Snapshots: Day 11

Snapshots: Day 11

The Snapshot: “Did God really say…”  Behind even just one boundary, one limitation, there lurks temptation, temptation to reject, temptation to ignore, temptation that says, “Perhaps He didn’t mean it, perhaps my way is best.” Temptation is there behind the many hidden boundaries that wise usage means are there. Temptation had to be faced and overcome or given way to, and whichever way, lessons learned. And thus God stood back while a tempter came, the test faced, and the Fall experienced, and life would never be the same again. Yet failure never ends there with God for He foresees and plans accordingly and never gives up on us. A Beginning. Do I need to ask His forgiveness for where I gave way and ignored His boundaries?

Further Consideration: Temptation, a dictionary says, is the offer or wish to do or have something that you know you should not do or have, something that is wrong.  The sting of that sentence is in the last few words – something that is wrong, for the whole thing about temptation is that we are provoked to think (either by our own wrong thinking or by someone else suggesting it to us) that either a) the thing isn’t actually ‘wrong’ or b) even if it is, it doesn’t matter, I can get away with it without harm following.

That was exactly what we find in Genesis 3 when the tempter questions Eve as to whether eating the fruit was really wrong. Is that what God said, is that what He meant? And then that followed by, “You will not certainly die.” i.e. it will be all right, what He said won’t happen, and then a reason is given why it is good to ignore what God said. Isn’t that exactly how it is today? It’s OK to have a few drinks, it’s OK to try a few drugs, it’s OK to sleep around, it’s all right for you to do what feel good for the moment, it’s OK to ignore what were once Christian inhibitions, limitations, restrictions. It will be all right.  Deception!

Deception, a dictionary says, is ‘hiding the truth, causing someone to accept as true or valid what is false or invalid’. That is what the enemy seeks to do to spoil our relationship with God and make us think we don’t need all the good God promises us if we turn to Him. The biggest lie is, “You are all right on your own. You don’t need God.”

The most amazing thing about all this, is that even when we do give way to temptation and we fall, that is not the end of it. When we come to our senses and tell God we are truly sorry He doesn’t even blink, but instantly forgives us and welcomes us back with open arms. he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” (Lk 15:20) How wonderful! But hold on, He also wants us to learn from our failure so we won’t do it again. It’s not just the one-off, it’s the habit, the attitude. Don’t tolerate them. The temptation is to shrug it off

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23. Enduring, Patient and Joyful

Meditations in Colossians: 23. Enduring, Patient and Joyful

Col 1:10,11   And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father,

Life is sometimes tough. I recently sat in a church and heard the leader out front speak of three church members who had recently lost their grandmothers and his ‘seeking to be compassionate’ comment was, ‘Life sometimes is tough’.  I’m sorry but that is not tough. Yes it is sad when we lose someone close to us who we love but these were three elderly ladies who had just gone to heaven. That’s not tough; it’s a combination of sad and happiness – sad that we’ve lost them but happy that they are in glory and free from all their elderly infirmities. Tough is when the sky falls on you in the form of a life threatening accident that leaves us disabled, a major life threatening illness, or persecution. That is tough!

If I lose my temper and slap someone and they strike me back and break my jaw, that is not tough, that is stupid. When our own folly brings things on us, that is not tough. Tough is when the ways of a fallen world press down on me and make it incredibly difficult to continue. It is tough when these things happen to those closest to us so the burden of their anguish presses down on us in our love for them.

When life is tough, the temptation comes from the enemy to give up. It’s silly really and irrational because these are the times when we should more than ever seek to stick close to the Lord but when we are feeling low physically, often our emotions also take a nose dive and then we stop thinking rationally and a “I don’t care” mentality descends on us. It shouldn’t happen, but it does. It’s simply the enemy taking the opportunity to have a go at us when we are vulnerable. This is being real for this is what life is like sometimes and the first step to getting through it is to recognise what is happening.

Do you remember David went through this: Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?” (Psa 42:5,11) He knew what the answer was: “Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” (v.5,6) There are times when these sorts of things drag on. How can I hold out? How can I keep going in the face of these things? How long will I have to wait for things to change?  There is a brand of evangelicalism that says we must never accept a negative thought and I am saddened when I see such people desperately struggling but refusing to acknowledge that anything is wrong. This is what living in a fallen world is like; sometimes it is tough.

So what is the answer? Come back to the verses we are considering. Paul prays that they (we) will know God’s will, will bear fruit, will grow in the knowledge of God and be strengthened through God’s unlimited strength and power. It is that power of His own indwelling Holy Spirit that we considered in the previous meditation that sees us through. It’s not a rational thing, it’s a faith thing. He does live in me, He will be my resource, so much so that I will be able to endure, I will hang on, I will not fall away, I will not give up. Part of it is in acknowledging His presence and part of it is turning to Him for help, and part of it is the fact that He is there on my side and purposes to keep me. I won’t just endure, I will have “great endurance”. Even more I will not chaff wondering when it will end; I will rest in His love and His provision and I will be patient. Part of it is my awareness of this provision, part of it is His desire to bring it.

Many years ago my wife had what was genuinely a life-threatening accident. As she lay in A&E while they failed to stop blood flowing, she suddenly thought of our three young children and cried out to the Lord in prayer for them. In the midst of that crisis a gentle voice came from heaven to her, “Don’t you realise that I love them more than you do?” This is the incredible truth, that God is more for us than we are for ourselves. That’s why He sent Jesus to die for us, that’s why he has given us His Holy Spirit to empower us and strengthen us, not only to generally teach and guide us, but to be here for us as a resource, THE resource when we are going through the tough times when we need endurance and patience.

As we remind ourselves of these things, we realise afresh the wonder of them, the wonder of His love and provision for us and as we do that we find a joy welling up within us that produces thankfulness. “Joyfully giving thanks to the Father” is an outworking of all of this, a sign that we have come to know God’s will for us and realise that His power is there within us and He purposes blessing and success for us. Sometimes (and often He waits until we do see these things) He delivers us out of the situation and sometimes He delivers us through the situation. Sometimes He steers us clear of upheavals and at other times He allows us to walk through the upheaval, but whichever it is, He promises, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Heb 13:5)

It was knowing His will and knowing His presence and power that enabled the prophet to declare, “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior.” (Hab 3:17,18) Why? He knew the circumstances were within God’s will and that they were temporary – and that God was there for him.

It was going through tough times that enabled the apostle Paul to write, “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” (2 Cor 9:8) That is amazing. It says that not only will we endure, and not only will we find patience in such times, (because of His grace which comes in those forms) but we will be able to be fruitful even such times. Glory be to God, not to the enemy!

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.

6. Still Sinners

Meditations in 1 John : 6 :  Still Sinners

1 John  1:8   If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.

Commentators often struggle at this point in John’s letter. In fact a whole big part of the Church struggles with this verse because it seems to say something that many don’t like – we’re still sinners. There are those who claim perfection when we come to Christ. Did not Jesus say, Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”? (Mt 5:48) After all, they say, when we came to Christ he dealt with all my sins and the power of sin over me is broken and I am free from sin’s domination – all of which are true! The Matthew verse would be better explained as, “Aim for the perfection that you see in your heavenly Father.” Also you have to be a very unknowing person to believe that you are perfect and you never think, say or do anything wrong, anything that is contrary to God’s will for us.

There are also those who say this verse is a verse for application to unbelievers, before they come to Christ but the verses before it clearly indicate John is speaking to Christian believers. Is this an important issue? Yes, it is very important because the person who denies it fails to recognise their own vulnerability. Why would Jesus – and indeed the whole New Testament – warn us to be on our guard against temptation and failure if it wasn’t a real possibility for the disciple? We’ll examine some of those warnings in a moment.

But a bigger argument in favour of what we have been saying comes through the apostle Paul in Romans chapter 7. Again there are those who say he speaks about the past, but that is not how it reads and he concludes that chapter with, So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.” (Rom 7:25) When he moves in to the next chapter the force of his argument is that it is only in Christ and submitted to the Spirit are we free from sin. Are we always submitted to the Spirit? Again, it is a very unknowing person who claims to be so.

But an even stronger argument comes from Paul’s reference to what is clearly one of the ‘sayings’ of the early Church: “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of whom I am the worst.” (1 Tim 1:15)  Was that something that seekers had to declare on the path to salvation or was it something the believers recognized about themselves. I have to say that the older I get – and my confidence in Christ gets stronger – the more I am aware of this truth in this early Church saying – applied and applies to me!

A little later in his letter John brings the balance that we need to hold: “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense–Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.” (1 Jn 2:1) His desire is that we will not sin BUT he recognizes that there IS the possibility for us believers and he tells us Christ’s response to us when that happens. (In our next verses in this present chapter he tells us how we are to deal with it when it happens – see the next meditation). No, John is a realistic pastor and he knows the vulnerability of his flock.

But we said there are warnings in the New Testament that would be meaningless if we are perfect and cannot fall. Jesus himself taught, “Watch out that no one deceives you.” (Mark 13:5) and deception is about wrong thinking that leads into wrong behaviour. He concluded in that talk, “Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back ….. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping.” (Mk 13:35,36) He is clearly warning against wrong behaviour. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus is speaking to disciples and there we find much practical teaching and warnings against wrong attitudes and wrong behaviour – all of which we as disciples are still prone to!

The apostle Paul’s letters are littered with practical teaching, warning against wrong ways of thinking and wrong ways of behaving – to which all believers are vulnerable. Probably the letter that reveals most practical teaching is that of James, full of instructions to do this or not do that. The fact is that we can get it wrong and that is why all this teaching is there for us. In the meantime we need to be aware of our vulnerability and with the help, guidance and power of the Holy Spirit, seek to avoid those things. May that be so!

202. God’s Concession

Short Meditations in Mark’s Gospel: 202. God’s Concession

Mk 10:5-9   “It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied. “But at the beginning of creation God `made them male and female…. they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”

We live in a Fallen World where second best has to prevail. We also live in a world where I marvel when I hear people say that God is hard. Think about what we find in our verses today. Jesus acknowledges that the Law did speak about giving a certificate of divorce, but then he gives a devastating reason why Moses gave that Law, presumably at God’s behest.

This law allowing divorce came as a concession from God because He knew that people’s hearts would be hard and that divorce would be a preferable option to the alternative – whole scale adultery. Hardness of heart is the only reason for divorce ultimately. Let’s examine that.

A person with a hard heart is set on the course they have determined. In Christians circles divorce should never occur. Temporary separations maybe, but divorce never!  Why do I say this contrary to the modern trend where I am told there are as many divorces inside the church as outside it?  Within the church we are supposed to be a community committed to God and open to God’s grace and there for one another when we get into difficulties. So why do couples part? Mostly, I suspect, it is either because one party is committing adultery or the couple have allowed themselves to get into such a place of hostility that they seem unable to makeup.

Adultery is understandable because people fall to temptations. that is not to excuse it for it is sin and utterly wrong. If we, the modern church, believed the word of God, we would excommunicate such a believer as Paul did (1 Cor 5:1-13, esp. vo13) with the objective of bringing him to his senses and repentance. The grace that is then needed is for the partner receiving him (her) back.

But what about the hostile couple?  How did this come about? It came about because of a shallow relationship with Jesus and with the church and the couple allowing, bit by bit, division and dissension to build up. Grace is needed to restore this relationship and it is only a hard heart that refuses the wisdom and grace of Christ that comes through the elders of the church.

So when there is a refusal to receive counsel, a refusal to receive God’s grace and healing and repentance, then there is hardness of heart and thus divorce follows but, says, Jesus, God’s desire is that the couple stay together and (implied) resolve all the difficulties that has brought them to this point.

64. Alert

Meditations in 1 Peter : 64: Alert

1 Pet 5:8a Be self-controlled and alert.

Dictionary definition: “alert – watchful and ready, as in facing danger.” Dog owners know this. They are sitting quietly in the evening with their dog asleep at their feet and suddenly the dog is awake with its ears up – alert from a sound it has just heard. Is there an intruder? In World War Two, in Britain at least, there would be “an alert” and sirens would go off to give warning that enemy bombers had been sighted and the populace should go to air raid shelters. The same thing has been seen in old war films on airfields or ships at sea. An alert is sounded which presages the coming of an enemy and a call to get ready to counter them.

Peter is doing the same thing for the verses continue, “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” We’ll consider Satan as our enemy in the next meditation but for the moment let’s focus on the general need to be alert.  Some people might like to portray the Christian life more like a picnic, where everything is nice and peaceful and there is not a worry or care in the world. Unfortunately that is not how the world is.

There are two things in the world – that God has permitted to exist – and they both detract from the picture of peace and tranquillity. They are Sin and Satan. Sin is simply that tendency to be self-centred, godless and unrighteous. It is something each one of us inherited but now we are Christians God has given us the power – in the form of His Holy Spirit – to overcome Sin. Also the demands of the Law, which always accentuates the need to strive and creates the inevitable outcome of failure, have been removed in that we live lives that are loved and accepted in Christ and which are about relationship and not rules. But Sin is lurking there in the background to express itself the moment we become lax in our thinking and behaviour.

And, yes, Satan is our very real adversary as we’ll see in the next meditation, and he seeks to bring us down by various devious strategies. It is because of these that we need to remain in a state of alertness. The first strategy is that of deception where Satan attacks our thinking and seeks to distort the truth or deny the truth. If he can work in our minds and make us feel we are unloved, he’s won. If he can make us feel we have to work to appease God, he’s won. If he can get people not to believe in God, he’s won. Indeed he seeks to play on our self-awareness and turn it into self-centeredness and, in so doing, make us forget about God and so make us godless.

When he does that he can lead us then into the second strategy, which schemes for our downfall, which is temptation. In this he seeks to lead us into behaviour that is contrary to God’s design for us and is, therefore, unrighteous. Righteous behaviour is simply that which conforms to God’s design for us, His will. Unrighteous behaviour, which is contrary to that, always leads in the direction of destruction, which is what Satan is aiming for. He looks for any opportunity to lead us astray and away from the truth, and then into a wrong behaviour and wrong lifestyle. No wonder Peter calls for us to be alert – on the watch for the uprising of Sin and the sneaky approaches of Satan!

In that famous passage on spiritual warfare in Ephesians chapter 6, the apostle Paul eventually says, “With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.” (Eph 6:18) The exhortation comes near the end of the passage about spiritual armour and standing against the enemy. The call is to be aware of the enemy’s activities and to be alert against them and to pray to counter his works.

But there is a bigger call to be alert in the New Testament, and it is in respect of being aware of the times in which we live, especially in the light of Christ’s return. Jesus himself, speaking of the last days declared, “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come.” (Mk 13:32,33). That time, described by Jesus, is presaged by enemy activity and the call is to be alert to such a time.

The apostle Paul reiterated the same thing: “While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labour pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled.” (1 Thess 5:3-6)  Everyone else may duped into complacency, but we are called to be alert to what is going on and ready to receive Jesus when he returns.

In the context of the ‘Last Days’ teaching, Jesus told the parable of the five virgins (Matt 25:1-13) which concludes with, Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.” There it is – keep watch, be alert, look out for and be aware so that you may adjust your life accordingly. That is what this call to be alert is about. It is that we may see the coming enemy, or see the coming days, and take the appropriate counter-measures, to reject the enemy’s advances and get ready to meet Jesus. That is the significance of this call. May we heed it!

 

10. Tempted

Short Meditations in Mark’s Gospel: 10. Tempted

Mk 1:12,13 At once the Spirit sent him out into the desert, and he was in the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.

Theologians debate whether Jesus, as the Son of God could ever sin. Satan obviously thought, as a man at least, Jesus could, otherwise he wouldn’t have bothered trying. Moreover, if this hadn’t happened, we wouldn’t have had Jesus’ example of how to overcome temptation – speak out the will of God in answer to every temptation, because that is what Jesus did every time when he was quoting Scripture.

Does temptation only happen when Satan is around? James stated that, each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.” (Jas 1:14). It is ultimately our sinful nature that Satan appeals to, so in that respect, he was on a losing wicket with Jesus! Yet he still tried.

What is always fascinating in these verses is that it was the Holy Spirit who initiated this episode. The Holy Spirit initiated a time of vulnerability and weakness in Jesus, (being hungry from a forty day fast) so that Satan, seeing that vulnerability, would come and try to bring Jesus down. God clearly wanted to show us that it is possible to overcome even when we are feeling very weak. Our cry that “Satan made me do it!” is revealed by this episode to be a groundless and false cry. If Jesus, in his humanity, and in his utter weakness, could overcome, by simply declaring the will of God each time, so should we.

Our vulnerability comes, however, from the fact that we allow wrong thoughts or wrong attitudes to prevail in our minds and it is these that Satan plays upon, and because we have accepted them for so long, it makes it doubly difficult not to give way to his wrong suggestions. Our insecurities and our fears make us negative about other people and so Satan can tempt us to speak out badly against them, or even act against them, and when we do, we sin. In this sense Satan simply reveals our sin or wrong attitudes or, in Jesus’ case, his absence of them!

Lord, thank you that you overcame temptation, even at your point of greatest weakness. Thank you for the example you gave us. Thank you that you have clearly revealed your will. May you find in me one who sticks steadfastly to it and, by the help of your own Spirit, overcomes and thus resists the works of the enemy.