14. God of Variety (1)

Getting to Know God Meditations:  14. God of Variety (1)

Psa 22:1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?  Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? (Psalm of David – prophetic poetry)

Jn 20:30,31  About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”)  (Prophetic Aramaic fulfillment cry of Jesus Christ on the cross – historical narrative)

Continuation:  I am aware we have been through some challenging areas in the recent days and it seems right to step back with a lighter overview for a moment to give some readers some breathing space perhaps. I did wonder about putting this study much earlier in the series but it feels right to use it here to step back and catch a wider view of the Bible rather than the specific message, although that will almost certainly come through.

Variety: When we look at the world and we look at the Bible and we look towards God, if He is the Creator of all this – and the alternative is, in the words of one leading atheist, a meaningless mess – our conclusion has to be that He is a God who loves variety. I always remember, many years ago hearing someone say, “Did you know there are over 1200 sorts of edible bean in the world?” Since then I’ve heard so much more in science that says this world is a showcase of variety, no more so than when you look at people and cultures, and also no more so than when you look in the Bible.

Variety & the Bible: Every now and then I hear some smart character pontificating about the failures of the Bible and the moment you hear them using and deriding the word ‘literal’ you know they are speaking out of a weak limited area of knowledge and understanding. Hopefully, if you have been a Christian for any length of time, you will have sat in on a sermon or study where you will know that the word ‘literal’ is dismissed. “Is it literally true?” says this smart character trying to make a smart point. Whatever do you mean? Do you understand the variety of writing that is here in this book? Let’s consider some of the variety of genres or styles or writing we find in the Bible.

i) Historical Narrative: There is history, narrative if you like, and yes we can say that is literally true, it did happen in time-space history. The evidence is there, the writings so often supported by archaeology or other history sources. This isn’t always so but there has been an interesting phenomena over the past hundred and fifty years. Critics said, “Oh there is no archaeological evidence for those accounts in ….” and they name some passage, and lo and behold twenty years later the remains are unearthed. Absence does not mean it did not happen. Just be patient!

ii) Teaching: There is much straight forward teaching in the Bible. Let’s take that classic book, ‘Proverbs’ and let’s take one example from early on, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Prov 1:7) Time and space forbids us meditating on that, but is it literal? What does that mean? Is it literally true? Well, yes. Or consider Jesus teaching his disciples, to take a random example, many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.” (Lk 10:24) To ask is it literal is meaningless without explanation. Yes it is literally true what he said. Look at Jesus’ parables and you find teaching within a story. Is the story literally true? Don’t be daft, it is a story! Watch out for similes, metaphors and personification and if you don’t know what they are, classes on Literature 101 are needed.

iii) Prophecy: There are big chunks of prophecy in the Bible, the biggest probably being the book of Revelation at the end. In the Old Testament, the big books are Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel (and there are a number of what are called ‘The Minor Prophets’).  Each of those big four contain some narrative as well as prophecies. Is it literal? Well the narrative is but look at prophecy and you find that it is a complete mix of exhortation, teaching and picture language and the picture language (e.g. personification) is clearly not meant to be taken literally but simply conveys meaning. Is this allegory literal? Don’t be daft, it’s an allegory!!!

iv) Poetry: You will know that it is in poetic form because of the way it will be laid out in your Bible. If you ask a poet, is your poetry literal, they will look at you, seeing one who has not got a clue about the style and goal of poetry (this is not the place to do that – do your own research). Poems convey meaning, poems express emotions, poems come from and touch the heart. Read the Psalms and see this.

The Problem with Scripture: There is a problem from our point of time in history, in fact there are at least four problems.

i) The first is historical: The book is spread over a two thousand year period and covers a vast range of changes in history. An excellent example of historical data is that found in Luke’s Gospel (who we have referred to in an earlier study): In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene— during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.” (Lk 3:1,2) Note 7 historical figures (if you don’t count John) and five geographical locations and three historical ‘job descriptions’.

 ii) The second is cultural: So often we see behaviour that was common in a particular culture and at first sight, without explanation, it may appear strange to us. We need to learn about the culture. (I will not give examples of these because they each will require too much explanation.)

iii) The third is linguistic: Some of the word patterns or uses of language appear strange to us, but it was the way they spoke back then. Again I hesitate to give examples for the sake of time and space but when you see phrases or sayings that seem strange, look them up on the Internet.

 iv) The fourth is geographical: The action of the Bible takes place over an area from Egypt to modern-day Iraq.  It therefore includes many countries (some of which don’t exist today), and many towns and cities (some of which either don’t exist today or have changed their names).  It also includes geographical features such as rivers, lakes, seas and mountains, that are clearly located.

Each of these things requires an intelligent reading and that will take time and effort.

And So: Our key point within this study is to highlight

a) the variety of styles of writing found in the Bible, each of which needs identifying if we are not to make wrong assumptions about it,

b) the indirect forms of speech that are often used, requiring us to identify them and not jump to false conclusions about what is being said, and

c) the various difficulties or gaps in understanding that may appear because of the Bible recording the ways and culture of people who lived two to four thousand years ago, in a different part of the world from that with which we are familiar.

Therefore, in these 66 books, written by over 40 writers, we find a rich variety of amazing literature, and once we overcome the obstacles I have referred to above, we find a rich vein of history that sheds light on who we are, why we are and where we are going. Oh, yes, this is not merely academic literature that we read for mundane interest, this is a book that reveals to us what life is all about and the One who brought it all into being. In the next study we will compare and highlight some of this ‘literature’ more fully so we can see the wonder of it.

26. Spiritual Expressions

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 4 – Pondering on Vision

26. Spiritual Expressions

1 Cor 2:13 This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words.

Eph 2:10 we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

God-centred: at the beginning of the previous study I spoke about focusing on what church was all about, summarized in two suggestions. First, make the ‘Spiritual’ the keystone of your direction, the starting point and then, second, make ‘building people’ your second priority, and we started considering the first of those two things, the need (often taken for granted and therefore not practiced) for being God-centred. This, we said, should impact every expression of our relationship with the Lord and our ministry, and noted how obedience is to be virtually the key starting place for both of those. Now I am aware that this is all about vision, and although these are not things we want to spell out in a brief mission statement, they are nevertheless the realities that we need to keep before us. So rather than plough on into ‘building people’ we need to flesh out some of the aspects of the Christian life and ministry, seen under the magnifying glass of this part – “Being God-centred”.

Spirit-Led: I fear if you go into many churches and randomly ask people in the congregation, what it means to be Spirit-led, you would receive a lot of blank looks, because I have rarely heard it preached upon and taught. Surely we need to build a people who are open to the Holy Spirit, who are learning to sense/listen to Him and respond to Him, producing leaders who lead in the ways of the Spirit, who can be an example and go ago ahead (that’s what leaders do!) in the Spirit.  Surely we need to encourage our people who are unquestionably people of the Word and of the Spirit, to feed and drink and then feed others and enable others to drink, being seen to be people stepping out in faith and in the Spirit and trusting God to turn up, not being afraid to get it wrong.

Spiritual Expressions (Disciplines): If we are to be God-centred, God-focused, we also need to major on Prayer, creating meetings that do not just utter words but who learn to listen to God and then pray out of what they hear. We should encourage leaders to always be at them, and encourage the church to be at them, and give it high profile at every opportunity

In Preaching, we need to focus on who we are rather than ‘this is what you do’ to build assurance, confidence and faith, challenging people to rise to a vision of ‘this is who we ARE and this is therefore what we can rise to’.  i.e. we motivate by preaching grace not law, vision not vices, hope not guilt, reaching up, not driving up. Beware teaching ‘law’ (more Bible reading, more prayer) but instead show attainable goals that build faith. Again and again, can we place an emphasis on being God-enabled in this, rather than just intellect driven.

In Teaching encourage our leaders and then our flock, to be well read, both in the Bible and outside it, feed people and give them a strong base for their belief, also equipping them to resist the thinking of the world, knowing who and what they are and why, to give a springboard to ‘becoming’. As above, again and again, may we motivate by grace and flow out of our relationship with the Lord, being God-orientated at all times.

In Worship, can we encourage expressive and involved and Spirit-inspired worshipping and, as the Spirit is allowed to move, be seen to be an initiator, enabler, a totally involved follower.

The Problems of Leadership: Our greatest failure is to look to people who are successful in the world. I can remember in my youth being in a church where the diaconate of twelve men trouped out of a door at the front of the auditorium with the Minister, twelve men in suits, twelve men at the top of their game, bankers, lawyers, accountants and the like, and the church was proud to have such men at the front. But there were at least six problems with that. First, these were committee men, men good at running organisations, not organic bodies like the church. The church is the body of Christ and he is its head and the Spirit is its energizing and directing force.

Second, there is a great deal of difference between a business man and a spiritual leader. One might suggest that being a deacon is merely being a servant who helps administer the practical side of the church (see Acts 6) but actually the Biblical requirement is that they be filled with the Spirit (back to God again!). The other thing, in my past experience in that particular denomination was that deacons sought to exercise power and authority (in the role of elders) without having either the calling or equipping for that. We’ll look at this in detail later in the series. Third, these men were so proper, so respectable, that I am sure none of them would have dared step out in the Spirit if He might encourage them to do something ‘undignified’.

Fourth, this respectability drove such a wedge between them and the poor people who they were supposed to be serving. Some might say their lives were so different from some of the poorer members of the church (past tax-collectors and sinners?) that they would hardly know how to communicate with them. Fifth, and this goes back to an earlier study in an earlier part, humility was often lacking in these men, so not so good examples of Christ-like servants. Sixth, perhaps associated with this, these men could be seriously opinionated and so when there was a difference of opinion, politics came into play, and church is not the place to play politics. Now all I am doing here is showing from a past example what church leadership should NOT be like. Where the emphasis is on God, on serving and obeying Him, being those who respond to His Spirit and who are filled with the Spirit and with gifts of the Spirit, these things above, tend to disappear.

True Leaders: Now this may not be something that you want to work into your vision materials but it is, I suggest, nevertheless, stuff you want to hold before you as you think about ‘church’. What is a true spiritual leader? First of all, in general outlook, they are not someone who is perfect but someone who knows who they are in Christ, what their calling is, where their resources are, what their limitations are, and what they do when they fail.  I suggest, as far as God is concerned, they will be people of prayer and people of the word. Generally they will people of faith, people who listen to God and who respond to Him, people who are filled with the Spirit and are led by Him, people of vision seeing possibilities that are realistic in God and in the light of the people available, people of humility but who are not afraid to lead with the calling they have in God.

One would hope that they are hungry for God and when tiredness, weariness and exhaustion blunt that, they have the wisdom and humility to step back, sit down and get refreshed. They will recognize availability in the flock and will encourage people to recognize the gifts God is giving them, encourage them in those gifts and maybe even pray for them for those gifts to be released.  They will not be one-man ministries and they will not lord it over others as a CEO but will act as the chief servant being an example to all (see Jesus in Jn 13). We could no doubt add to that list (and may do in subsequent studies) but for now that should be enough to help refocus on the nature of this body we call the church and those who lead it. More will come later but there is just one more thing that needs mentioning here in this context.

Accountability: Leaders need to find spiritually mature (if possible) people who are for them, inside the church, to whom they can be accountable as they share with them, making opportunities for them to sit and listen to, question and encourage them. ‘Outside people’ cannot do this because they will not be there on the ground to watch and be there in it (and our natural tendency with ‘outside people’ is to only share with them things we are comfortable sharing).  ‘Insiders’ should be given permission to be honest, which doesn’t mean you have to follow everything they say but go away and weigh it – and you are more likely to get a realistic assessment. This is simply a safety measure and where it is real and there grows a close and open relationship, it will help guard against the temptations that the enemy would bring that has caused the downfall of so many leaders who did not have that protection.

And So? We have been considering how we can make the church what it is meant to be – a living expression of a relationship of people with their God, something that goes beyond simply mouthing words, and becomes reality that not only blesses the Church but also reveals the Lord to the onlooking world. May that become how it is for your local church and mine. But if we said the starting point for ‘church’ is making the ‘Spiritual’ the keystone of your direction, we said, second, making ‘building people’ our second priority and that is what we will move onto in the next and concluding Part on ‘vision’.

1. Limitations

Short Meditations in John 7:  1. Limitations

Jn 7:1  After this, Jesus went around in Galilee. He did not want to go about in Judea because the Jewish leaders there were looking for a way to kill him.

Chapter 6 was a package, almost, a miraculous feeding and then talk about bread, natural and spiritual bread. That was the substance of the chapter but underlying it was revelation about Jesus himself as the divine-human in their midst: a miracle worker (feeding many, walking on water), a teacher (on the hillside and in the synagogue), the one who had come down from heaven, and the one who has to be taken into our lives to feed us and give us eternal life. Major revelations.

Now in the first ten verses of chapter 7, John gives us a little insight into both (i) the divine restrictions and (ii) the human pressures, upon Jesus. These are two things we need to understand for our own lives.

After the specific teaching in the synagogue, following which both the crowd and some of his not-so-committed disciples drew back from Jesus, John starts this new chapter with a general insight into Jesus general strategy at this time, and it is important to see – for this is at the heart of the present verses – that his strategy varied according to the dictates of the Father and the general plan they had for the days ahead.

“After this.” After the teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.

“Jesus went around in Galilee.” Jesus didn’t stay in one place but limited himself to the area of the north referred to as Galilee.

“He did not want to go about in Judea.Interestingly there is a footnote after ‘want’ that suggests a possible alternative – not have authority which suggests that Jesus’ ‘wants’ were in fact subject to the Father in heaven’s authority. Why this restriction?

“because the Jewish leaders there were looking for a way to kill him.” We might say today, ‘the knives were out, the word was out to get him!’ It was clear that it was the leaders of Judaism who had a problem with Jesus, such a problem that they saw the only way to deal with it was by arranging for him to be killed.

But what this verse shows us that even the Son of God adapted a strategy to conform to what was going on in the world around him. We sometimes tend to think that God, being sovereign, can just plough on through the affairs of mankind, but Scripture is clear that He works so often within the affairs of mankind to bring about His overall goals. The classic of this was declared by the anointed apostle Peter: “This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” (Acts 2:23) i.e. God’s plan using man’s sinful intent.

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!

19. Aspects of Ministry

Meditations in Titus: 19:  Aspects of Ministry

Titus 2:15   These, then, are the things you should teach. Encourage and rebuke with all authority. Do not let anyone despise you

We have noted previously Titus has within it a number of succinct passages or verses that powerfully summarise different doctrines. In our verse above we have a number of aspects of Christian leadership, things which we would hope we would find in the ministry of any local church leader. There are five things to note.

First of all there is teaching. That is what Paul has been putting before Titus for so much of this letter so far, things that Titus needs to teach within the church. The truth is that when we come to Christ most of us have very little knowledge of the New Testament teachings so we understand little of what has happened to us and little of what we can expect and little of what we should be working for. Making up these deficiencies is the role of the teacher in the church and, I believe, all leaders are called to be such teachers.

Second there is encouragement. Encouragement is all about building up people’s self esteem ‘in Christ’. Building up self esteem on its own only tends towards building pride and self-centredness. Self-esteem in Christ is knowing who we are in him and realising the wonder of who he has made us to be. Encouragement reminds us that we are loved and accepted by God. It points out to us what He has done for us and in us and it helps us face a meaningful and purposeful future.

Third there is rebuking. For most of us this is an aspect of ministry we would rather ignore but when Paul wrote to Timothy he said, All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,” (2 Tim 3:16) I have emphasised three words, Rebuking points out that something is wrong. Wrong attitudes and wrong behaviour need pointing out and identifying as displeasing to God. Correcting shows us what is the alternative that God wants for us, while training is about how to go about changing from one to the other.

Fourth there is authority. The authority that a leader has should come from two sources. First there is his calling. He has been called to be God’s representative. He is not there to do his own bidding but God’s. He is not there to provide for himself but for the flock of God. He’s been called to oversee them, to guard them, protect them and provide for them just as The Good Shepherd does, for they are his representatives. This is not a casual or light thing. Second there is God’s will as revealed in His word. We can say with authority, this is right and this is wrong – because God’s word says so.  When the leader comes to present the word of God to the flock in preaching or teaching, he is not there full of ‘maybe’ or ‘perhaps’ but of a certainty that is there in God’s word.  Next to basic food or drink, the Bible is The most important material thing that we have. It is the revelation of God and when we realise the significance of what that means, we will be leaders who come with an authority that was observed in Jesus (see Mt 7:28,29 and Mk 1:22-27)

Fifth there is good reputation.  This has already come up in Titus in a variety of way, for example, “an overseer is entrusted with God’s work, he must be blameless.” (Titus 1:7) in respect of leaders, and, “so that no one will malign the word of God,” (2:5 – women) and, “they have nothing bad to say about us,” (2:8 – Titus himself) and, “so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.” (2:10 – slaves) about others. Each of these examples are about behaving in such a way as to create a good reputation so that the work of God’s word and Spirit is not hindered in any way by us. It is true of all of us but especially so of leaders.

Thus we find in these five things, things that we should find in all spiritual leaders. These are basics, fundamentals that are essential in the church if we are to be the people of God, expressing Jesus  and demonstrating God’s love and grace. May it be that we can see them wherever we are part of the church.

9. Maths of the Kingdom

Meditating on the Gems of the Bible:  9. Maths of the Kingdom

Matt 13:10-12   The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?” He replied, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.

There were times when Jesus appeared to speak in riddles, we might say today, and in our verses above is one of those: “Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.” Now this is one of those times when context is very important (it usually is!).  Jesus has just referred to “the secrets of the kingdom”. In other words he is speaking about how the way His Father’s kingdom works.

If we were talking about material possession it would sound quite unfair: whoever has a lot will be given more and whoever is poor will have the little he has taken away. Yes, in material terms that sounds quite unjust. And surely the Bible shows that God is concerned for the poor!  But if this is about the principles of how God works then it is more likely to be about spiritual principles than about material ones.

So what is the ‘has’ and ‘more’ and ‘abundance’ that is being referred to? Look at the text: “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more.”   It is the knowledge of how things work in the kingdom. As you come to God, and His Holy Spirit starts teaching you about the new way to live as a Christian, you first of all start learning basics: you can now pray,  worship, read your Bible; those are what are sometimes called spiritual disciplines. But then we learn that this new life means no to bad attitudes, words and behaviour and yes to good, Jesus-like behaviour. Christians are good and loving people as they are being remade in the image of Jesus.

Then we start finding that God has equipped us by the presence of His Holy Spirit and has given us gifts and abilities to be used to bless us and bless His world. Some we may call natural talents and so a person may be a good dancer, or artist, or homemaker, or a hundred and one other things that help them enjoy living in this world and making it a better place. But then we find out about spiritual gifts and we realise that as God leads us we can do the things Jesus did, bringing revelation and power into His world as he enables us.

But in a sense, this is merely the start. As we grow in Christ, we grow in our understanding of how God works. Moses asked, “Teach me your ways,” (Ex 33:13) meaning teach me the ways you work so I can know and understand you more fully, obey you and please you.  What he actually said was, “If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you.” He wanted to know God and please Him. That was Moses heart and it is the heart of the seeker.

And that brings us back to our starting verses. Again and again in Scripture there is this clarification that it is seekers who will find and know God.  Moses’ call to Israel was to “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” (Deut 6:4) That was a basic. But before that he had warned about Israel going astray and the path back was quite clear: “if from there you seek the LORD your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul.” (Deut 4:29) Note in each case it is a whole-hearted seeking after God. The person who is wishy-washy in their intent towards God is not going to find.

Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount taught about right priorities: “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Mt 6:33) The “these things” in this verse are material things and so Jesus is saying make spiritual issues priorities and God will sort out your material issues for you. Jesus also taught, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you,” (Mt 7:7) but the tense in each case there means, for the present context, “seek and go on seeking and you will find.”

It’s a little bit like the meaning behind James’ teaching: “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) If you ask for wisdom believe that God WILL give it to you. The faint hearted half-believer won’t get it because they won’t believe it when it comes!

So returning to our original verses,  “Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance,” it is the whole hearted seeker who will have insights and understanding of the ways God works and what God wants, and the more he has the more he will see and want to see more. Seeing and understanding is satisfying and makes you want more. Thus the seeker isn’t a seeker just for a moment but for a lifetime.

But then we have the other person: “Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.”  This is the half-hearted person who is really little concerned for the kingdom, little concerned for what God wants and, although at the beginning of their spiritual life the Holy Spirit does a work in them, their response is still half-hearted and, failing to have a whole-hearted seeking approach, they shrivel spiritually or stay in a state of suspended spiritual animation, losing any real signs of life.

Jesus taught this in the parable of the Sower that precedes this teaching and is explained after this teaching: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants.” (Mt 13:3-7) and then, “The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away. The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful.” (Mt 13:20-22)

The message is clear: different heart conditions produce different results. The final one is “the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” (Mt 13:23) Good ground is a good heart. A good heart is a seeking heart. A seeking heart gets more and more from God. What a gem of truth!

3. Shining more Brightly

Meditating on the Gems of the Bible:  3. Shining more brightly

Prov 4:18  The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter till the full light of day.

2 Cor 3:18  we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit

Why these verses? Because they won’t go away when I pray. So, let’s see what the Lord might want to say to us through them. The Proverbs verse speaks about the righteous and the 2 Corinthians verse speaks to Christians who are God’s righteous ones. Both of them speak about changing lives but the second one gives the reason for the change – the Holy Spirit.

The first thought that hit me when I got these two verses is that they are more about the Lord than they are about us. We know that we cannot change for the good left to ourselves and so any changes for good in our lives has to be the Lord. I know that when I came to the Lord I left behind a life of self-centred godlessness which was marred by failure. The transformation that took place when I came to Christ happened because He put His Holy Spirit within me and He was now my guiding, directing, teaching power. If I shone brighter now it was because of His Holy Spirit.

Of course Prov 4:18 says it is “the path of the righteous” that is shining ever brighter and I suddenly realise that Jesus said “I am the way” (Jn 14:6) and another word for ‘way’ is path. He is my life, his Spirit lives in me and therefore he is the one who grows brighter with the passing of each day – in and through me. Indeed, as I respond to him and allow his Spirit to lead, guide and change me, my life generally will be brighter, expressing him – but it is him. When the apostle Paul spoke of Jesus’ glory he said, But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” (2 Cor 4:7)  Our bodies are like jars of clay but they contain the glory of God and it is the glory that shines, not the clay.

Now if we accept these foundational thoughts – that these verses apply to us Christians and that the source of the brightness is Jesus and his Holy Spirit – there is something very basic that must flow out of this and it is so simple that it is something we take for granted, and that is that God purposes for us is to change for the better. Now I’ve just said that this is so basic that we probably take it for granted, and if we do I suggest that familiarity had bred contempt and so we don’t actually believe it for our lives. Note again what we are saying: God purposes good changes for us and in us. He loves us so much that He wants something better for us that what we are today.

Seriously, check that out. Are you completely happy with all that you are today? Are there aspects of who you are that you are not happy about? I don’t mean things like you feel you have big ears or you don’t like the colour of your hair. No, I’m referring to things like anger or lack of patience, or constant worries or jealousy, say. There could be a whole raft of issues we could choose from. Are there bits of the New Testament, say, that you skim over because they are uncomfortable? You know deep down that there are things where you don’t match to Jesus’ expectations of you in his word.

Now we have to make a simple clarification. We don’t mean things that very rarely you stumble over. We are all of us still imperfect this side of heaven and so there may be times when you are physically low and that in turn seems to sap your grace and you are not as patient, say, as you normally are. No, these are one-off rare failures; what I am talking about is a regular behaviour. You find you snap at people too often, you find you are impatient with others, you find you are constantly worrying about what might happen next week or how you might handle tomorrow. These are the sort of things which, when we feel safe and secure we can confess to being unhappy about in our lives.

Now here’s the thing: God is more concerned to help you move on from these failure repetitions than He is to punish you. He understands you and loves you and sees the ultimate cause why you are like you are (so often it is poor self-image, not realizing who we are in Christ) and why you seem to be unable to break out (so often it is because we just haven’t realised our position of freedom in Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit in us). He understands these things and understands that there is coming a time where you are going to be just ripe to receive His word and, hey presto!, it will be dealt with and you will be changed. Suddenly you will be shining brighter!

This is it. The good news is that he is on our side and He is working to help us change so that we will indeed be changing from one degree of glory to another. Why? Because He loves us and He knows we will enjoy life more, enjoy being ourselves more, when these things have been dealt with and we change. But it’s not a big heavy thing; it’s just part of the wonderful process that started the moment we came to Him and were born again.

One final thing. Very often the changes are slow and almost indiscernible and therefore we will not realise that this process IS being worked out in us. Don’t worry about it; just thank the Lord that these two verses DO apply to you and it is happening, because you want it to deep down, and He wants it for you because He loves you so much. Rejoice in it!