4. Fear Not

Studies in Isaiah 54: 4. Fear Not!

Isa 54:4 “Do not be afraid; you will not be put to shame. Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated. You will forget the shame of your youth and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood.”

It’s about Redemption:  History can be a curse. Guilt so often hangs over us. Shame follows us. We wonder if the past will mar the present and blight the future. In the following verse there is an amazing statement: “the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer.”  A year ago I found myself writing a series on ‘redemption’. Mostly we think of redemption as something the Lord does just when we come to Him but the truth is that every day of our lives, He is redeeming us. There are three things about redemption we should note.

1. An Ongoing Process: Very well, the first is that it is a process, an ongoing process. It started when we first turn to Christ and it will only be completed when we stand before him in heaven. It involved us being forgiven, our guilt being removed (i.e. us being justified), us being adopted into God’s family, and being empowered by His Holy Spirit to live new lives.

2. Change: But then next, second, it is a process whereby Christ is working to change us; it is a process with a purpose. This process seeks to deal with our past in such a way that as much as possible the past will not inhibit who Christ is seeking to make us become today. Yes, often the memory of past failure remains but Christ uses it in the transforming process as both a reminder of what not to do again, and as a deterrent to keep from that particular failure. However, once we see the whole picture that we are laying out here, although it should humble us, that failure will no longer act as a weight that limits us today.

The Goal of Perfection: Very often we see this process of change as about moral or ethical behaviour but it is very much greater than that. Jesus once declared, Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Mt 5:48) When something is perfect is cannot be improved upon, it lacks nothing. That is God and that is what He wants to work into our lives. There is nothing He thinks, says or does that can be improved upon. Is that true of you and me? Right!  That is why we need Him to work this process out in us.

My Lacks: Let’s consider how we fall short of perfection and so need to make it a goal to which we let Him draw us.  First, my lack of knowledge; there is so much I don’t know (about you, for example, and if I did know more it would mean I would have a better attitude towards you!) I need Him to teach me, inform me, bring me knowledge and understanding. Second, there is strength, mental, physical and spiritual.  I need constant replenishing and refreshing and rest.  Even when I am fully charged and refreshed, third, I need more grace, more wisdom, more insight, more everything else to cope with you, others, circumstances, difficulties, etc. etc. than I have got.

Therefore there are times, when running on my own resources, which may be good at times, that I still get it wrong and may react defensively, or with hostility. I may be unsure of myself and may therefore feel bad (guilty) about how I handle life, or maybe I allow myself to be hurt by your dealings with me. I need constant help to remind me of the truths of God’s love and provision. We could expand these things considerably but they provide some starting thoughts for the idea of our lives being a process of change.

3. The Cross: Now we are considering three things, we said, about redemption and the third thing is that redemption is all about the Cross. Through his work on the Cross, Christ paid the price for our sin. His death, for all the wrongdoings of my entire life, satisfies justice and so I am freed from the Judge’s sentence of death that such a life of sin deserves. He has bought my freedom by taking my punishment; the guilt has been dealt with. That is what redemption means – buying us back from the guilt and the sentence of death.

Now that act of redemption is applied to my life the moment I turn to Christ in surrender and repentance. From that second on, I am freed and as far as God is concerned from that second on I am His justified son. But the reality is that I still have free will – He never takes that from us – and so as I work my way through life, I make decisions and, even as we noted above, sometimes, because I am not yet perfect and am inadequate for the task of living blameless in this fallen world, I get it wrong.

The apostle John understood this: “My dear children, 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, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 Jn 2:1,2) The goal is that I don’t sin, but if there are occasions when I trip over my feet and blow it, the moment I acknowledge my failure and confess it, seeking His forgiveness, it is there for me – because of what Christ has done on the Cross.

Back to the start: Very well, let’s apply all this to our starting verse: “Do not be afraid; you will not be put to shame. Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated. You will forget the shame of your youth and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood.”  We said that the past can be a curse if we let it, and so for Israel, just as with us, there is the memory of the past lurking there, of their failures and standing before them, so to speak, is Almighty Holy God. They need serious reassurance.

Reassurance: Is God going to smack us for our past? No! Is He going to hold up our failure for display to the whole world? No!  Is He going to humiliate them for their failures? No! Instead He is going to so move that the blessing they will experience will completely over-shadow and obliterate all the past. That is what is so incredible about redemption: God never changes in His determination to do whatever needs to be done to draw us back onto the right course, to draw us back to Him, to heal up the past, bless us in the present, and present hope for the future.

That is as much true for us today as it was for them then. We could add various caveats about the time He sometimes takes to work these things through, but let’s just stick for the moment with the basics: God IS in the process of redeeming you and me and so we don’t need to worry about all the negative aspects of this verse – no fear, no shame, no disgrace, no humiliation – all we need do is rejoice in the wonder of what He is doing in us – working us towards the perfection that will be ours in heaven, a life of ongoing change that is getting better all the time. Yes? May it be so! Hallelujah!

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Snapshots: Day 15

Snapshots: Day 15

The Snapshot: “he drove man out.”  Is that the end for us? Does God want to have nothing more to do with us? Why has He allowed us to live? But what is this that follows, he speaks to and warns Cain? He gives him advice how to avoid disaster? Cain ignores Him. Disaster! But He keeps on talking to Cain, He preserves his life, He protects his years ahead? But why? Why doesn’t He kill him? Can it be He wants Cain to learn, to change, to yet have hope? Does He want Cain to be an example for me?  How does He view my failures? Does He want me to learn, to change, to yet have hope? Have I misjudged Him all these years?  Do I need to think again? How can He not judge and condemn me? This is incredible! And now? Lord, help me be open to you to receive hope.

Further Consideration: A while ago I wrote a book called, ‘The Judgments of a Loving God’ and examined as many judgments of God that I could find throughout the Bible and, of course, it starts with this one of Adam and Eve being expelled from the Garden. The thing that struck me, that I had never seen before, was that although God put them out of the Garden that wasn’t the end of the possibilities of having a relationship with God, because soon after we find Cain and Abel both bringing offerings to God and God entering into conversation with Cain. And then, when you read the story, although Cain murders his brother, God doesn’t kill him – and that is amazing! Instead He sends him off to learn of life in the world as an exile, and yet still a protected life. It is as if the Lord makes sure his life goes on so it will provide opportunity for him to change.

Subsequent to that I wrote a series of studies on ‘Redemption’ and what struck me there was the fact that God is at work seeking to redeem or rescue each one of us. Moreover, it is not merely about the moment of our conversion but about the whole of the rest of our life as well. He is working to change us, just like He was working to change Cain. We’ll no doubt pick them up later in this series but a verse (or 3) that has really impacted me over the years is, “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign Lord. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” (Ezek 18:23 and also 18:32 & 33:11)

We can get very ‘punishment-orientated’ but God is in the business of saving us from ourselves, from Satan and from Sin, and that means preserving us wherever possible so that we can be changed for the better. When God ‘drives out’ it is an act of discipline to change the circumstances to bring further change. I wonder how often He has ‘driven me out’ into a situation where I will learn better? Wow

59. Redemption and the Church

(Yesterday while praying I found the following thoughts flowing so I hope to be able to insert this into the series I thought we had recently completed)

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 59. Redemption and the Church

1 Cor 12:27   Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it

Now the Church: Yesterday we asked the question, ‘What is God doing with mankind?’ and made a few suggestions. Now I want to turn to another equally important question, what is God doing with the Church?  The problem for most of us is that we each tend to be parochial, i.e. we are limited in vision to our own little experience and we assume that is the norm, but possibly it isn’t. Over the past century there have been a number of changes to the church world-wide but the greatest one, I would suggest, is the attitude and then experience of the church in respect of the Holy Spirit. Whole new denominations sprang up in the last century that were Spirit-focused. In the back quarter of the last century the charismatic movement took the Spirit into more traditional mainline denominations, while at the same time provoking a whole new outlook on ‘church’; the concept of the ‘body of Christ’ came to our awareness. Over the past twenty years or more, while the bulk of ‘the Church’ has been carrying on as normal, in some quarters it would appear that the Spirit is provoking new thinking about just what the church is. Indeed words like ‘fresh expressions’ seek to express something of this.

Expectations: (I speak for the UK, not the rest of the world). While these ‘fresh expressions’ appear to be popping up here and there, rather like unexpected mushrooms appearing in a lawn, what we see for most of church, is carrying on, “same old, same old.” In most, expectations for change, for life, for vibrancy, for impacting the world, is not great. Indeed it goes further than that, for in many there appears a world-weariness, except it is not weariness in respect of the world but in respect of the church. Talking recently to some long-term friends from elsewhere in the country who we only see every couple of years, this sold-out for God couple said, “We’re all just so tired. We’ve done it all, we’re so busy and we’re so worn out, we’ve got no more to give.”  Another couple who are good friends closer to home had dinner with us recently, again long-term faithful Christians, and when I casually commented, “How is church?” they replied, “We don’t do church, it doesn’t do anything for us.” Again they are a couple worn and weary. We need a revival! I remember one well-known international prophet who a number of years ago prophesied a coming revival which, if my memory serves me right, would be about 2021 or 2022. Time will tell, but we need it.

Let’s make it personal: As a retired leader, I still have the heart to see life, growth, salvation, change, maturity and Spirit-life flowing in God’s people and out into the world, but so often as I watch Facebook pages, church comes over more as a social club, not God’s power-packed army of radical change. Church goes on, ‘same old, same old’! Change is resisted, life is absent. There are exceptions, in churches and individuals; there is a remnant of both that yearns for and wants to go in the Spirit and see Him being Lord. But when it is a case of ‘business as usual’ or world-weariness, what are we left with? We can either continue with the week by week ritual that lacks life, or we can drop out, or we can stand on the hillside like a prophet of old and declare the truth and trust for the Spirit to come and bring transforming life to the words we declare. Opt out, cop out or opt in? What will it be? As with Joshua I would like to say, “as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”  (Josh 24:15)

Church Context: As an individual I am called to maturity, to grow up: using his word (Heb 5:14) and obeying his word (Mt 7:21, Mt 28:20), allowing his graces to develop in me (Jas 1:4), to be stable (Eph 4:14), learning to play my part in the ‘body’ (Eph 4:16), resisting the lure of distraction by riches & pleasures, and learning to deal with worries, all of which hinder growth, maturity and fruitfulness (Lk 8:14,15). But then in this context, the big issue is that I am also a member of the body of Christ, the Church (Rom 12:4,5, 1 Cor 12:12,27, Eph 1:23, 4:15,16,25, Col 1:18) designed to continue Christ’s expression and work of God on earth (Heb 10:5-7), a body to do the will of God on earth. Working all these things into reality in my life is what ongoing redemption is all about. So, if I am to opt-in, regardless of what anyone else might do, what is to be my role in this ‘body’ in these days, these days of uncertainty, of constant change, of world-weariness?

Holding the Truth: I believe we need to restate some of the most basic and obvious truths that can get submerged in this age that we’ve spoken about earlier in this series. For example: “What is a Christian? One who has become God conscious, one who has had a God-encounter, one who has surrendered to God, sought and received His forgiveness earned by His Son, Jesus Christ, one who has been made right with God by His Son, one empowered by His Spirit, one with an ongoing relationship with God that hopefully grows day by day, week by week, month by month and year by year, one who is being changed into the likeness of the Son, one who is open to Him, to be used by Him to bless others. A Christian is a divinely supernatural work of God.” We may become world-weary, but this is still a basic unchanging truth and if it is true – and I am certain it is – we need to be challenging ourselves and each other: God-conscious, surrendered, empowered, changed, used, divinely supernatural? Is that me? If not, then I am living as less than I am designed to be.

Let’s have another example: “What does it mean to be spiritual? To be spiritual means to be conscious and aware of another dimension, the dimension that complements the material world, the world of God, of the angels, of demons, of spirits, of powers and principalities. To be spiritual means to feed the spirit as well as the mind. To be spiritual means to flow in the spirit in harmony with the Holy Spirit. To be spiritual means to experience a living relationship with the unseen One, the Lord of all things, to refer to Him, talk with Him, question Him, ask of Him, worship Him and live with the awareness of Him.”  Is that me, is that us? Aware, feeding the spirit, flowing in the spirit, referring to, talking to, questioning, asking, worshiping Him? Is that how I live, is that how we, the church, live?

Let’s just have one more of these ‘basic-truth’ concepts: “Why do Christians think the ‘will of God’ is so important? The Bible teaches that God is all-knowing and all-wise and that He is perfect, loving and full of goodness. This means that everything that God thinks, says or does cannot be improved upon (i.e. is perfect), and is an expression of love and goodness. It follows, therefore, that everything God wants for us is the very best, cannot be improved upon, is loving and utterly good.  If this is true – and the Bible says it is – then we would be unwise to reject His plans for us (Eph 2:10) and should do all we can to find and follow His unique will for us.” Am I concerned with His will, do I trust that it is epitomized by love and goodness and His perfection, and that it is for my blessing?

Alone and together: Now these three things are, I suggest, just three of the many things that go to the heart of what it means to be part of the Church, the body of Christ. They are things I need to ponder on and apply as an individual, but they are also things that we need to ensure are at the heart of our church life. Without them, we are well off-beam. Now these are quite specific things, but the danger is that we expect the same of the way we each work them out. Now what I have noted over the years is that each Christian has different faith levels.  This may be in general terms, i.e. someone has a generally low level of faith, or the opposite, or it may be to do with a specific area. For example, one person may have a high level of faith for praying but perhaps little faith for giving, while another person may have great faith for giving but little when it comes to praying.

Thus we should never take each other for granted; we are all different and I need your differences, I need your grace and your gifting. This is where those who opt out are at a severe disadvantage, they do not have the resource that is you. Even more – and I have observed this a number of times – when we step right out of the ambit of the church (and our criticisms may be spot on) we actually make ourselves vulnerable to attack from the enemy. That I believe was what was behind Paul’s teaching to the Corinthian church when he spoke about putting a specific sinner ‘out’ of the church, so that he would be vulnerable to the work of the enemy and be thus chastised and brought back to repentance (see 1 Cor 5:5,13). Sadly we take for granted the protection we receive by being a part of this living body. Paul’s teaching in 1 Cor 12 is twofold: first, I am unique, we are all different and, second, we need each other because of those differences.

Church being Redeemed?  The church in the West seems to be reducing in numbers in terms of percentage of the population, but at the same time, many parts of it are looking healthier and are exhibiting life. Although many are indifferent to change and to life, there is still that faithful remnant that hungers and thirsts to be the real body of Christ that exhibits his reality, exhibits his life, his love and his goodness, his revelation and his power. The challenge to me, and to each of us, is will I opt out when I am faced with this indifference or will I determine, with His grace, to remain one of the faithful ones who will continue to hold to the truth and live it out? Will I be working wherever and whenever I am given the opportunity to bless, encourage and build those either side of me in this body, communicating and imparting His love and goodness wherever I can? Can that be you as well? This is how we play our part as God works in this ongoing process of redeeming the Church.

63. In and Out (The End)

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 63. In and Out (The End)

Heb 11:13-16   All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own.  If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return.  Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one.

Possibilities:  The thrust of these studies throughout is that God delivers us out of the bad into the good; that is what redemption is all about, but as I come to the end I am aware that the fact that we have been saying it is an ongoing process and that we are ‘works in progress’, means that for many things in our lives, there is still a sense of incompleteness, of not having been fully delivered out and fully delivered in. I am always aware of what the writer to the Hebrews says about the people of faith from the Old Testament in our starter verses above. There are some crucial things to be noted that impinge very much on this idea that we have been pursuing of ongoing redemption.

Unfulfilled Promises: “They did not receive the things promised.” That is a pretty honest statement, and one which can both be misunderstood and used by critics of God and faith – “See, you say God does this and that, but as I watch your life, so much of it doesn’t seem to be so wonderful in the way you talk about!”   Ah, but read on, “they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance.” The Message version paraphrase puts it, “They saw it way off in the distance, waved their greeting, and accepted the fact that they were transients in this world.” I like that.

An Illustration: Those people realized that this world was purely an entrance foyer to eternity and they were simply passing through it. I like that picture I’ve just touched on. Imagine a cold, rough, harsh street in which you have lived, and in front of you is a great building and you hear a voice calling, inviting you to come in. As you peer in through the open doors you see an interior that is so different to this street outside. You realize you have tolerated this awful street for too long and you long to experience the wonder of what you glimpse inside. Yet you feel unworthy and so simply kneel on the steps, but a voice calls again and bids you enter. In humility you timidly pass through the entrance doors. Inside it is full of light and beauty. A servant comes up and offers you new clothing and you realise all you had worn previously was threadbare, torn and dirty. In a vestibule to the side you are able to change, and you emerge in splendor.

The area inside the entrance doors is enormous and glorious and splendid and there is so much to see. There are so many things to which your attention is drawn, and time passes rapidly as you enjoy and enter in to so much of what is before you. But then the voice comes yet again and invites you to ascend the stairs that lead out of this area, but you hesitate. There is so much here in this room that has become so familiar, there is so much that is good, and you feel there is still so much yet to explore, and so you hesitate.  But the voice is persistent, and you know it is a command which you cannot refuse and so you ascend the stairs and pass through the door at the top. Suddenly your breath leaves you because what is before you cannot be described as a room, it is a world, and you gasp at its beauty, and as you glance back through the door behind you, all that you had been experiencing simply looked grey by comparison to the wonder, the color, the brightness before you and, suddenly, you realize that the room below where you had spent so much time, yes, so much more wonderful than the street outside, was but the entrance foyer to this new world.

It is but an illustration, but an accurate one I believe. The street outside was our old life. Entering the doors was our conversion. The time spent in the entrance foyer was simply to start to prepare us for the reality to come. Accurate? But incomplete, for it is but a parable, and parables never tell the whole story. So back to our experience of this ‘entrance foyer’, a place of promises where some are fulfilled and experienced, and some are simply glimpsed at a distance as we gaze up the staircase and catch just a glimmer of what is beyond.

Past, present and future:If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return.  Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one.” Do you see the three periods within this verse? The past – the country they had left. Surely this refers to Abram, delivered ‘out of’ his old life in Ur. The present – implied, the land where he now lived, Canaan, learning to experience God’s presence. The future – a better country, a heavenly one. His encounters with the Creator-God of the world left him with a yearning, for something better, but for years he had to live out his life on this earth, struggling with childlessness, struggling to believe the promise of God, struggling with trying circumstances, struggling with a wife who wanted to speed faith up, struggling with apparently impossible commands of God to give up the fruit of the promise, struggling to remain true to God’s calling and find a wife for the fruit of the promise, a woman who would not absorb the fruit of the promise (yes, Isaac!) into the life and the ways of Canaan. Yes, the life of this man of faith was so often a struggle, but that is how life is in this fallen world.

In and Out: But here is the thing, and let’s continue with Abraham as our example, having been delivered out of Ur (by the calling of God), as we watch his life portrayed in those many chapters of Genesis, the Lord is with him and is delivering him IN the land, IN his present life. The Lord is delivering him from himself and from his wife’s wrong notions, He is delivering him from enemies in the land and from the outworkings of the folly of his nephew, He is delivering him IN Canaan. But he, like the other faith-filled saints of Hebrews 11, catches a view of something better, something more, and so, like them, has now been delivered OUT of this present world into the land of promise, not Canaan but eternity in God’s presence, heaven.

And Us? We are just the same, for we too experience being delivered out of our old life, are being delivered IN this present life and will one day be delivered OUT of it into eternity. In this present world, we have to accept it is often a world of struggles, of trials and even tribulations and God will deliver us IN the midst of these things and then OUT of them. A crisis arises in life, and it causes us great anguish. We cry out to the Lord, but the circumstances don’t change, they cannot, they have happened – but peace comes, and we are delivered OUT of the anguish, even in the midst of the unchanging circumstances. “in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:6,7) There are also times when the circumstances change as we pray, and we are delivered OUT of them; it is that simple. As we noted with Peter and James, we can never guarantee the outcome. James was executed by Herod (Acts 12:2) while Peter was imprisoned prior to a similar death but then was delivered out of the prison by an angel. James was delivered into eternity, while Peter was delivered into freedom, only later to also face martyrdom, being prematurely delivered into eternity.

Living in the incomplete and imperfect: So here we are in this present world. Satan’s greatest temptation is to try to get us to believe that this is all there is, and thus live a totally self-centred and godless life. All the while the Spirit of God reaches out to us to remind us of the truths we have been considering here today; we are living in the redemptive process of God. This world is but the ‘entrance foyer’ to eternity. However, within it, because it is a fallen world where sin prevails, it is often a struggle, and yet all the resources of God are there and are being employed by heaven to deliver you IN this world so that at the right time – His time – you can be delivered OUT of it and INTO your inheritance waiting for you in eternity.

This is the ‘big picture’ that we are called to live by, all because of God’s incredible love for us, manifested through the amazing work of the Son of God on the Cross at Calvary, and the ongoing working of His Holy Spirit.  See it, live it, rejoice in the wonder of the present and at tiny glimpses of the even more wonderful future that is still to come on this earth and then into an even more incredible dimension in heaven. Hallelujah and Amen!

62. On the Way (2)

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 62. On the Way (2)

Phil 1:6   he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

The end? And so we eventually come to what I feel must be approaching the final study in this series. My feeling is that this is where we will soon stop. It’s time to move on. And that is a characteristic of this ongoing redemption that we have been considering for nearly two months, there is always something more to come. We used to watch that TV series ‘The West Wing’ and anyone who has worked their way through all of those series about life in the White House, will remember the President who deals with each problem or facet of the job and then says to his aide, “What’s next?” There is always for the Christian a “what’s next?” Let’s start by noting some of the things this simple verse above says.

The Starting Place: “He who began a good work in you”. God started something in me – there was His call, His conviction, His conversion (the offer of justification, adoption and an empowered and new guided-life), to which I simply said yes, but I am what I am because of what He started off. In each of the earlier Bible studies in this series, in each of the people and in the life of Israel, it was because God initiated contact, God started the relationship, and the redemptive process started from there and continued from there.

An Indeterminant Goal: “until the day of Christ Jesus.” This redemptive process will continue until a specific point in history, when it will stop. 1 Cor 15 speaks of our future after death when we will be raised in a new body. The work will have been finished. The mystery is whether we will have to wait until a specific point in God’s planned history, or whether it happens the second we die (e.g. Lk 24:43). But there is an end goal that God is working towards. We don’t know that day. If it is the day of our death, it still remains the great unknown. The older we get, the greater our awareness of our mortality. When we are younger, the honest truth is that death is something so far off (at least in our thinking) that it will never happen. Reality says we never know when it will be. People do die in middle age or younger. When we hit our sixties it is statistically more likely, but for those who are sixty, we may yet have another forty years to live out on this life.

His Purposeful Activity: “he…. will carry it on to completion.” The truth we have seen again and again in those earlier studies, and sought to apply in the later ones, is that God is continually working to change us – all of us who are Christians! Until that ‘completion day’ I am still a work in progress. His goal is, we have seen again and again, to deliver me from the old self-centred, godless life that I lived before I met Christ, and deliver me into a life we refer to as ‘the kingdom of God’ where His will is preeminent in our lives and we are being changed, bit by bit, into the likeness of Jesus Christ. In some of the earlier studies we sought to put content to what we meant by being ‘delivered from’, and then what we meant when we spoke of ‘being delivered to.’  As this is the penultimate study it might be helpful to add some thoughts about how this applies to different generations.

Redeeming the Young: For the Christian who is a young person, the biggest challenge is to understand what our calling means, and how it is wise to be distinct and different from the unbelievers in our generation. Choosing God’s design for say love, relationships, careers etc. requires wisdom to see how His way is best. That part of the redemptive process is about God accompanying us through the desert of modern culture that is so deceptive. It requires us to make seeking Him out and seeking to understand His will, His law, a priority. Help to achieve that comes best from Christian youth leaders hopefully. It is a major decision-making time. young, retirement,

The Middle Years: Handling success and established routines becomes the challenge for these years, working to hold on to a living relationship with God in the midst of the busyness that comes with raising a family, working out a career. The redemptive process here involves enabling us to triumph in being parents without tearing our hair out, or career people without getting utterly worn out. It is in this period that most of us make the greatest impact on the world because our energy levels are at their best. This is ground breaking time.

Into Retirement: Except so often people say, ‘Christians never retire’. No, we become grandparents and those who hopefully have the wisdom of years, who are there to stand by those in the generations below who are still slugging it out with the world. But retirement means new purposes, and time to use them. We have two elderly Christian friends who have faithfully served the Lord all their lives. They live elsewhere in the country, but we try and visit them, every 6 to 9 months. She is just 90 and he is just 89. Like many elderly people they are not so fit and healthy as they once were, but when we visited them recently he said, “Of course our biggest cry to the Lord is, ‘Lord, what can we do more for you?”  They are still looking to go all out for God. They stand as shining beacons to the rest of us, with that challenge.  If you are in this age bracket and wonder about your role, consider the following: “The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, “The Lord is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.” (Psa 92:12-15) Somehow with the grace of God this can be us – flourishing, growing (still!), bearing fruit, fresh (“lithe and green, virile still in old age” says the Message version), speaking out a powerful testimony to all we encounter, God is great, He is still my security, and He is utterly loving and good.

Shut In: But there are those of us whose latter days are not ones of great freedom and our contacts are few and far between, and the enemy plays on this and writes us off. Paul, speaking of God’s purposes declared, “His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Eph 3:10,11) The picture he conveys is of all the heavenly watchers – angels, demons, powers and principalities – all watching us and watching to see how we cope with the circumstances that face us, watching to see how God’s salvation through Christ is being worked out in us.  Whether it is living alone with just three days of life left, or years and years in isolating circumstances, the picture of us being watched by these heavenly watchers, says we have the capability of bringing glory to God, even when we are on our own and no one else can see us. Even alone we have the opportunity to bring glory to God and that is wonderful.  That is just as much part of these redemptive processes we have been talking about for so long, as anything else is.

How Long? Paul wrote, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” (2 Tim 4:7,8) We cannot be certain about the final days of Paul’s life but in his writing here to Timothy when he says, “I have finished the race”, there is a sense here that he has come to the end of his journey through life. He anticipates his reward in the presence of God. Tradition suggests that after his imprisonment in Rome he was released and only later arrested again and then executed; he yet had some days to live out this journey. As we said earlier, we never know how long this redemptive process is going to continue. If we are elderly, like my two friends, the temptation is to think, today or tomorrow could be the end. It might be but on the other hand, there may yet be many days to come. Whether it is young or old, we may feel weak and frail but that should never stop us shining like a candle in the darkness. The challenge for today is still, “What’s next?”

To Summarise: May we never forget that whatever the circumstances, whatever the age, as Christians we are participating in a process that God is working out in and through us, to redeem us from our old selves, the selves in the mold of the self-centred and godless world, and to redeem us to become something more wonderful than the world can possibly conceive, a child of God, ever growing into the likeness of their Father.  And how can this be? Because His unique son, the Son of God, Jesus Christ, died on the Cross at Calvary to make it all possible. His death was the price paid that enabled this process to start, to continue and to be brought to completion one day, in you and me. Hallelujah!

61. On the Way (1)

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 61. On the Way (1)

Acts 9:1,2   He went to the Chief Priest and got arrest warrants to take to the meeting places in Damascus so that if he found anyone there belonging to the Way, whether men or women, he could arrest them

Gal 2:2   I wanted to be sure I was not running and had not been running my race in vain.

A Journey: It is interesting that in Acts the new faith was referred to as ‘the Way’ which suggests a journey going from somewhere to somewhere. The apostle Paul several times refers to our faith as a race and of course a race has a beginning and an end. In addition to our Galatians verse above, he said to Timothy, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Tim 4:7) Throughout this series we have contended for the idea that our lives as Christians are a long redemptive process, that it is God’s intention to change me, and you, and the world. Why? Because He wants something better for us than that which we have presently. Never settle for the present, there is more on God’s heart for you.

The Range of God’s desire: I have just recently been listening online to a Bible week in the UK, a week that always has very high faith levels, excellent teaching and an expectation of the power of the Holy Spirit working. What I have found interesting and challenging is the language of worship leaders and other leaders as they lead the worship and wait on God, such as, “I believe the Lord wants to reach out to those who have been holding onto fears for many years and release you from them,” or “there are people here tonight who have been struggling with their marriages and tonight I believe the Lord wants you to recommit yourselves to making them work with His grace.”   Now I don’t have a problem with those words as such, but they have triggered a thought in me that I have never seen so clearly before: Yes, God does want to come and minister to those people but also those who struggle with anger, with sexual temptations, with worries at work, with worries about their children, and those who are feeling spiritually lethargic, those who are feeling like giving up, those who feel failures, those who are struggling in a myriad of ways, yes, He wants to minister to ALL of these things, all of these people, so why doesn’t He, because these are surely things He wants to redeem us from? The change in respect of each of these things IS God’s will for us, so how does it work?

Aspects of Change: Does God wave a magic wand and we are changed? No, of course not. The Lord works through clearly defined channels. We can see them in the New Testament and there is nothing hyper-mystical about them. They are easily understood, so let’s consider each of them.

My Self Will: Now there is a clear indication in the Bible that we do genuinely have free will and we have the ability to choose how to act in response to anything God says. The Bible shows that God speaks and expects people to respond. He wouldn’t bother to speak if He didn’t have that expectation. Now we also have examples in the Bible of people who did respond positively in belief (and many of our earlier studies showed individuals who did respond positively to God) but we also have examples of people who rejected what God said and disobeyed Him. At the outset Eve could have refused to listen to Satan, but didn’t and so gave way to his suggestions, the temptation in the Garden of Eden.

Heart Condition? You and I can choose how we respond when we hear the word preached, but it is not that simple. There is our ‘heart condition’ and the things that impact upon it. Heart condition? The Bible speaks about hungering and thirsting (Psa 42:2, 63:1, 107:9, 143:6, Isa 44:3, 55:1, Mt 5:6, Jn 7:37, Rev 21:6, 22:17). The person who hungers and thirst is, without doubt, a more open vessel to receive from God. In the Gospels we find people crying out to Jesus to help them. Is that us? Is it possible to make yourself ‘thirst’ for God or is it something He has to do? Both!

Our Choices: I can choose, in respect of the so-called spiritual disciplines, to make more time to wait on God in stillness, I can choose to deepen my study of His word, I can choose to deepen my prayer experiences, I can choose to purpose to worship more fully, I can choose to take notes, listen more carefully and more purposefully respond to the preached word, and all of these things are our efforts to draw near to God. As I do these things I believe there is a changing that will take place in me as He responds (“Come near to God and he will come near to you” – Jas 4:8), and I will find a raising of faith within me, an increase in awareness of Him, and a thrill and sense of thanksgiving rise in me. I can choose to do these things and then have to trust in His responses. This is my contribution to this part of the redemption process.

But there are also the big life choices – not to steal, not to covet, not to commit adultery, not to tell lies, not to abuse others in word or deed, not to defame others. Those are the negative choices I have to make, but there are also positive ones – to speak well of others, to encourage others, to love others, care for them with compassion, accept others and be there for them.  These are another set of choices that I have to make as part of my redemptive process.

The Faith Level Present: Now there is no doubt that faith is a key issue. John Wimber used to say that faith was present in someone in every recorded instance of healing in the Gospels. But I have watched over the years and this I know, the preacher who faithfully expounds God’s word under the anointing of the Holy Spirit releases faith in his hearers. Such preaching should produce a ‘wow factor’ response. That may be “Wow, that was amazing, isn’t God good, I must serve Him,” or “Wow, God is holy I must bow before Him and commit myself afresh to Him”. If preaching leaves people unmoved, either they have hard hearts, or the preacher is unexcited by God’s word and lacking the anointing of God. Bringing God’s word, preachers can come with a high faith level and expectation and generate or release faith.

‘Non-Faith’ Churches & People: Very often ‘church services’ or ‘church meetings’ completely lack faith. Why do you need to depend on God turning up when you have a service all laid out and it must be stuck to? Where is there room for the Holy Spirit to move to bring revelation, fresh direction, empowering to bring healing, deliverance or change generally? Being part of a church that is like this means spiritual growth – the journey along the path of God’s redemptive work in us – is slowed down, either to snail’s pace or actual standstill.  I used to agree with those who said you never stand still, you either go forward or backwards. I’m not so sure that is true, because I do know Christians who appear at a complete standstill in their lives and I suspect they are still thinking the same way and doing exactly the same things as ten years ago. That is not growth, but it is also not backsliding, for they would say they are bona-fide Christians who pray, read the Bible, go to church, worship etc. But have they grown in character and spirituality, wisdom, revelation and insight, are they moving in gifts of the Spirit, being more available and more used of God? No.  Yes, sadly I also know those who once were part of church life but no longer, and who now appear to exhibit little if any spiritual life. Their complaints tend to be about the lack of reality in much church life, but they have opted out from trying to change that from the inside and so simply sit outside and criticize.

The Church Spectrum: But the point I wish to make here is we are not people in isolation in this redemption process, we are part of the church and ‘the church’ can encourage us, release faith in us (which is what the Eph 4:12 ministries are supposed to do) and generally help us to grow – or not! The ‘Church’ worldwide is a complex organism and often more an organisation than an organism. In some places you might find a group of ten believers meeting together with a measure of life flowing between them but having little impact on anyone else. At the other end of the spectrum it is possible to find mega-churches with superstar preachers who justify why a personal jet is necessary, and their pew fodder are supporters who simply finance these stars but show little similarity to the disciples of the New Testament, and the ‘body of Christ’ is no more than an untouched idea in Paul’s writings.  Wherever we worship on this spectrum, can we blame the leaders for failing to lead us to the spiritual heights with God and in transforming the world by His Spirit?  Yes we can, but that is no excuse for us making poor choices that limit our growth. I can choose to study God’s word, to pray and seek God’s face, and worship and witness – or not. I can choose to read books that will stir, challenge and build my faith – or not. I can choose to go on spiritual retreats, Bible conferences and the like – or not. I can choose to contribute to my spiritual growth – or not!

Locked in to circumstances? Sometimes it feels like our life circumstances lock us in and lock us down. Sometimes personal illness strikes, sometimes accidents occur, sometimes we get abandoned or falsely accused and hurt, sometimes we lose a loved one unexpectedly and prematurely and life seems seriously unfair. Sometimes the clouds of gloom or depression hang over us and no one seems to care, and so talk of a redemptive process appears unreal; we don’t appear to be going anywhere. But the thing is that despite what we are choosing to do, or not, and despite what others in the church are doing, or not, God is always there quietly working in the background. and that well known verse of Rom 8:28 still proves to be true: “Moreover we know that to those who love God, who are called according to his plan, everything that happens fits into a pattern for good.” (JBP version) or “we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.” (Message version). Our part in this redemptive process is sometimes to simply hang on in there and be able say, “Yes, I still love God,” and then just trust that in all the imperfect circumstances surrounding us, He IS still working through His redemptive process in us.   Amen.

58. Redemption and Mankind

PART EIGHT: Finale

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 58. Redemption and Mankind

Gen 1:26   Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. They will reign

Rom 8:19   the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.

Very big picture: Before I come to the very end of this series, I want to ask a question that I have never heard asked before. What is God doing with mankind? What do we see going on in the world that provokes us to ask this question? Some will simply say, “Working to bring salvation through Jesus Christ,” and I would be the first to agree with that. Others might say, working towards an end judgment, the return of Christ, as seen in the book of Revelation, and again I would have to agree with that. But your bigger answer to my question is likely to depend, I suggest, on how you view what is going on in the world. Some would say, it carries on getting worse and worse but that is only true depending on your measuring stick. (Yes, this is still all about redemption – bear with me). We need to look at the very big picture of the world to try to catch what is going on

Bad AND Good:  In our Western society there are many things that are very negative, but these tend to be in respect of personal individual human behaviour, and I would be the first to stand on the hillside like the prophets of old and shout out against this. But that is only one side of the picture. The other side of the picture is summed up in advances in technology, hygiene and health and in food production. We have not done away with famine or disease, but very large strides have been made in this last century in food production and in eradicating a variety of diseases, but that is an ongoing war. I saw on TV only within the last week a warning from some people in the know, about plant diseases that are spreading that threaten to wipe out plant life which in turn would wipe us out. But there are people (some Christians, some not) who are working to control these things – they are working that original creation mandate to rule the world and, as I say, (and we Christians forget this) this is Christian and non-Christian alike.

God’s Working in it all: In a previous book on the love of God, in one chapter I investigated the development of revelation of God in the Bible through history covered by the Bible. Alongside that I also did a brief outline of how knowledge and inventions increased through history. The big question for those with minds big enough to think these things, is how much was God involved in all this, how much can we attribute to the hand of God, what does God think of our technological improvements? If we consider that creation mandate, I suggest that increase in revelation of God, increase in knowledge and increase in technological advance are all things on and from the heart of God and, I suspect, when we get to heaven we will be mind-blown by God’s involvement.

A possible conversation in heaven?  “Wow! It was you who inspired Einstein to get to E=MC2? It was you who showed scientists quantum physics and all the rest!”  “That’s right, have you not realized that my intent was for my world to develop and bless you all more and more, and that I had to do it on a gradual basis if I wasn’t to completely dominate you? I have wanted you to grow up and take responsibility for my world, but only few have seen that? Yes, I have been saddened by the way, again and again, mankind has wrongly used all the good I have given you, but it was the risk I had to take if I gave you freedom of will. Most of the time, most of you do not realize that it has been me inspiring new ideas, opening up thoughts that bring further understanding and knowledge. So, yes, I am working to draw all men to myself, but while I do that I seek to bless my world as you all, in differing degrees, work to rule this world I have given you.”

Using Common Grace Wrongly: This is what theologians call ‘common grace’, the blessing that God gives to all mankind. The rain falls on the just and the unjust! So we extract minerals from the earth and we make things but along the way, because we don’t refer it to God, we pollute lands and seas and air, and we inadvertently cause more diseases and that is all part of the great mish-mash of the redemption of the world mandate of Genesis 1 in a fallen world state.

Struggling to fulfil the creation mandate: And so we find ourselves at this amazing point of history (which may be the countdown to the end, only time will tell) where we have made so many advances (with God’s help, for those with eyes to see) but we still have before us the challenge of how we proceed without damaging the planet any more, how we can cope with (and reverse?) the effects of the damage we have done, and how we can avoid doing any more damage. As we advance robotic and artificial intelligence research, the challenge is to know when to say stop, where we see such research having a damaging if not lethal impact on mankind. The challenge is to say, how can we use technology not to wipe out more and more human beings from a distance, but how can we use technology to bless all races so that no one wants to put that blessing under threat by a war.

Seated in the heavenly realms? We have at various times in both this and previous series considered the reality of what the apostle Paul says and which we quoted in the previous study: God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,” (Eph 2:6) but how is that applicable here? I concluded yesterday, the threefold thrust of that is that we are to see ourselves as intimately united with Christ, in a place where we are (with him) to rule over our circumstances, and where we are above – and therefore can see clearly – the shambles of the world below us.  Because we are to see ourselves linked to him as he rules from heaven over the last times, we are to see him as our source of revelation and wisdom to enable us to live and rule over the circumstances that surround us in these days.

Twofold Thrust: Now I would suggest that those two things are to be used for two purposes. First they are to be used to help us understand all the things we’ve been considering in the past week, the aspects of modern Western culture and also learn how to cope with them. That’s what the studies of the past week have all been about, starting to focus on and hope to understand these aspects so that (negatively) they will not drown us, and (positively) they will help us rise up and survive them.

But, second, revelation and wisdom are to be the tools we use to understand our place in these things as God works out His redemptive purposes in the midst of all this as we’ve seen before: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” The Lord will extend your mighty sceptre from Zion, saying, “Rule in the midst of your enemies!” (Psa 110:1,2) and Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet (1 Cor 15:24,25). As we understand, so we can then move, led by his Holy Spirit, to play our part in the redemptive purposes of the Godhead, planned from before the world began, orchestrated from heaven today, being worked out as expressions of the kingdom of God on earth using you and me, until a final time when He will wind all things up.

How? Well we have just said, using revelation (insight, knowledge & understanding from on high) and wisdom (knowing what to do with it) and hopefully that should make us people who (positively) stand out as God’s good resources to this world, bringing His good in greater measure. But there are also the two very simple but vital words Jesus used of us: salt and light. Somehow, we are to use that revelation and wisdom to have a purifying effect on the world and a life-revealing effect on the world.

Positive overcoming Negative: Historically, in recent decades at least, Christians have been known for bringing condemnatory words on the defects of society (the sin of man!), and while that is necessary, there is perhaps a better way which is to live such spectacularly good lives, lives that are great examples, not being dominated by the pressures of materialism, not being unreal, not being intimidated by the tsunami of facts and knowledge that has poured forth in the last century, not being addicted to the phone or internet and its negative effects, and not being swayed by the currents of confusing communications within the modern global village. As others drown under these things, we are to be those who, linked to our satellite navigator at the right hand of God in the heavenly realms, navigate the stormy waters with peace and goodness prevailing, purposefully steering constantly to that eternal harbour that awaits our arrival with anticipation. Let’s do it. Let’s purify by example, let’s bless by wisdom and goodness and a sense of loving security that comes from on high.

Positively How? How can we be more positive in these things? I am aware in the above paragraph I have used (wisely) the defensive negative word, ‘not’ a number of times, but what are the positive ways we can handle those aspects of modern life?  Let’s run it again: let’s live spectacularly good lives, lives that are great examples, lives that use materialism, blessing the poor, being there for the needy, lives that are real, transparent and attractive, lives  that give thanks to God for the tsunami of facts and knowledge that has meant blessing for the human race, lives that use the phone or internet wisely to build relationships, and be informed to counter untruths, lives that question and query the acrid voices of doubt and put forward words of peace and the wisdom that comes from on high.

In other words may we, in the words of a leading churchman in the UK recently, focus the church on bringing people to Christ and transforming society. May our part in the creation mandate achieve this with His enabling and to His glory. Amen.  “Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.” (Rom 12:2 Message version)