door for some at least. And there is the danger: it is easy to make a commitment in the heat of the emotional moment (which may be right and good) but as the days go by and circumstances change, it is easy for that emotional commitment to get blurred by the passing of time and be easily forgotten.

The thing about responding to the call of the rules or whatever else it was, is that, for some at least, for obedience to the call, obedience to the rules, obedience to the prompting of the Spirit, to be meaningful, is that it needs to be continual.

Some of us live in denial of the truth and so we need to say again, that we are all prone to getting it wrong – not all the time, but occasionally which is why the apostle John wrote, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ.” (1 Jn 2:1) He knew, as a good pastor, that at the end of a service, we may stand up, raise a hand or whatever else is required of us as a sign of our committed response to what has just been preached – and our intents were right and just – and yet within hours, days or weeks, we can have blown it again. And it is at this point that we are incredibly grateful that we have a God who understands us and gives us opportunity after opportunity to get it right, and if we blow it on one day, that doesn’t mean that the next day can’t be a victory! Hallelujah!

51. Obedience

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 7 – Unique Ingredients

51. Obedience

Mt 28:19,20   go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.

Acts 5:32  the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him

Jn 8:51 whoever obeys my word will never see death.”

Jn 14:23 Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching.

So Obvious: It is so obvious this thing about obedience that you might wonder why we are bothering to think about it. Perhaps it is because it is so obvious that we tend not to think about it. Consider: “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him.” (Mk 1:17,18) Jesus said to Simon and Andrew, follow me, and they did. That was obedience. Then, Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.” (Mk 1:20) Jesus said to James and John, follow me, and they did. That was obedience. Then, “As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him.” (Mk 2:14) Jesus said to Levi, follow me, and he did. That was obedience.

Reasons for Doing: Do you see the pattern? It is one that is followed throughout the Gospels. Jesus tells the disciples to do things – and they do. That is obedience. At the heart of discipleship is obedience, and because it is so obvious that we might forget it, let’s state it, obedience means DOING what Jesus says.  In the ‘Great Commission’ in Mt 28, it is to “obey everything I have commanded you.” Notice the strength of these words. ‘Obey’ means to respond positively to whatever God says. “Everything” means that we cannot take bits of things we find in the New Testament and exclude them. This is all-inclusive, it means nothing Jesus said is outside our discipleship. “Commanded” means instructed with authority. God doesn’t give nice advice. He says, do this. And He expects us to do it. It is not obligatory, and it is a call to all disciples.

Focus: I found myself writing the following the other day: “Church is not for your entertainment. It is for your salvation, your transformation, your equipping and your sending.” Many of us turn up on Sunday morning expecting to be entertained by nice lifting music, and a humourous entertaining sermon so we go out feeling happy. Last Sunday I listened to the minister ask the congregation, “Why are you here? What have you come for?” As I sat there and pondered that, my answer was, “To meet God, to meet with His people, and to be changed.” I was surprised by the force of that and so I think it is worth thinking about.

To Meet with God: As I have indicated a number of times in this series, if the Holy Spirit is leading us when we gather together, He will have inspired the worship team, inspired the leadership and hopefully will inspire us, and it will all be to the end that we encounter God.  Now Job is an uncomfortable book in many ways, but it is also enlightening. Not only does it reveal to us some of the inner workings of heaven, as well as the anguishes of living on a fallen world, but we also see (at the end) the effect of encountering God: “My ears had heard of you  but now my eyes have seen you.  Therefore I despise myself   and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:5,6) When we truly realize we have met with God, we are humbled. When Peter encountered Jesus at the lakeside, and Luke gives us the fuller picture, a miracle ensues and Peter realizes he is in the presence of someone who is much more than a mere man: “he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” (Lk 5:8) Encountering God, means I am changed. This might challenge us to ask, how often do we on a Sunday morning encounter God?

To Meet with God’s people: The picture that comes from Paul’s writings to the Corinthians is that when the Holy Spirit is present when we come together, He will flow through us, one to another. He longs to speak, He longs to convey His power and when He does that through one and another, we are blessed, we are challenged, we are envisioned, we are released, we are changed.

To be changed: Well there it is, we saw it twice in the two paragraphs above, the end result of meeting with God and meeting with His people is that I am changed. But where, you might ask, was obedience in all that? It is in the ‘end product’ if I may put it like that. When I encounter God directly or through His people, the end result is that I am more aware of who He is, more aware of who I am, more aware of His love for me, more aware of His goodness and I am a more pliable, open disciple than I was before. I am changed and the end result is that I desire more to be obedient to all He says, because I have seen the wonder of who He is, and the wonder of His intentions towards me – and I want more and more of that. As that transformation takes place I realize even more clearly that blessing follows obedience because all He ask of me is for good.

The Process: May I take two of my favourite verses (and there are many others) and ponder on them in this context. First, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who[i] have been called according to his purpose.” (Rom 8:28) Here is the background for my life. God is working in my life to bring good – through everything that happens. But it is not a case of God waving a magic wand so that everything will turn out right. No, He will be working into the situation from outside of me, if I may put it like that, but He will also be working from inside me, by the indwelling Holy Spirit, who seeks to guide me and lead me in right paths. And there it is again – so simple – He says, ‘follow me’ and the blessing flows when I do. That is obedience.

The second verse is, “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) There it is so clear. God has got plans for my life, that He has “prepared in advance” or as the Living Bible puts it, “long ago” with the inference that fits what is said over half a dozen times in the New Testament, that this was planned before Creation. So what is happening now is that the Holy Spirit, living within me, seeks to guide me and inspire me into moving into those things that God Has got on His heart for me. The ‘good works’ are simply the things He wants me to be doing, the things He knows I am suited to doing, equipped to be doing by His enabling. When I move in these things, that is obedience and I am blessed.

A Warning: Now I dare not finish this without warning against complacency. This teaching is not so that we can have a life that is utterly problem free; never be under the illusion that when we speak of God’s intent to lead us into a place of His blessing, it means a life where we are lounging in a hammock in the sun with not a care in the world. It is clear from the Gospels and from Paul’s testimony in the New Testament, that it is often far from that. The reality is that we live in a fallen, broken, dysfunctional world, a world where stuff goes wrong, and God does not sit idly by. Remember what He said to Moses: ‘I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them “ (Ex 3:7,8) This shows a God who sees and who feels and is moved to action, but note what follows: I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.” (v.10) Moses won’t be alone for God will be with him every step of the way.  That’s how it is with you and me. We aren’t saved for our entertainment, we are saved for our transformation, our equipping and our sending. We were part of the world’s problem; now we are part of its answer – in God’s hands. As we, the church, step out in obedience to His word and His Spirit, He will use us to bring life, freedom, deliverance and transformation to the world round about us. That is what this is all about. Amen? Amen!

61. Church Leadership (2)

Meditations in Hebrews 13:  61.  Church Leadership (2)

Heb 13:17   Obey your leaders and submit to their authority.

We now pick up on the second aspect of church leadership in verse 17 onwards. I am aware that I often appear critical of so much of modern Church life and so I should state that I love the Lord and I love his people and yet as I look around, so often the church life I observe falls very far short of the New Testament teaching. Having a sense of where this particular study is going I have to say yet again that in most churches that I know they fall short in respect of the things I am about to cover here.

Let’s look at verse 17 in its entirety: Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.” There are clearly a number of things to note here. These men (and I am afraid this is another of the signs that in the kingdom men have to take the responsibility of leadership and be answerable to God – “give an account”), because they are called by God are his representatives and are accountable to Him and therefore have His authority to lead and direct the church.

We will come on to the matter of obedience in a moment, but it is worth noting that already there have been two earlier references in this book that pertain to leaders. Do you remember back in chapter 2 – “This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him.” (Heb 2:3) There was something very obvious back there – we have our salvation today, each one of us, because someone before us heard the message and passed it on to us. If no one else does it, that is the role given to leaders, to ensure that the message is passed on and received by others so that the church continues and grows. A leader who does convey the Gospel is falling short of his calling. The receiving of the Gospel is what generates the church, if we may put it like that, in harmony with the work of the Spirit.

But then in chapter 5 we had a significant challenge that believers should be learners and should grow: “In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” (Heb 5:12-14) Notice those words, “You need someone”. That ‘someone’ will be a church leader. But the bigger thrust of that passage is that the apostle teaches that we should ALL be growing up in the faith, i.e. we should be learning and changing and growing into maturity.

To the church at Ephesus, the apostle Paul taught of Christ’s work, And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds[a] and teachers,  to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood,[c] to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”  (Eph 4:11-13) Although we have a list of certain ministries that the Lord has provided for the church, for our present consideration the most important words in the passage are, “to equip the saints for the work of ministry”

The Message version expands that work of these ministries: “to train Christ’s followers in skilled servant work, working within Christ’s body, the church, until we’re all moving rhythmically and easily with each other, efficient and graceful in response to God’s Son, fully mature adults.” Do you see the thrust that is here in the New Testament? Leaders are to teach AND train up God’s people, releasing them into their individual giftings in Christ, learning to relate together and work together within the body of Christ (see 1 Cor. 12)

In the ‘Great Commission of Matt. 28, Jesus’ closing instructions include in respect of all believers, “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” That is about ‘doing’ which is why I included the word ‘train’ above. Previously Jesus taught, “I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing.” (Jn. 14:12) Perhaps for simplicity sake, we might say here that this means, anyone who believes in Jesus will move in the same supernatural ministry he moved in, under the power of his Holy Spirit.

The role of church leaders thus becomes teaching these truths and releasing God’s people in faith into being the part of the body of Christ that he has designed them to be. As we focus on God and Christ, so the Spirit will stir within us the gifting He wants to bring through us. Perhaps one of the most crucial roles of the church leader is, I believe, to release faith in God’s people, with a vision of who we are and who we can become in Christ. When leadership operates in this sort of way, the teaching here in Hebrews to “obey your leaders” becomes a joyful thing.

I have recently been watching one of my sons teaching his younger daughter how to swim with a snorkel so she can watch the underwater life in the sea where they live.  She has heard her older sister come in exclaiming how wonderful it is to be able to see all the different fish and the vision has been conveyed to her of what she can do – and yet she has to learn and has to take her father’s instructions and the more she does the more confident she becomes and the more she can venture into deeper water to see the wonder of God’s world under the surface. Aren’t there similarities here with what we have been talking about?  Following guidance, following instructions is to enable us to enter into a whole new world of the Spirit, as wonderful a world as my granddaughter will be finding under the sea!

2. Delighting in God (2)

Meditating on the Gems of the Bible:   2. Delighting in God (2)

Psa 37:4  Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Whenever writing a meditation I have always sought to be real and for this reason I (unusually) let a day go by without writing because as I reflected at other times in the day on this verse it worried me and I am not sure how real it is to say that I (or you) actually ‘delight’ in the Lord. Do we really take pleasure in Him? It is for this reason that I continue with the same verse (aware also that I haven’t touched the second half of it either).

In the Law it was quite simple: Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” (Deut 6:5) It was a command, an instruction to love God. Somewhat formal perhaps. When we come to the Psalms, there is a more emotional feel: “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God.” (Psa 42:1). That speaks of a deep yearning in the psalmist to know and encounter God. Then that same psalmist speaks again: “Send forth your light and your truth, let them guide me; let them bring me to your holy mountain, to the place where you dwell. Then will I go to the altar of God, to God, my joy and my delight.” (Psa 43:3,4) He speaks about being drawn to the place of God’s dwelling, to the place where he will encounter “God, my joy and my delight.”

There it is again, this idea of God being our delight. It is a word that seems to shout strong emotion about God who has so touched him that he is thrilled by God’s wonderful presence. He is able to say that he enjoys the Lord. Yes, that is the amazing aspect of this whole thought about delighting in God, it speaks of enjoying God and that is not a concept or idea that we normally think about when we think of the Holy One of Israel, the God who lays down laws and requires His people to obey them, and holds them accountable when they fail.

Yet here it is, this thought that the psalmist in Psa 37 brings to us, that we can (and should) delight in God, take great joy and pleasure in Him. This surely must be one of the most challenging verses in the Bible for it calls us into an intimacy with God that many of us would doubt is possible, a relationship whereby His presence (not just His name) brings us great joy and pleasure. Is this something we really attain to? I ask the question in fear and trepidation of being presumptuous.

And yet, yes, there are times when He has spoken His word and I have been thrilled with it and with Him.  Yes, there have been times when He has drawn particularly close and I have known the warmth of His love. It’s not like it all the time, but there have been those times and I am sure there will be those times again. I can’t delight in an abstract figure the God of pure information that is understood by the intellect, but I can delight in the very real person.

Some of us (many of us?) may delight in learning about Him and we delight in what we know about Him, but this challenges us to go beyond the intellect, this challenges us to focus all that we are on all that He is – when He reveals Himself. Everything about Him must come by revelation, it must be because He shares it with us. But then we respond to the calling. He speaks, it seems, so quietly that we probably don’t even realise that it is Him, but we pause up like Moses before the burning bush and we start thinking and maybe even start searching from within our spirit. And so He shares some more of Himself and we respond again but with the revelation of Himself comes the revelation of what we are like, and we don’t like that. But we have heard His call and so we surrender our lives as we have heard of His wonderful love through Jesus. And now we have His own Holy Spirit within us and from time to time we catch a special sense of His leading or His teaching or His simple revelation of the presence of the Godhead – and we marvel.

Sin within us shouts that this cannot be possible and as the revelation grows, that He can’t love us like that, but He keeps on speaking and gradually our hearts are won over to the truth and we understand He loves us exactly like we are but, even more, He loves us so much that He wants something better for us. Gradually – so slowly – that becomes a reality and our inner being is transformed to believe, it is true, He loves me, He is for me, He accepts me just as I am and loves me just like this, and love melts hearts and my heart is melted and I realise that I have feelings for Him that can only be described as pleasure and joy.

Along the way I find I can call Him daddy because He is a loving father to me, and even more my heart is melted. But it is all a matter of revelation. It is also a matter of transformation and it is me who is being transformed. On a good day – and not every day is like that because we are still people in a fallen world struggling to put sin to death, to challenge self, and to resist the enemy – but on a good day I hear His voice, I catch glimmers of His heart and I am left wondering and marvelling and I thrill over Him.

In this transformation process I realise I am thinking differently. I want the things He wants. I hate the things He hates, I desire the things He desires. I find my desires are different from what they were before I met Him. He has changed them. He has given me new desires and as I walk the path with Him I find He leads me in new paths and find it is enjoyable because I am doing new things, thinking new thoughts, speaking new words, and all these things, I realise, are  a way of receiving those desires that have been formed in me. As I have come to a place by His leading where I can delight in Him, I find he puts new desires in my heart and then brings those things into being. How amazing.

45. Obedience & Spirit

Meditations in 1 John : 45 : Obedience and Spirit

1 John  3:24   Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us

We live in an age of individuality and even married couples today seem to take pride in remaining unique individuals but the purpose of marriage as laid down by the Lord is that the two become one, and that means more that just physically, even though the word ‘flesh’ is used: For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” (Gen 2:24) Jesus added a comment: “the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one.” (Mk 10:8) The final sentence appears to take oneness beyond merely physical oneness.

We say all this because John speaks about Christians as those who “live in him, and he in them”, a oneness of spirit. There is a unity in this that transcends anything found anywhere else in the world. There is also a link between obeying Him and knowing Him: “We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands,” (2:3) and there are ongoing references in John’s letter to be in Christ, for example, “This is how we know we are in him(2:5) and “See that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father,” (2:24) and “his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit–just as it has taught you, remain in him.” (2:27)

He’s said it before and now he says it again: “Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them.”  We saw the logic earlier that obedience is a prerequisite of a relationship with Christ being formed and a proof of its existence. Those who are ‘in him’, who are part of the body of Christ, have come to be there because they submitted to his will and now live a life of obedience to that will expressed in the many commands or instructions found in the New Testament. They live ‘in him’ and he lives in them by the presence of his Holy Spirit.

“Oh, come on,” cries the skeptical unbeliever, “how do you know he lives in you as you claim?” It is quite simple: by the Spirit. “But what does that mean?”  It means that since he came into my life I have had an awareness of an inner joy, I have had an awareness of inner guidance, and I have had an awareness of an inner power that is beyond me; it is something that just wasn’t there before I became a Christian and it cannot be explained in any other way than it seems there is an inner power that now lives in me that urges me, guides me, informs me, strengthens me, and when I read the New Testament, I find that it says that this is God’s own Holy Spirit, part of Him Himself.

There is therefore, a twofold aspect of living out the Christian life. On one side there is me making acts of choice, acts of obedience to God, using my intellect and my will to submit myself to Him and His will. God doesn’t take my free will away from me when I become a Christian, I still have to go through life making decisions, choices to obey Him. That is where the struggle comes because sometimes everything in me fears or is uncertain and I have to come to a place where I make a decision to trust him and obey.

The other aspect of this life is that He, by His Holy Spirit, lives within me and thus communicates with me and helps, guides and teaches me, and when I go to step out in faith, He strengthens me and gives me power to achieve what He’s asked me to do. It is a human-divine partnership being lived out here.

Another way of putting it, is that I do what I alone can do – and that is make the choices to obey, and then He is there to help, guide, assist, and empower me to work it out practically. Yes, the Lord may be there working in circumstances and people around me, but we have been thinking about how He works within and through me. It is the relationship, this partnership, where he allows me sovereignty of will, but is there to prompt, help, guide and empower as I choose to obey. And it works, and this is why we know, as John says, it is “by the Spirit he gave us.” Hallelujah!

25. Hold On

Meditations in 1 John : 25 : Hold On

1 John  2:24,25   See that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. And this is what he promised us–even eternal life.

Remember the context: John is encouraging the believers to resist the deception of lies and distorted teaching that was arising in the first century. He has reminded them that they have the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, who has both anointed them and indwelt them, and He will help them remain in the truth. But the fact is that we as individual believers still have free will and we can make choices and we can choose how we will live. We can choose to be Christ-like in attitude, in word and in action. We can choose to obey God’s commands. Choice still plays a large part in our lives. We can choose to pray – or not. We can choose to read the Bible – or not. We can choose to go to church – or not. We can choose to worship – or not. We can choose to be a witness – or not. Oh yes, at every turn the choices are ours and God will not force us. It is a mystery why one person chooses to be all out for God and another chooses to be half-hearted (yes, we even choose that.)

The New Testament is full of instructions that require us to make a response. Again and again we see such instructions and we should imagine them having the word ‘You’ in front of them. For example, “(You) Be joyful always; (you) pray continually; (you) give thanks in all circumstances.” (1 Thess 5:18) That would remind us that such instructions are written to us individually and individually we need to respond to them.

Thus now, we find John giving such an instruction that we might render, “(You) See that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you.”  Another way of putting that might be to say, hang on to all you have heard of the Gospel and of the apostolic teaching, and make sure it genuinely remains the expression of the active outworking of your lives.

This sounds such a simple exhortation, yet it is such a fundamental and important one.  To the church at Ephesus, the first of the seven churches in Revelation 2 & 3, Jesus declared, “You have forsaken your first love.” (Rev 2:4) They were no longer what they once were. This happens because we change our thinking. The word ceases to be alive to us as it once was. We no longer hold to the truths we were taught as young Christians and are more laid back in our appreciation of them. In such ways we fail to hang on and ensure we hold to what we “have heard from the beginning,” so that no longer does it remain in us in the same way. It is so easy, as we see the passing of years, to let this happen. It is a vital call that John brings here, one that we all need to heed. So, let’s ask the question: are we ensuring that what we have heard from the beginning still remains in us? Is it alive and as vibrant as it was when we first received it?

John then says something which is seriously challenging: “If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father.”  The implication is that if we don’t hold on to the truth we don’t remain “in the Son and in the Father.”  Put aside arguments about whether or not you can lose your salvation, is it possible for you and me to lose contact with Jesus and with the Father, and thus cease to commune with them?  I believe the answer is undoubtedly yes. How many people that you come across, started out so strongly and were wonderful examples of all-out-for-God committed Christians, yet as the years passed, times with God early in the morning got squeezed out with the busyness of life and awareness of the Lord’s presence faded? I am not pronouncing on your eternal destiny but I am asking about the reality of our daily walk with the Lord?  Is it still like it once was? The most terrible of the indictments of the seven churches of Asia Minor, was that of Laodicea: “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other!” (Rev 3:15)

Half-heartedness is the greatest bane that can settle on the Church. It is so easy to let it settle on you in this materialistic age, in this age that is so busy and active. It is so easy to let it settle when we start getting jaded with modern church life that so often lacks reality. How easy it is to become cynical and then we step back and instead of letting our feelings stir us to challenge the church and the world, we let them neutralize us and we become ineffective, church life becomes repetitiously boring, and the world is untouched by us.

John has something more to add: “And this is what he promised us–even eternal life.”   When the true life is flowing in us it is eternal life, it is the very life of Jesus, of his Holy Spirit, and that life brings life and activity that is not merely following rules or performing rituals, it is responding to the prompting and energizing of the Spirit within. This goes with the thoughts about communing with the Son and the Father. When we commune with them, we are open to them and the Spirit is able to energize, guide and direct us. THAT is life.

16. Conditional Future

Meditations in Deuteronomy : 16 :  Conditional Future

(Focus: Deut 6:1-3)

Deut 6:1,2 These are the commands, decrees and laws the LORD your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the LORD your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life.

There is a repetition in Deuteronomy which, for anyone less than a genuine seeker of God’s truth, will appear tedious, but it only goes to show Moses strong desire to convey to Israel the importance and significance of what he is saying.  Let’s see this in a number of instances.

1. The laws. For instance the opening sentence in chapter six has already had a number of echoes of the same thing:Hear now, O Israel, the decrees and laws I am about to teach you.” (4:1), keep the commands of the LORD your God that I give you..” (4:2), “See, I have taught you decrees and laws as the LORD my God commanded me, so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to take possession of it.” (4;5), “And the LORD directed me at that time to teach you the decrees and laws you are to follow in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess.” (4:14), “Keep his decrees and commands, which I am giving you today.” (4:40), “This is the law Moses set before the Israelites. These are the stipulations, decrees and laws Moses gave them when they came out of Egypt.” (4:44,45), “Hear, O Israel, the decrees and laws I declare in your hearing today.” (5:1), “stay here with me so that I may give you all the commands, decrees and laws you are to teach them to follow in the land I am giving them to possess.” (5:31) i.e. at least eight times in two chapters he speaks about these commands or decrees or laws that the Lord had given them to follow in their new land.

2. Pass it on. It’s not only for them but also for future generations. Again the reference here to children and future generations has come before: “Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.” (4:9) , “Assemble the people before me to hear my words so that they may learn to revere me as long as they live in the land and may teach them to their children.” (4:10) These laws aren’t just for now; they are for the whole future of Israel.

3. The Conditional Outworking. The fruit or outworking of keeping these laws is also another subject that keeps appearing, seen in 6:2 as so that you may enjoy long life.” and in the following verse it continues, “Hear, O Israel, and be careful to obey so that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the LORD, the God of your fathers, promised you.” (6:3)  We saw this previously: “Keep his decrees and commands, which I am giving you today, so that it may go well with you and your children after you and that you may live long in the land the LORD your God gives you for all time.” (4:40). It also appeared in the Ten Commandments: “Honor your father and your mother, as the LORD your God has commanded you, so that you may live long and that it may go well with you in the land the LORD your God is giving you.” (5:16) Yet further, “Walk in all the way that the LORD your God has commanded you, so that you may live and prosper and prolong your days in the land that you will possess,” (5:33) which then brings us to chapter six: Their future blessing will be conditional on obeying these laws; that is how important they are and Israel need to realise that.

There is an additional motivating factor in our verses today: so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the LORD your God as long as you live.” (6:2) Yes, we’ve seen that in the previous chapter as well: “Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me and keep all my commands always, so that it might go well with them and their children forever!” (5:29)  This awesome respect grew out of their experience of the Lord, seeing the things He did to deliver them out of Egypt, seeing the fire and hearing His voice at Sinai, and experiencing His discipline when they refused to enter the land originally. All of these things appear in the earlier chapters and this awesome respect which had grown through these things is now to be one of the motivating factors that helps Israel obey all the laws.

No less today, our blessing is determined by how we love and follow Jesus, obeying the instructions we find in the New Testament and responding to the prompting of his Holy Spirit. May we understand these things and follow them!

 

15. Love is

Meditations in 1 Peter : 15 :  Love is

1 Pet 1:22 Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart

In recent years I have concluded that the most important characteristic of the Christian is love – and yet it doesn’t seem to get the amount of air-time that it deserves. I’ll start by suggesting you love as much as you have been loved, as John said, This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us.” (1 Jn 4:10) but perhaps I should temper what I’ve just said by saying we love as much as we realise how much we’re loved.

Peter obviously thinks similarly because he is going to encourage us to love one another: love one another deeply, from the heart.” The last three words are interesting. How else can we love, we might ask? Well we might love with our mind, an intellectual love. We know love is what should be in us and so we declare that it will be. But love is far more than a mere mental assent. Perhaps that is why the commandments about God are summed up as “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Mt 22:37). Put most simply, our love is to be whole hearted, mind and emotions together, if you like.

But in this verse there is an order of events: obey the truth – purify yourself – love for others.

The truth is simply that which has been revealed to us – the Gospel – which includes the truth that Jesus is both Lord and Saviour. As we have recently noted, he calls us out of the dominion of darkness into the kingdom of God where the rule of God prevails. The Gospel is first all about surrender to God. We give up our own rights to rule our lives because we realise (with the convicting help of the Holy Spirit) that we have made a mess of them, we are hopeless and we need saving. It is only then about what God does for us and in us. John the Baptist came preaching, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” (Mt 3:2) and Jesus followed preaching, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” (Mt 4:17) It was exactly the same message: do a one hundred and eighty degree turn and submit to the rule of God which is about to come. “Jesus answered, “I am the …. truth.” (Jn 14:6)  Everything Jesus speaks is the truth for he is the very expression of The Truth – God! . Jesus never said anything that was not the truth. That’s why, again and again, we find him saying, “I tell you the truth.” (Jn 3:3,5,11, 5:19,24,25 etc. etc.) Thus to obey the Father, we obey everything the Son has told us. The Christian life is first about submission and obedience.

But part of our obedience is moving into a life of purity. Jesus taught, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” (Mt 5:8) When we think of something that is pure – e.g. gold, silver etc. – we mean that it is free from impurities. Impurities in the Christian life are any forms of sin, or anything that mars our relationship with the Lord. The ‘pure in heart’ do not let anything taint their heart that might spoil their relationship with the Lord. A heart that allows pride to reside in it is a tainted heart and not pure, and the pride will turn the heart hard. A heart that allows covetousness to reside in it is a tainted heart and not pure, and will cause the heart to be restless, discontented and critical of God’s provision. There are a myriad of ways that our hearts can be tainted and not pure, but these are not the ways of the Christian for the Christian has submitted to Jesus and allows his rule to prevail, and that means the Christian realises their weakness and frailty and there is not room for pride. They also rest in their Saviour for he is alone is the means of their ongoing daily salvation.

As this purity comes to us at salvation and we are cleansed from our old life and empowered for a new one by the presence of the Holy Spirit, He wipes away all self and all opposition to other people. It is only as the enemy comes and we listen to him, do those things take hold again if we let them. But that is not what the rule of Jesus wants in our lives. He wants them to be as pristine clean as they were at the moment of our conversion when we were born again. At that moment at least we were utterly surrendered to him, at that moment we were utterly pure, and at that moment utterly open to him we were open to all others; there was within us this love for others that Peter speaks about. It was a natural part of the new us when we were born again, for we received the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus, and he expresses the love of the Father to all. It is only as we take hold of our lives again and start thinking and rationalizing and reasoning, that we think negatively about others and forget that of ourselves we have nothing to commend us.

That is how we are naturally in Christ, is what Peter is implying and so, he says, let that work out in you and love one another deeply, from the heart. Now we see another reason why it is from the heart, because that is where purity resides and there it is that is the motivation that we have. Our hearts were surrendered to him, and our hearts are made pure and that purity means in respect of how we view others as well, with the eyes of Jesus. Oh how easy it is to stray from the truth and take up the rights of self again, and as soon as we do that we find negatives about other people rising within us. It should not be so, for it means we have been listening to the enemy and not to our Lord. Let’s check out who we’ve been listening to!

48. Employment Harmony

Ephesians Meditations No.48

Eph  6:5,6 Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart.

Perhaps before we get into the teaching of these verses we need to consider the subject of slavery and face the question why Jesus and the church didn’t speak against it. First of all, in Israel itself, the Law required that Israelites must not make their fellow Israelites slaves, and those slaves they had, should be well cared for. Second, and this is only a suggestion, I would suggest that God, Jesus and the early church did not approve of slavery but recognised that the world was not ready to abolish slaves. It would be many centuries before such a thing could come about. Even once men began actively speaking against slavery it took many years to abolish it (and it still exists in some parts of the world). Paul’s letter to Philemon is the only direct reference in the New Testament to the life of a slave and that sheds a very different light on such a life when Christ is involved.

Slaves were a fact of life and Paul recognises that some slaves had become Christians and so he gives very real advice to them. If we want to apply these verses to life today, let’s simply call them employees. Remember the context is the unity of the body of Christ, the church. He starts out: Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ.” This is a very high calling so that, even though a slave, they were to obey their masters to the same level that they obey Christ – which would be wholeheartedly.  And note that he doesn’t say, “Obey them if they are good employers.” Our Law says that an employee should obey all lawful instructions of the employer, issued within the course of carrying out the business. Being a slave meant obey any and every instruction. Today we would be content to obey our Law but Paul wants us to have a different motivation: “Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart.” See your work as working out the will of God is what he has just said. You want to know what God’s will is in respect of your work?  Do it to the best of your ability; do it as if this is the pure will of God for you.

But Paul continues it beyond the verses we have at the top of the page: “Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men.” (v.7) There, if it hadn’t been clear enough before, it should be now: work as if you are directly serving God. Then he gives a reason: “because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free.” (v.8) Wow! Your working well, as an example of a child of God, will mean God will bless you as His child, because He blesses anyone who determines to do good, and so will especially bless His children. So when you go to work, see yourself first and foremost as one of God’s children and you are going off to live out the life you have been given at the moment in such a way that your heavenly Father will be blessed by you and will in turn bless you

For many of us, work can be tedious and boring and we see little value in it. See it now as an opportunity to shine as a child of God, being an example to the world, and particularly those you encounter at work. Be the best worker you can and bless those you meet in the course of your work so that their hearts may be touched by you but, even more importantly, your Father’s heart may be blessed because of you.

But this is a two sided coin, this employment business; there are ‘masters’ or employers. Our Common Law speaks of employers as ‘masters’, seeing them as those in charge of the business. Now you may the employer, the one who owns the business, or you may be his or her representative, their manager, responsible for people below you. So Paul now addresses these people: “And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.” (v.9) Again, as we said above, he recognises that slavery was at that time a fact of life and so instructs them to deal well with their slaves. When he says, in the same way’ he means use them as if you were doing it before the Lord. The Lord sees slaves and employees as people, significant people, and so if we are an employer we too should treat them as significant people. If we are both Christians, we are to remember we are both members of the body of Christ – and that might throw a very different light on the situation.

The roles of employer and employee should, through Christ’s eyes, be seen as a relationship, a meaningful, mutual-blessing interaction. I wonder, if we were able to refresh our understanding of our work and see it in this light, what changes it might bring? Dare to think it through with the fresh eyes of faith.