53. Awareness

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 8 – Counter Attack

53. Awareness

Mt 16:18  I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.

1 Pet 2:9,10  But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.  Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

More? I thought we had finished this series, at the end of the last Part, but  woke one morning with such clarity of something more, so we have to go on at least one more Part which is all about NOT being a passive, ineffectual bunch of religious people who are increasingly marginalized in this modern world. No this is about standing up and saying, “Enough! It is time to become who we were called to become.”  The studies you will find as we go through this Part are as follows:

  1. Awareness
  2. A Time to Regain Identity
  3. A Time to go on the Offensive
  4. Are we ready to fight?
  5. About ‘Attitude’
  6. Finally, regain Perspective

It starts with this verse from Matt 16 that the gates of Hades (or Hell) will not overcome the church. In such context the phrase “the gates of Hades” can be taken to mean Satan and all his forces, as one commentator puts it, “storming out of the hell’s gates in order to attack and destroy the church.” Now as C.S.Lewis sought to show in his “Screwtape Letters”, he seeks to do that in various ways and they are clearly observable today. Thus our starting point in this final Part must be to identify the ways the enemy works to seek to undermine and bring down the Church. Sometimes that is by big, all-embracing strategies that affect many at a time (usually the weak of faith) and sometimes it is by personal and individual attack. His end objective is to weaken, disarm, disable and dismantle the Church and to eventually destroy it. As we will see, a hopeless task!

The Ways of the Enemy: In a variety of ways, Satan strategizes to undermine and bring down the Church. First, on one hand, he seeks to encourage the atheistic crusaders of the twenty-first century who sought to rubbish the truth of the Bible, successfully in those who were weak in faith, but unsuccessfully for others as the Lord raised up His intellectual warriors to show the folly of the attacks.  (This is the ‘roaring lion’ attack – see 1 Pet 5:8).

Second, he seeks to encourage what is often referred to as the liberal wing of the church who downplay the veracity of the Bible and unwittingly undermine faith. This is the approach of ‘reasonableness’ and ‘logic’ which demeans the divinely supernatural and denies the truth that God speaks and acts into His world. (The is the ‘angel of light’ attack – 2 Cor 11:14).

Third, he seeks to make The Faith seem outdated and irrelevant in the face of the tidal waves of knowledge and science and technology. Fourth, in another deceptive strategy, he seeks to suggest that the modern world is so civilised and wise and all-knowing, that we no longer need these ‘outdated and superstitious folk tales from the past’. Unfortunately for him, the Bible truth still remains, “A man reaps what he sows,” (Gal 6:7) and so the fruit of this folly is observable in every area of life where men and women abandon God’s ways and God’s laws, and this is clearly visible for those who have eyes to see.

Fifth, especially in affluent Western societies, he seeks to make people so comfortable and secure in their affluence and tells them that they have been successful and so, again, don’t need these outdates rituals or beliefs. They can get by quite happily without them. He fails to remind them of Jesus’ parable of the two house builders in Matt 7 where we are reminded that temporary security is illusory without Christ, so when the crises of life hit – and they will – downfall will follow.

Futility of his efforts: History, ancient and modern shows that even though persecution comes, His Church remains strong and even thrives. The history of the church in China in the past hundred years is a classic example of that. While numbers in the church in the West decline, numbers of the church in China have spiralled, making it greater in number than the Communist Party of that country. In the West, leaders are qualified by education; in China they are qualified by having been in prison! Scripturally Jesus taught that God’s kingdom would grow and grow and grow and be the largest of all the ‘plants’ (Mt 13:32, Mk 4:32). In the West, while traditional denominations decline ‘new shoots’ thrive and increase in numbers. In that sense it is difficult to discern the exact truth of what is happening to the church.

Assessing the Reality: We have maintained throughout these studies that whatever the numbers, the overall signs are of a Church that a) so often is more concerned to maintain the status quo rather than constantly be pushing to expand the boundaries of the kingdom, b) so often is more concerned with managing buildings and institutions than putting much effort in reaching the lost, c) so often retreats into social work to appease a guilty conscience rather than train and send disciples to go out preaching the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, d) so often is more concerned with comfort and ease and constantly seeking personal well-being rather than sacrificially living out lives that reveal the wonder of the Servant-King, e) so often are more concerned with speaking carefully crafted words rather than moving in the power and anointing of the Holy Spirit so that, f) so often there is little fruitfulness in the reality of transformed lives that now reveal the light and the life of their risen Lord and move on in service in the power of the Spirit. .

And Yet: Yes, this is the truth, God still looks to us to play our part. Yes, Scripture does appear to show that the powers of darkness may yet have a field-day but despite that we are called to display the resurrected Christ in and through the life of the Church. If there is any truth in these assessments of the place and the state of the Church in these different places, the end call has to be the same. Are those right who suggest that the picture of the church at Laodicea in Rev 3 applies to this time? Are we lukewarm, neither hot nor cold? (3:15,16)  Are we deceived into believing we are rich while all the time (spiritually at least) we are “wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked”? Is Jesus writing off the Church in the West? Will the Church in China, or from other severely persecuted countries, be the light that the Lord will use to shine to the rest of the world in the end-time darkness?

A word of hope. One thing I notice about Jesus with his disciples, is that he often chided his disciples for their little faith (e.g. Mt 8:26, 14:31, 16:8, 17:20) but he never wrote them off. When Jesus scolded the disciples for having ‘little faith’, it was not to put them down but to challenge them to rise up in it – he continued giving them opportunities to minister and become more and more like him. May that be true of us in these days, and that I will be examining in the remaining studies.

11. The Downfalls of David (3)

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 11. The Downfalls of David (3)

2 Sam 24:1   Again the anger of the Lord burned against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, “Go and take a census of Israel and Judah.”

1 Chron 21:1 Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel.

 A Complex Story: We come to a strange ‘failure’ in David’s life, one that bears some consideration in this whole subject of redemption. It is a difficult and complex story for there are a number of unclear points within it and we will consider each of them. Each time we must seek to see what is happening and why and, in the midst of it, also note how David responds in it all.

God’s Anger: The first difficulty is that “Again the anger of the Lord burned against Israel,” Again? We are not told a) what previous causes there had been for the Lord to be angry and b) we are not told what the present cause is.  There is clearly something that is very wrong in Israel – yes, even under David. The people did not necessarily have the same heart as their king, and this is seen a number of times in the Old Testament period.  At such times, where we are ignorant of the background, we have to remind ourselves that God is a just judge and also a loving one and so when we find judgments involving death, what I call ‘judgments of the last resort’ (meaning they are the last thing the Lord resorts to, to save the nation and the world) we need to see them through that filter.

David or Israel? We then come to the second difficulty which is the question, is this to do with Israel’s wrong doing or David’s wrong doing?  Well, in both versions of this story – seen in both 2 Sam 24 and 1 Chron 21 – we see it is expressly against Israel, the people. However we might suggest that, seeing the way David responded, the Lord also saw in David an attitude that needed confronting and so this incident deals with both Israel and David.

And Us? Now as an aside to the story, we need to consider this under the umbrella of redemption and consider how it applies as a principle today. I have observed over the years, in both myself and other leaders that I have known, the Lord provoking situations that apparently cause our downfall, specifically to deal with wrong attitudes that have sprung up and prevailed. This has, in my own experience, been specifically to do with leaders but I believe it applies generally. Where the Lord sees harmful attitudes prevailing that are not being dealt with by us, it is, to use a modern phrase, as if He pulls the rug out from under our complacency. A crisis arises, which is often caused by our lack of grace and wisdom which, in turn, results when He lifts off His hand of provision and we find ourselves saying or doing things in line with the wrong attitude that previously we would not have said or done. (Yes, those two sentences do take some reading, but make sure you take them in). Now this is so significant in this whole subject of redemption, that we will return to it later in the series, but we do need to understand it and take it in if we are to catch the full import of what is going on.  For David it is an issue of pride and it is that which initially means he insists on getting his way contrary to the counsel of his advisors (see 2 Sam 24:3,4 & 1 Chron 21:3,4)

God or Satan? The third difficulty is that 2 Sam 24:1 says God incited David while 1 Chron 21:1 says Satan incited David. So what is the truth? Well, another word for ‘incited’ here might be ‘tempted’ because David is tempted into an action that is wrong, that we shall shortly consider. The apostle James teaches us, “When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed.” (Jas 1:13,14) The ‘evil desire’ in this case is pride. We see a similar thing in the case of Cain who we have previously considered: So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” (Gen 4:5-7) Cain had a wrong attitude (self-centred jealousy and possibly pride) and that ‘evil desire’, to use James’ words, was just waiting to ‘entice’ him into further bad actions, which he gave way to. So we see a two-sided coin here. On one side we see the wrong attitude that we tolerate, perhaps because it ‘feels good’, while on the other side that same attitude becomes the cause of our downfall.

But God or Satan? Yes, we haven’t fully answered the questions above have we. We’ve turned the focus on David or us, and seen that a wrong prevailing attitude provides the opportunity for temptation to come and cause downfall, but who brought it, God or Satan? Well, James said that God doesn’t tempt anyone so what is the truth here?  To see the truth we have to go to what is thought to be one of the oldest books in the Bible, that of Job. In chapters 2 & 3 we see the Lord wanting to test Job and so He draws Satan’s attention to him and allows Satan to provoke others into action against him. The teaching of the Bible is that God uses Satan for a variety of purposes.

God’s Use of Satan: As a quick summary we may suggest the following. God uses Satan:

  1. a) To reveal men’s hearts (here in 1 Chron 21:1, David’s heart is revealed),
  2. b) To bring judgement on unbelievers (Rev 9:11 as king over them the angel of the Abyss, whose name means “Destroyer”),
  3. c) To bring discipline to believers (1 Cor 5:5 enabling Satan to come humble and bring repentance)
  4. d) To subjugate unbelievers (1 Jn 5:19b The whole unbelieving world is under the control of the evil one)
  5. e) To maintain humility in our lives (2 Cor 12:7 to keep Paul from getting proud),
  6. f) To develop faith & righteousness in our lives (1 Pet 1:7 Trials are testings and testings reveal our faith, 1 Pet 5:8,9 – we learn to resist),
  7. g) To bring about trials whereby we can be rewarded, blessed & changed (Jas 1:12  we patiently endure testing – testing develops us and God blesses through it),
  8. h) To teach us how to fight (Judges 3:2 to teach warfare),
  9. i) To demonstrate God’s power over the enemy (Eph 3:10 wisdom of God should be made  known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms).

God’s Sovereign Control: Whether through Satan or through His own direct words, the Lord is seen throughout Scripture as the One who provokes or stands against and reveals unrighteousness, i.e. it is part of His redeeming activity. You see it in a variety of ways in the following references: Ex 4:21, 7:3, 9:12, 10:1,20,27, 11:10, 14:4, Josh 11:20, 1 Kings 22:22,23, Job 1:12, 2:10, Ezek 3:20, 14:9, Acts 4:28. Again and again these things lead on to His bringing judgment, either corrective and disciplinary, or terminal and final. These are the things behind our present accounts but as you will guess, we have only just started this study of this particular incident, so we will continue it tomorrow.

Application for further thought and prayer: Lord, deliver us from the evil one this day. Convict me by your Spirit is that is what is needed.

42. Areas of Rule

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 42. Areas of Rule 

Dan 7:13,14 “there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power;

In a previous series, “Focus on Christ” in Study No.56, we noted the following about Christ and because it is so pertinent to our present series, we repeat it here. It flowed out of the prophetic picture that Daniel had about the Son of God referred to in our starting verses above, of Christ the ruler, and we will see the areas of his rule:

Reign’ is about exercising sovereignty, about being in control, not merely coping, not merely surviving, but being in control. When we come to the ruler over the Kingdom of God, the ruler is a benign controller who controls for the benefit of his subjects. That is the big difference between the kingdoms of the earth and the Kingdom of Heaven.  So, let’s see ‘Christ in Control’. It is so obvious we have probably never thought about it

Control over the material world: This is the most obvious thing in Jesus’ earthly ministry, and many of us struggle to believe that this is still true of his body today when we allow him to lead. In the pages of the Gospels we see Jesus in control of the elements – calming a storm, walking on water, turning water into wine, expanding bread and fishes to feed thousands; these are all examples of Jesus being in absolute control of material elements. If I had more space I could give modern day examples of the same sorts of thing.

Control over health and life itself: When we see Jesus healing the sick and casting out demons and even raising the dead, we see this power and authority over the material world being applied into flesh and blood human bodies. This is Jesus reigning in the most obvious ways. Again we could give many testimonies of the same things happening today.

Control over himself: Now here is an area we don’t tend to think about but when it is paralleled into our lives as part of his body today it becomes very pertinent. Let’s consider various ways we see this.

 i) In respect of Satan: The Gospels record Satan coming with three temptations before Jesus starts his ministry, seeking to bring him down, but in each case, Jesus remains firmly in control of his mind and his behaviour and gives right responses. This is significant because Satan questioned his very identity, but Jesus remained firmly in control of his own thinking about himself and so did not succumb to the enemy’s negatives; he knew who he was and what he was to do, right up to and including the Cross and never deviated from that, even in the Garden of Gethsemane when he was confronted with the awfulness of what was just about to happen

 ii) In respect of human prejudices: Jesus not succumb to prejudices or false religious expectations which we see in the way he met with and spoke to the Samaritan woman, the adulterous woman, the Greek woman, a leper who he touched, tax collectors etc. who he dined with, all of whom would have been rejected by respectable Judaism.

iii) In respect of his speech: But it goes beyond meeting with the unclean, the sinners and so on; it includes how he encountered and responded to the leaders and religious elite; he did not speak out of turn, he was in complete control of his tongue. He did not waver before ‘great people’; he knew who he was and therefore never felt defensive, as we so often do. He never felt uncomfortable in any situation because he knew who he was and knew the power and authority that he had.

 iv) In respect of his emotions: This is an area where we are so often stunted and so our emotions are oppressed by expectations or hardened and calloused by the hard knocks of life or the hard words of parents or teachers or other people of influence that shut us down. No, he was clearly saddened by the fact of his disciples’ little belief sometimes, he was saddened by the grief that he saw in those he loved (at Lazarus’s tomb), and he anguished over the thought of being separated from his Father on the Cross.

In each of these ways Jesus was in complete control. He knew people (Mt 12:25, 27:18, Jn 2:24) and was not fazed by them, whether they were the great and good and influential or whether they were prostitutes, demon possessed, sinners and crooks. In one sense we might say he was above them all and was therefore not controlled by what they thought, either of themselves or about him.

Application: Now that was what I wrote in that series about Christ, but now we have to take and apply this to all we have been saying about being seated with Christ in the heavenly realms, ruling with him. He, we said, is the head of the body and so if that is how he exercised his rule, seen in the Gospels in one single body, it must also be how he reigns through us, his body today. So, let’s apply those things.

When we are led and empowered by his Holy Spirit, in the light of these things, we should expect the body to, at times:

  • have control over the elements, the material world,
  • have control over health and life itself, bringing healing
  • have control over ourselves with His enabling, so that
    • we do not let Satan put us down
    • we do not tolerate prejudice
    • we control our speech
    • we are not fazed by ‘big people’, the good, the bad, anyone.

Now our tendency may be to duck and dive and make excuses and say well, these things will only happen through ‘big ministries’, apostles etc., but Jesus did say, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing.” (Jn 14:12). Admittedly the miraculous, whether in respect of the elements or in respect of human sickness, will only occur when needed, i.e. when we make ourselves available to Christ on the frontline, but why should that not include you and me?  This IS the way Christ ruled and still rules, so if we are seated with him exercising this rule……? Some areas for serious thought and prayer, and maybe reassessing of our ‘belief’.   “Whoever believes”?

27. Enemies Disarmed

Short Meditations for Easter on the Cross: 27. Enemies Disarmed

Col 2:15   And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.

More mystery. “Powers and Principalities”? Intriguingly the Bible says more about this than most realise. Isaiah prophesied about God at the end: “In that day the Lord will punish the powers in the heavens above and the kings on the earth below.” (Isa 24:21) ‘Powers’ and ‘kings’ -both rulers. Similarly, Daniel: He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth.” (Dan 4:35) Whatever they are they are part of God’s creation: “For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him,” (Col 1:16) and they are all under Jesus’ rule: “Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.” (1 Pet 3:22)

Now the only other ‘beings; apart from the Godhead and mankind that are mentioned in the Bible are angels, some of whom are fallen and follow Satan (see Mt 25:41 & Rev 12:9), all of whom are spirits (Heb 1:7,14) and when they are fallen we refer to them as demons. The leader of them is Satan: “that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray …. the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night….” (Rev 12:9,10) and it is there we see one of the primary things he does – accuse people.

It is legitimate to suppose that ‘powers’ are angelic beings and there is a hierarchy (see Dan 10:12-14). Paul confirms these are our enemies: “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Eph 6:12)

And yet to the Colossian Paul said Jesus has disarmed them. How? Well, we’ve seen one of Satan’s primary tactics is to accuse God’s people (e.g. Zech 3:1). How does he accuse us? He points out our guilt and demands that justice be seen and we be condemned and punished. But now Jesus has come and died for us, the apostle John was able to write, “if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 Jn 2:1,2) Thus when Satan comes to accuse us, it is like Jesus steps up and says, “Father, I died for this one. Their sins are dealt with,” and so Satan and his followers are disarmed. It is only the unknowing who go down under his accusations. Our answer should always be, “Yes, I fell, I sinned, and I am sorry, but Jesus died for that sin, so I rest in his forgiveness. Satan go away.”  See James 4:7 and rejoice.

3. Potential & Example

Nine Lessons of Christmas Meditations: 3. Potential & Example

Reading 2: Genesis 22:15–18

Gen 22:18    through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”

The Context: In the service layout, this reading is summarised as “God promises to faithful Abraham that in his seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” The first reading confronted the effects of the Fall while at the same time giving a glimmer of a plan on the heart of God whereby the conflict between Satan, started there in the Garden, and mankind, would be brought to an end through some mysterious interaction, sometime in the future, between a human being and Satan and his followers. It raises the question of a mystery we have investigated in some detail in a previous series, “Focus on Christ”.  So the first reading leaves us wondering.

Reading: These present verses follow the strange and challenging incident where Abraham appears to have been called by God to sacrifice his son, Isaac, who had been miraculously conceived and born when Sarah was well past child-bearing ability. However, the Lord, through an angel, had stopped Abraham before he could actually do it. Now, a second time, He speaks again to Abraham (v.15) and says that because of his obedience (v.16) God will multiply his descendants greatly and make them a victorious nation (v.17). It is then, within this context, that He declares that one of his descendants will be the cause of the whole earth being blessed and, yes, it is specifically because he has been obedient to God (v.18). That’s it. So what are the lessons here?

1. The Big Picture again: This reading does not stand on its own. As we said above, it can be seen in the context of what we were faced with in the first reading – the Fall, and yet a glimmer of hope. It is as if now that glimmer of hope has been enlarged. Yes, in the previous reading there was someone referred to as the offspring of the woman, i.e. a human being. Now that human being is being identified as someone who comes out of the family of Abraham. Now of course Abraham’s family continued through Isaac, the child of promise, then through Jacob who became Israel, and hence to a family that grew and grew to become a nation in Egypt, who were otherwise known as Hebrews (Gen 14:13), their ethnic name, then Israelites (after Israel) and later Jews (from the tribe of Judah). This ‘people’ we’ve just named, were the context into which this future person will be born. The first lesson here, is we need to understand the big picture before the details. But there are two things about them that are crucial.

2. A People of Blessing: The fact that Abram had managed to have Isaac in his old age had been a miracle. Isaac’s wife Rebekah then, only managed to conceive after twenty years of Isaac’s praying (Gen 25:20,21,26). When the Advent story eventually unrolls, we find an aged, passed-bearing-age woman, Elizabeth, involved and then a young virgin, Mary. It is almost as if God is making the point, these people exist because I enabled past age, or barren women, or virgins, to conceive. They are a miraculous people. That was God’s side of the whole story. The lesson? Nothing is impossible with God (Lk 1:37) For deeper thought: each one of us who is a believer, is a miracle person, born of the Spirit (Jn 3:5,8), born of God (Jn 1:12).

3. A People of Faith: The second thing about these people is that they were a people of faith. It was because Abram believed God that He declared him righteous (Gen 15:6) and faith becomes the big issue about receiving salvation in the days to come. The Lesson? We are called to be people of faith, those who hear God and respond in obedience to Him. (Rom 3:28, Heb 11:6, 2 Cor 5:7, Heb 10:38)

4. A Man of Mystery: This ‘offspring of the woman’, this ‘offspring of Abraham’, is clearly the means of God blessing the earth. Now that, in itself, is a challenge to us, because the world is fallen, Adam and Eve were cast out of the presence of God, and the future for sinful mankind looks bleak – but then we are told that God intends to BLESS (decree good) for the WHOLE earth, and that through this coming one. It is both amazing and a mystery. It is amazing that God who has been rejected by mankind still wants to bless mankind and, at that point in history, it was a mystery how He could do that in the face of man’s rebellion.

There are at least two lessons here: first we may not understand fully the will of God, but the evidence is so great that we should always simply trust that He intends to bless us; second, salvation comes when we face our folly and our failures and become open to receive His grace in the form of all that Jesus has done for us on the Cross. That’s what this ‘offspring’ came to achieve, the possibility of a new start for you and me. That was what was wrapped up in this ‘mystery’.

5. An Incredible Opportunity: Perhaps the greatest lesson of this particular reading, and it is truly an incredible lesson, is that an individual can become part of the plans of Almighty God to redeem His world. That was Abraham. In two different ways he impacted our future, and we have picked them both up above, but they bear restating here.

First, he was the father of a nation through whom God would work to bring into being an environment into which His Son could come and reveal Him, bless the world and carry its Sin. If you have read these studies or meditations for any length of time you will know that one of my favourite New Testament verses is, we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10) Now that verse may say a variety of things but here, in this context, it says God has ways whereby I may impact this world at His leading. I don’t have to be a leading politician, a great philosopher or inventor or industrialist. I just have to be me, the child of God, empowered and directed by God’s Holy Spirit.

My favourite story, and I am told it is true, is about an American, who had a van (or a lorry), and who used to go around the district picking up young people to take them to the youth group at the local church. One young man who he invited, I think, wasn’t very keen but went along and got saved. That young man happened to be called Billy Graham who became the greatest evangelist of our time.  A man with a van, taking the local kids to church. How many million people are now in the kingdom because of what he did that day, forming just one link in the life of that young man who God had his eye on. I never know who read these or what effect they may have. You may think a conversation with a neighbour of little consequence, but if you are being one of the links in their chain, you never know what the outcome may be.

Second, Abraham became such an example of faith, the great apostle Paul used him as the key illustration of justification by faith. We never know who will be watching, for whom we will be an example that transforms their thinking. Abraham had a big impact in his day, but his example has come down through history to make the path clearer for you and me.

Do you have grandchildren who watch you? Are there fellow pupils at college who watch you? Do you have workmates who watch you? Do you have an unsaved partner or unsaved children who watch you? Example can be an incredibly important thing. These are the things, I believe, that come out of this second reading if we will do more than just let the words go by in the midst of the carols. Let’s not miss what the Lord might want to say to us this Christmas.

58. The Ways of the Kingdom

Focus on Christ Meditations: 58.  The Ways of the Kingdom

Ex 33:13   If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you.

I think Christians are often confused about the way the Lord actually works into the world – our world – today and therefore, as part of these studies, we need to look at what we might call the practicalities of these things, the way Jesus rules from heaven or, as I put it in an earlier study, the balance of the glory and the grace.

It is important that we face realistically the way life is as a Christian whose Lord is expressing the rule of God on the earth. In our verse above Moses asked the Lord to teach him the way He worked, and we need to do the same. What I simply intend to do is cover various aspects of life as we experience it, particularly as it is not always easy, to realistically face how the Lord works into these lives with both glory and grace.

  1. Death: Starting with the ultimate concern of so many, what do we observe? Sometimes Jesus, as he rules from heaven, saves people from death – Peter (Acts 12:5-11). At other times he clearly allows death – Stephen (Acts 7:60), James (Acts 12:2) to come. At the end of the day, we may pray for someone’s life to be preserved and when we do we MUST simply trust, when the end outcome is obvious (they die or are preserved), that he knows what is best for this situation and remain at peace in him. I have watched, over the years, and know people who were at death’s door but who are still alive, and also know of cases where the church has prayed with apparently great faith and yet the person died. There are no easy answers except, ‘He knows best’ and we must trust his decision.
  2. Health: When it comes to praying against illness, sickness etc., as I have struggled with this over the years (often in a very personal way that would be too long to explain here), my end conclusions are that I absolutely believe that Jesus heals today, even as he did in the Gospels, but I also absolutely believe he also uses the National Health Service that we have in the UK. I have been the recipient of both more than once. One also has to recognise, and I think this should be seen as only in more rare cases, that it is his will for no healing to come. This was clearly true for Paul (2 Cor 12:7-10).
  3. Strength: Now sometimes it is clear that the Lord provides great strength and stamina which may involve more than mere physical strength. We see it in the boldness of the early apostles. Having said that there are also times when he allows us to have a great sense of weakness so that we will rely upon him even more. The apostle Paul testified to this, in the things he experienced and in his ‘thorn in the flesh’.
  4. Under Attack: Because we are part of a spiritual war (see Eph 6) there are times when we are aware of enemy activity. Now as I have watched this over the years, I know there are times when the grace of the Lord comes to enable us to resist and so the Lord sometimes gives a word of authority for us to speak which brings an end to the current opposition. However, there do seem to be other times when he simply says turn other cheek and his grace will enable us to cope with what is going on.
  5. Testing: There are times where sometimes life is easy – no problem! However there are also times where circumstances get difficult – times of testing – and these are times of learning, learning how to receive the grace of God in whatever form it is needed.
  6. Satan: We have already referred to spiritual warfare and so there are times when we triumph and he has to flee (Jas 4:7) but there are also other times when it seems he is allowed to hinder our activities (e.g. 1 Thess 2:18) and at those times we just need to get the Lord’s grace to handle it.
  7. Faith: It would be nice to believe that ‘faith’ comes as a fixed portion of God’s grace but it isn’t like that. Sometimes we are full of faith and sometimes we lack faith, and that can be observed in the disciples in the Gospels.  Faith is about starting to be God-aware and we can have ‘little faith’ or we can allow faith to grow and develop.

Addendum – Satan: Now there is another big area of understanding we need to get hold of as we look out and ponder on the workings of the Christian life and the way Jesus works as he rules from heaven, and it is to do with Satan. Here is what sometimes shocks Christians: God USES Satan. Scriptures seem to indicate that he uses him to reveal men’s hearts  (1 Chron 21:1), to bring judgement on unbelievers  (Rev 9:11), to bring discipline to believers  (1 Cor 5:5), to subjugate unbelievers  (1 Jn 5:19b), to maintain humility in our lives  (2 Cor 12:7), to develop faith & righteousness in our lives  (1 Pet 1:7), to bring about trials whereby we can be rewarded  (Jas 1:12), to teach us how to fight  (Jud 3:2) and to demonstrate God’s power over the enemy  (Eph 3:10).

Having said all that, we need always to remember that God IS working in ALL things for our good (Rom 8:28). But what is the ‘good’? We also need to learn that he may be teaching us to persevere (1 Pet 1:6), to pray (Mt 6:5-13), to take authority (Mt 16:19, 18:18), to mature (Eph 4:12,13) and to remain faithful (Lk 18:8). Faithful in this context means a) in attitudes, not becoming angry or cynical in test situations, or b)  remaining pure in face of temptation and rest of world and c)  remaining loving when others get hostile.

This has been a fairly information-packed study and if you are unsure about it, then may the above act as a learning resource to be slowly worked through in more depth. To complete this section, looking at Jesus’ work from heaven, we would be remiss if we ignored what the book of Revelation tells us, and so we will look there in the next study.

26. Job

Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 26.  Job

Job 2:3    Then the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil. And he still maintains his integrity, though you incited me against him to ruin him without any reason.”

We are getting near the half-way mark in the 39 books of the Old Testament, Job being the 18th and I have pondered why exactly am I writing this particular series? (apart from the fact that I prayed and this seemed to be what the Lord was putting on my heart.) What am I trying to do, what do I feel is the aim of each study? Well perhaps as far as each study goes it is to lift up for inspection some of the gems found in every book of the Bible. As far as the entire Bible is concerned it is to see that although books vary in what we might call weight or significance, every book is part of the canon which the apostle Paul said was seriously useful for bringing us up, (2 Tim 3:16,17) and every book has gems within it worthy of our reflection and meditation.

Job is a book that for many is hard going. I did a series of meditations on it years ago and it is heavy stuff. If we are honest, I think many people think of Job as a valley covered with mist, so difficult is it. Now if that is an accurate analogy, then I would say as I come to it now, I come as if standing on a mountain looking down on this mist-covered valley and as I look various rockets burst up through the mist and explode in the clear air above producing a beautiful display. These rockets or highlights come at various places in the book and they bring light or clarity to the whole. The problem we struggle with is that the book largely comprises arguments between Job and his three friends about the reasons for Job’s state and, and here is the difficult part, so much of the time these three friends get it wrong, either partially or completely! That’s what makes it hazy or misty. So, all I intend to do is highlight these ‘rocket verses’ and make the briefest of comments.

1:1 In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil.” The start of this story is to describe Job as blameless and upright etc. Hold on to that when you read the book.

1:8  “Then the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” We are shown into heaven where the angels (and Satan is a fallen angel but is included here) parade before the Lord and it is the Lord who initiates discussion about Job. All that happens is because the Lord initiates it.

1:12 “everything he has is in your hands, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.” Satan challenges whether Job will be so righteous if he is put under pressure and so the Lord allows that in a limited way. And then later (2:3) we get our verse above where the Lord points out that Job had NOT failed despite being under awful pressures.

2:10 “In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.” With all that Satan brings about, the record is clear: Job had not sinned.

Now those are the key starting ‘rockets’ that reveal what the whole book is about. Job is put under the most severe of physical and mental trials but has not sinned. For the next 29 chapters we have the debate between Job and his three ‘friends’. In the midst of these confusing pages, Job makes a most remarkable declaration:

19:25,26 “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God.” As this is thought to be one of the earliest books in the Bible with so little revelation existing beforehand, this is a most remarkable declaration.

In chapters 32 to 37, a young man, Elihu, presents a further viewpoint. Then in chapter 38 the Lord speaks:

38:1-4  “Then the LORD answered Job out of the storm. He said: “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand.”  Ooops!  Job you may have been right about being blameless before all this, but when you start declaring about God you are on tricky ground! In the chapters that follow (38-41) the Lord demonstrates His knowledge and His power. When the Bible describes God as ‘holy’ it means He is utterly different from anything else we know, and the lesson God brings Job is that when it comes to talking about God we need to guard our lips sometimes.

42:1-6 “Then Job replied to the LORD: “I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted….. Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know….. My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” Job is humbled by his encounter with the Lord.

42:7 “After the LORD had said these things to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” That is a remarkable affirmation of Job. Not only has he not sinned but he hasn’t spoken wrongly about God. It appears that if God has a problem with Job (as He previously chided him) it was simply that he had not maintained a humble spirit when he talked about the Lord. That needed remedying.

42:10,12  “After Job had prayed for his friends, the LORD made him prosperous again and gave him twice as much as he had before…. The LORD blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the first.”  The Lord didn’t just leave him but totally restored him and blessed him twice over.

There it is. Rocket after rocket being fired up out of the mist that shed light. It is both a strange and amazing book. The lessons are incredibly challenging. First, the enemy does NOTHING without the permission of God first. Second, God is thus supreme over all. Third, the Lord looks for faithfulness to Himself and to themselves, in each of His people. Remain true to God and be true to who He has made you and don’t let other people try to tell you that you are something else! Fourth, because the Lord has given us free will, He knows that in this ‘Fallen Post-Genesis 3 World’ things will go wrong and He will be working to ultimately put them right. There may be a variety of reasons for those things and they do NOT necessarily mean we got it wrong. Some things are down to our own folly, some to that of others and some to the works of the enemy, and sometimes, just sometimes, the Lord allows or even provokes those things to come about simply to discipline us for our good, but it is ALWAYS for our good. Rest in that and rejoice.