57. About ‘attitude’

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 8 – Counter Attack

57. About ‘attitude’

1 Sam 17:36   Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God.

Attitude? We sometimes talk about young people with ‘attitude’. Attitude means a strong or belligerent spirit, almost a youthful arrogance. David had ‘attitude’ but it was based entirely in his knowledge and experience of the Lord. He is the supreme example for us of a warrior. He is a man after God’s own heart, we’ve already noted, he’s been chosen by God to eventually replace Saul as king, but in the meantime he is a humble shepherd boy, doing his father’s bidding, living out on the hillside looking after his father’s sheep or, as now, taking provisions to the other brothers at the battle front. And it is when he arrives here he finds this terrible situation – Israel brought to a fearful halt before the taunts of this pagan giant. Everyone else is in a state of fear, and fear immobilizes, and so there appears a stalemate. Nothing is happening – except the giant comes out day by day with his taunts and his challenges.

And the Church? In this day of confusion and chaos, that we have already considered, there is a word-weariness. How does the church appear to deal with this? Apparently by minding their own business and just carrying on as normal holding services.  In the UK, where for well over a year, there has been Parliamentary shambles over Brexit, the church has been silent. Where are the voices of leadership at the top of all the main denominations that should be crying out, “Stop bickering, stop maneuvering for your own ends, work together for the good of the country, seek wisdom to come to a collective agreement, care for the country not your own petty kingdoms!”

In the USA, where for the last two years the integrity of the office of the President has been torn down in the eyes of the watching world, where are the big church voices that should be crying, “Mr. President, some of your goals are worthy but please work for them without tantrums, without abusing people, without lies and apparently constantly changing your mind in a war of words, please regain credibility for the office.”  Where are the voices of the church? They are silent. We gaze across the valley at the enemy (of lies and unrighteousness) and we stand silently immobilized by fear. Where are the Davids?

David’s Testimony: David first testifies to what he knows God has done for him in the past. Remember Isaiah cried out, “To the law and the testimony,” (Isa 8:20) and at the end, “They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.” (Rev 12:11) In the Old Testament it was to rely on the Law and what God had done previously delivering Israel out of Egypt; in the New Testament it is the work of Christ on the Cross and the testimony of what Jesus has done for us. How much of a testimony do we have today?

The psalmist wrote, “The righteous …. will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green,  proclaiming, “The Lord is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.” (Psa 92:12-15)  The elderly righteous have an important part to play in this battle – they have a testimony, years of experiences with the Lord to be declared aloud, things to encourage the following on generations. Where are the voices of testimony in your church or does the church, in attitude at least, push aside the elderly generation as “past it!”?

And me? I can have ‘attitude’ because of my knowledge of the word of the Lord, because of the work of Christ, and because of the years of blessing that I have known. Each of these things should act as fuel for a fire that should burn bright in each of us, that brings boldness, brings courage. And you? Who are there around you in your ‘bubble’?  Family, friends, people at college or in the workplace? What have they learned about me that gives credibility to my voice? Do we stand out as trustworthy, hard and conscientious workers, reliable, gracious, loving, kind, gentle, caring, wise? Are these things part of our testimony, or has the enemy silenced us with a sense of failure? It’s never too late to start again, never to late to start reaching out with God’s servant-hearted love to those around you.

Trust & Relationship & Process: David trusts the Lord to turn up for him, to enable him to do what is necessary to bring down this pagan giant. He knows the relationship that he has with the Lord and knows that Goliath is an enemy of God: Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (1 Sam 17:26) The fact that this giant keeps on demeaning Israel is an insult to God. We are God’s people! Don’t we believe the many scriptures where He promises to look after us? Is being a Christian, is being a part of the church, just about turning up on Sunday mornings to work through an hour or so of ritual? Isn’t the calling of Jesus to build up the body (teaching it to do what he did) and take it out into the world to wage war on lies, deceptions, untruth, unrighteousness.

Those are some of the things Jesus is warring against: “he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.” (1 Cor 15:25) Is this understanding part of our ‘attitude’? Jesus IS reigning in the midst of this fallen world, he IS working for the good of his people (Rom 8:28) and he IS working for the glory of his Father (Jn 17:1), he IS working to extend the kingdom and rule of God on the earth, so that love and goodness and light are extended into the darkness, and he WILL continue to do this until he has achieved it, with all these negatives brought down. Now part of this process is surely taking place today and he uses whoever will be available and will respond to him with their unique gifting to be used in their unique ways, and part of it must be when he returns again in sovereign triumph (see Rev 19)

Your unique part: Because we are just a part of the body of Christ, the church, we should not let the enemy taunt us with, “So you are going to challenge Parliament or the President! Just who do you think you are?”  Well, some of us may have that role, may have positions where we can be voices to the inner sanctum, but that is not true for most of us. So what about us? Are all the words of this study just hot air? No, there are specific things we CAN do. Let me give some starting pointers:

  1. We can and must ‘stand’ (see Eph 6:13,14), holding faithfully to Christ and who he calls us to be, be clear about our identity and holding on to it.
  2. We can and must pray as he guides us (see Eph 6:18, 1 Tim 2:1,2) for our nation and those who lead it. Never belittle your power to pray.
  3. We can ask the Lord to put specific people and local situations upon our hearts to pray for, and as he opens up understanding ask him for wisdom to know what to do, or what to say, so that you may have the opportunity to be salt and light (see Mt 5). This may include people who are in our family, or friends, neighbors etc. Don’t just pray for them but ask the Lord what part He wants you to play in bringing His love to them.
  4. In your church context, ask the Lord to use you to build up, encourage and build faith in others so the body will be strengthened and become more available to go to battle.
  5. Learn something of spiritual warfare – there are books out there, and I have written elsewhere on this site about this – and gather others around you who will be like minded, and make yourself available to the Lord, to pray, to intercede, to act to bring life and light to others.
  6. Daily maintain your relationship with Him for it will only be out of this that all these things will come about into reality.
  7. Pray for the Lord to draw you close, fill you with His Spirit, use you, and enlarge faith in you. Resist a mentality of settling for ease and comfort, declare you will be a kingdom bringer!

Amen?  May it be so.

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56. Are we ready to fight?

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 8 – Counter Attack

56. Are we ready to fight?

1 Sam 17:38   Then Saul dressed David in his own tunic. He put a coat of armor on him and a bronze helmet on his head. David fastened on his sword over the tunic and tried walking around, because he was not used to them.

Two men:  Several decades ago, a raspy voiced American, Ern Baxter, caused waves in the UK when he spoke at a Dales Bible Week with a week-long series, entitled, “The King and his Army” and in that series contrasted Saul and David.  Saul, he typified as ‘head and shoulders’ church government  (Saul was a “head taller than any of the others” 1 Sam 9:2) Saul was tall and broad and good looking, a potential fighter-leader which is what the people wanted, someone who looked good, and he relied on human wisdom and human strength. David, he typified, as a ‘heart man’, a man after God’s own heart (1 Sam 13:14) Those two descriptions have probably stayed with all of us who heard those talks back then, and they are as applicable today as back then.

The Contrasts: When we come to fight to regain our Christian heritage in the West, we have to ask ourselves, will be rely on the Church looking good with its pomp and ceremony, its rites and rituals, or will we be the people who are moved by God’s heart and God’s Spirit, to reveal the life, love, power and authority of the ‘body of Christ’?  When David turned up at the battlefield full of faith and was directed to Saul, Saul was still in ‘human-thinking-mode’. You want to fight a battle? You need armor. You have no armor. Take mine. Except David doesn’t fight in armor, he has no need of it.

The armor the world uses is the media, politics, ‘handling people’. The armor we use is truth, righteousness, the Gospel of peace, faith, our salvation and the word of God itself. (see Eph 6) But then consider Jesus’ advice to his disciples: “be as wise as serpents and yet as harmless as doves.” (Mt 10:16 JBP) or “Be as cunning as a snake, inoffensive as a dove.” (Msg) I expect we can go along with the ‘wisdom’ bit, but how about appearing as harmless or inoffensive? Is that a description seen in some Christian activists? I suspect not, in which case there is room for change!

Waging Christian War: “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Cor 210:3-5) The J.B.Phillips paraphrase version is enlightening: The truth is that, although of course we lead normal human lives, the battle we are fighting is on the spiritual level. The very weapons we use are not those of human warfare but powerful in God’s warfare for the destruction of the enemy’s strongholds. Our battle is to bring down every deceptive fantasy and every imposing defence that men erect against the true knowledge of God. We even fight to capture every thought until it acknowledges the authority of Christ.” Yes, our battle is not physical, it is spiritual and the moment we recognize that we realize that to fight spiritually means prayer. The ‘enemy’s strongholds’ are simply set ways of wrong thinking. People get locked into ways of thinking, or attitudes which in the cold light of day – or perhaps seen from a decade looking back – leave you gasping.

Aspects of the Present War: In both the United States and the United Kingdom, in the past three years, events have unfurled that I believe will leave historians in ten years gasping. Let me try and identify some key features of the present battles without taking sides:

  1. The Opposition party is our ‘enemy’ and we hate them. In the last two years enmity has grown up, a hostility, that is worse than seen before.
  2. Truth is being challenged and social media being used as never before to express scenarios that are factually false, i.e. Fake news has become the currency of political warfare.
  3. Fake news means lies and lies mean unrighteousness. Unrighteousness is being used in order to obtain what otherwise might sometimes be laudable goals.
  4. The combination of these things means a loss of integrity, seen in the way there has become an openly declared mentality that says, “If we don’t like the results of the last election or referendum, let’s work to reverse it.” Nothing like this has been seen or heard previously in my lifetime.
  5. The barrage of opposition that is then seen in the way this is worked out includes postulating fearful outcomes, making dubious forecasts (which are often proved to be false), making false statements about others in order to bring them down.

Whatever our political outlook, honesty demands that we see these last few years as having expressions of unrighteousness that seems unparalleled in our times. Where they will lead us only time will tell. By-products of all this on both sides of the Atlantic are, according to the polls, fear, anxiety and uncertainty, world-weariness and a desire to just give up in many.

Opportunities: In the spiritual world, whenever the world takes a nose-dive emotionally with a loss of confidence, this is an opportunity for the Gospel to be heard and received. Historically at such times, it has been shown that the world opens up so that God seems freer to bring revival. Prophecies have suggested that we may be moving towards such a time. One prophecy circulating around the world in Christian circles, brought just at the end of 2018, indicated a need for us in our warfare to do three things:

  1. Learn to listen to God as we never have before – we need His guidance, His strategy.
  2. Be aware of the world’s ways and reject them
  3. Learn to use divine authority and learn to receive divine provision.

Now even if these hadn’t come from a credible prophet, I would suggest they are three good guidelines to be followed in our spiritual activities, as I have said in these and previous studies numerous times.

Key Points Recap? Let’s summarize and then examine the key points:

  1. There IS a battle and it is a battle involving truth and righteousness (righteousness is all about living God’s way) and it is spiritual.
  2. We fight by holding to the truth as revealed in the Bible, seeking God for wisdom and maintaining the fruit of the Spirit – and leaving the rest to God!

Searching for Truth: When it comes to truth, in whatever the subject under debate, our starting point is to say, “Hold on a minute, what actually is the truth here?” We need to challenge the truth or otherwise of what others are saying, not in any hostile confrontational way but in a gracious way that seeks to avoid hostility. I have sought to do this in the past in the series “Reaching into Redemption” and study no.36 ‘Islands of Belief’ and the studies that follow where I have sought this approach with a range of contentious subjects.

Considering Righteousness: Righteousness is the other area I mentioned above, over which the battle wages. It is simply living according to the way God has designed. There are two simple approaches to be thought through here:

  1. What IS God’s design for mankind revealed in the Bible – and why? i.e. what are the practical reasons for this design? In order to see why this is the best approach to live, we need to carefully think through the second, following question.
  2. What is the way of the world today that goes against that, and what fruit is being observed in life in the West because of that, i.e. what harm is being done in the lives of individuals because of that modern way of living? With this second one it is legitimate to ask, is this lifestyle one you could say is a good example to be followed and one you could advise young people to follow, and if not, why not?

If we can provoke honesty to see the weaknesses and failures of modern lifestyles, we will be part way towards possibly helping people face the truth, seeing an alternative to what they have that will be better, and then their need of help to be set free from the old to a new life. There is nothing magical or super-spiritual about this approach but is simply one that calls for honesty and integrity in facing the truth about life.

22. Paul (1)

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 22. Paul (1)

Phil 3:4-6   If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.

 Meeting Saul: Our biggest danger as people is that sometimes we think we are ‘all right’, doing well in life, appearing successful and ‘becoming someone’. Saul, or Paul as he became known to us, was such a person. In his eyes, and no doubt the eyes of his fellow Pharisees, he was doing well. He is first mentioned in Acts as an observer as Stephen is stoned to death, thus becoming the first Christian martyr: “Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.” (Acts 7:58) But life in the early church carried on, sometimes with their new-found faith referred to as ‘The Way’, until we read, “Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.” (Acts 9:1,2). He is, as our starter verses say, a zealot, all out to preserve Judaism from this new ‘faith’ that was stealing away Jews from their ‘real’ faith.

Not Enough: Saul is, in the eyes of many, a really good, religious man. He is a proper Jew and also happens to be a Roman citizen (Acts 16:37,38). He keeps the Law of Moses and he is a Pharisee, a good conservative upholder of the Law and of Judaism. So we could look at the lives of people we know: good men or women, involved in society, maybe they do good works, works of charity, they are successful in their families and in business, and they have a good reputation. What more could they want, they have arrived. Well, perhaps God? Successful people tend to be self-sufficient, seeing little need for a religious crutch. Why would God want to disturb such lives?

Saul Stopped: Well Saul sets out on his way to Damascus and along the way is apprehended by the Son of God: As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.  “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied.” (Acts 9:3-5) This wasn’t just the brightness of the sun, this was a focused flashing light from above and it was accompanied by a voice that causes him to ask who he was hearing. A strange question but perhaps he instinctively knew the answer and just needed it confirming. He gets his confirmation.

Apparent Confidence: Did this otherwise godly man have a deep-down wondering about what he was doing? Had he seen or heard things about these Christians that somehow resonated with him? It is a common experience, so sure and yet not so sure. People around us so often look so sure of themselves and yet it only needs some small event to reveal inner questions. Remember Solomon’s writing about how God has made us: He has also set eternity in the human heart.” (Eccles 3:11) We are made to have God-awareness, eternity awareness and even though sin seeks to cover it up, it is still there.

Apparent Success: This is the truth about human life, until we have had a God-encounter, we are not what we were made to be. He may have allowed us to have ‘success’ and we may think it was from our own cleverness (did we make our high IQ?), our own wisdom and certainly our extensive efforts, long working hours and so on, but there is still something missing. We may be highly respected member of the community – but still godless. Just a minute, they protest, I go to church at Christmas and Easter, and sometimes even more. Maybe they even become sides-men or members of whatever religious oversight body their local church has, but there is still something missing – and it is God.

Goodness? And so this is the thing about redemption. So far we have been focusing on bad people being worked on by God to become good people, but that is only part of the story, because He also works on good people to become holy people. A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone.” (Lk 18:18,19) Goodness can be an illusion. A ‘good’ person may give that appearance because they are motivated by guilt from the past to do good now, or their goodness may be purely self-serving. Philosophers have argued through the centuries about whether anyone can truly be altruistic (selfless) and usually concluded it is not possible. In that they echo the Bible’s diagnosis, we are sinners and we are that because we are contaminated by Sin.

Deliverance from Good???? So when God redeems us, one of the ‘bad’ things He has to deliver us from is the deception that we are good people. William Golding in his famous book, ‘Lord of the Flies’, seeks to portray this, that taken out of the trappings of civilization, we soon reveal the sinner within. Many of us are ‘nice’ because we have a good family background, and quite possibly we have an affluent lifestyle, we have good education, a good job, good investments, property and so on. It is a comfy, cozy and secure environment and although there is nothing inherently bad about any of that, and God would want it for all of us, it does carry the danger of making us think we are the masters of our destiny.

A Modern Illustration: I understand the philosophy, if not therapeutically-based thinking, behind the Invictus Games that have come into being in recent years, in which, to quote Wikipedia, “wounded, injured or sick armed services personnel and their associated veterans take part in sports,” Invictus being Latin for “unconquered.” It is a worthy if not excellent humanitarian enterprise, yet I am saddened by their motto, “I am” which is a shortened reminder of a popular poem from the late nineteenth century by the English author William Ernest Henley. The speaker in the poem proclaims his strength in the face of adversity: ”My head is bloody, but unbowed….I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul.”  As I say, it is understandable and even commendable except it falls short of the truth, for I may struggle with great effort to overcome the anguishes of modern life (and war and fighting is not modern) but if that becomes a substitute for a reliance upon God, it is a deception.

The Warning to Israel: When Moses instructed Israel on the Plains of Moab before they entered the Promised Land, he warned them, When the Lord your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you—a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant—then when you eat and are satisfied, be careful that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” (Deut 6:10-12) i.e. once you get into the land and settle there and receive all of God’s goodness and are affluent, be careful in that affluence not to forget the Lord.

The Bigger Redemption Picture: Thus the picture of redemption isn’t just about delivering out of a bad place into a good place, it is also (and this is vital) about being delivered out of godlessness into being godly. A real and genuine relationship with the Lord is the end goal of the Lord’s redemptive work – always. So don’t just yearn for the Lord to deliver you out of bad circumstances, yearn also for Him to lead you into a deeper relationship with Him. That is His goal, so let’s make sure it is ours as well.

 

 

16. Beware Appearances

Expectations & Hopes Meditations: 16. Beware Appearances

1 Sam 16:1,2  When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely the LORD’s anointed stands here before the LORD.” But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”

When it comes to the kingdom of God, there is one particular area in respect of expectations where we can get it spectacularly wrong, and it is the area of what we think of people when we see them. These opening verses of 1 Sam 16 are some of my favourite verses in the Old Testament, because there is so much humour behind them. The Lord tells Samuel to go to Bethlehem to anoint a man of his choosing to be the new king, because Saul has fallen down on the job and one of these days will need replacing. He sends Samuel to the family of Jesse, a local dignitary. He has a number of sons, so Samuel asks for them to be lined up, so he can bless them. (I think the Lord was wanting to give Samuel a lesson here because He could simply have said, “Jesse has a son named David. Go and anoint him,” but He didn’t. He left Samuel to find out.)

They come in order of age and so Samuel starts with the oldest who also looks big and tough and he thinks, this must be the one. But the Lord has other ideas and declares this very significant principle: “The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” So Samuel works his way along the line and still the Lord hasn’t indicated this is the one. I can imagine him praying silently, “Lord, I’ve run out of sons. What do I do?” He turns to Jesse and asks if these are all the sons: “There is still the youngest,” Jesse answered, “but he is tending the sheep.” Now that is like Jesse is saying, “Well, yes, I do have another one but he’s not worth considering because he’s just the youngest and he’s the one who looks after the sheep.

Now when we think about the Shepherds in the Nativity story we tend to remind ourselves that they were the outcasts of society who were always out in the hills with their sheep and not able to join in the life of society. And this is David, and from what he tells Saul later on, he’s obviously been doing it for some time and making a good job of it, fighting off bears and lions (17:34-36), but as far as the family is concerned he’s not likely to be someone the important prophet – the religious man – is likely to be concerned with.

Our problem is that so often we cannot see the heart of a person and so we go by what they look like, and we measure them but what they have done or achieved in life so far and if they tend to be poor, or don’t appear special we so often tend to write them off. Or like those in the Bible, we tend to measure them by their social position. For them the oldest son was always the most important, but that had nothing to do with their heart, which is what God is concerned about.

We’ve already recently considered the children Rebekah was expecting when the Lord spoke to her and warned her that they would turn out differently to what might be expected: “the older will serve the younger.” (Gen 25:23) We find something similar when Jacob is blessing Joseph’s sons (see Gen 48:8-22), and he gave a greater blessing to the younger son, to Joseph’s displeasure, but the giving of a blessing is the equivalent of speaking prophecy over them and true prophecy is always the Lord’s will for the person. The Lord knows the potential of the individual, He alone knows the state of their heart and indeed what they are capable of.

The amazing and beautiful thing about personal prophecy is that the Lord works on a person’s future potential, not merely what they are now. We cannot see this, but He can, which is why He told Samuel not to go by outward appearances. The truth is that the Lord has higher expectations of us than we do. We so often struggle, because of the knocks of life, with low self esteem. Because of our past failures or because of the things unkind, insensitive and thoughtless people have said about us in the past, we so often think little of ourselves, but the Lord doesn’t go so much on the past as what He sees inside us, what sort of heart we have, and what He knows He can do with it.

When Saul had blown it, Samuel spoke prophetically: “the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him leader of his people, because you have not kept the LORD’s command.” (1 Sam 13:14) even though it had not happened yet; in the prophetic realm, which so often operates outside of time, this was God’s will and it was merely a matter of it now coming about, which is what we have seen in chapter 16.  The Lord chose David because He saw his heart, saw he was a young man after God, and we see that in subsequent chapters which we’ll go on to consider in the next study.

In the kingdom of God, it is not what we think about people that matters so much, but what God thinks about them. Yes, He loves every person, but this is all about the persons individuality, what they are like as individuals, and thus what He can do with them.

5. Pursued

Meditations in David’s Psalms : 5 :  Pursued  – Psa 7

Psa 7:1   O LORD my God, I take refuge in you; save and deliver me from all who pursue me

Two things to note before we get under way: first, the title over this psalm says it is one David “sang to the Lord concerning Cush a Benjamite”. Now of course Saul came from the tribe of Benjamin (1 Sam 9:1,2) and so some suggest Cush was a follower of Saul who was causing David trouble. The second thing: often we fail to associate the things going on in David’s life with our own and thus fail to catch the full significance of what he was feeling. Let’s try to remedy that.

He starts out O LORD my God which the bold letters tell us will mean, “Great I AM, the Eternal One, you are my God”. Always there is this reminder of who the Lord is when He is addressed like this. This Almighty One is the one in whom David finds refuge. He calls on Him to save and deliver him from people who are pursuing him. This suggests it is the time in his life when Saul was chasing him around the country.

He fears the outcome of this pursuit if the Lord does not step in on his behalf: or they will tear me like a lion and rip me to pieces with no one to rescue me.” (v.2) he’s thinking in the back of his mind, this isn’t much different from the times when I was looking after my father’s sheep and a lion or bear would come after me!

He then does what he often seems to do – seek to check his own righteousness before the Lord and see if there is any cause he needs to deal with that indicates that what is happening is the Lord’s discipline: “O LORD my God, if I have done this and there is guilt on my hands (v.3) — if I have done evil to him who is at peace with me or without cause have robbed my foe (v.4) — then let my enemy pursue and overtake me; let him trample my life to the ground and make me sleep in the dust.” (v.5).  “If there is guilt on my hands” – i.e. if I have done anything wrong. if I have done evil to him who is at peace with me or without cause have robbed my foe  i.e. if I have treated others wrongly. If I have done any such thing then I deserve chastisement, so bring it on!

But deep down David knows that that is not so. He has got unrighteous enemies raging against him for no good reason and so he calls to the Lord to bring justice: “Arise, O LORD, in your anger; rise up against the rage of my enemies. Awake, my God; decree justice.” (v.6) Very well, he continues, gather the onlookers of the world around you as you make judgment, let them all see it (implied): “Let the assembled peoples gather around you. Rule over them from on high,” (v.7) yes, let the court of heaven be open to judge and weigh me, to assess my righteousness and my integrity – “let the LORD judge the peoples. Judge me, O LORD, according to my righteousness, according to my integrity, O Most High.” (v.8) What a confidence in the Lord and in his own righteous relationship with the Lord he has!

He continues: “O righteous God, who searches minds and hearts, bring to an end the violence of the wicked and make the righteous secure.” (v.9) Lord, you see everything and read every heart and mind, come and judge the wicked and make those of us who hold to your righteous ways secure.

He affirms his position in God: “My shield is God Most High, who saves the upright in heart.” (v.10)  He is secure and protected in the Lord because of who the Lord is. First, the Lord is all-powerful and, second, He is concerned for right and wrong and so does come and save those who are ‘upright in heart’.

He pictures the Lord as a judge who not only makes decisions but who also comes to execute the judgment of those decisions: “God is a righteous judge, a God who expresses his wrath every day. If he does not relent, he will sharpen his sword; he will bend and string his bow. He has prepared his deadly weapons; he makes ready his flaming arrows.” (v.11-13)  The Lord decrees what is righteous (it is what conforms to His perfect design for the world He made) and therefore He assesses everything on the basis of His perfect will, His perfect design, and He moves out against what is evil to destroy it.

David ponders on those who do evil and how it comes back on them: “He who is pregnant with evil and conceives trouble gives birth to disillusionment. He who digs a hole and scoops it out falls into the pit he has made. The trouble he causes recoils on himself; his violence comes down on his own head.” (v.14-16) Sometimes the Lord comes with specific judgments on people but more often He simply stands back and lets the trouble they have created come back on them. Paul had this same idea in Romans 1 when three times he says “God gave them over.”  i.e. God stepped back and removed His hand of protection so that the sin of these people would run rife and bound back on them.

He concludes by praising God for all His right dealings: “I will give thanks to the LORD because of his righteousness and will sing praise to the name of the LORD Most High.” (v.17)  He could trust that the Lord would always do what was right – and that therefore included dealing with the unrighteous ones who pursued him – and that left him praising the Lord.

Now let’s apply this to our own lives. When things go wrong – whether it is people against us, or circumstances just going badly – it seems those things pursue us. We cannot escape them, and worry or anxiety because of them, haunts us. But if they are wrong things – people speaking or doing wrong towards us, or things happening because it is a fallen world that goes wrong – when we turn to the Lord, we need to remind ourselves that He is righteous, which means that He ALWAYS is working to do what is right. Thus when we call upon Him we come to see what He feels about the situation and we can wait on Him to deal with it in the way He sees is right. Now, can we rest in that?

9. To David

“God turned up” Meditations: 9 :  To David

1 Sam 16:1,12 The LORD said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.” …. So he sent and had him brought in. He was ruddy, with a fine appearance and handsome features. Then the LORD said, “Rise and anoint him; he is the one.”

Sometimes life just carries on. The soap operas on TV convey it well, if only they didn’t focus on the seamy side of life. But life does just carry on. We are part of a family, we have a job or part to play in life and life just carries on without anything special happening. And then God turns up and everything is changed.

It must have been like that for David. He was the youngest of a big family and his job was to look after his father’s sheep. From things that happen later, there is a sense that he’s been doing it for some time. Again from things that occur later it seems that perhaps he wasn’t the only one looking after the sheep and so perhaps they took it in turns and now, at the moment we break in to the story, it’s his turn.

The first anyone has any inkling that today is going to be a different day is when the present judge and seer, Samuel, turns up. He’s quite an old man now but everyone has at least heard of him so when he arrives in Bethlehem and seeks out the elders of the town and reveals who he is, there is great consternation. Why should the judge turn up here? Have we done something wrong? No, it’s all right, I’ve come to hold a solemn sacrifice here. Oh, right, it’s the religious thing. Now whether Jesse was one of the town elders who he just happened to be there is unclear but old Samuel picks on him and sets him apart to take part in the ritual (that’s what consecrate means): Samuel replied, “Yes, in peace; I have come to sacrifice to the LORD. Consecrate yourselves and come to the sacrifice with me.” Then he consecrated Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.” (v.5). Yes, not only that, he tells Jesse (I’m supposing) that he’ll give his sons the privilege of being part of it and so will set them apart to take part in ‘the service’ as well – if you’ll just get them all here please.

Which is why it comes about that Jesse lines up all the sons before Samuel, for him to do whatever judge-seers do to set people apart to serve God. So the old prophet carries out a parade ground inspection. “When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely the LORD’s anointed stands here before the LORD.” (v.6) He looked good. A big guy who looks like he could take over the leadership, but the Lord has other ideas and we find Him making a most important declaration: “But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” (v.7) Oooops! OK, so this isn’t the right one. He moves down the line and doesn’t get the go ahead from the Lord to do anything. He gets to the end of the line. There must e a mistake, for the Lord hasn’t approved any of them. He pauses and thinks and then turns to Jesse. There can only be one other possibility: “So he asked Jesse, “Are these all the sons you have?” (v.11)

Jesse reveals that he’s got one more, the youngest who is out looking after the sheep, so they send for him and thus we meet David for the first time, and Samuel promptly pours oil all over his head. Wow! What’s this? What is happening? Think! This is what priests did of old when they anointed a new priest. Is that what is happening here? Is David a new priest – or what? And we are told, “from that day on the Spirit of the LORD came upon David in power.” (v.13) That’s it, end of story! Well for the time being at least. The old prophet departs and all the brothers look at David and wonder, but that’s all that is said. It all seems a bit open ended and unclear and we have to wait for the unfolding of events before it gets any clearer.

Yes, given the passing of time it is clear that God had anointed David to be king but it would be some years before Saul is killed and the way is open for David to step up to the plate. In the meantime there are a load of odd things that are going to happen to him but he’s never the same since God turned up.

This account tells us that sometimes when the Lord turns up He doesn’t make it abundantly clear what He is saying and why He’s saying it. Yes, from the outset of chapter 16, Samuel is told what is happening but basically he’s keeping it quiet in case Saul hears and comes and kills them all!  In the meantime, there’s a new kid on the spiritual block, who’s been anointed by the prophet and only time will tell why.

When God first turns up and draws us to Himself and we are saved, it is rare that He explains what He’s got on his heart for us and when He does share things they’re not always terribly clear. Yet Paul, speaking of our lives says, “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) Oh yes, God knows what he can do with us, so He’s got a whole agenda lined up for us. He’ll drop hints along the way, but that is probably all you’re going to get. We’re just called to be faithful and He’ll do the rest as we walk it out with Him, so don’t be put off by the fact that you aren’t very clear about where it is that God is taking you – He knows!

12. Obligations

Meditations in Romans : 12 :  Obligations

Rom  1:14-15 I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish. That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are at Rome.

“I owe you one!” is a phrase that is not unknown to us. We know what it means to owe a favour to someone else. Some people feel they owe no favours to anyone; they are just self-concerned and life is all about pleasing them. The apostle Paul comes to us with a completely different take on life. Paul feels he owes something to everyone! Now that must almost be a unique outlook on life, for that isn’t how most of us feel about the rest of the world. Now what is slightly frustrating is that he doesn’t explain why he feels like this, only what its outcome is.

We are left to speculate why Paul felt obligated to the world. Our starting point might be to look at what he felt about his own salvation. To Timothy he wrote, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.” (1 Tim 1:15,16) Now there has been much dispute over what Paul meant there but the most obvious interpretation is that Paul has come to realise the magnitude of Sin in him. He was a very bright man and had risen in the ranks of the learned but that hadn’t stopped him acting arrogantly and powerfully against the church and against God by persecuting the Christians.

To the Corinthians he wrote, “For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect.” (1 Cor 15:9,10). He didn’t rate himself as an apostle because he knew he was what he was only because God had stepped in and apprehended him on the road to Damascus. If God hadn’t of done that, then Paul would probably be continuing in that self-driven way, still in darkness. Later in the letter to Rome he explains about the power of sin in us in a way that reveals much self-revelation: “For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God–through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom 7:22-25) He knew that without Christ he was utterly hopeless.

In all these ways we see Paul putting himself down. To the church at Ephesus he wrote, “I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Eph 3:7,8) On that terrible day on the road to Damascus he had heard that awful voice from heaven ask him, “Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4) He had thought he was being zealous for God (see Acts 22:3), but in fact he was actively opposing God. How wrong could you be! Thus the fact that the Lord bothered to speak into the material world and apprehend him, was an act of pure grace. He deserved judgment and received mercy and grace instead. Perhaps, therefore, we might say Paul’s sense of obligation is first and foremost one towards the Lord, but knowing the Lord’s love for His world, that obligation is then turned outwards to the rest of the world.

Paul sees himself in such a lowly position that he feels he is blessed by any and all people. When he says “to the Greeks and non-Greeks” he means to civilized society of the day, and the not civilized parts of society; they are all the same to him now for he is a servant of them all. It doesn’t matter if they are wise or foolish, all men are equal in Paul’s eyes; he has a calling to serve them all by bringing to good news of Jesus to them. They are lost like he was lost and so he has a message to pass on to them all. He makes no distinctions between peoples and that is why he wants to come to Rome to preach there. He’s heard there are Christians there and he wants to come and encourage them by preaching the Gospel in that city so that there will be MORE Christians there!

Presumably, by the nature of the content of this letter he has heard that the Christians in Rome are very young and have not had much teaching for the first parts of this letter are pure, basic Gospel and is the only letter that spells it out in such detail. It is an amazing letter and perhaps Paul puts so much detail in because, deep in his heart, he realises he’s not going to get to see them for some years (it was in fact at least nearly three years) despite his expressions of desire to come to them that we have considered already. He has a deep burden to share the good news with as many people as possible and, once they have surrendered to Jesus, to build them up in the faith with good teaching. This burden comes out of the realisation of his own state together with the amazing calling that he has received. This is why he feels so obliged to come to them and bless them. He is just so grateful at what has happened to him he wants everyone else to know and experience it as well!