Snapshots: Day 61

Snapshots: Day 61

The Snapshot: “On that day tell your son.” (Ex 13:8) Israel were given a duty, not just to remember what had happened to them, but to pass it on to the next generation and so on.  Testimony triumphs over the enemy (Rev 12:11), is the Gospel story in action, of lives transformed (Mt 24:14, Jn 5:36), and speaks of our experience of God (1 Cor 2:1, Psa 92:12-15, 1 Jn 1:1-3). It is one thing to teach the word of God to the next generation but it goes live in testimony when our children hear from our lips the wonder of our experiences – and of course that is the challenge, to ensure we have such a testimony to pass on. It is the reality of our faith that our children look for, not church going, not religiosity, but reality, God who has changed us and moved through us. Testimony!

Further Consideration: It is said – and rightly so – that each generation has to receive the Gospel for themselves, but that means that they must first hear it. God’s instructions to Israel were that parent should convey the good news about God to their children. We very often offload that responsibility to children’s workers in Sunday school, and rely on Children’s Missions to bring the challenge, but that is doing just that, offloading responsibility.

When our three children were small we used to have a family time on our double bed. We found a book of daily readings and each day they would gather on the bed and I would read one of these readings and then my wife would pray, and as they grew older we encouraged them to pray. Yes, they went to Sunday School as well, but we took on the responsibility. As they grew older we bought a new set of daily Bible Reading notes for children and did these for a few months. This seemed to pall and so I took an old portable typewriter and typed up daily reading notes that required them to answer six simple questions about a short passage, then three questions that checked understanding and finally a prayer. I produced, and we used these for several weeks and I began to realize I had created a job for myself and so as we approached the end of the month, suggested we go back to the professionally produced notes. “Oh no, daddy,” they all cried, “these are much better.”

Thus I started a process that I have carried on and developed for approaching forty years, but the point is that children are not put off the Bible if we make it relevant and personal to them. It becomes the foundation for their faith. Yes, it did take me time and effort but I have never regretted it and I have benefited from what they led me into virtually every day of my life since then. Reach into the Bible when your children are as young as possible, feed them with the truth and help transform the next generation.

26. Aspiring to be a Teacher

Aspiring Meditations: 26.  Aspiring to be a Teacher

Heb 5:12    In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again.

1 Cor 12;28    And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers.

Most of the thoughts about teaching come from Paul to Timothy or Titus, because they, as leaders, were teachers and therefore Paul instructs them about that. But then we come across this throw away comment in Hebrews that implies that maturity will include knowing more than the basic truths of our salvation and that knowledge with understanding and wisdom should be passed on by the mature.

Our two verses above show us there is a dichotomy of thinking here: on one hand the writer to the Hebrews makes this suggestion that we all ought to be teachers, while Paul suggests that teaching is a ministry gift.

The argument for every mature believer becoming a teacher is supported by Paul’s comment to the Colossians: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom.” (Col 3:16) I may be slightly biased in this direction because within a year or so of becoming a Christian I found myself teaching seven different groups of Bible Studies each week. Now that suggests various things. First, that was a period when among young people (and I was just 22) there were many groups inside and outside formal church. Second it says that so often people are looking for leadership, even of a very immature kind. Third, it was for me an amazing learning curve.

Now the writer to the Hebrews also brought a quote from the Old Testament that works for and against my experience back then: “I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, `Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.” (Heb 8:10,11) The fact that we have the indwelling Holy Spirit, means He is a conveyor of God’s laws. But if this was automatic then one would expect every believer to speedily become filled with the knowledge of God’s laws, God’s will, but that clearly isn’t so. No, the reality is that He is there as a resource to help those who are hungry to learn, but some are hungrier than others!

The good aspect of these truths is that the Holy Spirit was available to me to enable me to learn and to pass it on. This is also suggested by the apostle John’s teaching: “As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit–just as it has taught you, remain in him.” (1 John 2:27) Again that ‘anointing’ is there for every believer but not all believers avail themselves of it.

When Paul taught on ‘gifts’ he said, “We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach.” (Rom 12:6,7) Now the clear teaching there is that we have the particular abilities we have (including teaching) according to the measure of grace that God gives us, but therein is a mystery. Does He impose that grace on us or does He feed it into those He sees are available?

In the excitement of those early years, I launched out to meet the need that was obviously there, not with any preplanning or forethought, but simply taking the opportunities that were there. Subsequent to that, my future wife and I with some friends went off to a week-long Summer School at a Bible college. I also attended various teaching days in the years and decades to come, as well as attending a number of ‘Bible Weeks’ in the Summer that are held in the UK. As I grew, opportunities grew to speak or lead. We served on and then I was asked to lead an annual two weeks of children’s beach outreach for eight years. I become a leader in my church and was invited to speak in other churches and then abroad.  The point I make in this paragraph is that a combination of availability plus hunger for God’s word plus, I assume, the blessing of God, led me more and more to teach.

However, when we return to the subject of Gifts, Paul writes, “Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles?….But eagerly desire the greater gifts.” (1 Cor 12:29-31) and the answer has to be, no. However, he does say, “eagerly desire” (aspire to) whatever you might consider are the greater gifts. Heart desire comes into this. He also says, “Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts,” (1 Cor 14:1) and then later, “Since you are eager to have spiritual gifts, try to excel in gifts that build up the church.” (1 Cor 14:12) Now all three of these last three quotes imply an element of human will, human desire.

Now if you are not a teacher at present, it may be that you shy away from the thought because you have a wrong perception of what God might want from you. You can teach without it being to large crowds. In my previous church, when a person came to Christ, we found someone who was available and willing and we got that person to disciple or teach the new believer. Yes, there were materials to help but discipling involves far more than merely going through some notes; it also includes listening, advising, imparting wisdom of experience, encouraging, all of which teach the new believer about their new life in Christ. That is teaching.

But then, do you have children? Church life in the last century has decided that “Sunday School teachers” ought to be the primary people responsible for raising our children spiritually. Wrong! They are to be the second string. The Bible clearly puts the responsibility on parents. Youth leaders, youth groups and youth camps are all, I believe, essential to the growth and well-being of our young people but if you, as a parent, opt out, you will have missed out on a great opportunity to teach.

Again personal testimony. When our three children were all small we found a book of ‘family devotions’ which we read to them all in our bed every morning and then prayed with them.  Later, as they grew, we went to a local Christian bookstore and found a set of Bible notes for children. However they seemed bored by these so I started typing, on an old portable typewriter on A5 paper, six questions on short Bible passages and then 3 questions to think about the information found, and produced a month’s worth of these ‘Bible Studies’, which we did with them. At the end of the month I suggested we go back to the professional notes (seeing hard work ahead!). “Oh no, daddy, yours are much better.” An example of family loyalty I suspect. But I carried on and the results are on my main website, daily verse by verse studies that cover nine tenths of the whole Bible.

Start off small and you never know where it will lead you. Don’t think about your capabilities, think about His. Availability, willingness and a hungry heart. And do I aspire to teaching and do I want you to aspire to be a teacher? Silly questions!

28. Slow Learners?

Meditations in Hebrews 5:     28.  Slow Learners?

Heb 5:11,12   We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again.

Teachers in my life: Our writer is a theologian of sorts, at least a man of understanding but he is also pastoral and as such is aware of the people who might end up reading this letter. I, as an aging Christian writer in the UK, am aware that I have lived through a period, during which in the earlier part at least, there was a proliferation of excellent Christian teachers. I have no trouble remembering the ministries of a large number of men, Spirit-filled leaders who had insights, who took us into the truths of the body of Christ back in the 1970’s before the concept was truly understood. Similarly, through a period during which understanding and experience of the gifts of the Spirit expanded from merely the Pentecostals. Then came teaching on discipleship which, as so often happens initially, went over the top. And there, scattered along the way were a variety of incredibly godly and gifted men (and one or two similar women) who brought a depth and breadth to our teaching which is rare today. Several years ago, one of my grown up Christian sons said to me, “You know Dad, the trouble with my generation is that we are just not so well taught as your generation was.” I found that an amazing insight at the time but as I have reflected on it, it worries me that he was right.

A Challenge to his Readers: The writer to the Hebrews was speaking about Jesus’ high priestly ministry and adds, We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain,” (v.11a) and I have commented earlier in this series that, certainly by today’s standards, some of his rabbinic teaching has already seemed quite complex and difficult. But he isn’t taking captives, he is quite in your face about it: “because you are slow to learn.”  Whoops! That’s unkind. But he wouldn’t say it unless he knew something about his readers.

So what does he mean, what does he really think about them? “In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food!” (v.12) These people that he has in mind are clearly not new converts as indicated by his words, “by this time”. In what follows there is an assumption that many in today’s church might struggle with – that the Christian life is all about change, about growing up and about coming to maturity so we no longer sit there like sponges taking in, but are out there serving God, blessing others. “You ought to be teachers.” Do you prefer just sitting in the pews to that thought because if we are to mature it means a) we have learnt and b) we are available.

My Testimony: Within the first year of coming to Christ in my early twenties I was leading seven different Bible studies a week. It was the natural thing to do and there were other young people who were hungry for God’s word. I learned as I went along. Yet I am aware of how limited I was. I became a church leader and a number of years later found myself in a position where I was invited to teach in a church in Malaysia for three weeks on “The New Covenant.” I am not quite sure what I taught and how I got away with it but they seemed blessed. I suspect I am much more well equipped today to teach on such things. Yes, it can be a nervy thing to step out but that’s how we learn – by doing it.

The Challenge again: He presses it in: “you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again.” Now he is going to list some of those things he thinks are ‘elementary truths’ when we get to chapter 6 so it will be interesting to see what we feel about those things because, remember, he is saying we ought to be past those things. Then he says something interesting: “Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness.”  (v.13) That is fascinating! Do you see what he is saying? All of that other stuff we’ll see in chapter 6 is ‘the basics’ and we should NOT keep on going over and over those things but move on and teach and learn how to live rightly (righteousness)  i.e. how to live in this world as one of God’s children and how to serve in the kingdom of God, ‘doing the stuff’ as John Wimber used to say.

And in case we didn’t take it in he goes on, “But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” (v.14). Solid food is a wider understanding of Scripture, knowing how it applies to everyday life so that it produces lives of righteousness, lives that live to the glory of God, revealing the goodness and compassion and love of Christ, lives that are holy, utterly different from those living in the way of the unbelieving and ungodly world.

The Challenge to us today: In the so-called Great Commission, Jesus taught his followers to go out and make disciples, followers in the mold of Jesus, “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you,” (Mt 28:20) and ‘obey’ is the same as “do”, so why don’t we do a few little checks before we finish. As we said before, this is to be a ‘doing’ faith.

Jesus said, “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (Jn 13:34,35) Jesus showed love by being with his disciples, accepting them and blessing them, guiding them and teaching them and pushing them out to do the same things he did. Is this what our church community is like? Do we major on relationships and how they can build a strong, secure, genuinely loving ‘body of Christ’ that risks ministering in word and power as Jesus did?

Jesus said, “seek first the kingdom of God,” and “Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me” (Matt 6:33 & Jn 15:4) and so we might ask, do we put God’s will first and do we seek to draw near to Jesus and know him in all we do in his name? This has very practical outworkings. For instance, many churches have prayer meetings, so suppose yours does, what is it like? Have you learnt (been taught) to listen to God, to be sensitive to His Holy Spirit, to hear His heart so that prayers flow out of that and come with a confidence that is born in heaven?

We could go on with many similar examples. These two speak of a community of God’s people who have learned what a Jesus community means and have learned to be a people who know and respond to Him and are thus able to be used by Him. Consider our weekly preaching and teaching. Yes, we need basic Bible exposition but if that is all we have, we produce a bunch of nice and good people (which is not to be despised) but who are just that and nothing more. Is our preaching the same stuff over and over again, or do we seek maturity in the people of God, a people who both ‘know’ and ‘do’?

6. Qualifications for Elders (1)

Meditations in Titus: 6:  Qualifications for elders

Titus 1:6,7  An elder must be blameless, the husband of but one wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. Since an overseer is entrusted with God’s work, he must be blameless–not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain.

If I may shorten the recap within the previous meditation to remind us what elders do: elders are to be men of maturity, who go ahead by example, who care for the flock, teach and challenge the flock to grow into maturity, resisting wrong teaching, and who should have spiritual authority and spiritual power. They are therefore, conduits of God’s blessing to His people.

Now if you think that is too high a calling, you are beginning to realise the reality of it. It IS a calling and a gifting and it is only able to be carried out with the grace of God. If that is the nature of the ministry, what must be the nature of the vessel bringing the ministry?

First, “an elder must be blameless.” He must seek to be a man of impeccable character because he represents God and is to be God’s channel of blessing. Now please, be realistic, none of us are perfect and so your man will have feet of clay the same as the rest of us. There will be times when he isn’t perfect, nevertheless generally he must be a man of good reputation. Now twice in this list Paul says the elder must be blameless, In verse 6 it would appear to be blameless in respect of family life and then in verse 7 in respect of personal character and personality. We will look at verse 7 in the next meditation and restrict ourselves here to considering family life because it is so important.  Now I realise we are about to move into contentious issues and so simply ask that we consider these things as the Bible says them and not as modern culture would try to make us go along with.

So, second, “the husband of but one wife.” Note he is a man and a man in a stable enduring marriage relationship. Let’s deal with the ‘male issue’ first. Where we have a society functioning as God designed, it we will have committed relationships (marriages) and children born to them.  I have been tempted to expand on the psychological reasons why in general God decrees that leadership will be male but will simply leave this statement which is true: in the Bible leadership is invariably male although there are rare exceptions. This has nothing to do with culture or history, I suggest, but more to do with God’s wisdom.

I realise we are living in an age where godless culture does not understand this and parts of the church are conforming to that culture’s norms but time will tell the truth of this before too many years pass. This is not in any way to demean women or restrict their gifting. Spiritual warfare can be bruising and elders are at the forefront of that. As I have heard someone say, “When you look at the realities of spiritual leadership and realise how tough it often is, you are crazy to want to be a leader unless you have God’s clear calling into it.”  Doctors and psychologists often say that church leadership is one of the most stressful jobs going. The injury rate or the casualty rate is phenomenal. If this is strange to you, count yourself fortunate that you have not seen this or been part of it. Most of the church leaders that I know are damaged in some way by the ministry; as we said spiritual warfare can really be bruising, and that is an understatement.

The call to be blameless here, I believe, is a call to be accusation free wherever possible and in respect of their marriages spiritual leaders are always vulnerable. If the truth was known about many marriage relationships, many wives might well disqualify their husbands from that role (or husbands disqualify themselves). Is this a reason why the church is so often powerless and impotent?.

Third, “a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient.” He is thus a father who has been fully involved with his family and taken part in the training and brining up of his children, including their spiritual teaching.  In the letter to Timothy, Paul includes in this same list, “He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?)” (1 Tim 3:4,5) This element is an important one. A man who has not been able to train his children appropriately so that they are not disruptive and disobedient is lacking. It is a sign of maturity that he is able to do that. How we deal with our children will be a sign of our maturity and its absence is revealed in the way our children respond in life I believe.

When we pray for our leaders, I wonder do we pray for their families? I have mentioned spiritual warfare more than once and as I have observed the families of leaders, there are some beautiful ones to behold but at the same time there are ones where the enemy is causing havoc. Husband and wife relationships and parent and children relationship can be, if we are not very careful, major battlefields where the enemy seeks to lead astray or pull down individuals.  Any parent will at times anguish for their children and cry to the Lord for help and an entire study could be written on the ways the enemy seeks to upset relationships and subsequently ministries.

If we are a leader honesty is vital. We must face the reality of our marriages and our relationships with our children and their relationships with us, with one another and with God. These are areas of major vulnerability that require us to think much, pray much, and do all we can to enable us to be leaders who are full of grace and truth, have families that are full of grace and truth, and establish churches that are full of grace and truth.

21. With his disciples

Short Meditations in John 3:  21. With his disciples

Jn 3:22   After this, Jesus and his disciples went out into the Judean countryside, where he spent some time with them, and baptized.

Now this verse doesn’t say what I expected it to say. I expected it to say that Jesus went into the Judean countryside and preached and taught the crowds – but it doesn’t!  Now we do find something similar to that in Matthew: After Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in the towns of Galilee,” (Mt 11:1) but even there, in that quote, we see first of all Jesus instructing his disciples.

It is easy to forget, as we observe all the teaching ministry of Jesus and then his healing and deliverance ministry that attracted great crowds, that one of his primary roles to was draw to him “disciples”, those who he would teach to be like him (for that is what a disciple is, one who is taught and becomes like the master). To achieve this he had to spend time with them. So Jesus spent much of his time with these men (although women did accompany him) and during the course of their time together they would get to know Jesus, and get to know how he thought and how he worked.

We see his thinking, for instance, in the time when the disciples were arguing who was the greatest:“They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, because he was teaching his disciples. He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it. They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest. Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.” (Mk 9:30-35)

Do you see in that passage Jesus shares his future with them and shares the nature of discipleship – servant-heartedness and humility. But note he does it privately with them and not with the crowd. This was the benefit of being a disciple who travelled with him all the time. So we find, “he spent some time with them, and baptized.” Now the context is clearly Jesus just with his disciples so I would suggest that the reference to baptizing must have meant baptizing the disciples.

If part of their future ministry was to be teaching and baptizing people, then it would be essential for them to have each been baptized. Thus on these times away together, one of the things Jesus picked up on with them was that each one had been baptized.

24. A Teachable Spirit

Meditating on the Will of God: 24:  A Teachable Spirit

Ex 4:12-15   Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.” But Moses said, “O Lord, please send someone else to do it.” Then the LORD’s anger burned against Moses and he said, “What about your brother, Aaron the Levite? I know he can speak well. He is already on his way to meet you, and his heart will be glad when he sees you. You shall speak to him and put words in his mouth; I will help both of you speak and will teach you what to do.

We have said before that when you are considering these things it pays to be repetitive. We have also noted that when it comes to the will of God, it is not natural for us to know and understand it; it needs to come by revelation. Also at the heart of the experiences of Jesus’ followers was the call to be a disciple, a learner. But we have also considered the issue of having a hard heart (as in the case of Pharaoh) and so when you put all these things together we see that to be a Christian means to be a learner and to be a learner means we must deal with any signs of a hard heart within us. We’ve also noted that in the day in which we live, a self-centred attitude predominates, often heard in the words, “Don’t you tell me what to do!” Such a person is locked into a self-destructive lifestyle where the blindness of sin prevails.

          We have chosen the above passage from the Lord’s conversation with Moses, very simply because near the end of it twice the Lord says He will teach Moses. Yes, He is aware that He is sending Moses on a humanly impossible task but He will go with him, He will do miracles through Him and now, He will teach him what to say and what to do. Now if that was true for Moses, I suggest it is also certainly true for us. We blunder through life and we get it wrong. We say wrong things and upset people, we do things the wrong way and get in a mess. We do need help, we do need teaching how to do things better – and God delights in teaching us.

          James in his letter wrote, If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.” (Jas 1:5-8) I have included all those verses because they say so much about this. First of all, ‘wisdom’ is the ‘knowledge of how to…’ It is knowing how to speak or knowing how to act, that is appropriate for the situation. That is wisdom and the Lord says He will give generously (plenty of it) without finding fault (for He understands our shortcomings and that is why we are asking for help, after all).But the person asking must not doubt because if he does then he will not stick to what he has been told by God. If he doubts that it is God or doubts what God says, he will half-heartedly go about it and will end up all over the place like a boat tossed around in a storm. If he is a “on one hand this, but on the other hand that” sort of person that is being double minded and not a man of faith and so will be unstable. No, in summary, God delights in teaching us how to speak or act but we have to be open and obedient.

          Now what is interesting, and what we so often forget, is that those words in James follow other verses and really should be seen in the light of those verses: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (Jas 1:2-4) The context for needing wisdom is the context of trials, of difficulties, where our faith is tested as God works the process of sanctification out in us, that develops perseverance – stick-ability – and that will develop maturity. In those situations, and they crop up again and again in life, we need wisdom, we need God to teach us how to handle the difficult situation.

Elsewhere the apostle Paul wrote, “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” (1 Cor 10:13)  A temptation is the other side of the coin from a trial. God brings a trial and He may allow Satan to bring a temptation but the truth is, says Paul, that whatever temptation comes it is common to us all and God won’t let us be pushed further than that with which we can cope. Moreover (as we seek Him – implied) He will provide a way so we can stand in the face of it. It, so often, is simply knowledge (realization of what is happening) and understanding (coming to see the issues clearly) and wisdom (knowing what to do) that will see us through this test, this trial, this temptation.

But back to our starting place, we will only be able to do this if we have learnt to have a teachable heart, or a teachable spirit. If we have learnt that God knows best and God has the answers for us, then we need to be open to receive those things from Him, we need to let Him teach us. In the previous study we noted the Lord who corrects or chides us and teaching includes us being corrected and taught the right way to go. Solomon wrote, “A fool spurns his father’s discipline, but whoever heeds correction shows prudence.” (Prov 15:5).  Discipline is simply training and it is a foolish person who does not have an open heart to be taught. The heart is indeed deceitful (Jer 17:9) and so our inner self so often denies that we are not open to be taught, but when we do that we do it by making excuses that the form of correction that we see coming is coming from a person who is also less than perfect (because God so often uses people to teach us). But these are just excuses and they deceive us and cover up our lack of being open to being taught, to be trained, to being disciplined, to being corrected, and to being shown a better way to live than the way we are on at the present.  We need to be taught, and if anything rings true here, we need to go to the Lord for His wisdom as to how to deal with our lack. May it be so.

40. Teacher

God in the Psalms No.40 – God who is teacher

Psa 25:4,5   Show me your ways, O LORD, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.

For many people their schooldays were not the best years of their life. In fact, for many people the thought of teachers and school sends a cold shiver down their spine. It’s sad but it’s true. So what about God who is a teacher? Are some of us left with a vision of an angry old man who will smack us around the ear if we fail to repeat the things we heard last Sunday? Is He just waiting to put us in detention or give us the cane (which may be completely unknown to the younger generation), is he waiting to rebuke us for being so slow witted. Ah!  Now on that last point we have to be careful for He does have expectations of us and He does rebuke us if we refuse to believe!  Be careful!

But look at these verses, look at David’s heart. To catch the full significance of what he is saying we need to put it in context (as we always should) and see what went before. He has been saying that his trust and his hope are in the Lord and he’s asking not to be put to shame before his enemies; in fact anyone, he says, who hopes in the Lord will not be put to shame. Do you see what he is saying? He’s saying the whole basis of his life, and particularly his life as he confronts his enemies, is reliant upon knowing the Lord. Therefore he comes with an open teachable heart, saying, Lord, I need to know things if I am not to be put to shame before my enemies, I need you to show me, teach me, guide me. This isn’t coming from the Lord saying, you must learn; this is coming as David is aware of the truth of his life and recognizing his need to learn. Therein is the start of wisdom, recognizing our need to learn.

Solomon knew this: For the LORD gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding. He holds victory in store for the upright, he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless, for he guards the course of the just and protects the way of his faithful ones.(Prov 2:6-8). In his words, the Lord gives victory to those who walk rightly before the Lord, and guards and protects them. And how does He do that? First by giving them wisdom, knowledge and understanding to know how to walk rightly before Him. Isn’t that just the thing that David asks for? Show me your ways”, i.e. show me the way to walk rightly before you.

The ‘ways’ of the Lord?  Moses cried, “If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you.” (Ex 33:13). The Lord answered that cry: “And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation (Ex 34:6,7). It was like the Lord answered: “My ways? I’m compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness…. this is the sort of God I am and this is how I work, these are the ways I operate.” This, if you like, is the path the Lord walks, and so if we are to walk with Him we will be the same. If we walk like this, like David, we will be able to trust in Him and hope in Him. We can trust that He is there for us today and hope He will be there for us tomorrow and when He is, we will be secure and we will not be ashamed before our enemies, for the Lord will be with us and for us. Hallelujah!

10. God of Enabling

Lessons from Israel: No.10 : God of Enabling

Ex 4:11,12 The LORD said to him, “Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the LORD? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.”

So the Lord has shared with Moses His general plan – for Moses to go to Pharaoh and demand that he lets the people go to worship the Lord, but Pharaoh will refuse and then God will do signs and wonders so that Pharaoh will have to let them go. That’s the basic strategy. When Moses then started worrying about not being believed, the Lord gave him a series of miraculous demonstrations to perform – we only looked at the first one in the previous meditation. But Moses hasn’t finished with his ‘escape pleas’; we find, “Moses said to the LORD, “O Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.” (3:10) This always makes me laugh, it seems such a clear bit of communication which denies what he is saying.

Now, as we come to today’s verses, note again that the Lord doesn’t chide him. He knows this man and He knows that Moses really does need encouragement, which is why the Lord patiently explains some basics to Moses: I am God and I give people their abilities so don’t worry, I’ll help you speak. Jesus instructed his disciples similarly: “But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” (Mt 10:19,20) i.e. my Holy Spirit will give you the words when you need them.

I believe there is a very real lesson here for Christians who say, “I don’t know what to say” when it comes to giving a testimony or sharing the Gospel with others. The first thing to say in reply is, think about it and learn what you could say. It’s not an option to be silent. The church is called to be a witnessing community. Think about it, work on it, learn what to say. That bit you can do, but when it actually comes to it and you have an opportunity to speak, quickly pray and ask the Lord for help and then trust Him to give you words.  Remind Him – Lord you said you’d give me words to speak by your Spirit. Please do it now.

But the story doesn’t end there. Moses may have run out of excuses but he still doesn’t want to go: “But Moses said, “O Lord, please send someone else to do it.” At this point we might legitimately wonder why the Lord bothered to call him, when the Lord knows that He was going to get all these excuses and refusals. But therein is the truth: the Lord does know Moses and does know that he can do the job like no one else. Even more He knows the sort of man Moses is going to become. This man is going to become one of the most famous men in history in what he achieves. Oh yes, the Lord knows!

So we find, “Then the LORD’s anger burned against Moses.” (3:14) Now I think most people don’t understand what is happening here. Can I give a personal illustration? We have several young grandchildren and I love them all very much. One of them we have once a week, while her mum does some coaching. This little girl who is about two and a half has a mind of her own. As much as possible we say ‘Yes’ to her but there are times when ‘No!’ has to be said. The other day when she was with us, my wife was having to stop her doing something and she resisted and was just about to throw a tantrum. Sitting along the table from her, I just cleared my throat loudly. Instantly the possible tantrum was gone and she complied. What had just happened? Her granddad, who always appears loving and gentle to her, suddenly appeared angry and fearsome. Was I? No, I am still the same loving grandparent but anger appeared the name of the game.

So now Moses gets the same treatment but see what the Lord actually says: “What about your brother, Aaron the Levite? I know he can speak well. He is already on his way to meet you, and his heart will be glad when he sees you. You shall speak to him and put words in his mouth; I will help both of you speak and will teach you what to do. He will speak to the people for you, and it will be as if he were your mouth and as if you were God to him.” (3:14-16) How might we summarise that? OK Moses, if you don’t want to speak we’ll get your brother to do the speaking but you’ll still be the one who directs him! Isn’t that amazing! We might have given up on Moses but the Lord knows Moses’ potential and He doesn’t give up on him. He accommodates him!

There’s a big lesson here. We see it elsewhere in Scripture as well, in the story of Deborah and Barak (Judges 4, esp. v.8,9), where second best is accepted. The Lord will provide for us if we will go in faith, He is the Lord who will enable, but if we keep on opting out, He’ll take another course which still involves us, but isn’t as good as the original option. Please, let’s learn the lesson. God WILL enable you. If He puts something before you, He WILL enable you to do it: “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” (Phil 4:13). Amen!

1. The Beatitudes


Mt 5:1,2 Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them, saying….

There was a time in Israel‘s history when, “Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit” (Jud 21:25). It was a day when they had judges to rule over them but there was no one to take a teaching lead, and as a result everyone just did what they felt like doing. In this pluralistic age in which we live, the lie has been sown that no one has the right to say what is right and wrong, and indeed anything and everything is right. It perhaps comes as a shock for some, therefore, when they come to Christ to find that he wants to bring about a change in mindset by teaching them specific things.

Now in the verses above there are three sets of people to be noted. First of all there were “the crowds” and they are distinguished from “his disciples”. The crowds were simply people who had heard about Jesus and came along to hear what he might say. They were interested and no more. Perhaps that is you. You have come across these meditations and wondered about Jesus and thought you’d read along to see what it was about. It’s great that you’re here. We hope you’ll find them both helpful and challenging.

Next there were “his disciples” and this probably refers to the twelve who now travelled with Jesus. ‘Disciple’ really just means a learner. A disciple or follower of Jesus is first and foremost a learner. Again and again in the Gospels we find Jesus teaching (e.g. Mk 1:21, 2:13, 4:1, 6:2, 8:31). Very simply teaching is the imparting of information and understanding to bring about a change in knowledge and outlook. If you are a Christian, you are a disciple. Before we knew Christ we had lots of wrong ideas.

When we came to Christ the Bible suddenly opened up to us and Jesus started teaching us by his Holy Spirit, so that our minds and our ways of thinking are changed. We start to learn things about God and about ourselves that we hadn’t ever realized before. We are taught that there is a new way to live which is quite different from the way we had lived before we knew Christ. Disciples are those who are committed to Jesus and committed to let him teach them so that they not only have a change in life when they come to God through Christ, but it is an ongoing change that is brought about as he teaches us and a new way is opened up before us.

Of course the final person to be noted is Jesus himself. As God’s Son he has God’s wisdom and he imparts that to whoever will come to him. Jesus is a teacher and wherever crowds came to him, the first thing he sought to do was bring them the knowledge of God’s love and the life they could be enabled to live.

In the following verses we will find it is highly challenging and we soon come to realize that we can only live this life with God’s enabling. The Christian life is all about living the life He’s designed us to live, with His help! Jesus came preaching the gospel of the kingdom or rule of God (4:23) and he starts out with these beatitudes (beatitude = blessedness), showing what real happiness is. The way for real happiness is very different from what the world may advocate. We will now consider these eight “If you are this…. then this will cause you to be blessed” sayings. These are Christian fundamentals which apply to everyone.