23. The Significance of Vision

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

23. The Significance of Vision

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

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

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

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

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

23. The Significance of Vision

24. More on ‘Why Vision?’

25. The God Focus

26. Spiritual Expressions

27. Building People

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vision is:

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

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

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

i) identifies the gifts within the church,

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

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

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

Vision is about getting:

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

Vision, to become fruitful, must

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

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

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37. Hearing leads to Action (4)

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 37. Hearing leads to Action (4)

John 2:5   His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

We continue with this fictitious example of a listening prayer group and the revelation that came, to see how we may cooperate with the Lord, seated with him in the heavenly realms, bringing in the kingdom of God on earth.  Now let’s move on to see the final phase of this story:

(Proactive after further prayer)

Having been left feeling somewhat encouraged by what had happened so far in the week with his junior and his boss, Alan realised that the problem of the Client was still not resolved, and he needed to do something about it. He prayed briefly and dialled the number. The call was not exactly an unqualified success but at the end of it the client had agreed to have lunch with him in two days’ time. In that waiting time he called a couple of others from the prayer group and asked them to pray for his coming encounter.

 (Approaching the Client)

Two days later he sat at a table in the restaurant waiting for the client who was ten minutes late.

As soon as the man arrived, he muttered at Alan, “I don’t know why I am bothering with you! I’m thinking of taking my business elsewhere. You’re a blithering idiot!”

“Yes, I am,” was all Alan could manage.

“Well, that’s a good starting place,” the other replied tartly.

“Yes, I’m really sorry I upset you on the phone the other day. I’m afraid I made a very bad job of explaining some of the pitfalls of the course of action you were proposing, and I fully understand that it upset you, and I’m really sorry.”

(A change of response)

The other looked embarrassed. “Well I must confess I wasn’t expecting to hear that from you.” He looked a lot calmer. “All right, let’s order and as we’re here, you might as well have another go at explaining what you’re thinking.”

They ordered and talked.

Twenty minutes later the client put down his knife and fork and smiled at Alan. “You young idiot! Why didn’t you put it like that in the first place?”

Alan thought it better not to say that he had said roughly the same thing before, and just shrugged his shoulders. “I must have been having a bad day. I’m sorry.”

More smiles. “Right, well let’s talk some more.”

An hour and a half later Alan returned to the office with a lucrative contact under his belt.

And that is the end of the story. But let’s consider the lessons that come out of this particular part of it. It doesn’t matter that it was fictitious for it demonstrates how things need to be and how they can work out.  First, for this part of the prayer request, Alan recognised that he needed to be proactive. Second, before he acted, he prayed, made contact and then requested further prayer backup. Third, in his approach to his client he exhibited humility. Fourth, and this is vital for us to see in these things, God clearly moved by changing the man’s heart. Our expectation must be for God who answers prayer to move and bring changes to the circumstances. Our role of to pray (stick close to Him), be alert and watch the changing circumstances and be ready to move within them with His grace. In that we are watching to see these moves as the hidden hand of God.

The story of Esther is famous for not having clear and obvious signs of God moving dramatically (as, similarly, with the story of Ruth) but we do see what we call the providential hand of God – circumstances changing to make way for God’s people to move in. In the story of Joseph in the Old Testament, we find first of all in respect of Potiphar, Joseph found favour in his eyes,” (Gen 39:4) and then in prison, “the Lord was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favour in the eyes of the prison warder.” (Gen 39:21) i.e. God moves on the heart of unbelievers on behalf of His people. As people of faith, we should be expecting this when we are available and seeing ourselves as seated with Christ in the heavenly realms (Eph 2:6)

Now our danger is that having read that story, you say, “Oh but it’s only a story. It’s not that easy!” Well it is, and things happen like this a) when we approach prayer meetings like this and b) are willing to be part of the answer to what we pray. If we reflect on the wider story, we can see a number of things that may help us in our own prayer experiences:

  • The praying people had learned to listen to God for HIS will as they prayed.
  • What they ‘heard’ from the Lord became a resource for further prayer for encouraging activity afterwards
  • The ‘answers’ involved Alan stepping out in faith in the week ahead:
    • looking at what was happening as the Lord provided opportunities for him to speak and act,
    • being willing to be humble, gracious and available for whatever came up,
    • being willing to accept that he perhaps hadn’t handled some of the people very well previously but, even more importantly,
    • here were opportunities to be a blessing to others, despite the past.
  • The ‘answers’ also involved the needs of other people coming to the surface and providing a basis for Alan to show love, care and compassion and faith – and then for God to move some more!

Perhaps we may analyse it in the following way. In the Prayer Meeting faith and encouragement and future direction were given when the people listened to God. After the Prayer Meeting, things happened (answers came) when the person in question was willing to play his part in bringing answers. Or to put it in yet another way, simply praying words out loud in a prayer meeting can be unbelieving ritual. Praying, listening and then acting on what you hear is faith building and opens the way for God to move in a much greater way. Simply praying weekly ‘shopping lists’ does little to build our faith and we remain unchanged – and circumstances and people around us only change a small amount. ‘Listening prayer’ followed by ‘available obedience’ develops faith and enables us to grow to be more available and more like Jesus, and so that God can work, and circumstances and people can be radically changed. The kingdom comes!

30. The Arrival of ‘Revelation’

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 30. The Arrival of ‘Revelation’

1 Cor 14:3 (Msg) when you proclaim his truth in everyday speech, you’re letting others in on the truth so that they can grow and be strong and experience his presence with you.

(NIV) the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort.

Different Responses: Moving into these practical outworkings of this picture of us being seated with Christ in the heavenly places to reign with him in bringing in the kingdom of God on earth, will almost certainly mean that a number will be feeling uncomfortable and even defensive because it transforms our concept of ‘church’ from a place where we go every Sunday and join in some rituals, sing some songs and listen to some teaching somehow connected to the Bible, to a living body that is an expression of the Son of God who actively speaks and moves in this world today. If you see Christ as anything less than this, I have to very gently suggest to you that you have an inadequate understanding of who Jesus Christ is and what Christianity is all about.

God on our case: In yesterday’s study we went from principles to practicalities and I suggested a very simple faith model example that allows Jesus to move in and through His body when they gather together. Because it is such a simple picture and yet a challenging one, perhaps we need to briefly look again at its significance. Back in Study no.26, ‘The Caring Church’, we observed two crucial things: the fact that as humans we still have needs to be met and, second, God is love and love delights to help, if I can put it as mundanely as that!

Start with the Bible: In the Evangelical wing of the church we have emphasised salvation through faith in Christ, the need to make a commitment, and the value of Bible teaching, and I would be the first to shout a loud ‘Amen!’ to all those three things, but then we stopped there. Indeed, some defensively then took on that ungodly and unbiblical stance that God is no longer the communicating God that we see throughout the Bible and everything we needed to hear was there in the finalised canon of Scripture. Yes, we do need to hear everything that we have in the final canon of Scripture, and I think you would agree that I am one of the foremost who value it so much I meditate on it every single morning, but as much as I do value it, I have to tell you that the life pivoting moments of my life have been when God has spoken directly to me. Yes, sometimes it has been when something in His word stood out so directly that it was clearly Him speaking to me, but there have been a number of other times when His word has come directly to me – and changed me!

Is it God? How do you know it is Him?  First, it is in line with His written word. Second, it brings a sense of peace, of goodness and even worship. Third, it cuts across your existing train of thought in a way your natural mind would not have done. Now I am sure these three examples from long back, that I am going to give, are somewhere in the myriads of studies I have written but they have not appeared for a long time so bear repeating.

Conversation 1: When my daughter, our first-born, was just a couple of months old (forty years ago but it seems like yesterday it is so vivid still) she was in a crib in our room and as a new dad I crept into our bedroom one day and looked down at her. It was then a ‘conversation’ ensued (and I was a sufficiently young Christian as to just take it for what it seemed) when into my thinking came, and it came just like this:

“Son, what are you feeling for your daughter?”

“Oh Lord, I love her,” I thought back.

“What does she do?”  That was a strange question. I paused and thought.

“Well, she cries a lot, she wakes us in the night, she’s always wanting feeding and she messes her nappies (diapers) and keeps on needing to be changed.”

“And you love her?

“Oh, yes Lord!”

“Why?”

Without a blink, “Because she’s mine!”

“And that, son, is why I love you, because you’re mine.”

End of conversation but I was never the same again.

Conversation number two (and there were others but this one stands out) came when I was preparing for a ministry trip to Malaysia. Now I had been several times before under someone else’s leadership, and each time, by way of preparation, we had prayed and fasted for ten days before we went.  This time was my first time to lead a small team and although I didn’t impose those on the others who were young people, I had decided to do the usual ten days fast.  The only problem was that ‘this voice’ had said, “Son, I do not want you to fast,” but I had rejected it as having come from the enemy, but the Lord is very gracious. There is nothing romantic about fasting, they are times of self-discipline, but I had previously got through the first three days without a problem. This time on the first morning, just a few hours from when there had not been breakfast or the customary cup of tea or coffee, I was literally rolling around the floor in agony and cried out to the Lord for His grace to cope. Back came the voice in my mind, quite clearly, “Son, I told you not to fast. Get up now and eat and I will bless your trip.” Chastened but still in agony, I got up and ate. I was fine. What is more the Lord blessed that trip and the subsequent one I did, doubly! I am not sure if I heard it, but I knew it: I didn’t need to try to twist the Lord’s arm to bless these ministry trips; He wanted to bless and use us more than I did!

Conversation number 3. I was reading a book and came to a bit where the author was writing about American TV evangelists who made big money, fail off the rails and so on, and I found myself thinking, “Lord, how can you use such people?” Now it was just a thought with, to my understanding, no significance or direction, but instantly I ‘heard’ back, and it came from beyond me, “The same reason I use you, son.” I sat bolt upright. Where did that come from? That didn’t sound good! But before I had time to think any more came the following: “Son, I use you, not because you are right but because you are available.”  Again, I was never the same again.

When you hear it and learn to know it and know where it comes from, there is nothing so precious as the Father speaking directly to you.  He knows me. He is here. He loves me. Yes, all this His written word tells me, but the ‘now-Presence’ is life changing in a way nothing else is. When the voice comes with ‘The Presence’ nothing is ever the same again.  I remember another time, many years ago, when a group of us had been praying and fasting for the day, and The Presence had been very real. When we broke up and I returned to my home, after a little while I realised something strange: I was tip-toeing everywhere around my apartment; The Presence was still there. I have taken up my space but there is more to say, so I’ll continue it tomorrow.

18. Resurrection Mind Change

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 18. Resurrection Mind Change

Rom 12:2    Do not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Power through Revelation: I have a feeling that when we talk about power, as we have been doing in this Part as we consider the Christian life as a resurrected life, we rarely connect power to the mind or to our thinking, we tend to link it to physical power. But the fact is that when we receive ‘revelation’ it is because God communicates with us. When I speak or listen, energy is involved. If I was dead I would be unable to either speak or listen. Those two capabilities only operate when there is power, energy, life.  You may never have thought of it like this, but when you came to Christ it was because God’s power was being used to communicate with you and the Holy Spirit convicted you of the truth. Yes, when you were born again, power was involved, the power of the presence of the now indwelling Holy Spirit, but before that, power was being experienced (even though we were almost certainly not aware of it) in the form of the communication.

The fact that many of us rarely if ever think of revelation as an expression of God’s power in us, means that we have a passive attitude towards our thinking and perhaps fail to realize how important our ‘thinking’ is and how important ‘revelation’ is.

Renewal & Transformation: In our verse above today, the apostle Paul says, “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Now many times in writing these studies we face the fact that the Christian life is to be a life of change, a life of transformation, and Paul says that that transformation takes place as our mind is renewed.

Now what does that actually mean, for your mind to be renewed? Well, on the basis of my starting point so often these days – “God first!” – we must ask, what is God doing? In this respect He (the Holy Spirit) is seeking to teach us, to impart knowledge and understanding to us which will give us a new framework of understanding the world, a framework that starts from God and works out: God made this world and us in it with free will, and knowing we would exercise it to experience Sin, the Godhead agreed on the plan of salvation that would involve the Son of God coming to earth etc., etc.

Everything we now are flows from this. If you like, we might say that the framework for our lives today is that we are now redeemed sinners, empowered by the indwelling Holy Spirit and directed by Jesus at the Father’s right hand, still exercising our free will to conform, as much as we are able, with the will of God. But that ‘renewing’ is important for us to understand what the will of God is. It is as Paul says, “Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

Renewal brings Understanding: As our mind is renewed, so we become more open to understanding what God’s will is and thus more open to His power flowing in us. The order appears to be as follows: i) He convicts us or imparts knowledge of our state that needs to be changed, ii) we submit to, or agree with that impartation of knowledge and desire to do it and so as we step out to do it, we find that iii) He empowers us to enable us to do the thing. Revelation – mind change – power impartation.  God’s will is simply His desire for us, for our lives to conform to His design, the basic way for all humans to live plus the specific aspects of that which apply to me as a unique creation.

As I conform my life to His written word and allow His Holy Spirit to lead me in specific directions, so I will be conforming to His will for me. In the overall sense it will be the same as for you – not doing sinful things, ‘putting off’ the old life, as we’ve seen before, and clothing ourselves with the character of Jesus. However, in specific ways it will be different from your life for I am a different person to you with different gifts, talents and abilities and He will have different things on His heart for me to do in my life.

In my old life I was ‘dead’ to God and He seemed a million miles away and never available to me, but then He imparted His Holy Spirit into my life and a fresh power flowed in my ‘resurrected life’, a power that enabled communication. However, as with all aspects of my new life, it is a combination of His moving and my exercising my will to conform to His leading.

Our Activity: If we insert ‘YOU’ into those two Romans 12 verses we can see the call to us for us to exercise our will and make the effort to do what he says: I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, (THAT YOU) offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. (YOU) Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but (YOU) be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”  As we’ve said before, as we act to obey and conform to His desire, so He enables us, and power flows and changes us.

Thinking & Behavior: It is often said, ‘as a man thinks, so he is’. That simply means our thinking – our knowledge and understanding and wisdom – is the precursor to our behaviour, our words and our actions. So, as the mind things are changed, so do our words and our actions. We so often think our ‘behaviour’ is the important thing but the truth is that it is what goes on in our heads that triggers the behaviour. Perspective is important. Knowledge is important. Understanding is important. Wisdom is important. All these ‘mind things’ are what are behind our words and actions. Words and action never act independently.

So, as we near the end of this Part, let’s realize that ‘power’ for the resurrection life as I have been calling it, is not merely in our actions, it starts in our minds. His power is there to transform our minds as we open ourselves to Him, and those transformed minds result in transformed observable lives.  Very well, before we move into the final Part, we will carry out a recap of the things we have considered in this Part and that is what we’ll do tomorrow.

59. The Kingdom – in Revelation

Focus on Christ Meditations: 59.  The Kingdom – in Revelation

Rev 1:5   Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

Chapter 1: Any series on the person of Christ would be remiss if it did not cover Christ in the book of Revelation where again we will see him as Lord over all. Our starting verse above speaks of what he has done and is doing. “The faithful witness” refers to his ministry on earth, that we considered in an earlier study, revealing the Father and ushering in the kingdom of God. “The firstborn from the dead” reminds us that he died for our sins and was raised from the dead. “The ruler of the kings of the earth” refers to what he is doing NOW, seated at the right hand of the Father, ruling in the midst of his enemies. The verses that follow after this remind us that he “loves us” and by giving his life “has freed us from our sins” (v.5) but now, “has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father” (v.6) but sometime soon, “he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him,” (v.7) referring to his Second Coming. In those few verses John sums up his activity and future agenda.

But that is only the beginning for next he has a revelation of the risen and ascended Christ – “I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever!” (1:18) but it is clearly not a vision of an ordinary man even though he is described as “a son of man” (v.13). Without going into all the detail he is revealed as a wise and mature, priestly ruler (v.13-16) whose face was shining like the sun. He stands in the midst of seven lamp stands (v.12,13) revealed as seven churches (v.20).

Chapters 2 and 3 are his words to the seven churches of Asia Minor, where he is revealed as: “him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands” (2:1) the one who oversees the leaders and their churches, “the First and the Last, who died and came to life again.” (2:8), the risen Lord, “him who has the sharp, double-edged sword,” (2:12) who comes with the word of God, “the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze,” (2:18), the Lord, tried and pure, who sees all, “who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars,” (3:1) the overseer of church leadership, he “who is holy and true, who holds the key of David.” (3:7) God who opens up the future, “the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation.” (3:15) Saviour and Lord of all.  He comes to each church, fully aware of their state and rebukes or reassures or encourages as is appropriate. He is the head of the Church (Col 1:18), the Lord of the Church. It is his, for he bought it with his life.

Chapter 5: And, indeed, that is the next picture of Jesus that is given us in chapter 5, of the Lion of Judah – the great ruler who has triumphed, (5:5) – and yet a lamb that had been slain (5:6) who alone has the right to undo the scroll of the end time history (5:5,7-10). Again note this picture that we picked up in yesterday’s study, this glorious ruler comes to rule in the form of a lamb that has been slain, a picture of ‘meekness and majesty’ as one song-writer has put it.

If you will read these verses you will see that the community before God fall down before the lamb (5:8) as they acclaim him: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” (5:9.10) This risen and ascended Christ is worthy to now preside over the coming centuries or even millennia because he fulfilled the plan of God and has created a new people on earth.

And then the entire hosts of heaven join in: “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” (5:12) It may not be on earth, but in heaven at least the Christ is worshipped by all for what he has achieved. And then, as if to do away with any doubt, praise and worship for him is linked with that for the Father: “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!” (5:13) This Christ is the Son of God who is to be given worship alongside his Father.

Chapter 6 on: The Lamb then starts opening the seals of the scroll (6:1,3,5,7,9,12, 8:1). This is followed by seven angels blowing trumpets and when the last one is blown there is a great acclamation: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever.” (11:15) Wherever this fits in the human time frame, it is a declaration that the kingdom of God is supreme over all and “The time has come for judging the dead.” (v.18)

Chapter 12: There then appears to be an overview of the life of ‘the child’ and his people and it may be that the following chapters are more detailed accounts of things that took place while the judgments of the previous chapter were taking place. However, there in the midst of chapter 12, perhaps culminating in the overthrow of Satan with the second coming of Christ, comes the declaration, “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ. For the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down.” (v.10)

Chapters 13-19: The Lamb has clearly overcome and triumphed. Yes, after chapter 12 there some strange goings-on with a dragon and beasts in chapter 13, but chapter 14 returns to the Lamb and his followers and then later in the chapter we see “a white cloud, and seated on the cloud was one “like a son of man” with a crown of gold on his head and a sharp sickle in his hand.” (v.14) who has clearly come to bring judgment which follows in the subsequent chapters.

Chapters 19-22: These bring us the coming of the conquering king “called Faithful and True,” (19:11) and “is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God.” (19:13) and “On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: “KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.” (19:16) Without doubt this is the Second Coming of the Christ who defeats all his enemies. He reigns with his people for a thousand years (20:4,6 literal or figurative is unknown). When John is shown a new Jerusalem – a symbol of the future community of God communing with God (?) the lamb is there is in still playing a part (21:22,23, 22:1,3) and in the closing words of the Revelation he reminds us that he will be returning ‘soon’ (22:12,20).

We should note that everything significant about the future, about an accounting before God and about the eternal future, is wrapped up in Jesus Christ. He is at the heart of the Revelation from start to finish. He is both Saviour and Lord. Hallelujah!

6. Man on the Throne?

Meditations from Ezekiel: 6.  Man on the Throne?

Ezek 1:25,26   Then there came a voice from above the expanse over their heads as they stood with lowered wings. Above the expanse over their heads was what looked like a throne of sapphire, and high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man.

So we have considered the angelic beings revealed as a unity, four living creatures and the wheels that accompany them and now, nearing the end of the chapter we are allowed to see past them, so to speak.

Reality conveyed Symbolically: The creatures come to a halt and Ezekiel hears something: “Then there came a voice from above the expanse over their heads as they stood with lowered wings,” (v.25) and as he look he sees, “Above the expanse over their heads was what looked like a throne of sapphire, and high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man.” (v.26)

Now in a conversation with the Samaritan woman, the Son of God declared, God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit,” (Jn 4:24) but we are looking in on a vision that Ezekiel had in which God seeks to convey to this human being, realities of heaven and of Himself, and so everything that we see must be symbolic, picture form of reality that is beyond human comprehension.

As we have commented before the reality of the vision itself was so ‘other-worldly’ that it was confusing to the observer which is why we read just now, “was what looked like a throng of sapphire.” Was it a throne of sapphire? No it’s a vision and that is how it appears to this limited human mind. But it does give the impression of being a throne, a seat where a ruler sits. As for ‘sapphire’ all we can say is that this was a stone highly prized in the ancient world, and so we are shown what appears to be a throne made of the most costly and precious material.

The God-vision: It was on this throne that we read “was the figure like that of a man.” Again notice the word, ‘like’. This in reality wasn’t a man but in the revelation that is how He shows Himself to Ezekiel. Why should God show Himself to us in human form? Well, first, perhaps it is to identify with us and let us identify with Him. If we simply speak of God as Spirit, that is difficult to comprehend.  Scrabbling to define spirit I have suggested ‘energy with personality’ but even that defies our understanding. Second, even though that may be God’s intention, the reality is still far from a normal human man, as we’ll shortly see.

Ezekiel then sees, “I saw that from what appeared to be his waist up he looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire, and that from there down he looked like fire; and brilliant light surrounded him.” (v.27) So the lower half of this figure appears ‘normal human’ (with which we can identify) but the upper half is something else! He’s like glowing metal as if just having come out of a foundry, so full of fire and light, and brilliant light thus surrounded him. The apostle John spoke of the Son of God, “In him was life, and that life was the light of men.” (Jn 1:4) This is the truth; this figure IS life, all life emanates from Him, energy, power, and it is seen in the form of light that blazes forth from Him when revelation allows even a tip of the reality of Him being shown to mankind.

Impact: But then we read, “Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him.” (v.28a) Do you see what this is saying? This light that pours forth from Him impacts everything around it and everything is revealed in a myriad different aspects of that light. We refer to a rainbow as an expression of this light split up into the spectrum in water droplets that form a cloud. Here His light is shed on everything around Him and it reveals everything in this wonderful way. His radiance reveals the immense variety and beauty of the reality that God has brought into being at the beginning of all things. If you and I had been able to stand there the many facets of the wonder of the Lord would be reflected in us as we stood there reflecting His glory (ponder on 2 Cor 3:18 in the light of this).

Whenever God is revealed through revelation to us (for there is no other way we can see or even discern Him) it is His wonder or His glory that we behold.  His life, His light, is what impacts us and when it is shown or revealed in our human, material context, it comes as bright light in clouds as we have noted before. But when it is revealed, it impacts those who see it: “This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. When I saw it, I fell facedown, and I heard the voice of one speaking.” (v.28b) So incredible was this vision that it seemed to sap all the energy of Ezekiel and in the vision (or maybe literally) he fell on his face. It was too much to behold and maybe it also left him feeling he was unworthy of such a sight.

Perhaps the apostle Peter caught something of this when Jesus took his boat and performed a miracle: “When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” (Lk 5:8) Peter may have been a brash fisherman, but did Jesus, I wonder, choose him because he was so good at seeing the reality. We see another example of it where we read, “Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.” (Mt 16:16,17) Peter ‘saw’ it!

How have we coped with this vision in this first chapter? Our response reveals our spiritual state, our spiritual health, if you like. Jesus often spoke about how it needed people with open hearts to God to discern the wonder of the truths that he was bringing. If you feel you need it, ask the Lord afresh to open your eyes to the wonder of this amazing, almost bizarre, chapter. Remember it is prophetic reality being conveyed through symbolic pictures, God seeking to convey to us realities.

First there was the reality of the angelic body, shown in such a way as to convey a host of truths about the host that inhabits heaven – beings who serve God but ministering to mankind, coming with the might and authority of God (like lions), coming to serve the will of God (like Oxen) and coming with the revelation of God (like eagles) – a host that is utterly united in purpose, to serve the Lord, who move at great speed to do that and who herald Him and glorify Him. An example for us! Then there is the Lord Himself, revealed as the supreme ruler who identifies with His human creation and yet who cannot but pour forth the life that is His, that is seen as incredible power, revealed as light, one with us but utterly different from us. This one alone is worthy of our worship. Pray that these will be more than mere words for us.

6. The Glory of God

Meditations in 1 Samuel   6. The Glory of God

1 Sam 2:1   Then Hannah prayed and said: “My heart rejoices in the LORD; in the LORD my horn is lifted high. My mouth boasts over my enemies, for I delight in your deliverance.

It is interesting that we often speak of the glory of God which refers to His manifest greatness and wonder and the Bible does clearly speak of Him as one who is infinitely great and absolutely wonderful, and sometimes that revelation comes out in scenes of revelation – such as Ezekiel’s or Isaiah’s or John’s revelation of things in heaven and especially God – but often these things come through songs of revelation, when a person is being inspired to sing about God and as they do so revelation comes. Truth and revelation often come through a heart of praise.

So as we come into chapter 2, we find Hannah praying what is tantamount to a song of praise. She rejoices in the Lord because the Lord has exalted her for He has delivered her from childlessness (v.1). When she says she boasts she may be meaning that she now calls out the truth that has exalted her over her adversary who has chided her for so many years, because now she can say (which her adversary cannot) God has specifically blessed her with her child. That surely is all that is there behind verse 1.

But she quickly moves away from herself to the Lord: There is no one holy like the LORD; there is no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God.” (v.2) He is unique, there is no other who is like Him in being (holy) or who comforts and supports us like He does (our Rock). But then she turns back to her adversary who has been chiding her for years, perhaps taunting her that God is against her: “Do not keep talking so proudly or let your mouth speak such arrogance.” (v.3a) You don’t know what you are talking about, for you are talking about God: “for the LORD is a God who knows, and by him deeds are weighed.” (v.3b) He see and hears what you say and He judges all things.

Then she compares the two of them to two opposing warriors (for it had seemed like an ongoing battle): “The bows of the warriors are broken, but those who stumbled are armed with strength.” (v.4) Her adversary had appeared strong for so long, firing barbed arrows of malice at her, but now her bow is broken, so to speak, for she no longer has anything to say, and although Hannah had stumbled all those years, now the Lord has blessed her and she is strong.

In a parallelism she speaks of “Those who were full hire themselves out for food, but those who were hungry hunger no more.” (v.5a) Her adversary had, for years, appeared full of herself in her position as a mother but now Hannah appears as the one blessed of God and no doubt giving joy to her husband, so now it is her adversary who feels second class suddenly, and Hannah who had hungered for a child, hungers no more for, she declares, “She who was barren has borne seven children, but she who has had many sons pines away.” (v.5b) Now whether this was written down after she had had other children or is just poetic exaggeration, we don’t know but their roles have been reversed, now that Hannah is the one bringing joy to their husband.

Then comes the revelation about God: “The LORD brings death and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and raises up.” (v.6) He is a life-bringer, He is the one with power over life and death.  “The LORD sends poverty and wealth; he humbles and he exalts.” (v.7) The Lord oversees the affairs of mankind and can bring affluence when He wants. He can exalt or humble people, He is God!  It seems He cares especially for the poor, needy and downtrodden: “He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes and has them inherit a throne of honor.” (v.8) You may be one of the downtrodden but the Lord can lift you up. Hannah knows for He has done it for her!

Suddenly her vision enlarges and she sees the Lord for who He truly is: “For the foundations of the earth are the LORD’s; upon them he has set the world.” (v.8) This one she had been singing about in her spirit is the Creator and Sustainer of this world – God Almighty, all-powerful. But He’s not the one the deist thinks about, a God who made it all but now sits at a distance, indifferent to all that happens on this planet: “He will guard the feet of his saints, but the wicked will be silenced in darkness.” (v.9a) No, He is a God of justice who intervenes in the affairs of this world to preserve His children and deal with the wicked. No, she says, when you look at unjust and unfair situations and long to bring change, “It is not by strength that one prevails;” (9b) for “those who oppose the LORD will be shattered.” (v.10a) No, we may not be able to deliver ourselves from such situations and so we must leave it to Him knowing that He will deal with those who oppose Him and who oppose us.

Yes the Lord will come bringing justice, “He will thunder against them from heaven; the LORD will judge the ends of the earth.” (v.10b) Negatively He will thunder against the unjust from heaven and, positively, “He will give strength to his king and exalt the horn of his anointed.” (v.10c) Yes, His anointed one will come in due season to deal with these things.

What a transformation! For years she had been the downtrodden one at the mercy of the barbed tongue of ‘the other woman’, but now the Lord has come and changed her, enabled her to conceive and have a son, and now her spirit soars in a peal of praise and she sees the Lord as the one who does not stand afar off, a distant Creator of the World, but as the one who draws near and delivers those who cry out to Him. Hallelujah!