19. Holding to the Plan (2)

Meditations on ‘Focusing Faith’ : 19.  Faith and holding to the Plan (2)

Heb 11:24,25   By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time.

A couple of studies back we noted Joseph holding to ‘The Plan’,  the plan spoken out by God to Abram, Isaac and Jacob – this is my land and now it will be your land, for ever, and you will multiply and become a great people. Over four hundred years have passed – four  hundred years, how long that sounds! That was the same length of time that passed between the end of prophetic revelation in the Old Testament period to the start of the events recorded in the Gospels in the New Testament! It’s like us thinking about things happening in the early 1700’s, but with God time is not an issue, His plans and purposes remain regardless of how many years pass.

So Moses is living some 400 years on from the Patriarchs but he knows his history, he knows that he is a Hebrew, an Israelite as they will become. Somehow he’s done his history and presumably kept contact with his natural mother even though he was being brought up for the first forty years of his life as a Prince of Egypt.

Stephen in Acts 7 tells the story: At that time Moses was born, and he was no ordinary child. For three months he was cared for in his father’s house. When he was placed outside, Pharaoh’s daughter took him and brought him up as her own son. Moses was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in speech and action. “When Moses was forty years old, he decided to visit his fellow Israelites. He saw one of them being mistreated by an Egyptian, so he went to his defense and avenged him by killing the Egyptian. Moses thought that his own people would realize that God was using him to rescue them, but they did not.” (Acts 7:20-25)

Now of course we know that it all went wrong and the next day one of his own turned on him and it became public knowledge so that he had to flee from Egypt and spent the next forty years looking after sheep in the desert, until God called him to look after over a million human sheep in the desert. But it really all happened on that first day when, as Stephen put it, “he decided to visit his fellow Israelites”. Up until then he had been living a life of privilege behind palace walls, with everything laid on for him. Perhaps it wasn’t that he had kept touch with his family but had just learned about them in his private tuition in the palace and, knowing his own history, how his own palace mother had taken him out of the Nile, he decided to go an look for himself and visit the people from whom he originally came. When he arrived at where they were he saw they were slaves and he saw one of them being mistreated by a slave driver and at that point he stepped over the line and stood for being a Hebrew. All of his history, the history of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob came rushing back from the lessons he had received and he knows these are his people, a people with a special relationship with God, Yahweh.

Yes, at that moment he ceased to be the son of Pharaoh’s daughter and was a Hebrew with a history that could not be ignored. At that moment he decided to stand for them and went too far and killed the slave driver. As the Hebrews writer puts it, “By faith Moses, …. chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time.”  The ‘pleasures of sin’ were simply the life of luxury and leisure in the royal palace, self-concerned and godless.

Now there is a possible course of action that we don’t usually think about. He was a Prince of Egypt, no doubt a powerful man. The slave driver is likely to be just another slave as far as Pharaoh would be concerned, two a penny. So he died, so what? These things happen. He could have faced it out, but he didn’t. These were his people and he found himself going back to them the next day, at which point he has to remonstrate with two Hebrews who are quarreling and who turn on him. This is the point of decision. He could have brazened it out – “Who do you stupid slaves think you are? Don’t you realise I am a prince of Egypt, get back to you work or I’ll have you killed.” In his role that was a very real possible way through this – but he’s a Hebrew himself, and it’s got to him, and so “He regarded disgrace ….of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward.” (v.26) His reward? To be counted as one of the people of God. At that moment he made the decision to leave; he could no longer handle this, being a prince in Egypt while his own people were slaves. He ran, and it was an act of faith. Whatever the future held it must be better than the reality I now know exists here in this land.

But there is an aspect of the record we have missed: “When Pharaoh heard of this, he tried to kill Moses, but Moses fled from Pharaoh and went to live in Midian.” (Ex 2:15) We have just examined what could have happened but for that to happen Moses would have to deny his people, deny his own birth and stand up in this situation as an Egyptian who cared nothing about the Israelites – but he couldn’t!

There is an unusual phrase I have taken out from the middle of that verse 26: “for the sake of Christ.” Now of course he would not have known about Christ, not known about the coming Messiah because that was something to only be revealed through the prophets in the centuries ahead – but we are told elsewhere in scripture that Moses was a prophet, a great prophet and so even here at this early part of his life, he senses there is something more to life, something more of God’s plans. He’s learnt about Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and he’s no doubt seen the God factor in their histories and as he catches that in his spirit, something says, “There is something more” and even that is just a glimmer of the revelation that is to come. We’ve seen it in Abraham who looked for a city with God, a dissatisfaction with the present and a yearning for what God has on his heart, and Moses has it as well.

So this forty year old embryo prophet, who doesn’t realise it yet, senses something at this turning point in his life, something of the eternal will of God and in a moment of desperation, he goes for it, he rejects his life in Egypt and has to flee.  He’s caught something from God and he goes for it. That is faith.

Because of the presence of the Holy Spirit indwelling us and making us Christians, we too catch this sense, the will of God. The enemy will challenge it and maybe we will be confronted by difficult circumstances where we have to either own up or shut up, we either stand for the truth or we join the rest who deny truth. We ARE the people of God. Pharaoh doesn’t like it and will threaten us. ‘Pharaoh’ is the world attitude today that denies God, challenges Him and His people and we resist him in the same way Moses eventually came to resist the next Pharaoh, with the will of God, the word of God and the power of God, but we’ll only do that when we’ve made the same decision by faith that Moses made – I am one of God’s people. I am not a prince of this world. I will do His bidding and leave the rest up to him. Amen!

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11. God of Initiative

Meditating on the Gems of the Bible:  11. God of Initiative

Ex 3:1-3  Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight–why the bush does not burn up.”

There is always a danger with spiritual matters in thinking that we have to take the initiative and yet the Biblical testimony is that God is ALWAYS the one who takes the initiative.  He created the world to start with. He initiated a relationship with Adam and Eve, He reached out to a pagan called Abram and started off a long-term relationship. And then we come to the verses above where a failed prince of Egypt who has been looking after sheep for forty years comes across a burning bush that is not burning, and finds himself in a conversation with God that will mean life will never be the same again. What we see in those verses is the start of the revelation of the plan of God for the deliverance of His people from Egypt.

The day before I would guess that Moses had no thoughts for the life he had forty years ago, the memories had probably dulled. He is, after all, eighty years old, a time when most of us today would consider we ought to be in retirement. But God has His plans and they include using this man for another forty years.

That is the trouble with the will of God, it stretches out in ways beyond our dreams. We may have had ideas once upon a time of what we might like to become, but the ways of the world, the knocks of life got all that out of us, and so we opt for settling in a quiet lifestyle that upsets no one and allows me to drift on through life. But God looks down and sees a need and sees me and sees what He can do with me, and suddenly there is a burning bush, something that catches my attention and breaks into the hum drum of life. God has plans to do things with me. I would have considered them presumptuous but He simply sees the potential of His child that His child fails to see, and suddenly He creates a burning bush, and I pause and look.

Recently we considered the angel coming to Mary, the same angel that had recently come to Zechariah. Both were instances of God taking the initiative, of God moving His plans on, plans which include human beings. It will be thirty years before the next phase of His plan for salvation comes into being, but then He has waited over four hundred years for the time to be ripe for this phase to come. And so we start to realise that what appears to us as a unique taking-the-initiative is, in fact, just the next phase of a plan that had been thought out from before the foundation of the world – but each stage is brought on by God Himself when He sees the time is right.

So I wonder, perhaps, can I see this life as a plan being rolled out by God and somehow He has a part for me to play in it: For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10) The ‘good works’ that God has got for me are things He knows I can do with the gifts and enablings He gives me, and they are all part of that bigger long-term plan that He has on His heart.  Now if this is so then it changes me from being someone who either wonders if he is ‘good enough’ to be used by God, or berates himself for not doing enough, into someone who simply says, “Lord, show me what you want of me today, and if you need me to change to fit more fully your plans for my future, please show me what you want of me.”  May my response to what comes be the same as Mary’s,  “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” (Lk 1:38)

So what is happening when someone seems to be so burdened that they pray their heart out to bring about the will of God? Surely if God has it all mapped out already they don’t need to be interceding like that? Well that intercession is simply part of the process that God uses to bring about His purposes. Prayer is always a mystery but it seems that sometimes God waits upon our praying, as if our praying actually brings about changes in the heavenly realms. As we say, it is a mystery and so when we catch a sense of what ought to be and start praying for it, we suggest that it is God putting the burden on our heart. Without doubt He does seem to burden some people more than others to become intercessors and that to bring about His purposes, but even in that we suggest He takes the initiative.

What happens when someone moves to bring a word of prophecy or a word of knowledge or pray for healing? The are being prompted by the Holy Spirit – God is taking the initiative to intervene through what we now call gifts of the Spirit. ANY ministry should, we would hope, be a response to the prompting of the Holy Spirit and in each case it is God taking the initiative to bring about a change here on earth. Moses’ burning bush was just one classic example of what God does in a variety of ways again and again as He acts into our lives and works in cooperation with us – He initiates and we respond. Good isn’t it!

8. Revealed

Meditations in 1 Peter : 8 :  Revealed

1 Pet  1:12 It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.

I have to confess to not liking secrets, they smell of division, and yet I recognise that sometimes secrets are quite valid. You keep secret the presents you have bought for a birthday or at Christmas. You keep secret difficult times you may be going through from your young children who could not handle the worry. If you are working on an invention it is legitimate to keep it a secret until you have patented it. If you are planning changes in business or war, it is legitimate to keep the plans secret until they have been finalised and thought through properly. In Britain we struggle with a ‘Freedom of Information’ Act  which is sometimes abused so that people are required to relinquish information prematurely. We also live in an age when ‘leaks’ appear common and someone ‘spills the beans’ before the information is ready to be released.

The prophecies about the Gospel in the Old Testament are God’s ‘leaks’. It was like He was so excited about what the Godhead had planned, that He couldn’t help sharing bits of it with His prophets. But why keep it a secret? Why not come out with it to Abram, say? “In many centuries I am going to send my Son from heaven to reveal my love on the earth and then to die for the sins of the world.”  Why didn’t God say that? Well, I suspect the answer has got to be that it wouldn’t have helped us. We wouldn’t have understood it and we’d still have been sceptical of Jesus when he came and threatened our religiosity.

As Peter continues to talk about the prophets who received the revelations in the Old Testament period he says, It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you.” Now I confess to finding that strange, I’m not sure I understand it, and I haven’t found a commentator who explains it satisfactorily, because he is basically saying that they were told by God that this was for a future generation but in reality they could not have known which generation would enjoy the fulfilment of their words. It has, therefore, to be a general sense that is being referred to, the sense that this is going to happen at some future date.

Possibly an example of this was Balaam who eventually brought a word that is usually taken to refer to Jesus: “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel.” (Num 24:17) and then, “A ruler will come out of Jacob.” (v.19) It is a word that is also so dressed up with references to other nations being subjugated that it has to be very much spiritualised to be applied, yet the point is that he does know that it is yet for some time in the future.

These things have now been brought right into the present by the preaching of the Gospel says Peter: when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel.” On the day of Pentecost Peter started his message by a long reference to Joel (Acts 2:17-21), explaining how what was happening was a direct fulfilment of his prophecy. He then cited David’s psalm writing (Acts 2:25-28) that indirectly pointed out the fact of the resurrection, and then about Jesus ascending back to heaven (Acts 2:34,35).

After the healing at the gate called Beautiful, Peter taking the opportunity to preach again declares, “this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Christ would suffer.” (Acts 3:18) and “He must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets. For Moses said, `The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you must listen to everything he tells you.” (Acts 3:21,22) and, “Indeed, all the prophets from Samuel on, as many as have spoken, have foretold these days. And you are heirs of the prophets and of the covenant God made with your fathers. He said to Abraham, `Through your offspring all peoples on earth will be blessed.’ When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways.” (Acts 3:24-26). In each case the general teaching followed by a specific example.

Of course Jesus himself on the road to Emmaus said to the two disciples, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” (Lk 24:25-27)

The message is very clear: the Old Testament prophecies clearly pointed to Jesus and Jesus and his apostles used that to verify all that had taken place and which we now call part of the Gospel. The angels in heaven were likewise kept in suspense as they looked on and saw what was happening on earth yet the revelation was not given to them but to prophets and then apostles. It’s a Gospel for mankind and it was to mankind that it was shared. Hallelujah!

10. Projects

Meditations in Ecclesiastes : 10 :  Projects

Eccles 2:4,5,11 I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them….Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.

Sometimes when someone is run down or has lost direction in life, they are encouraged to get a hobby, start a project, do something that has an aim in it, have a goal to go for, do something positive. TV seems full of programmes where someone is contemplating moving house, buying a house to develop it, taking their existing house and giving it a makeover, or giving their garden a makeover. In the largely affluent days in which we live, projects are all the rage. There are people whose project is to start a small business. It may be to develop an invention, set up a small shop, provide gardening services, computing services or whatever.

There is a buzz starting a project. It is exciting. There is the thrill of what might be, what I might be able to achieve, what I might be able to create. In all of these things you have plans, an idea of what you want to achieve. It might be ideas of what you can do with your kitchen, or of a new patio outside the French windows. it may be to completely restyle the garden, creating new paths, new border shapes, an arch leading to an arbour, a new tree or bush creating a new shape, perhaps laying down a vegetable garden or putting in new fruit bushes or trees. There is a pleasure in doing such things; it seems to fulfil part of that creative urge we have.

Have you noticed this: that all these things are creating something new, because we have this creative urge because we are made in the image of our Creator? So much of the time we take this for granted, but why would Solomon have bothered with all these things in his list of achievements; he could have simply lounged around letting everyone else serve him, eating and drinking and being lazy. When you’re on holiday you can do that but you know that it is not a satisfying life. It is a strange thing but being a human being means, according to psychologists, that we have certain needs, among which are the need to achieve.

Many of us allow the enemy to quash us; he tells us we are a failure, or we have no creative talents so we could do nothing. So many of us give up and don’t try for anything and so that creative side that wants to achieve something never kicks in and we go through life unfulfilled. We miss out on a whole big area of potential. Has there been a creative urge you had but life  has squashed it, so you never even think about it now – but you did once? Was there a project you had on your heart but it just seemed too much effort to get off the ground? Is it a time for you to look again at these things with the Lord’s help?

No, Solomon in his early days of encounter with the Lord had a thrill at the opportunities that were before him. So he didn’t sit back and just let the years drift by, he undertook great projects. As he did that there was probably a buzz in Israel. People were employed to help him and there was an air of expectancy in the land as he started to transform it. That’s one of the joys of architects, town planners and landscape gardeners, they have the joy of seeing an area transformed, and what a sense of achievement it creates. That’s how it would have been in the early days with Solomon as he built houses, planted vineyards, laid down parks and planted trees. What a sense of achievement and what a sense of fulfilment. But now?

Now he looks out on all he has done. There it is. He did that! But why, he wonders. Now he is looking through jaded eyes. Yes, there is all of that which he has achieved but his relationship with the Lord is gone. The heady days when they completed the Temple and the glory of God came down in the most incredible way and filled it, all that is just memories now. Somehow, slowly down through the years, as he gave way to his desires and brought in yet another foreign wife, together with her foreign religion, slowly but surely, all the glory of the past evaporated. The Lord would not share His glory with foreign idols, so He stood back, and all Solomon is left with, are monuments to that past glory. Yes, all the big buildings are still there, the great parks are still there, the big vineyards are still producing grapes, but these things are now just monuments to what once was.

Do you look back on your achievements and wonder? Do you see all that you achieved but feel that it was all empty activity? Have you come to a point in life when you look around you and have a sense that the cost of all those things was too great – you lost the relationship with the Lord you once had? The tragic thing about Solomon was that these wives and their religions sapped his will. He could have had a massive clear out of all their idols and tell them that they would worship the One True God only. He could have called a national day of repentance and led the people back into a living, vibrant relationship with the Lord – but he didn’t.

Solomon’s life might have appeared on a ‘school report’ as “Brilliant start, great endeavours, amazing achievements, but completely faded away.” How tragic! It isn’t too late if you’ve become aware that you have drifted away from the Lord over the years. It will be hard to make that effort to come back to Him, but is anything less than that worth it? Don’t end like Solomon. Let your last years be years of fruitfulness and great joy and thankfulness. That is our potential, even when we’ve slipped. Go for it!