38. God who is Righteous (3)

Getting to Know God Meditations:  38. God who is Righteous (3)

Mt 6:33   seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

Eph 4:24   put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

Acts 7:51,52 You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One.” 

Where to look? Perhaps there are fewer better places to see the wonder of God’s grace and His righteousness – His ways of dealing rightly with us human beings – than in the way He called people and dealt with them in the New Testament. As we pursue these thoughts about God’s righteousness, His good and right way of doing everything,  our natural concern must be about His interaction with human beings as seen in the Bible and with the coming of the Son of God there is a clarity brought that almost takes your breath away when you pause up and look at it carefully.

When Jesus called: There was something about Jesus, and remember those who encountered him had no preconceived ideas about how God might turn up in human form (apart from rare angelic visitations) and so when they first met Jesus, they did not immediately think, “Oh this is God,”  but there was something about him so that when he encounters fishermen on the beach and invites them to follow him,  “they left their nets and followed him,” (Mt 4:22) and when he says the same to a tax collector at work, he does likewise (Mt 9:9) But if that isn’t bad enough to understand, what is more difficult to comprehend is the sort of people he called.  First of all four rough fishermen, then a tax collector, considered by the local populace to be one of the lowest of the low, probably a crook feathering his own nest while collaborating with the Romans. Another of them is described as a zealot, a nationalist, an extremist possibly intent on revolution. Not exactly men you would think you would recruit to a top religious team.

Serving with Jesus: But then they get under way and you find one of the obvious leaders of this bunch, Peter, constantly opening his mouth to put both feet in it. Then there were James and John, two brothers also seen to be within the inner four close to Jesus exercising pride and arrogance (see Mt 20:20- and Lk 9:54). At this point you might be forgiven for questioning Jesus’ talent for choosing good men to serve God with him. But it gets worse.  As what turns out to be the end draws near, Peter denies knowing Jesus three times, Judas betrays Jesus to the authorities for thirty pieces of silver, and the rest flee and go into hiding, abandoning Jesus to his fate. What a bunch!

Jesus’ Response: Now when Jesus rises from the dead and reveals himself as the glorious, risen Son of God, you might expect him to come down on this miserable bunch like a ton of bricks, but it’s nothing like that.  Instead (read the encounters in Mt 28, Lk 24) he simply encourages them and comfort them. Yes, he does gently chide them for lack of belief (see Lk 24,25) but mostly he just seeks to help them believe. And then comes the most amazing thing of all. He meets with them all back up in Galilee and wonder of wonders he takes that greatest example of failure, Peter, and commissions him to lead the church. Unbelievable!!! But read on in Acts and you see this bunch of failures, full of the Spirit and powerfully proclaiming the gospel and performing miracles. Even more incredible!

And Saul: But Jesus hasn’t finished yet. He may be in heaven but don’t think that’s the end of it. Here is Saul, a prominent Jew, a Roman citizen, a zealous Pharisee, who is all out to imprison these new Christians who are upsetting Judaism, a clear enemy of the Faith, so what might we expect Jesus to do? Strike him down? Well, yes, he does in one sense, he temporarily blinds him, but more than this he calls him to follow him and go and take the gospel to the gentile world. (Read Acts 9)

Righteousness???  Hold on, this is supposed to be all about God’s righteousness, the way God does all things rightly. But it is all as Isaiah declared, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord, “ (Isa 55:8) and Saul, who later became Paul was to write, “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.“ (1 Cor 1:27) ‘Right’ as far as God is concerned is redeeming people. For us we might look for revenge or judgment but God comes to redeem us, save us from ourselves and our foolish ways of thinking. God sees past our failures, He sees past Peter’s big mouth and his unknowingness of his own weaknesses, He sees past Saul’s misguided zealousness, and He looks and sees what we can become – Peter the leader of the Church, Paul the greatest missionary ever.

We focus on looking good, appearing religious (try reading Isa 58), appearing spiritual but God sees past the outside (see 1 Sam 16:7) and sees the heart and sees our potential. Yes, Jesus knew exactly who he was recruiting to his team, knew exactly what they were like, knew exactly their potential for getting it wrong, sometimes very wrong, but he sees past the failures and sees what yet can be. Tell me if that is not the right way of doing things!

But what about….?  Yes, there will be times when we read Scripture that we will be left wondering, times when all the answers are not there and we are left with question marks. There are times here on earth when things will appear to be going wrong and in the midst of pain and anxiety we wonder is this a unique time when God has got it wrong. No, it’s just that at this moment we can’t see it or haven’t yet seen it and we are going to have to wait until we get to heaven to have all the answers. I often say that when we meet Him face to face, if He allows us to see the past with His eyes, we will never be able to criticize Him for anything He did or didn’t do. I wonder sometimes if the Lord takes His children home prematurely because He knows what might be coming and so does it to protect us (see Isa 57:1). I also wonder sometimes if the Lord prevents us going down some particular path in life because He knows what is might lead to – harm!    As an old friend used to say, “The things I see and understand in the Bible give me confidence to simply trust when I come across things I don’t yet understand.

And So?  I am sure I must have said it before somewhere in one of these series, but we need to distinguish between faith and trust. Faith comes from hearing; trust is what we are left with when we are hearing nothing. Faith is our response when we’ve heard God. Hopefully in this study I have provided some material that will release faith in us. However there will be times when we are left perplexed, either by scripture we don’t understand, or circumstances that challenge our understanding and in both cases we just need to trust God. Why? Because, as my friend said, of the confidence we built up in Him by the things we do understand. Whether it be faith or trust, may we be able stand assured that whatever it is, our God does all things well.

(We will now pause up this series for two weeks while we have a mini-series taking a fresh look at Advent and the Nativity)

37. God who is Righteous (2)

Getting to Know God Meditations:  37. God who is Righteous (2)

Psa 11:7 For the Lord is righteous, he loves justice;

Job 37:23 The Almighty is beyond our reach and exalted in power; in his justice and great righteousness, he does not oppress.

Doing all things well? The complaints that come from the grumbling, critical and so often ignorant-of-the-Bible atheists, is that God is harsh and unkind and spiteful. I really don’t know what Bible they are reading – if only they would read – for the Bible I have before me shows a very different God. Perhaps it is all a matter of perspective! The God I see does all things well, not perhaps as we would do things, but He does them far better than anything we could do if we were masters of the universe. Yes, I understand that at first sight some of His actions appear ‘different’ – I am not going to use any stronger negative word because that would only show our folly in misunderstanding. In this study I want to look at a couple of incidents from the Old Testament, and then in the next study, incidents from the New Testament.

Following the Fall: I used to think that what followed the Fall was tough going for Adam and Eve, until I gave it some more thought.  First of all, let’s just recap what happened. God gave them a wonderful world in which to live, a world of enjoyment but to build character into them, He gave them one prohibition to follow.  They ignored it and did what He said not to do, so He held them to account for this and they made excuses. I wonder if the outcome would have been different, if they had responded, “We’re sorry, we’re stupid, we did wrong, please forgive us,” but they didn’t and so we find the Lord sending them out of the Garden, forbidding them to return. That seemed hard.

Whatever else it meant, it meant loss of that previous wonderful experience of peace, tranquility, security and love, but basically God was giving them exactly what they had asked for – freedom to do what they wanted without any restrictions from God – just like most people want. But left to their own devices, humanity is not nice, we exercise our free will in ways that are self-harming and certainly harming to others (as a history with only very few years free from war, tells). So Cain kills Abel (Gen 4) and within a relatively short time, “The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.” (Gen 6:5)

But Hope: What a mess! And we sometimes refer to ‘civilization’????? How stupid sin is. If we had a complaint of God it might be, “Why ever did you give us free will?” and I think the answer would be, “Without it there would no love, no creativity, no relationships, no inspiration, and so much more missing.” So yes, God cut us free to be ourselves with all the awfulness that entails, but the alternative would be a world of zombies. Yet He doesn’t leave it there. When I first realized it, it came as a surprise but the mere fact that He gave them freedom to live outside His sphere of influence – the Garden – didn’t mean He completely cut Himself off from them. In chapter 4 we find Him talking with Cain, trying to guide him away from murder.

In chapter 5 we find Enoch ‘walking with God’, having an ongoing relationship with God. In chapter 6 we see Him talking to Noah. In chapter 12 we see the start of the long saga of Abram’s relationship with God, and all that follows on. Oh no, as we saw very early on, this is a God of involvement and eventually a God of salvation through His Son, Jesus. Free-will failure, yes. Banishment. Yes. No contact. No! The plan is that God would work within the folly of mankind, not outside it as we’ll see.

Pharaoh, a hopeless case: We’ll keep this one short: why did God engineer the whole debacle involving hard-hearted Pharaoh (Ex 1-12) because that’s what it seems like? He knew it would happen,  He knew that in a broken world a famine would mean Jacob and his family would end up in Egypt, He knew they would stay there instead of returning to Canaan, He knew they would flourish and grow and be a threat to Egypt and become their slaves, He knew that Egypt, with the folly of sinful mankind would decline into an occult-driven, superstitious mess of inhumanity (even sacrificing their own children) and He knew that hard-hearted occult-driven Pharaoh would never give way to Moses’ demands, so why…… hold on!

I used the word ‘engineer’ early on but perhaps that is not an appropriate word to use because what I have just listed in this series of events is i) a result of the Fall, a famine, and ii) then a series of misdoings by human beings whereby their messy interactions ended up with the events of the Exodus. God simply took the sinful affairs of mankind and used that as the backdrop of the stage where He would reveal His power and grace and mankind’s staggering folly. Wow!

Saul: The third instance that I have in mind, of the way God works well, is that of Saul. To try and keep it as short as possible, Israel are fed up with having judges rule over them and so ask Samuel to give them a king like other nations have. (1 Sam 8:4,5). Now God is incredibly gracious when Samuel comes to Him with this request and says, don’t worry, it’s not you they are rejecting, but me. Now make sure you tell them what happens when you have a king, the things he will demand (see 1 Sam 8:10-18) so that they will know exactly what they are getting into.

Nevertheless the people say give us a king – so God gives them exactly what they want – a big guy, head and shoulders taller than most, who looks good and looks like he can beat up the enemy. You can read it in the following chapters. God even allows the choice – Saul – to have a serious spiritual experience (see 10:9,11) Saul has everything going for him, yet he shows that being a king of a nation under God requires more than just looking big and tough and, cutting a long story short, God has to tell Samuel that it’s up with Saul and He has someone else on His heart to replace him, (1 Sam 13:14) a man after his own heart – David. But consider all this, God gave them exactly what they wanted but that wasn’t enough and the record proves that.

And So? So what have we seen?  God who holds His erring Adam and Eve accountable but allows them to live their lives exactly as they wanted – and yet He still keeps in close contact. Then there was the foolish Pharaoh, coming at the end of a series of unwise choices by Israel (not to return home and to stay in Egypt, and not flee when the pressures started to build) who simply provided a further opportunity for the folly of sin in mankind to be demonstrated for all to see, alongside the power and grace of God.

Finally, in the case of Saul, we see God giving Israel exactly what they want – despite all the warnings they rejected – and allowing that situation to be worked out in the long-term bringing maturity to the shepherd-boy-cum-king, David. For anyone with an honest and open heart, these are examples of a God who cares but that caring is in such a manner that in each case truth is revealed to the world about itself. The message we are left with? We need a Savior, someone to dig us out of the messes we keep getting ourselves into!  We’ll see some more of this in the next study.

36. God who is Righteous (1)

Getting to Know God Meditations:  36. God who is Righteous (1)

Amos 5:24    But let justice roll on like a river,  righteousness like a never-failing stream!

Job 4:7 ‘Can a mortal be more righteous than God? Can even a strong man be more pure than his Maker?

Job 37:23 The Almighty is beyond our reach and exalted in power; in his justice and great righteousness, he does not oppress.

Psa 9:8  He rules the world in righteousness and judges the peoples with equity.

Psa 11:7 For the Lord is righteous, he loves justice;

Righteousness? The words ‘righteous’ or ‘righteousness’ don’t come up in regular conversation today! They are, I suspect, words we consign to Bible use only, which is a shame because it is foundational to understanding God and His purposes for us. Righteousness is a word linked to justice and of course justice is about rightness and fairness when it comes to behaviour. Righteousness is simply right thinking, right speech and right behaviour.

God is Righteous: Mostly, in Christian circles, we tend to talk about righteousness as something required of us. The prophets, such as Amos above in our starter verses, were constantly challenging the people to live righteous lives. Righteousness for them meant adhering to the Law of Moses.  But the thing about righteousness is that it starts in the character of God, He is righteous.  As one theologian has put it, “God’s righteousness means that God always acts in accordance with what is right and is himself the final standard of what is right.”

Creation & Righteousness: You might be wondering why the subject of righteousness is appearing here immediately after the study on God being the Creator. The answer comes when we ask the question, how can we know ‘what is right’ in that definition above, and the answer to that question is twofold. Part of it is in the second half of that definition above, but the other half is in the fact of Creation.

We take Creation, or what we often refer to as ‘Nature’, for granted. Much of the time we only take note of it in nature programmes (which, with the wonders of modern photography, have become incredibly good) or when it goes wrong – earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, etc.  Someone might ask, is this how God made this world, so it goes wrong and kills people? The answer is no, before the Fall it was not like that but the effect of Sin meant that mankind’s activity released spiritual powers (is the best way to describe it perhaps) or maybe removed God’s sustaining power in the way it had been before, and that meant that natural forces were released that cause these upsets. The Bible is not very specific on it although there are occasional hints. What is clear is that before the Fall, everything about Creation was very good (see Gen 1:25,31).

Now put aside for a moment these aberrations of the natural world (things that by and large with some more thought, we could quite easily cope with, considering modern construction techniques and the use of early warning technology) and consider the 95% of the rest of our experience with this world. There are certain characteristics about it that are worth noting:

  • First, it is mostly orderly and predictable.
  • Second, it is for our benefit whether that refers to the amazing range of food and drink available to us, or even into the pleasurable ways that we find to enjoy this world – skiing, sailing, swimming, diving, flying etc. etc. There are endless ways we find to enjoy this world because it is orderly and predictable. It works well!
  • Third, there are clearly ways to ‘use’ this world that are both pleasurable and beneficial, but there are also ways to misuse this world that are harmful and destructive. I often give the example of eating, an experience that can be very pleasurable, but when taken in excess causes obesity which in turn has other various health harming and even life-threatening effects.
  • Fourth, there are therefore, clearly boundaries of wise behaviour but the effects of Sin – that self-centred godless propensity that we all have – so often means that we see the negative effects that come from unwisely using this world, but that should not detract from this wonderful ‘machine’ (that includes us) that God has given us, that is good!

A fresh view of Righteousness: The character of God, we have observed in previous studies, includes love, goodness, knowing everything, and knowing how everything works best (wisdom). The character of this word reflects all those attributes. Righteousness goes back to ‘what is right’, and that goes back to how God has designed the world before the Fall and before the effects of the Fall, and that again goes back to His character.

Righteousness through the Law: When He gave Israel the Law through Moses, that law simply reflected His design criteria, and therefore pointed Israel in the right direction of how to live, how to behave, how to relate to one another (and outsiders) and how to relate to Him, as an embryonic, agrarian nation standing out from the rest of the world and remaining distinct from their pagan neighbours. All those things are reflected in it.

Righteousness through Christ: We today (as believers) living in a different world, are not limited to one nation or culture, are mostly not agriculture focused, and now live in the light of the salvation God offers us through Jesus Christ. Righteousness for us is, as the apostle Paul put it, “a righteousness that is by faith from first to last,” (Rom 1:17) righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe,” (Rom 3 :22) so, faith is credited as righteousness,” (Rom 4:5) so, “God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.” (Rom 4:24)  i.e. we are declared righteous by God when we simply believe in Jesus as our Saviour who died for our sins and was raised from the dead as proof of that. That is faith and faith is what God uses as the measure that decrees us righteous – living in accord with His will as revealed in and through Jesus.

And So: God always doing what is right – whether in His design of the world or the way He responds to sinners  – is the foundation upon which we can live in total peace and harmony with God, being able to utterly trust Him for all good things. Why, someone might ask, does God not deal with all evil and immediately punish all wrong-doers? Well to take the second part first, if He did that He would be punishing all of us all of the time. We have cited Ezekiel’s declarations on this again and again: “I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!” (Ezek 18:32 – also 18:23 & 33:11) God’s objective is not to destroy us but to save us (see also 2 Pet 3:9 on God’s ‘delaying tactics’!)

But what about justice? Will unrepentant sinners get away with the evil they commit under God’s benign reign? No, because often there is an accounting later in life which is seen, but there is always an accounting after death which is not seen from this perspective. One way or another, justice WILL be done and (in eternity) seen to be done. God is righteous and that means everything He does is right, as we said above,  whether in His design of the world or the way He responds to sinners. We would do well to understand these things, learn from them, and heed them.  Amen.

3. Two Worlds

Reaching into the Psalms 1 to 4: 3. Two Worlds (End of Psa 1)

Col 1:13   he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves

Psa 1:6   For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, /  but / the way of the wicked leads to destruction.

Wrong Understanding: “We’re all the same,” and, “Who are you to say I am inferior?”  Two comments that can be heard when the Gospel is shared. Both are defensive and both misunderstand the truth. The apostle John in his first letter full of love has an unnerving verse near the end: “We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.” (1 Jn 5:19) It’s that latter part, about Satan ruling over the unbelieving world. John isn’t saying that you and I who are Christian believers are under Satan’s rule but we do live in a world surrounded by people who are.

Distinction: The last verse of Psalm 1 makes a very clear distinction if we hadn’t noticed it before: the righteous and the wicked. There are no in-betweens in the mind of the writer. You are either ‘righteous’ or you are ‘wicked’. Now if you look up modern synonyms for ‘wicked’ you come up with ‘cool’, and ‘terrific’ and ‘fabulous’ which only goes to show how the world has completely reversed the meaning of this word which means evil or immoral or dishonest or corrupt.

Righteous? How can anyone declare they are righteous? What does it mean? A dictionary definition is simply ‘morally correct’.  I would add, ‘one who is morally correct because they are in line with God’s declared will or God’s design’. In his famous treatise on righteousness in his letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul first declared that naturally no one is righteous (Rom 3:9-20): There is no one righteous, not even one,” (v.10) and no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law.” i.e. keeping the rules is not the way because a) we always fall short of perfection and b) such rule keeping is always self-centred. But then he states what righteousness means in God’s sight: “This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe,” (v.22) and “a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.” (v.28) So faith, simply believing what God has said, is what is righteousness according to God. For someone like David, living years before Jesus came, the belief was in the Law, that it was the expression of God’s will, declared through Moses, and was to be the basis of the life of the Israelite; that was faith, that was righteousness, even though none of them kept it fully.

Distinction again: Now in this Psalm, ‘the righteous’ as such is only mentioned once, although there is much about the righteous. However ‘the wicked’ are mentioned four times (verses 1,4,5, & 6). When we group verses together there is a clear distinction. First the righteous (implied): Blessed is the one …. whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night…. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither -whatever they do prospers.”  Then the wicked: “the wicked ….. the way that sinners take…. the company of mockers… Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.” It is like there are two different sorts of people, two different communities, two different countries almost.

In our starter verses above, I included, “he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves.”  (Col 1:13) There Paul makes this same distinction between two different administrations, if we may put it like that, one presided over by Satan, the other by the Son of God. The unpleasant truth for many is that if you have never made Jesus Saviour and Lord, then you are under the administration of Satan, you are living according to his ways and his dictates, you are living a godless, self-centred life that leads to unrighteous thoughts, words and deed. This is the reality about those who are not believers, but it is not because I say so but because the Bible clearly declares it.

The Ways of the Wicked: In verse 1 there are three associated words: wicked, sinners & mockers. They are all expressions or descriptions of godless, self-centred unbelievers. There is a progression there. It starts with keeping in step with the wicked, being associated with them as they walk. But then their walk is purposeful, going somewhere like a path, the way they take, these sinners. But then they have a destination, a place of agreement, of ‘fellowship’ almost where they settle, they sit and they discuss and they mock the faith of believers. Go onto a website (but don’t!) of followers of some of the key crusading atheists and you find this there. It’s a nasty place.

The Outcome for the Wicked: Their outcome is stated clearly in a threefold way. First a general description: They are like chaff that the wind blows away.” (v.4) i.e. they have no future. Second there is a double declaration of their future experience, for they, “will not stand in the judgment, nor …. in the assembly of the righteous.” (v.5) There will come a time after death when they will have to stand before God and explain themselves and they will not be able to count themselves as part of the congregation of the righteous. Thus finally, this walk, this way, this destination ultimately, “leads to destruction.” (v.6) The Bible, in picturesque language, seeking to convey the awfulness of it, speaks of ’a lake of burning sulphur’ or ‘a lake of fire’. (Rev 19:20, 20:10,14,15). Only the devil, the beast and the false prophet, are spoken of as being there tormented ‘for ever’ and unbelievers are simply cast in for destruction (no mention of ‘for ever’.) The implication is clearly for destruction as we find at the end of this Psalm.

And So? No, we are not all the same and, no, I am not claiming special status, but the Bible – here and many places elsewhere – makes this very obvious distinction between the ‘righteous’ and the ‘wicked’.  ‘Wicked’ is measured in terms of self-centred godlessness while the ‘righteousness’ is about relationship that comes about from having heard God’s word about out state and about His provision in the form of the work of Christ on the Cross and believed it and responded to it and live by it. The ‘wicked’ develop and establish their godless, self-centred lifestyle and when they eventually come face to face with God, will acknowledge they are not part of the congregation of the righteous and face destruction, no wonderful future in eternity with God and all the blessings He has for believers. By contrast – and it is a big contrast – the righteous delight in the Lord and in His word and His will, and as they meditate, reflect on, study and feed on His word they are resourced with ‘life’ and they grow, flourish and are fruitful and prosper, while their Lord watches over them and blesses them. It sounds too good to be true, but this IS the reality that the word of God declares. Hallelujah!

14. Are you too righteous

Meditations on “God of Transformation: 14:  Are you too righteous?

Matt 1:18,19   Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

I recently commented, in the series on the Nativity, that God takes risks with us human beings. The fact that He has given us free will means that we do not have to comply with His wishes – and that is a scary thing. It is scary because, first of all, from a practical point of view, we may not be good at hearing God’s voice and thus miss the things He has for us. But it is also scary that we can misunderstand the voice of God and reject it, thinking it is the voice of the enemy for He seems to be saying something that runs counter to our understanding of His general will. The problem is that at any point in life we only have partial understanding and so we settle in to a particular way of thinking and that shapes or moulds everything that is before us, and so we can almost accidentally reject God’s will through misunderstanding – understanding that is not complete.

Joseph is an example of this, of what might been a wrong course of action through misunderstanding. He knows that he is not the father of Mary’s child and that leaves only one logical conclusion – she has been unfaithful to him and there is another man who is obviously the father of the baby she is carrying. But he’s a righteous man and so he doesn’t want to do anything unkind or spiteful and so he decides the only course to take is to divorce her (break off the engagement) quietly. If that had happened Jesus would not have had a physical father to be there to provide protection and security from the human standpoint at least. He is about to do what is reasonable at least and it is only a dream with an angel in it that persuades him otherwise. Thank goodness he took note of the dream. God trusted him to respond positively to the dream. What a risk!

But as I look around the Christian world, I realise that you often see these situations where people are set in a particular way of thinking, which they consider right; they consider they are righteous. They are good, solid, faithful Christians – but set in a particular way of thinking. Now I am about to shoot myself in the foot by doing what I am about to complain about – people who complain and critically write off other Christians. I don’t want to do that because I want to emphasise that so often this is the Achilles heel of good Christians, good righteous Christians.

I was given a book for my birthday by a friend who is obviously worried about keeping me on the straight and narrow, a book about how the church has gone off the rails in respect of truth. Now I am sure, as I hear things (mostly from America I have to say) from various corners of the Christian world that there are some weird and wonderful things being said or done in some quarters that are being attributed to the Holy Spirit, but which I suspect may be blown away within three years. I may be wrong and I want to recognise that the people concerned are good hearted and well-intentioned, just like Joseph and only time will tell whether what is happening is of God. But the book slates and denigrates these people and I have come across more than one or two such books in the past that seek to pull down other Christian groups. The writer may be right, but I always remember Dr. Francis Schaeffer warning about how we should disagree with one another – in genuine love.  So there is the writer AND the people he writes about, all good Christian people, all believing their outlook is right – but opposite. Someone isn’t right.

We can all have our personal perspective which may or may not be right. For instance I was talking with some old friends recently who go to a growing church and their complaint was that it was becoming completely impersonal and that was sad. We talked about the difficulty of maintaining meaningful relationships in such churches and indeed what the point of the church is. This is a really fertile ground for conflicting opinions. I come from a perspective that says church is not spectator sport, it is where Jesus wants to involve every person in body ministry.

I confess I occasionally watch Christian TV or ‘God channels’ and cringe at the sight of massive auditoriums where people sit as spectators with their personal issues only being dealt with at the preaching level and rarely by persona interaction. Are all these nicely dressed people laughing at the preacher’s jokes actively interacting with their local community and ministering the love of God to individuals with good works and spiritual gifts? Whether we like it or not we make our TV preachers ‘stars’ and we elevate them beyond what is healthy. All preaching is, in a measure, a performance, but I struggle with big performers on the platform. I look back, with immense thankfulness to a heritage of preachers who exuded humility as well as incredibly insightful and anointed preaching. I struggle with preachers who have a salary as big as that of the CEO of a large company. I struggle with preachers who have to have body guards and managers. This seems a far cry from the Christianity that Jesus’ modelled.

But here is the danger in being critical of these things because God uses them all! We can seek to be righteous in all we say or do – and yet still misunderstand the will of God and be wrong, and we’ll probably only find that out when we get to heaven! Joseph found it out through a dream and I would hope that we are each sufficiently open to the Lord to be able to comprehend His will through such a tenuous communication.

The simple lesson here? Check out how you feel about other Christians and other churches and, yes, check out not only WHAT you think about them, but how you feel about that. I will write books about theological understanding but not about how different people think differently from me, for if I do I will be in danger of using my righteousness as a cloak to cover a judgmental heart.  The simple lesson is to hold our ‘opinions’ lightly and be open to the Lord for Him to bring us greater understanding, while at the same time seeking to be careful to find the truth but doing it without a judgmental spirit. A difficult area! Is my righteousness fixed, unbending, legalistic and/or judgmental? As I said, a difficult area.

3. Shining more Brightly

Meditating on the Gems of the Bible:  3. Shining more brightly

Prov 4:18  The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter till the full light of day.

2 Cor 3:18  we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit

Why these verses? Because they won’t go away when I pray. So, let’s see what the Lord might want to say to us through them. The Proverbs verse speaks about the righteous and the 2 Corinthians verse speaks to Christians who are God’s righteous ones. Both of them speak about changing lives but the second one gives the reason for the change – the Holy Spirit.

The first thought that hit me when I got these two verses is that they are more about the Lord than they are about us. We know that we cannot change for the good left to ourselves and so any changes for good in our lives has to be the Lord. I know that when I came to the Lord I left behind a life of self-centred godlessness which was marred by failure. The transformation that took place when I came to Christ happened because He put His Holy Spirit within me and He was now my guiding, directing, teaching power. If I shone brighter now it was because of His Holy Spirit.

Of course Prov 4:18 says it is “the path of the righteous” that is shining ever brighter and I suddenly realise that Jesus said “I am the way” (Jn 14:6) and another word for ‘way’ is path. He is my life, his Spirit lives in me and therefore he is the one who grows brighter with the passing of each day – in and through me. Indeed, as I respond to him and allow his Spirit to lead, guide and change me, my life generally will be brighter, expressing him – but it is him. When the apostle Paul spoke of Jesus’ glory he said, But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” (2 Cor 4:7)  Our bodies are like jars of clay but they contain the glory of God and it is the glory that shines, not the clay.

Now if we accept these foundational thoughts – that these verses apply to us Christians and that the source of the brightness is Jesus and his Holy Spirit – there is something very basic that must flow out of this and it is so simple that it is something we take for granted, and that is that God purposes for us is to change for the better. Now I’ve just said that this is so basic that we probably take it for granted, and if we do I suggest that familiarity had bred contempt and so we don’t actually believe it for our lives. Note again what we are saying: God purposes good changes for us and in us. He loves us so much that He wants something better for us that what we are today.

Seriously, check that out. Are you completely happy with all that you are today? Are there aspects of who you are that you are not happy about? I don’t mean things like you feel you have big ears or you don’t like the colour of your hair. No, I’m referring to things like anger or lack of patience, or constant worries or jealousy, say. There could be a whole raft of issues we could choose from. Are there bits of the New Testament, say, that you skim over because they are uncomfortable? You know deep down that there are things where you don’t match to Jesus’ expectations of you in his word.

Now we have to make a simple clarification. We don’t mean things that very rarely you stumble over. We are all of us still imperfect this side of heaven and so there may be times when you are physically low and that in turn seems to sap your grace and you are not as patient, say, as you normally are. No, these are one-off rare failures; what I am talking about is a regular behaviour. You find you snap at people too often, you find you are impatient with others, you find you are constantly worrying about what might happen next week or how you might handle tomorrow. These are the sort of things which, when we feel safe and secure we can confess to being unhappy about in our lives.

Now here’s the thing: God is more concerned to help you move on from these failure repetitions than He is to punish you. He understands you and loves you and sees the ultimate cause why you are like you are (so often it is poor self-image, not realizing who we are in Christ) and why you seem to be unable to break out (so often it is because we just haven’t realised our position of freedom in Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit in us). He understands these things and understands that there is coming a time where you are going to be just ripe to receive His word and, hey presto!, it will be dealt with and you will be changed. Suddenly you will be shining brighter!

This is it. The good news is that he is on our side and He is working to help us change so that we will indeed be changing from one degree of glory to another. Why? Because He loves us and He knows we will enjoy life more, enjoy being ourselves more, when these things have been dealt with and we change. But it’s not a big heavy thing; it’s just part of the wonderful process that started the moment we came to Him and were born again.

One final thing. Very often the changes are slow and almost indiscernible and therefore we will not realise that this process IS being worked out in us. Don’t worry about it; just thank the Lord that these two verses DO apply to you and it is happening, because you want it to deep down, and He wants it for you because He loves you so much. Rejoice in it!

5. Fully Pursuaded

Meditations in Romans : 5:  Fully Persuaded

Rom 4:20,21   Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in hisfaith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.”

We concluded the previous meditation mentioning these verses but now we need to focus on this question of Abraham being “fully persuaded”. There are indications in scripture that faith cannot be half-hearted, you have to be ‘fully persuaded’. In other words, there is no question of the “Well, I’ll give it a try,” type of approach being acceptable.

Listen to how James explains it in respect of needing wisdom from God: “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord;” (Jas 1:5-7) Various people have written trying to legitimize ‘doubt’ but the best one can say is that it might be a pathway towards belief. James is adamant, if you want something from God you need to believe without doubt, i.e. you need to be ‘fully persuaded’ that this is for you, because otherwise God is not going to give it to you.

When the apostle Peter stepped out of the boat on the Sea of Galilee, at that moment, he was convinced that he could walk on water at Jesus’ calling – and he did – but the moment he doubted he started to sink (see Mt 14:28-32).

Without wanting to go into details, for Abraham to be ‘fully persuaded’ meant that he and Sarah would have had to keep trying until she fell pregnant. If God has said He will do something, faith says I will keep on trying until He turns up and enables it to be. Being ‘fully persuaded’ means you keep on at it until you get it, even if the thing you are waiting for is humanly impossible – as it was in Abraham and Sarah’s case.

Perhaps this principle of being ‘fully persuaded’ operates no more clearly than in the case of each of us coming to Christ and being born again. As we noted earlier, there is no point coming with a, “Well I might as well give it a try” mentality. Now the truth is that only God knows if our belief at that point is genuine, and that we have been ‘fully persuaded’. When we have heard the Gospel and have come under conviction, our ‘surrender’ has to be genuine and only the Lord knows that. If He sees that it is, then He imparts His Holy Spirit and we are born again and a whole new life starts. If he sees that we are not genuinely ‘fully persuaded’ then that will not happen.

For Abraham, God had spoken and Abraham had fully believed what He said, and just as we noted above, speaking about receiving our salvation, we find in respect of Abraham, “This is why it was credited to him as righteousness.” (v.22) God declared him righteous because God saw that his belief was genuine. From that second on, he was righteous!

Now this is not mere ‘theology’, mere ideas on the pages of the Bible. No, the Bible always wants these things to be applied in our lives, which is why Paul then goes on to say, “The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness–for us who believe.” (v.23,24). Yes, this was recorded about Abraham so that we would see it and realise with Paul, that if it applied to Abraham it also applies to us today. In the same way as Abraham was declared righteous by God for believing, so the same thing will apply in respect of us when we believe. Paul continues it, “for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.” (v.24,25) Yes, our focus of belief is not that we will have a baby in old age but that Jesus died for our sins, and then validated it by being raised from the dead. Jesus’ resurrection confirmed that he was who he said he was and had done what he said he had done.

So as these facts of history are presented to us, and we believe them and are ‘fully persuaded’, so we are justified, we are put right with God in God’s eyes. It’s all about what God says is right. In the divine plan Jesus would fulfil justice so that all sins were punished. That punishment is taken either by the individual or by Jesus Christ. If we allow Jesus to take our sins and our punishment, then we are justified or put right as far as God is concerned. Abraham is the example of it, and so now we experience it.

12. Personal Righteousness

Meditations in David’s Psalms : 12 : Personal Righteousness  – Psa 15

Psa 15:1   LORD, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill?

Those of us who have known the Lord for any length of time come, I believe, to take so much for granted, that we tend to lose some of the wonder of the Lord and what has happened to us. It is amazing, first of all, that human beings can claim to be able to have a meaningful relationship with the true living God. But after that come questions: what does He want of me, what sort of life does He want me to live?

It is in this vein that David now ponders his relationship with the Lord. There is no indication of where or where these thoughts flowed in him, but he is pondering on the wonder of the possibility but is aware that God places demands on us. He gave Israel the Law through Moses, instructions of how to live out life as His people, in ways that would enable them to live in line with His original design for mankind. So David now ponders on the possibility of living in relationship with the Lord, living close to Him:LORD, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill?” (v.1)  There must be requirements, he muses, as to just who can dwell close to God because God is against evil, so what sort of life does the Lord require of me?

Now before we move into the list that follows, it is imperative that we clarify the truth that you cannot reach God and be saved by good works. Our works will never be good enough and so it is always a case of us surrendering to Him and receiving the salvation He has provided through the death of His Son, Jesus Christ. In his death on the Cross, Jesus took all our punishment so that we might receive God’s forgiveness when we ask for it. That is how we are saved, but after that, the question then becomes, what sort of life does the Lord now want of me?

The verses that follow come as a continuing list: “He whose walk is blameless and who does what is righteous, who speaks the truth from his heart and has no slander on his tongue, who does his neighbor no wrong and casts no slur on his fellowman, who despises a vile man but honors those who fear the LORD, who keeps his oath even when it hurts, who lends his money without usury and does not accept a bribe against the innocent.” (v.2-5) We need to work through this carefully.

Whose walk is blameless? Our conscience will scream out, with the Spirit’s help, if we know there are things for which we can be blamed, that were our fault, and so we should endeavour to see that we do not do such things. What is righteous? It is what is right before God. These are general attitude and behaviour issues.

Speaks the truth and allows no slander? This is all about words and speaking. How easily we let ourselves and the Lord down with careless words. This must be especially so in respect of others, never saying things that are untrue about another but, going further, never speaking wrong about another that pulls them down, i.e. doing no wrong to a neighbour and casting no slur on anyone.

Despises a vile man? This is about distinguishing between good and evil. Vile means wicked, sinful, offensive, disgusting, degrading, low or mean. Where we see these characteristics we should recognize them for what they are and we should despise them, look on them with scorn as things unworthy of people, things to be avoided. We need to recognize the wrong when we see it and reject it.

Honours those who fear the Lord? It is too easy to be skeptical about people who are more pious that we are, people who appear more holy than me. No, we should honour and encourage every believer who fears and respects the Lord. Again this is an attitude thing that reveals our own heart.

Who keeps his oath, even when it hurts. Wow! We are to be those who keep our promises even when it causes us work, effort or whatever. Truth, honesty and integrity go together in these things and we do well to consider them.

Who lends his money without taking interest? That is a challenge in the modern age when it is standard to charge for loans, but the word is saying be kind and generous in your dealings with others so you are working for their well-being and do not put them under pressure.

Finally, does not take a bribe against the innocent. Maintain justice and have no part in anything crooked, and especially have no part in anything that does others down and even more, do nothing to corrupt justice so as to blame the innocent!  Truth and honesty and integrity join now to justice.

And then he concludes, “He who does these things will never be shaken.” (v.5b) maintaining right and good standards mean these things will not backfire on us and the Lord will have no need to act against us. Even more, He will bless those who live His way and will keep and sustain them and protect them. There’s quite a lot here to think on, things to ponder on in the light of the ways of the world today.

2. Precious Faith

Meditations in 2 Peter : 2 :  A Precious Faith

2 Pet  1:1b  To those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours:

This is a letter written by Peter for Christians. That is a summary of the second part of this first verse. His first letter had been written to the Christians scattered over the area we callAsia Minor, but this present one has a broader, more general audience. In identifying the recipients he speaks first about the work of God and then, second, about the people who are the result of God’s work.

Sometimes when we see the word ‘righteousness’ in Scripture we get confused and complicated because it is not a word we use in everyday life. In its simplest form it means ‘a right way of living or acting that is in accord with God’s perfect design’. We forget that God is the Creator and that He has designed the world to bless us His creatures. When He finished making it He declared that it was “very good” (Gen 1:31). Because “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8,16) everything God does is an expression of love and is good. The Fall may have spoilt the world but that has not changed God, He is still love and He still works to bring good to the world because He IS love and will always be love because He is unchanging. Righteousness is simply living in accord with God’s design.

Now of course God Himself is perfect and so when Peter speaks about the “righteousness of our God” he is simply saying, “the right actions of our God” because God’s actions are ALWAYS right. But actually Peter isn’t talking about God generally or of the Father; he is referring to Jesus: God and Savior Jesus Christ”.  He is not referring to two persons but two aspects of Jesus.  He is both God and he is Saviour.  God is his nature and Saviour was his task or role.  Of course Peter himself had referred to Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Mt 16:16) Thomas similarly had declared, “My Lord and my God!” (Jn 20:28) and the concept of Jesus’ deity often crops up in Paul’s writings, e.g. Col 2:9, but it is worth noting that these early believers were quite clear about who it was they had encountered – God in the flesh.

So it is God, who in the form of His Son, Jesus Christ, has brought about a harvest of believers. Just think about it, if Jesus had never come we would not have had all that revelation about God’s love and there would have been no path of salvation through Jesus. But he has and so as a result there were those with transformed lives who were able to testify to his coming and what he had done.

On the Day of Pentecost the apostle Peter summarised it: Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.” (Acts 2:22-24) Jesus himself, recorded by Matthew, had declared what those ‘miracles, wonders and signs’ were: “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.” (Mt 11:5) The apostle John put it in more general, almost philosophical terms, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched–this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us.” (1 Jn 1:1,2) There is this ‘precious faith’ declared: God has come to this earth in human form and done wonderful things and people were blessed.

But for the bigger work, it was John the Baptist who first declared it: “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (Jn 1:29) Prior to that, some thirty years before that, Joseph had had a dream in which an angel had declared about Jesus, “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Mt 1:21) At the Last Supper Jesus had said, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mt 26:28) Later Peter was to testify to Cornelius, the first Gentile recorded as receiving the Gospel, “All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” (Acts10:43)

But Peter describes this faith as being ‘precious’.    J.R.R.Tolkien stamped this word in our consciousness with his character Gollum in The Lord of the Rings, who spoke of the ring as ‘his precious’.   Precious means ‘of great value, held very dear, very special to us’.  From the verses we’ve considered above, we can see the value of this ‘precious faith’.  It is the truth, it is history declared to us, and it is life changing.  It is the Good News about Jesus that brings forgiveness of sins and reconciliation to God for us. It is what has transformed men and women throughout the past two thousand years, some of the earliest of whom were being addressed by Peter in this letter. How wonderful! If you have lost the sense of how this wonderful faith is precious, go back over the above notes and take in the verses quoted there, and then rejoice!

28. Walk in His Ways

Meditations in Deuteronomy : 28 :  Walk in His Ways

(Focus: Deut 10:1-29)

Deut 10:12,13 And now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the LORD’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?

Yet again Moses reminds Israel of their history with the Lord. He reminds them that after the first two stone tablets had been smashed, he had had to make two new ones and an ark or wooden chest in which to keep them (10:1-3) and the Lord wrote on them as before (10:4). Then they had travelled on and Aaron had died (10:6), then further on when the Lord set apart the Levites to carry the ark (10:7-9). On the mountain he had pleaded with the Lord not to destroy them and the Lord allowed them to go to enter the land. (10:10,11) After reminding them yet again of that, Moses calls them again to comprehensively follow the Lord (v.12,13 above). Observe the language.

Attitude fear your God, have a right respect for His awesomeness. Actionwalk in all His ways. Let your daily lifestyle conform to His will for you. Heart commitmentlove him. Heart expression serve Him. Assessment of both – wholeheartedly and being obedient. Note that the complementary attitudes of fear and love and seen to be there by the willingness to serve and obey the Lord.   Service and obedience are the measure of the heart. Yet, one must add, that a cold obedience and service is NOT what is being asked of Israel; it is to be a relationship of love.

The apostle John had this in mind when he wrote, We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.” (1 Jn 2:3-6) i.e. a genuine relationship of love with the Lord is expressed by obedience to all the New Testament says, and to the leading of the Holy Spirit. Failure in these areas raises questions as to the reality of the relationship.

So, Moses has appealed to the memory of the recent past to encourage Israel to be obedient to their calling by the Lord. But he wants to yet enlarge their understanding of the Lord: “To the LORD your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it.” (v.15). The Lord who delivered them out of Egypt and drew near to them at Sinai and who provided for them and disciplined them, is the Creator of the World. Everything in all of Creation belongs to Him. That is His greatness which makes all the more marvellous what has happened to them: “Yet the LORD set his affection on your forefathers and loved them, and he chose you, their descendants, above all the nations, as it is today.” (v.15) He isn’t a distant God somewhere ‘out there’ but He has drawn near to them to enter into relationship with them.

But Israel have a problem that has been revealed by their past behaviour that Moses spoke about in Chapter 9 (which reaches its conclusion here): “Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer.” (v.16) A little bit of mixed metaphors here! Cut out from your hearts the hardness that is there so that you will no longer be arrogant and rebellions (stiff-necked).

But there is another aspect to this particular problem: “For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes.” (v.17)  God is both holy (utterly different) and righteous (always behaving absolutely rightly).  The implication is that He will not tolerate their rebellious attitudes any longer. He is a good God and He looks for goodness in them: “He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing. And you are to love those who are aliens, for you yourselves were aliens in Egypt.” (v.18,19)

So, he concludes, “Fear the LORD your God and serve him. Hold fast to him and take your oaths in his name. He is your praise; he is your God, who performed for you those great and awesome wonders you saw with your own eyes.” (v.20,21). Stick close to God, He is the cause of all praise for He is God who has done great things for you, summed up as, “Your forefathers who went down into Egypt were seventy in all, and now the LORD your God has made you as numerous as the stars in the sky.” (v.22) God has done what He said to Abraham. He is faithful to His word and Israel are the proof of it. Now live it out!