2. Wrong Settling

Meditations in the life of Abraham : 2. Settling in the wrong place

Gen 11:31,32  Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, the wife of his son Abram, and together they set out from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to Canaan. But when they came to Haran, they settled there. Terah lived 205 years, and he died in Haran.

There are mysteries in life, things we’ll never know this side of heaven. It’s like that in the Bible as well. There are times when the Bible seems frustratingly sketchy and we want to ask lots of questions. Why did Terah leave Ur? Why did he settle in Haran? We simply aren’t told, so this tends to be a little speculative. All we can do is look at what we are told and speculate in the light of what we know about life.

There are two areas where the Bible gives us information about Terah. The first is about his family. As we noted yesterday, when his first son came along, he seems to have high hopes of the family name being carried on through this son for he names him ‘exalted father’. Yet as the years pass that doesn’t happen. Obviously it would be a number of years before Abram grew up and took a wife, and then some more years before they concluded she was barren. In the meantime Haran is married and has a son, Lot, but then some unspecified time later, dies.

Now it may just be possible that Terah takes the family and leaves Ur because he wants to escape the unhappy memory of losing Haran. That is one possibility. It may also be possible that, being a superstitious man, he wonders if Ur is an ‘unlucky’ place and further wonders that if they go somewhere else, Sarai may be able to conceive and have a child to carry the family name through the eldest son. There is a faint possibility that Terah heard from God because their departure was with the express intent of ending up in Canaan, which is where, we find, the Lord told Abram to go. The truth is we just don’t know, but life decisions are so often made through a combination of such things. There is a further probability that we’ll consider later.

Now there is a second area of information about Terah that we only get later in the Bible. Presumably the story of Terah was handed down by word of mouth and that in more detail than we find recorded in Genesis 11. We have to wait to some way through Joshua that we find this prophetic word coming from the Lord through Joshua:Joshua said to all the people, “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: `Long ago your forefathers, including Terah the father of Abraham and Nahor, lived beyond the River (Euphrates) and worshipped other gods. But I took your father Abraham from the land beyond the River and led him throughout Canaan and gave him many descendants (Josh 24:2,3). Ah, Terah worshipped idols!  It is said that the moon-god was worshiped at both Ur and Haran so it is likely that Terah worshipped the moon at least. Now there is an interesting thing about people who worship the elements or idols; they indicate a need to reverence some other Being or force.

They recognize a spiritual existence but may be completely misled in their understanding of it, for understanding of reality can only come from God. But their hearts are inclined more in His direction than in no direction, such as the atheist would claim.  So Terah sets out from Ur and intends to go to Canaan. As we’ve said previously, we are not told why he left and even more we’re not told (here) why he was aiming for Canaan. As we wondered previously, is it coincidence that Abram ends up in Canaan? (Yes, as we read on we’ll get answers but in these early verses these are legitimate questions). However he’s got his leading, and we said it may be through a variety of feelings or circumstances, he’s had this sense that he wants to take his family to Canaan. When we consider all that subsequently took place in Abram’s life, we can only conclude that that initial sense was a good one. So he sets out from the place of hurt towards a place of hope. (We will come to more definite conclusions later in the series).

On the way he passes through Haran, which in the Hebrew, I’m told, is spelt differently from his son’s name, but was it sufficient to trigger the memories all over again of the son he has lost?  We read,when they came to Haran, they settled there.” To settle means to stop moving on. If Canaan was Terah’s destiny, he stopped short of it, he stopped moving towards it and never arrived. We read that he died there in Haran.

Terah is the picture of a man who caught a sense of something new but stopped along the way and settled, so that he never reached it.  How many of us mirror in our lives what happened to Terah? We started off well, clear about where we were going with our lives, but somehow, somewhere along the way, we settled. Is it too late to get under way again? No, but we’ll probably need the Lord’s help to get out of our rut. When you settle, it’s difficult to get under way again, but not impossible.

Did you give up going to church some way along the path? Did you stop reading your Bible, stop praying, stop attending the mid-week meeting, stop giving, stop whatever it was that became your ‘stopping off point’?  If you stay in Haran you’ll die there. It’s not the place of your destiny. There’s a land out there for you to reach, a land filled with milk and honey, a place of plenty of goodness, a place of God’s calling. Please don’t settle, don’t remain at Haran, don’t accept second best. A lot of people are. There are a lot of people who are Christians who stopped along the way and settled. Your calling is to be a man or woman of God, a person of faith. The first step is to get under way again. If you remain in Haran it will kill you. Move on!

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114. A Can of Worms

Short Meditations in Mark’s Gospel: 114. A Can of Worms

Mk 6:16 But when Herod heard this, he said, “John, the man I beheaded, has been raised from the dead!”

When something unexpected happens in our lives, it often acts as a catalyst to reveal what goes on in us. A crisis brings out both the best and the worst in us. Herod has heard about Jesus. There is a man in the land – his land – who raises questions, and they have been asked and answers given. One of the answers was that Jesus was a resurrected John. Immediately in Herod, his guilt rises to the surface and the worst nightmare possible pours out – it is John come to confront him for his appalling behaviour. Suddenly his mind is pouring out fears like a can of worms. He is guilty! Has this man come back to haunt him?

We will deal with all the following verses in that terrible story in this one quick meditation. We will not give Herod any more space. John had preached against things going on in Herod’s family and people had been upset. Herod had John put in prison – but that was all. Then came the evening of that fateful meal and Herod drunk too much and, as drunken men so often do, he lost control of himself and started saying foolish things. As a result of that, to avoid appearing even more foolish before his guests, he had given way and allowed John to be executed. We will say no more of the episode for it is a scandalous one.

What we can observe is that a good and godly man was put to death by an unrighteous and foolish man who abused his power. We might question, could God not have stopped this happening?  The bigger picture is that our time here on earth is but a drop in the ocean of eternity. We see the present as so important and we want to cling on to it but there is a whole eternity yet to be enjoyed.

What we have here is a challenge to our perception of reality. So often we hear preachers preaching about heaven and the wonders of the world to come, but the moment death is mentioned, especially in respect of ourselves, we fear and show that all our talk of eternity is but words.

Sometimes God does step in and deliver His saints (e.g. Peter in Acts 12) but other times He allows the present evil circumstances to prevail to act simply as a doorway into eternity and we witness the death of one of His saints (e.g. Stephen Acts 7:59,60) or James (Acts 12:2). we must learn to rest in His sovereign decisions.

 

61. Humility for all

Meditations in 1 Peter : 61: Humility for all

1 Pet 5:5,6 All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because,   “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time

The world in which we live tells us to stand up and be ourselves. Don’t let anyone tell you what to do; be yourself! Stand up for yourself; make something of yourself. Don’t be a wimp, rise up above the rest. Be exalted in your greatness; make yourself even greater. These are the words of the twenty-first century. Rise up and go for it. They are, of course, words of deception. They are basically saying, pretend to be what you are not; make yourself something more than you are. Take one of the many ‘self-help’ courses that are available, change yourself.

Possibly an analogy that comes near the truth is of a cancer patient who is told, think positive thoughts. Positive thoughts can help – in a measure – but you still have cancer. Or to take an even more extreme idea – a man who is delusional and who genuinely believes he will never die. Yet in old age his body starts to decay and he keeps on telling himself, “I will never die.” Fear makes many of us deny the truth. You see it in a conversation between a Christian and a non-Christian. As the talk gets on to sin, the non-Christian starts getting edgy. “Don’t you tell me I am a sinner; I’m as good as the next man!” Deep down, that fear that the truth may be that “I am indeed a sinner” collides with the wrong thought that God is an angry, vicious, spiteful dictator who loves punishing people, and as the two ideas collide, fear acts in the only way it knows how and denies the truth – I am not a sinner!!!  But however much you say it, it doesn’t change the truth.

Now why, you may be thinking, am I rambling down this particular path? What is the connection with humility? Well, humility is simply an honest recognition of who we are. I am a sinner and without God I am utterly lost. I owe my entire life to the Lord. All that I have, which is good, has been a gift from Him. Left to myself, I am a mess. I am certainly no better than any other person. All I can do is say, thank you. Humility faces the truth about ourselves. Over the past few years I have become more and more aware of the incredible goodness of God that has blessed me over the forty years that I have known Him. I have grown incredibly thankful, mightily grateful for what He has done for me, in me and through me.

But there’s been something else growing in parallel with that sense of gratefulness; it is the awareness of who I am and, looking back down the years, a recognition of the weakness, failures, inadequacies and so on, of my life. That simply makes the good things that God has done, or made of me, even more wonderful. I can be blessed at who I have become, yet aware that I have nothing to be proud about because it has not been of my working. If anything, it has been despite me!  I have absolutely nothing to boast about. I have done some great things and blessed a good number of people, but I know the truth about that! It was Him! It was at His directions and it was with His enabling and still, today, I am incapable of any good thing without His guidance, direction, inspiration or power. I know who I am! Humility is not a “I’m a nobody,” but an accurate assessment of who you are.

Pride, by comparison, is having an inflated view of who you are or of your own importance. Now, says Peter, clothe yourself with humility – put it on like you would put on a coat. How do you do that? You do what I’ve just done; you state the truth about yourself, both the bad news and good news. The bad news is that left to myself, I am a wreck. The good news is that in Christ and with his direction and enabling I am a child of God who can prove to be a real blessing to people. ‘Putting on’ humility is declaring those truths.

Why does God oppose the proud but gives grace to the humble”? The answer is because He is always working for the truth or for reality. The proud are not being truthful about themselves and so He opposes their untruths, but the humble who are being utterly real and acknowledging their frailty, weakness, inadequacy etc. of themselves, these ones He is able to take and use and so blesses them with His grace, His enabling to cope, serve or triumph.

And so what about when he says, Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time? This means bring yourself into a right attitude or outlook in life where you realise your utter dependency on Him so that He may take you, pick you up, and exalt you as He uses you. Consider Elijah (1 Kings 18) who opposed the prophets of Baal. He was utterly dependent on God – and knew it – and he was exalted in people’s minds because of what God was able to do through him. Jesus, likewise spoke of the glory he had received which in fact belonged to his Father as he served him. We don’t seek it; in fact we seek nothing except to be obedient to the Lord, utterly reliant on Him, and when we do that we will be exalted – but we’ll still know the truth!

 

38. Reality

Meditations in Job : 38.  Working towards Reality

Job 14:19 as water wears away stones and torrents wash away the soil, so you destroy man’s hope.

Job, we saw in the previous meditation, has been pondering on the possible wonder of there being something more after death, of the possibility of  being reconciled to God through resurrection. But there is something in the back of his mind that is worrying away at him. It is like he had these thoughts of hope and yet they seem to contradict what he sees before him in this present world. It is rather like Gideon responding to the angel when the angel has said, The LORD is with you, mighty warrior.” (Jud 6:12). Gideon has two problems with this. First he doesn’t feel like a ‘mighty warrior’ and second, “if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us?” (v.13). He heard the assertion but then looked at the present facts of their submission to an enemy and couldn’t see how the two go together. Thus, similarly, Job has these feelings about a future hope, but they don’t seem to correspond to present reality. Very often, for Christians. the big issue is about bringing understanding to receive the full picture so that we can see how apparent opposites harmonise.

So, let’s see how he expresses this. He uses examples of what he sees in nature to explain what he feels about man and his life. “But as a mountain erodes and crumbles and as a rock is moved from its place, as water wears away stones and torrents wash away the soil,” (v.18,19). He observes in nature a tendency for rocks and stones to be eroded and worn away. This, he says, is what he observes in the way God deals with mankind: “so you destroy man’s hope.” (v.19b). Look, he says, as I look around the world, all is see is that God seems to be working at bringing us down. I mean, look at what has been happening to me; all this has done is to bring me down. Then he looks forwards and contemplates the end of all this, as he sees it – death! “You overpower him once for all, and he is gone; you change his countenance and send him away.” (v.20) God has the power to bring death when He wants to – and He does exercise it! All God seems to do is ease us towards death – and that is a very negative thing: “If his sons are honored, he does not know it; if they are brought low, he does not see it. He feels but the pain of his own body and mourns only for himself.” (v.21,22). Whatever happens to those left behind, he doesn’t see it. He misses their success and (implied) cannot rejoice with them, or he misses their difficulties and (implied) cannot be there for them. In other words, death doesn’t seem to be a very helpful end! So if God works like this in life, why do I have a sense that it will be different after death?

This, of course, is another one of those occasions where only half the picture is being expressed. So what is the full picture? Why does it seem like this? Well the truth is that God does work to bring men to the end of themselves because only then will they turn to Him and receive His blessing. Our pride and self-centredness means that we struggle on in life without turning to the Lord and without receiving all of His resources to live out our lives in this fallen world. So, yes He does work to destroy man’s hope. The reason for this is that man ‘hopes’ in his own achievements. We each have hopes and dreams but so often they are self-centred and God knows they are not the best for us. He alone knows what is best for us, and so when He sees that we are aiming for something else, something less than the best that He knows we could be with His help, He works to undermine our false or inadequate ‘hopes’ so that we will come to our senses and realize our helplessness or our low self worth, and turn to Him for Him to remake us in the image of the one He knows we could be.

A second point to observe here is Job’s wrong assessment of death. Yes, death does mean that we are cut off from sharing in our children’s future, but the reality is that the next world will be so much more glorious than this one that we will not be concerned with hanging on to the things of this one; we will be content to allow the Lord to look after our children.  This perhaps brings us full circle to something we said right at the beginning of these meditations: we need to remember that God is love and therefore all of Scripture should be viewed with that in mind. Where we come across things in life, therefore, that seem to contradict that, we need to look afresh and ask the Lord to show us the full picture. To go back to the example of Gideon, the answer is twofold, when he says, how can God be with us when life is like this. The first answer, is that things are like they are because the Lord has made them like that as discipline for Israel to draw them back to Himself, so He IS with them – but to discipline them. Secondly, when He brings discipline, it is to bring change and bring us into a place of blessing and so He IS with Gideon to guide and equip him to become Israel’s latest savior.  So, yes, the Lord IS with you Gideon, but not in the way you expect.

Very often Christians want God to be with them to just bless them and make them comfortable, but He wants to work in their lives to mature them, and the move towards maturity may involve a number of things, some of which may not appear comfortable at the present: Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (Jas 1:2-4)  Peter also gives us a list of things to work through: “For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love.” (2 Pet 1:5-7) Remember, when ‘stuff’ is happening, the Lord is working to work these things out in us. Painful? Sometimes!  For our good? Always!

(We will be taking a break from Job for a couple of weeks but will return and continue with him later).