63. In and Out (The End)

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 63. In and Out (The End)

Heb 11:13-16   All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own.  If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return.  Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one.

Possibilities:  The thrust of these studies throughout is that God delivers us out of the bad into the good; that is what redemption is all about, but as I come to the end I am aware that the fact that we have been saying it is an ongoing process and that we are ‘works in progress’, means that for many things in our lives, there is still a sense of incompleteness, of not having been fully delivered out and fully delivered in. I am always aware of what the writer to the Hebrews says about the people of faith from the Old Testament in our starter verses above. There are some crucial things to be noted that impinge very much on this idea that we have been pursuing of ongoing redemption.

Unfulfilled Promises: “They did not receive the things promised.” That is a pretty honest statement, and one which can both be misunderstood and used by critics of God and faith – “See, you say God does this and that, but as I watch your life, so much of it doesn’t seem to be so wonderful in the way you talk about!”   Ah, but read on, “they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance.” The Message version paraphrase puts it, “They saw it way off in the distance, waved their greeting, and accepted the fact that they were transients in this world.” I like that.

An Illustration: Those people realized that this world was purely an entrance foyer to eternity and they were simply passing through it. I like that picture I’ve just touched on. Imagine a cold, rough, harsh street in which you have lived, and in front of you is a great building and you hear a voice calling, inviting you to come in. As you peer in through the open doors you see an interior that is so different to this street outside. You realize you have tolerated this awful street for too long and you long to experience the wonder of what you glimpse inside. Yet you feel unworthy and so simply kneel on the steps, but a voice calls again and bids you enter. In humility you timidly pass through the entrance doors. Inside it is full of light and beauty. A servant comes up and offers you new clothing and you realise all you had worn previously was threadbare, torn and dirty. In a vestibule to the side you are able to change, and you emerge in splendor.

The area inside the entrance doors is enormous and glorious and splendid and there is so much to see. There are so many things to which your attention is drawn, and time passes rapidly as you enjoy and enter in to so much of what is before you. But then the voice comes yet again and invites you to ascend the stairs that lead out of this area, but you hesitate. There is so much here in this room that has become so familiar, there is so much that is good, and you feel there is still so much yet to explore, and so you hesitate.  But the voice is persistent, and you know it is a command which you cannot refuse and so you ascend the stairs and pass through the door at the top. Suddenly your breath leaves you because what is before you cannot be described as a room, it is a world, and you gasp at its beauty, and as you glance back through the door behind you, all that you had been experiencing simply looked grey by comparison to the wonder, the color, the brightness before you and, suddenly, you realize that the room below where you had spent so much time, yes, so much more wonderful than the street outside, was but the entrance foyer to this new world.

It is but an illustration, but an accurate one I believe. The street outside was our old life. Entering the doors was our conversion. The time spent in the entrance foyer was simply to start to prepare us for the reality to come. Accurate? But incomplete, for it is but a parable, and parables never tell the whole story. So back to our experience of this ‘entrance foyer’, a place of promises where some are fulfilled and experienced, and some are simply glimpsed at a distance as we gaze up the staircase and catch just a glimmer of what is beyond.

Past, present and future:If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return.  Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one.” Do you see the three periods within this verse? The past – the country they had left. Surely this refers to Abram, delivered ‘out of’ his old life in Ur. The present – implied, the land where he now lived, Canaan, learning to experience God’s presence. The future – a better country, a heavenly one. His encounters with the Creator-God of the world left him with a yearning, for something better, but for years he had to live out his life on this earth, struggling with childlessness, struggling to believe the promise of God, struggling with trying circumstances, struggling with a wife who wanted to speed faith up, struggling with apparently impossible commands of God to give up the fruit of the promise, struggling to remain true to God’s calling and find a wife for the fruit of the promise, a woman who would not absorb the fruit of the promise (yes, Isaac!) into the life and the ways of Canaan. Yes, the life of this man of faith was so often a struggle, but that is how life is in this fallen world.

In and Out: But here is the thing, and let’s continue with Abraham as our example, having been delivered out of Ur (by the calling of God), as we watch his life portrayed in those many chapters of Genesis, the Lord is with him and is delivering him IN the land, IN his present life. The Lord is delivering him from himself and from his wife’s wrong notions, He is delivering him from enemies in the land and from the outworkings of the folly of his nephew, He is delivering him IN Canaan. But he, like the other faith-filled saints of Hebrews 11, catches a view of something better, something more, and so, like them, has now been delivered OUT of this present world into the land of promise, not Canaan but eternity in God’s presence, heaven.

And Us? We are just the same, for we too experience being delivered out of our old life, are being delivered IN this present life and will one day be delivered OUT of it into eternity. In this present world, we have to accept it is often a world of struggles, of trials and even tribulations and God will deliver us IN the midst of these things and then OUT of them. A crisis arises in life, and it causes us great anguish. We cry out to the Lord, but the circumstances don’t change, they cannot, they have happened – but peace comes, and we are delivered OUT of the anguish, even in the midst of the unchanging circumstances. “in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:6,7) There are also times when the circumstances change as we pray, and we are delivered OUT of them; it is that simple. As we noted with Peter and James, we can never guarantee the outcome. James was executed by Herod (Acts 12:2) while Peter was imprisoned prior to a similar death but then was delivered out of the prison by an angel. James was delivered into eternity, while Peter was delivered into freedom, only later to also face martyrdom, being prematurely delivered into eternity.

Living in the incomplete and imperfect: So here we are in this present world. Satan’s greatest temptation is to try to get us to believe that this is all there is, and thus live a totally self-centred and godless life. All the while the Spirit of God reaches out to us to remind us of the truths we have been considering here today; we are living in the redemptive process of God. This world is but the ‘entrance foyer’ to eternity. However, within it, because it is a fallen world where sin prevails, it is often a struggle, and yet all the resources of God are there and are being employed by heaven to deliver you IN this world so that at the right time – His time – you can be delivered OUT of it and INTO your inheritance waiting for you in eternity.

This is the ‘big picture’ that we are called to live by, all because of God’s incredible love for us, manifested through the amazing work of the Son of God on the Cross at Calvary, and the ongoing working of His Holy Spirit.  See it, live it, rejoice in the wonder of the present and at tiny glimpses of the even more wonderful future that is still to come on this earth and then into an even more incredible dimension in heaven. Hallelujah and Amen!

54. And then to Hospitality

Meditations in Hebrews 13:  54.  And then to Hospitality

Heb 13:2   Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.

A Climate for Hospitality: I suspect that eastern peoples of old knew more about hospitality than we do today and maybe it is because so many of them lived in inhospitable desert lands. When a stranger arrived, you took pity on him and welcomed him into your home where he could be refreshed and escape for a while at least from the harsh climate. A hospital is a place of recovery and hospitality has at its roots the same idea, that of recovery for the weary traveller in a harsh world. The fact that eastern peoples worked on hospitality because of the harshness of climate and countryside, should not make us think that this is not part of the life of the Christian in a different part of the world that may not appear so hostile. Modern life in the West is, I suggest hostile in other ways and the need for hospitality is just as great as in Middle Eastern countries in New Testament times. Indeed we may have to think even more about how we go about giving hospitality.

Strangers? Our verse from Hebrews 13 is intriguing: “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.”  Hospitality, it suggests, should be offered to strangers, not necessarily those you know well. Now I would suggest in passing that in many churches, in reality, many people are strangers.  For example, take a random person you see in your church regularly. How much do you know of them? Do you know if they are a Christian? (don’t assume anything).  Do you know when and how they came to the Lord, do you know their Christian experience, do you know their family structure, do you know what jobs they have or the roles they have in life, do you know their gifting or maybe even ministries? If you don’t know these things then I suggest to you that these people are strangers.

Angels? The second thing that verse says is that you may be entertaining angels. Abraham had (see Gen 18), as did Gideon (Jdg 6) and also Manoah (Jdg 13), each without realizing initially who they had in their home situation. This says to us, invite in people even without knowing fully who they are and you might end up being pleasantly surprised and blessed by them. (see Jesus’ words to his disciples when he sent them out about leaving a blessing o the home).

Wider Teaching: But does the New Testament say much about this subject or is this a rare teaching?  The apostle Paul instructed the church at Rome to, “Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.” (Rom 12:13) This may challenge us about crossing social boundaries, reaching out to the poor, but then ‘the needy’ may cover far more than financial hardship. There may be those around us who have recently lost a loved one, or those who have been through trying circumstances, or those who have a sense of guilt or failure. Each of these need a recovery environment.  How can we bless them?

Paul’s Teaching: Paul also spoke about, “Gaius, whose hospitality I and the whole church here enjoy,” (Rom 16:23) In other words Gaius was known to bless all around him by practicing hospitality, opening his home to bless any in the church.

When Paul spoke of widows in the church who needed the support of the church, hospitality was one of the markers that indicated they were living good lives, worthy of support by the church: “No widow may be put on the list of widows unless she is over sixty, has been faithful to her husband, and is well known for her good deeds, such as bringing up children, showing hospitality,” (1 Tim 5:9,10) There are two things to note about that. First, hospitality was one of the things the church expected the members of the church to be practicing. Second, a widow may often feel she has little to contribute to the life of the church but these verses suggest otherwise.

Peter’s Contribution: The apostle Peter saw hospitality as one of the expressions of love, as a means of expressing your gifting to bless others: “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.” (1 Pet 4:8-10)

John’s Contribution: The apostle John also made reference to providing hospitality for those serving the Church: “It was for the sake of the Name that they went out, receiving no help from the pagans. We ought therefore to show hospitality to such men so that we may work together for the truth.” (3 Jn 1:7,8) How can we bless one another at all levels of the church, taking no one for granted, thinking that a place of retreat is not what they need.

Practicalities: Whether it is just inviting someone (or a couple) round for coffee, or a meal, or having them to stay, remember the basic ideas that we have noted so far – a place for others to retreat from the harsh world out there, a place of recovery, a place to be blessed. The emphasis is on them, not on us. This means you don’t have to worry about producing food that is the best in the church, and if we care for our guests who may be coming for a meal, it is only courteous and wise to quietly ask them beforehand if there is any food they do not like or that disagrees with them. Your specialist dish may include garlic but if you served it to my wife, she would have a most violent stomach upset that evening and probably the next day. Check people out. If your guest(s) are in the ‘needy’ category that we referred to earlier on, treat them gently, care for them, love them, and bless them. They mayn’t want to talk about their circumstances so don’t force them. If they do share their lives, don’t be critical or judgmental and don’t think you have to have the answers to their difficulties.

Hospitality is about taking people into your home to bless them and provide a place of refreshment and possible restoration. How to do it? Start with prayer and ask the Lord for His wisdom as to how to go about it, how to be sensitive to them and their needs – and then do it and bless people.

25. Aliens/Strangers

Meditations in 1 Peter : 25:  Aliens and Strangers

1 Pet 2:11 Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul.

A hundred years ago the word ‘aliens’ would not have been familiar but in the space age and sci-fi age, as well as the age of falling national boundaries, ‘aliens’ is a word we easily understand. An alien is simply someone from somewhere else, from another planet or another country, someone who is quite different from us. That latter phrase is quite significant and important. People who live in the next town or the next county aren’t aliens. No, aliens are those who come from a completely different place and from a completely different culture and who probably have a completely different way of thinking from us.

Now Peter has just been talking about us being a chosen people, a people of the light, a people who have received God’s mercy and who have become God’s people, but now he adds anther description which should speak volumes to us if we are willing to think about it for a minute of two. We are, he says, “aliens and strangers in the world.” Now before we move fully into that we have to note something associated with this. When we think about the world being the planet on which we live, we should be those who appreciate it and enjoy it more than most, because we see it as a gift from God to us. Sadly Christians in the middle of last century had adopted a platonic view of the world and saw spirit as all important and material things as worldly. Now that is an ancient philosopher’s assessment of life, not the Bible’s. The Bible sees the world as God’s wonderful provision for us; He made it and He gave us the capabilities to enjoy it. If we make that the most important thing in life we loose sense of perspective, but it is important because it is God’s gift and we should appreciate it as such.

But there is another sense to the word ‘world’.  The apostle John wrote, Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world–the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does–comes not from the Father but from the world.” (1 Jn 2:15,16) It was misunderstanding this verse that pushed many Christians into a platonic way of thinking. When these apostles used the word ‘world’ in this sort of context they were referring to the godless mentality of mankind, the human race that does not know God. Hence man without God is driven by sin and the ‘cravings’ that John speaks about simply refer to the man who is driven by his senses and those linked to what he can see with his eyes, drive him. He is quite self-centred and so boasts about what he has and does, in an attempt to make something meaningful out of himself. This godless ‘world’ is self-centred and sense-driven.

Now Peter says we are aliens and strangers to this ‘world’. We are culturally different, we think differently and we behave differently because we are different because we have a different origin. The world has been born but we, we have noted earlier in this letter, have been born again, or born twice. They were born of natural flesh; we have been born of God’s Spirit. They are energized by natural physical desires; we have natural physical desires but are now energized by the Spirit of God within us. They work to please themselves and seek to get fulfilment from personal achievement and have goals that are purely material; we seek God, to please Him who loves us, and get a sense of fulfilment by being children of God living out God’s design-purposes for us and have goals that are first to please Him and, second, that end in heaven and eternity. They seek to emulate pop stars or football stars; we seek to be like Jesus. In all of these ways we are utterly different.

This is why Peter concludes with a very practical appeal: to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul.” The ‘world’, we have just noted, works on the basis of desires for self-pleasing, self-aggrandisement. Because they have no boundaries because they have rejected God as the arbiter of what is right or wrong, they go into things that are clearly wrong, things that are against God’s design for human beings, things that are therefore ‘sinful’. These are things that are alien to us and so if they are allowed in our lives they will be warring against the Spirit of God who dwells within us.

Because of everything else we said above, about who we are today, such things will be alien to us. It’s like having an eyelash in our eye; it will be irritating until it is removed, or perhaps it is like having a small stone in your shoe which, again, is uncomfortable until removed. If we allow the things that the ‘world’ do, to be in our lives they will cause discomfort and upset. Is this why some of us feel a lack of peace in our lives? Is it because we are allowing attitudes or practices or behaviour in our lives that are alien to the presence of God in us? These are very real issues for us and we ignore them at our peril.

1. Changed

Meditations in 1 Peter : 1 :  God who changes us

1 Pet  1:1,2 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To God’s elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood:

So this is a letter from the great apostle Peter, the apostle who is a fisherman, the apostle who keeps on putting his foot in his mouth. No it’s not!  Well it is, but he’s clearly no longer a fisherman and he’s clearly someone who has something to say that isn’t a rash comment. This is a letter from a mature apostle. This man has changed since we first met him in the Gospels. Certainly he has help in writing this letter (See 5:12) but this is the letter of a man who has been transformed by the Gospel, transformed by meeting Jesus, transformed by the work of circumstances and transformed by the work of the Holy Spirit. He is also a man who is not afraid to speak to the Church at large, specifically here to the area that today we call Turkey.

To whom does he speak? Some say it is primarily the Jews but “God’s elect, strangers in the world, scattered….” could equally be a description of all Christians, Jew and Gentile. They are the ‘elect’ because they have been chosen by God, as we’ll see in a moment. They are ‘strangers in the world’ because they have been set apart, again as we’ll soon see. And they are scattered throughout the area we call modern Turkey, a minority of believers. Peter will speak about suffering and persecution and therefore the reason for the recipients of this letter being scattered is almost certainly persecution.

But look at the wonderful threefold descriptions of the believers to whom he is writing. First of all they are those “who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father.” This is similar to Paul’s language: he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.” (Eph 1:4) Peter himself, when preaching on the day of Pentecost, spoke of Jesus: This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” (Acts 2:23)  Those are the only two times that the word ‘foreknowledge’ is used in the Bible, both by Peter.

But again the sense is common in Paul’s writings, for instance, “God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son.” (Rom 8:28,29) and “God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew.” (Rom 11:2) Later on, speaking about Jesus, Peter writes, “He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.” (1 Pet 1:20) reminding us that it was before God created anything that He looked into the future, of what would be, and saw that Jesus would have to come and saw who would respond to him. This same sense of destiny established, even before God made the world, comes through in John’s revelation: “The inhabitants of the earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the creation of the world will be astonished.” (Rev 17:8). Yes, here in this first phrase we catch a sense of the Father’s sovereign will and His total knowledge.

Let’s consider the second expression: through the sanctifying work of the Spirit.” The Holy Spirit has sometimes been referred to as the executive arm of the Trinity, the One who administers the will of the godhead here on earth. So, yes, we are chosen before the world came into being in that the Father decreed the means by which people would be assessed (their response to Jesus), but now, today, it is the work of the Holy Spirit to convict us of sin, to draw us to God and then when we make that act of surrender, to come into us and set us apart as new creations, people who are actually different from anyone else, because He lives and work within us. Sanctifying here simply means to set us apart to God so that He can carry out that work of changing us into the likeness of Jesus (see 2 Cor 3:18). We noted from the outset that Peter has been changed from that rough fisherman who was originally called by Jesus. The Holy Spirit has done much to change him – as he does us!

But then there is the third phrase: for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood.” There is a twofold aspect to this, first the overall intention and then the means by which it comes about. The overall intention of God’s plan of salvation is that we will each one submit to His Son Jesus Christ who now sits at the Father’s right hand in heaven, ruling. It is only by us submitting to the Son that the Holy Spirit is able to work in us. If we don’t submit to Jesus then the Holy Spirit obviously can’t lead, guide, direct and teach us. The way that this comes about is by us receiving Jesus’ work on the Cross which cleanses us of all sin and makes the way open for us to receive God’s forgiveness.

There is a reflection in these verses of what happened at the inauguration of the first covenant: “Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people. They responded, “We will do everything the LORD has said; we will obey.” Moses then took the blood, sprinkled it on the people and said, “This is the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.” (Ex 24:7,8) Note the two things: Obedience to God’s will (the Law) and then sprinkling with blood (a life given) brought about the covenant relationship. That is what happened then and that is what happens now, except the Lamb used is Jesus. We will see more of this as we work through this letter.