22. God of Communication (1)

Getting to Know God Meditations:  22. God of Communication (1)

Heb 1:1.2   In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son 

Recap & Purpose:  I feel a little bit that there may be a feeling that we have gone full circle when we come to this study, after all in the first block of studies we had, 2. God of Record, 3. God of Self-Disclosure, 4. God of Intervention, 5. God of Gradual Revelation, and 6. God of Interaction, all of which in some way and another are really about God communicating. However in this and the next few studies I want to do three things: first, note the fact of all this communicating in the Old Testament, and then, second, consider God’s ultimate act of communication, His own Son, Jesus Christ, and finally, the acts of ‘hearing’ and then ‘listening’. If God ‘talks’ does it mean that people naturally hear?  I don’t think so! So, first of all let’s note the fact of all this communicating and see what we can learn from it.

God who speaks: From the earliest pages of Genesis we see this phenomena – God speaking to human beings, for example, “the Lord God commanded the man, “You are….” (Gen 2:16, the very first instance), then, “the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” (Gen 3:9) and so conversation goes on. Later, “Then the Lord said to Cain…” (Gen 4:6), then “So God said to Noah…” (Gen 6:13) then, “Then God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them….” (Gen 9:1) then, “The Lord had said to Abram” (Gen 12:1) which takes us to the starting point in our earliest studies. Three things to note about these. First, they are all instances of God communicating with specific people using language. Second, some of those references lead on to full conversations. Third, those instances are relatively small amounts of the text, the bulk of which is descriptive about what was going on and why God did or said various things.

In that record of Genesis (and the following four books for that matter) there is a great deal of the record that stretches over hundreds of years that go into explaining how the Hebrew people (later becoming Israel) existed and had interactions with God. It is a reasonable question to ask who wrote these first five books. Later books were written either by key players or recorders who observed the key players, but over this period, who could have written such a coherent series of books?

The best, the most logical and most sensible of all the various answers that scholars come up with, I believe, are those that a number of modern scholars arrive at (who also conform to the ancient Jewish beliefs), that Moses ‘compiled’ these books, certainly having been there and been the key player for the second to fifth of the five books we refer to as the Pentateuch (the five writings) and had formed Genesis through a combination of the accounts passed down through the generations together with clarity and understanding added by God in the many, many hours Moses spent with God in the Tabernacle in the forty years he spent looking after Israel until they were ready to enter the Promised Land.

Ongoing Language: As the Bible goes on, the means of communicating changes and it is important to see how it does.   Initially it carries on as we have seen previously, for example, “the Lord said to Joshua,” (Josh 1:1) and then a little later, “And the Lord said to Joshua….” (Josh 3:7) but what is interesting is that Joshua leads Israel in ways that would have required instruction from the Lord but those instructions aren’t given to us; the recorder, I suggest, simply omits them as secondary issues that keep the action flowing. The key issues the recorder does include, for example, “At that time the Lord said to Joshua…” (Josh 5:2) is an instruction to ensure all the males were circumcised. Circumcision had been brought in with Abraham, possibly with health implications, but primarily as a sign and reminder to every Jewish male of their relationship with God. This had been an issue with Moses (see Ex 4:24-26) and was to be an ongoing requirement in Israel. Thus this instance is one of God bringing Israel in line with previously instructed requirements for them.  The ‘big’ instructions keep on being recorded, for example, “Then the Lord said to Joshua,” (Josh 6:2) as the Lord instructs Joshua how to take Jericho.

Different Means: As we work our way through these early books picking up on God speaking to the various key players, we probably ought to pick up on the various instances where God or His representatives turn up and speak through human form. Where it is God, theologians refer to these as theophanies (ancient Greek ‘appearance of god’). Otherwise they may be angelic beings in human form (e.g. Judg 6:11,12,22). In Gen 18 ‘three visitors’ turn up to speak to Abraham (Gen 18:1,2) who the text indicates represent God Himself, a theophany. When Joshua was approaching Jericho there is a strange incident when, “he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?”  “Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.” Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, “What message does my Lord] have for his servant?” The commander of the Lord’s army replied, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so.” (Josh 5:13-15) The implication that is usually taken is that this ‘man’ is in fact an angel who appears to give Joshua a more tangible sense, if you like, of the Lord’s presence with him, fighting for him, as he is about to go into the first encounter in the Land.

And so these sorts of verbal encounter continue. When we get to Judges, Israelites asked the Lord, “Who of us is to go up first to fight against the Canaanites?” The Lord answered, “Judah shall go up; I have given the land into their hands.” (Judg 1:1,2) Judges is a particularly murky book, I tend to feel, full of illustrations of Israel getting it wrong. Perhaps it is because of this that the divine presence seems to step back, to be replaced by angelic interventions (see Judg 2:1, 5:23, 6:11, 13:3,6,9, etc.) The book of Ruth that follows is almost an aside to show how part of the Messianic family tree was filled in, but then come the main historical books.

1 Samuel 1 is the natural historical flow on from Judges. Israel have Eli, an elderly priest presiding, a leader past his best and who eventually dies after his sons are killed on a foolhardy venture with Israel against their nearby enemies, the Philistines (see 1 Sam 4). Before this comes the account of Samuel’s birth and childhood, before he grew into manhood as Israel first prophet (after Moses), and where the Lord “at Shiloh…. revealed himself to Samuel through his word.” (1 Sam 3:21)

From now on there is a mixture of simple speech and, through the prophets that followed, came ‘the word of the Lord’. Our understanding of this, in line with modern prophetic gift, is that the individual suddenly has a sense of a word, a picture or a message that he (or she) is sure comes from the prompting of God. So in the ‘conversation mode’, we still see, for example, “When Samuel caught sight of Saul, the Lord said to him, “This is the man I spoke to you about; he will govern my people.” (1 Sam 9:17) In chapter 10 Samuel gives Saul, who is to be the new, first king of Israel, a prophetic word, or word of knowledge, telling him exactly what was going to happen in the coming hours (see 1 Sam 10:1-8) all of which happened (v.9). It had to be a revelation of God.

The Word of the Lord: This phraseology is first used in Gen 15:1 “After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Do not be afraid, Abram.” and is then found later in Exo 9:20,21 of those who “feared the word of the Lord,” and who ignored the word of the Lord meaning the word from God that Moses had passed on to Pharaoh. It also appears a number of other times in the following narratives, e.g. Num 3:16,51, Deut 5:5, 1 Sam 3:1.  In that latter reference it was noted, In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions,” implying that much of the time that which was implied as having come from God came through visions – yet now rarely.  A few verses on we read, “Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord: The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him,” (1 Sam 3:7) or as a paraphrase version puts it, “Samuel had never had a personal message from God yet.” As the historical narrative continues, and more prophets are in evidence the phrase is used more to indicate they sensed a specific prophetic message (speaking of the future) being given by God through them, e.g. 2 Sam 7:4, 27:11, 1 Kings 13:1, 15:29, 16:1,7,12, 34, 17:2,8,16, 21:28, 22:38, 2 Kings 1:17. In the major Prophets the sense is even stronger, for example in Jeremiah, e.g. Jer 1:2,4,11,13, 2:1,4,31, 6:10, 7:2, 8:9, 9:20, 13:1 etc. etc.

And So: So it is no wonder that the writer to the Hebrews (see the book of that name) declared, “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways,” (Heb 1:1) and then continues with those devastating words, “but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.” (Heb 1:2) Bizarrely, back at the end of the nineteenth century, liberal German theologians started propagating the idea that the supernatural could not happen, therefore prophecy could not happen, therefore God could not speak. Putting it in the light of what we have been considering in this study, it sounds ludicrous, even though it carried the minds of church leaders in the first third of the 20th century until scholars started rejecting the folly of what was being said, for the Bible is packed full of claims that God has spoken, God is a communicator. You either believe the Bible – for every single book either declares that truth or implies it,  it is a universal claim throughout the 66 books – or you don’t. If you don’t you are actually flying in the face of all the evidence. In the next study we will take this on to consider that verse 2 of Heb 1 and in the following one, the other side of this coin – hearing and listening.

15. God’s Word as a Doorway

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 15. God’s Word as a Doorway

Rev 3:20    I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.

The Different Perspective: Because I believe we very often take these thigs for granted, I am seeking to view these ‘spiritual disciplines’ through the perspective of living a resurrection life, a life brought alive and empowered by the Holy Spirit. Two meditations back we considered prayer as a doorway into God’s presence, a doorway into new possibilities, something far more than just a ritual of uttering words into the air. In yesterday’s study we considered an extension of that, the fact that we have a God of provision (which is often highlighted as we pray), again transforming the possibilities from the old life into a new life of security in being loved.

“God’s Word”? But now we come to “God’s word” and for many of us this will just mean the words of the Bible, but I would like to suggest that if we are living in resurrection life awareness, although that will be the foundation of all our belief, it is not all there is. The other day I woke feeling rather worn and weary and as I looked into something I had to do that day as part of a family experience, I was aware that I was grumbling inside. I didn’t want to do it, I was too tired, and as easy as it is to speak about God’s resources, sometimes it takes an effort to take hold of them. That was my frame of mind when the Lord spoke: “Son, see this time as a time of opportunity.” And that was it. I was changed, and the day and the event turned out to be great.

God still Speaks: Now in that mini-testimony I am aware that for some I will be presenting a stumbling block because they may have come from a background that teaches that the word of God ceased to be added to with the completion of the canon of Scripture. Sadly for such people, that speculative and insecure teaching means they miss the realisation that the living God is speaking to them in their daily lives. Now as much as I would not put such simple words as in that little testimony above on a par with Scripture, I nevertheless equate them with the word of God because I am convinced God spoke them into my mind and brought a transformation about in me that brought blessing in a variety of ways.

When God speaks, transformation should follow: Now what I’ve just said, highlights something about the word of God. When we take it as the word of God, it should always bring transformation. Consider those words of our starter verse above, very familiar words from Revelation 3 to the church at Laodicea. Jesus is saying, through the prophetic words that John is bringing, that as he speaks it is like he is knocking on the door of the hearts of John’s readers and he is inviting them to let him come into their hearts and minds to share. To the one who hears it and responds to it and basically says, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening” (to quote Samuel in 1 Sam 3:9), he pictures the two of them (Jesus and the listener) sitting and eating together. This is an act of fellowship, and when we read God’s word AS God’s word that is alive to us today, we will find ourselves fellowshipping with Him.

Now this doesn’t mean that God doesn’t sometimes speak to believers who are being casual with His word (just reading by habit with little thought) and even unbelievers (I know of a number of instances where the word of God has arrested and brought to repentance unbelievers who then became believers!). However, great effect comes when we stop and break into the ‘habit’ approach and pause before we read and acknowledge the Lord’s presence in the same way I spoke about in respect of prayer. When I first started writing Bible studies, I always prefaced them with a challenge to pray before reading and a challenge to pray afterwards. By doing both things you are focusing on the Lord and looking to Him for His enabling as you go to read. Today I will be more prescriptive in speaking about being aware of the Lord’s presence.

Eating the Word? When the prophet Ezekiel met with the Lord we find, “And he said to me, “Son of man, eat what is before you, eat this scroll; then go and speak to the people of Israel.” So I opened my mouth, and he gave me the scroll to eat. Then he said to me, “Son of man, eat this scroll I am giving you and fill your stomach with it.” So I ate it, and it tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth.” (Ezek 3:1-3) The scroll he was to eat was clearly the word of God.

Eating Changes Us: Now the thing about eating something is that it changes you. If it was poison it would either make you ill or kill you. If it is ordinary food, it will nourish and sustain you. Now if, in these biblical illustrations, God’s word is being portrayed as food to be eaten, then the logical conclusion is that the intent of ‘eating’ God’s word is that we are changed and transformed by it.

A Transformation Encounter? Instead of the ‘daily quiet time reading’ being simply a habit (assuming you do it), this time becomes a divinely supernatural encounter, a resurrection encounter, where the power of God is released and the ‘word element’ of such a time becomes a time of divinely supernatural provision and such provision brings about change.

Go beyond Notes: Now I have to make a strange comment here, which I have made a number of times in the past, and that is as a young Christian you may use Bible notes (which may include these) but they should only be as a starter, a support or a backup, and as you grow they should not replace the possibility of you having this direct encounter that I have been speaking about whereby you read and study and meditate upon the word directly and such notes either fall away or simply become backup or support notes I just said.

Basics!  There are times, I must confess, when I am feeling very tired and worn out and such times are not conducive to study. At those times I will simply read a passage of Scripture slowly and may then use notes as ‘supplements’ to the main meal. Even in such tiredness, we should be able to apprehend something of the Lord’s presence and greatness.

Distractions: One further thought: distractions.  Many of us may have busy lives and lives involving family. Let’s be honest; settling down to know the Lord’s presence in peace and quiet and with His word, is not easy when you have young demanding children.  Such times become times of mini-prayer: “Lord, show me how I can grab five or ten minutes alone with you. Please grant me this wisdom.”  It only needs five minutes and although longer may be better, under pressure, five minutes is enough to encounter an oasis of the Lord’s presence and His life-changing word. Don’t let the enemy tell you these things are not possible. They are.

2. God the Communicator

Meditations in Hebrews 1:  2. God the Communicator

Heb 1:1  In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways 

I think I have lost count of the number of times, over the years, I have written, “God is a communicator”, for the whole Bible is about God communicating with mankind. From the outset, before the Fall, He communicated with Adam (Gen 2:16,17). After the Fall He communicated with Adam and Eve (Gen 3:9-19), then later with Cain (Gen 4:6-15) and then even later, by implication to Enoch (Gen 5:22-24) and then later still to Noah (Gen 6:13 on), but the ‘big conversation with God’ man was Abram (Gen 12 on).

In our verses at the beginning of Hebrews the writer is going to contrast Jesus with even the prophets and say how much greater than them he was, so whatever we see of these men (and they were mostly men although Deborah (Judges 4:4 on) stands out) we need to remember that Jesus was greater than them.

Now Abraham is the first man designated by God as a prophet (Gen 20:7) yet not a man who  brings, “Thus says the Lord,” types of word but without a doubt he us shown as a man who has conversations with God and is later described in the Bible as ‘God’s friend’ (Jas 2:23). Now Jesus was more than a friend, he was the unique Son of God, begotten of the Father (begotten means ‘comes out of’).

Four hundred years or so later, Moses would designate himself a prophet (Deut 18:15) but Moses was unique among those designated prophets in the Old Testament in that he spoke face to face with God and when he came out of God’s presence, his face shone with the glory of God (Ex 34:34). When the writer to the Hebrews says “at many times and in many ways” we don’t know what he has in mind but clearly already we have seen Abraham walking and talking with God and Moses waiting in God’s presence in the Tent of Meeting or the Tabernacle having face-to-face encounters with God. Remember along the way, my assertion that God is a communicator. There had been previous communications but now much deeper communications with both of these men, both designated as ‘prophets’.

We next see the word ‘prophet’ applied to a specific individual (Moses had used the word in teaching throughout Deuteronomy) in Judges 6 where we read, When the Israelites cried to the LORD because of Midian, he sent them a prophet, who said, “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says…..” (Judg 6:7,8) This seems to be the first ‘Thus says the Lord’ type of prophet who bring one message calling Israel to repent. However, when you read Judges you realise this is not the only divine communication. In chapter 2 an angel of the Lord comes with a message of rebuke to Israel (Judg 2:1-3) and at the end of that chapter the Lord speaks to Israel again (2:20-22). In chapter 4 we come across Deborah the prophetess (4:4-) who clearly communicates God’s will. This brings us to Gideon to whom the Lord appears to speak directly (7:2-).  Later, in Judges 10 there is a time when Israel appear to repent and call on the Lord who answers (Judg 10:11-14), presumably through a prophet. When it comes to the story of Samson in Judges 13, it starts with an angel of the Lord communicating with his parents (Judg 13:3-5,11-18)

At the end of the period of the judges, Samuel “was attested as a prophet of the LORD” (1 Sam 3:20) and we read the Lord, “revealed himself to Samuel through his word.” (v.21) which, examining Samuel’s ministry, would suggest a combination of “Thus says the Lord” type of words plus words of wisdom as he judged the people. Samuel, of course, initially heard God’s word out loud (1 Sam 3:4-). What we tend to forget is that before this started to happen to Samuel, we are told “a man of God” came to Eli, the old priest, with a strong and lengthy prophetic word of rebuke and correction. (1 Sam 2:27-36). God of communication!

Now rather that go on and write several pages of all the records of the times when the Lord spoke to His people through the rest of the Old Testament, we would simply suggest that as you read your Bible you keep an eye out for the times when the Lord spoke and how He spoke. There are clearly times when He spoke directly to individuals and other times when an unknown prophet turns up with a word, or even more, when a prophet with a full prophetic ministry is clearly one who hears God – e.g. Elijah, Elisha then the major prophets – Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, and then a number of ‘minor prophets’.

Already, in the limited scan of the earlier part of Israel’s history, we have seen that the Hebrews’ writer is accurate when he says that God spoke, “through the prophets at many times and in various ways”. We are going to go on to see how God then spoke through His Son, Jesus Christ, but that ‘speaking’ involved a lot of action. Perhaps the big difference between Jesus and many of the prophets is that Jesus demonstrated the kingdom of God and the others merely spoke it. The only real exception was Elisha who also demonstrated the wisdom and power of God through his ministry.

Of course, now we are in the era of the Church, the body of Christ, the clear teaching of the New Testament is that we too are to be God’s mouthpiece and we too, like Jesus, are to demonstrate the presence of the kingdom of God as he did. Remember he said, “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these.” (Jn 14:12) That really leaves no room for argument! That is the intended style of life in and through the Church. May we see it more and more.

9. Would you know God’s voice?

Meditations in 1 Samuel   9. Would we know God’s voice?

1 Sam 3:6-9    “My son,” Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.”  Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD: The word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him. The LORD called Samuel a third time, and Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”  Then Eli realized that the LORD was calling the boy. So Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, `Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.’ “

We arrive at what must one of the strangest little cameos on the Old Testament where young Samuel starts ‘hearing voices’ in the middle of the night or, to be precise, one voice. He assumes it is old Eli for he’s the only one in the vicinity but Eli denies it and so Samuel goes back to bed. When this happens for the third time Eli realises there is something going on here and it must be God, so he tells Samuel to reply to the Lord when he next hears the voice – which Samuel does do and the Lord speaks on.

Now whether this was a literal audible voice or such a strong impression in Samuel’s mind that he virtually ‘hears’ it, we don’t know. Both are possibilities. The challenge to some of us is, do you believe God still speaks today? This is not God adding to Scripture but God speaking into your life about your life. Do some of us think, “Well Samuel was a special case, he was a prophet,” and there is a certain amount of truth about that but why should we think that a God who speaks throughout the entire Bible should no longer speak to His children today? Isn’t communication likely to be the very main thing that a loving Father will do with His children?

Well, yes, you may say, that’s what the Bible is surely? Indeed it is. It is His general communication. Do you also have the experience where there have been times when a verse seems to leap out to you and be especially meaningful? That is His specific communication. Have you ever had the situation where you have say three options before you but just one of them seems to stand out and feels the right one? That again is His specific communication.

Suppose it is not the audible voice of God you hear (because it seems the audible voice is rare and saved for major crisis or major calling situations) and you are left with the strong voice in your head? How do you feel about that? It takes faith to believe. Can I share some stories with you they are all true and without exaggeration.

The first one occurs when I am still a young Christian and am now a father for the first time. One day my baby daughter was in her crib upstairs and I crept upstairs to gaze in wonder on her. As I looked at her I seemed to ‘hear’ a thought in my mind that seemed to come from nowhere: “What do you think of her?” Perhaps He was giving me help but I thought, “Oh, my goodness, is that God?” and so I ‘thought back’, “She’s wonderful, Lord.” Back came the strange question, “What does she do?” I thought for a moment and thought back, “Well I suppose she cries a lot, she keeps us up in the night, she constantly wants feeding it seems and she needs her nappies changing all the time.” “And what do you feel about her,” came back. “I love her, Lord,” I responded. “Why?” came back the next question and I responded without thought, “Because she’s mine, Lord.” Back came, “And that’s why I love you son. Because you are mine,” and with that I realised that He loved me with all my faults even more than I loved my demanding daughter.

I went through a series of lessons on listening it seemed in those early days. At that time I had to take a fifteen minute bus ride to catch my train to London every day. One day I got on the bus, went upstairs and sat down and immediately I got that same imposing thought in my mind, “You will catch your train.” That’s odd, I thought, of course I’ll catch it, this bus always has at least five minutes to spare before the next train is due, and so pushed the thought away. After a few minutes I assume the bus driver thought he must be ahead of schedule because he remained stationary at the next bus stop. I looked at my watch. Yes, well, we’re just about OK, but it would be helpful if you got a move on. The thought came back with insistence, “You will catch your train!”  Hmm. The driver started up and off we went, but he stopped and paused yet again at the next stop. Oh, come on, this is getting silly. Get a move on we are on the edge of me missing my train. “No, you WILL catch your train.”  For the remainder of the journey he crawled along and I gave up hope of catching the train when we arrived at the station five minutes after the train time and so I slowly wandered in to the station with a quarter of an hour before the next train was due. Except when I got on the platform there still seemed a lot of people there and a voice came over the loudspeaker, “The 7.48 train for London is running seven minutes late and will be arriving shortly.  I caught the train.

Now I could probably tell you literally dozens of similar stories in a variety of contexts that have involved not merely me learning to listen but specific guidance or direction. If this surprises you, that is a shame because it means in your thinking you limit our God. Please, I am not special. I have been a church leader and some of the guidance has been in respect of times of stepping out in faith, but that is what it is all about isn’t it?

If you think it is only prophets in  the Bible that God speaks to think again. Consider little Ananias in Acts 9, an ordinary disciple: In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!” “Yes, Lord,” he answered. The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.”  “Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.” But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel.” (Acts 9:10-15)

There is a beautiful song and mime routine called “Sitting in the window praying”, that is based on that – although we don’t know for a fact that Ananias was praying when he gets this vision. What is fun about it is how he argues with the Lord, and yet he is so convinced by the experience that he goes and ministers to Saul. Just an ordinary disciple! What will it take for you to become a listener (and hearer) of God? In each of the three examples here today – Samuel, me, Ananias – we all responded like little children in faith to what we thought we were hearing. Dare to start being a listener?  Ask Him to open your ears to hear.

72. Use it!

Short Meditations in Mark’s Gospel: 72. Use it!

Mk 4:24,25  “Consider carefully what you hear,” he continued. “With the measure you use, it will be measured to you–and even more. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.”

Remember, Jesus has been talking about responding to God when He speaks, and the importance of revelation. Revelation – the truth – what this is all about, about how we hear and what we hear. Hence Jesus instructs, “Consider carefully what you hear.” He is still focusing them on what they hear from God. What follows is still all about what we do with what we hear. Previously it had been the different responses to hearing; now it is to those who apparently do hear and it challenges them as to what they do with it.

You must hold on to this: it is the truth or revelation from God that Jesus is talking about here. When he says “With the measure you use it” he is saying that if you receive it and respond to us and allow it to have its work in you and change you and maybe you even pass it on, THEN you will receive even more. The crucial question or vital issue here is how much we DO with the truth. If we just hear it on a Sunday morning, or we casually read it in the Bible, and we remain untouched and unmoved and unchanged, then we will become stagnant water and receive no more.

We should be using what we have received and then receiving more from God. The old illustration of the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea is a good illustration. Water flows into and out of the Sea of Galilee and the sea is fresh and alive. Water flows into the Dead Sea but not out of it and so it is dead. This IS the truth and it is a challenge!  How many Christians are neutral about the word of God? Yes, it is the word of God and it is important and I do read it and I do hear it on a Sunday morning – but nothing more.

It is supposed to change us and transform us; it is supposed to be passed on to others, to seekers and to new younger Christians. The word is not to be listened to; it is to be responded to, it is to change us and change others. But there is a terrible negative in what Jesus says. If you don’t do all we have been saying about God’s word, what has been given to you will be taken away. Yes, you will start to lose the significance of what you have heard and the truth will start to cease being important to you and it will soon stop being a deterrent against sin in your life. It is a downward slope. Beware!

 

43. What you say

Meditations in James: 43 : Beware what you say about others

Jas 4:11,12     Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you–who are you to judge your neighbor?

A passage like today’s two verses is simple and straight forward, but we might wonder, why is James going off on another tangent?  Well he isn’t, but again we have to look at what has gone before in this chapter to catch the flow. Remember at the beginning of the chapter James was facing us with the inner turmoil that goes on within us because of not having surrendered everything to God (v.1-3). Then he implied that all these desires that had not been submitted to God were the same sort of thing that the rest of the world wrestled with in their unregenerate state, and he called us to side with God against the ungodliness and unrighteous attitudes of the world (v.4).  He then pointed out that God is jealous for a relationship with us (v.5) and longs to give us the grace we need for living, but can only give it to those who humbly seek him (v.6). Out of that came a call to come to God in submission, resisting the tactics of the enemy who would seek to draw us away (v.7), come with a right perspective (v.8-10) and God will lift us up. This has all been a natural progressive flow in his appeal and it is important that we see how one thing flows on from another.

So he has come to a point of appealing that we submit to God, and so what follows? It is important to see this! When our relationship with the Lord is established or re-established, it always has practical outworkings in respect of how we relate to other people. The vertical relationship with God ALWAYS results in changes to the horizontal relationships with people. You cannot have a real relationship with the Lord and it not have impact on the way you relate to people.  In passing we might consider how we relate to other people because, as the other side of the same coin so to speak, it is an indicator of the level of relationship we have with the Lord!

James, as a good pastor, knows this, that the Lord wants the expression of our relationship with Him to have an impact on the way we relate to people, and James has it in the back of his mind that he has already written to us about the use of the tongue as being the first outward indicator of how we are on the inside. Right, he says now, if you have submitted yourself to God, check now what is coming out of your mouth in respect of people, because your words now need to reflect your newly re-established relationship with the Lord.

This is a terribly important issue in Christian circles. See what he says: Brothers, do not slander one another. Brothers indicates that he is speaking to Christians, and his simple injunction is don’t say wrong things about other Christians. Now I’ve just suggested that this is a terribly important issue in Christian circles.  Listen to the chatter that goes on in church. Listen to the chatter that goes on between little groups of Christians. Here is the challenge from James. If you refer to your minister or leaders, or to anyone else in the church for that matter, are you careful not to offend on this point? ‘Gossip’ in the church is wrong chattering that pulls down people. Gossip does not look for the well-being and uplifting of people. Gossip is so often slanderous; it does not wholly speak the truth. Slander is speaking wrongly about others. If we give an opinion about our leaders or about others with whom we perhaps disagree, is it an opinion that puts down or does it uplift? What you speak is a reflection of what goes on inside you, and if you speak untruth, it is an indication of a weak relationship with the Lord, and you need to go back over the previous verses in this chapter because they obviously apply to you. But see what else James says about this.

He says, Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. What does he mean? Well today, as Christians, we are under one Law, the Law of love: Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: `Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Mt 22:37-40). If we slander other people, we are rejecting that Law, and putting ourselves above it. It’s like we make a judgment, “I don’t need to be bound by that,” and we put ourselves on the level of the Lawmaker, God! You’re not keeping the royal law of love, says James, if you speak badly of other people, you are judging it. God is the only one who can put aside the Law. An expression of our real relationship with the Lord is that we keep this law and love others, and if we love them we will not speak badly of them. It is that simple!

After all that we have said about the previous verses and how James calls us into relationship with the Lord, the way we speak about others will be the measuring stick for how real our responses to all of that have been. If we find ourselves speaking wrongly of others, we need to pull ourselves up, go back to God, submit ourselves humbly to Him and ask for His forgiveness. A relationship with God is a very practical thing in the Bible. Ensure it is also in your life.

45. Awesome Speaking

God in the Psalms No.45God who speaks awesomely

Psa 29:3 The voice of the LORD is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the LORD thunders over the mighty waters.

Sometimes there are things in life that you simply take for granted, breathing for instance, or life itself, or colours or taste, a whole range of things. For those of us who study God’s word, the thing we probably take for granted most and accept without thought is the fact that God speaks. In an earlier meditation we did indeed pick up on the fact that God is a God of communication, but today’s verse goes beyond that. When God speaks, things happen. In this respect He is very different from us. We can use words and nothing changes (if it’s in respect of people, to people, they may change), but when God speaks so often, it is a command and when God commands, the world changes. God speaks and material things change. How does he do that? It’s beyond our finite minds. He’s God and when we say He’s all-powerful, we mean it. He only has to speak it and things change.

In this psalm, David perhaps is under cover watching a thunder storm. He sees the thunder as God speaking. He starts the psalm with a call to ascribe to God glory and strength or power. It’s like he’s saying, you need to see God as He really is, acclaim Him for who He really is. Later in the psalm he says, And in his temple all cry, “Glory!” (v.9). The end result of thinking of these things is that the people will give glory to God. Why? Because they will have seen His might and His majesty as they look on Creation and see the works of God. Seven times he refers to the voice of the Lord”. God speaks and it happens. At Creation, each act of creation was bought about by God saying,Let there be…” (Gen 1:3,6,9,11,14,15,20,24,26). The same thing: God speaks and it happens. In this psalm today, David sees the Lord speaking and thundering (v.3), breaking trees (v.5), even the oaks (v.9), and shaking the desert (v.8). Yes, for the materialist this is purely the work of nature (don’t let’s give it a capital ‘N’ for that seems to suggest personality), temperature changes that brings about thunder and rain and lightening. For David, this is the voice of God at work, a mighty voice having mighty effect.

Have you ever stood in a thunderstorm with a sense of awe? We’re told that one lightning strike can carry enough electricity to power 10 million homes for one month, and there you are standing there with deafening thunder and lightening strikes of incredible power ever few seconds. If that isn’t awesome, what is?  Of course scientists can observe temperature and pressure changes but why should they happen? Don’t be silly, says David, just recognize here the power and presence of God in His Creation. He speaks and things happen.

The struggle to understand ‘providence’ is the struggle to see the hand of God and hear the voice of God. Was God in this flood or that hurricane?  We’ll never be able to answer that confidently this side of heaven. The Bible suggests, at the very least, He is behind it sometimes. There are Biblical examples of God bringing ‘natural’ effects to bear to destroy enemies. Whether it’s all or some, we could be in danger of missing the point: God can speak and this can be the effect. He can do it and sometimes, at least, does do it. That makes Him awesome, that brings a proper perspective in life. In the early years of the 21st century we have seen a considerable number of such ‘natural catastrophes’. What they tell us is that we’re powerless. Let’s give Him proper respect and worship.