Snapshots: Day 14

Snapshots: Day 14

The Snapshot: “The woman you put here with me gave me the fruit.” Don’t blame God. It’s the natural thing to do but the wrong thing. When God gave us each other, it was to bless us with yet another expression of His love. But how easy it is to make another person my scapegoat instead of facing my own shortcoming, and in so doing we trample love underfoot. Don’t blame God for bad situations that we bring about by our own folly, and which continue and multiply because we fail to be honest, confess, seek forgiveness, restoration and healing to resolve the past. Judgment falls on dishonesty and loss of integrity, but security opens the way for honesty and integrity to be restored. Lord, help us create a secure community that can become an honest restorative community.

Further Consideration: Over the last two days we have considered the outworkings of the Fall – a sense of guilt with a desire to hide from God because of fear of what might follow. But now they are called out into the open. I have this feeling that when we each one stand before God at the place of Judgment at the end (which may simply be the end of our time on this earth, the end of our life here) we may be brought ‘out into the open’ where God shows us with His perfect vision, two things. (this may be a split second or longer; this is just a reasonable speculation).

The first is that He will show us ALL the wrong thoughts, wrong words and wrong deeds throughout our entire lives – so that we may see our need of the Cross.  The second is that He will show us all the good achieved through our lives by the working of His grace and His Spirit, the outworking of the Cross in our lives. I suspect both will be considerably greater than what we usually perceive. But this will be God calling us out ‘into the open’, to stop hiding from the truth, to face the awfulness of the failure of Sin, and the wonder of the working of God in and through us. THAT is a balanced picture.

But the Lord doesn’t want to wait until Judgment Day for grace and truth to saturate and permeate our lives. Growing to maturity means we learn to come out into the open and face the reality of our lives, in the presence of the light of His love. Of myself, I am a total failure – yes ‘total’ is true. But I am no longer by ‘myself’, I am in Christ and in Christ, I am something else! “I can do all things through him who strengthens me,” (Phil 4:13) and that includes all the good things He has planned for me (Eph 2:10). Facing the two sides of this coin is what maturity is all about. I am not to wallow in my failures but let them keep me humble. I am not to be overly triumphant but soberly with rejoicing know my place – ‘in Him’. Hallelujah!

3. Potential & Example

Nine Lessons of Christmas Meditations: 3. Potential & Example

Reading 2: Genesis 22:15–18

Gen 22:18    through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”

The Context: In the service layout, this reading is summarised as “God promises to faithful Abraham that in his seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” The first reading confronted the effects of the Fall while at the same time giving a glimmer of a plan on the heart of God whereby the conflict between Satan, started there in the Garden, and mankind, would be brought to an end through some mysterious interaction, sometime in the future, between a human being and Satan and his followers. It raises the question of a mystery we have investigated in some detail in a previous series, “Focus on Christ”.  So the first reading leaves us wondering.

Reading: These present verses follow the strange and challenging incident where Abraham appears to have been called by God to sacrifice his son, Isaac, who had been miraculously conceived and born when Sarah was well past child-bearing ability. However, the Lord, through an angel, had stopped Abraham before he could actually do it. Now, a second time, He speaks again to Abraham (v.15) and says that because of his obedience (v.16) God will multiply his descendants greatly and make them a victorious nation (v.17). It is then, within this context, that He declares that one of his descendants will be the cause of the whole earth being blessed and, yes, it is specifically because he has been obedient to God (v.18). That’s it. So what are the lessons here?

1. The Big Picture again: This reading does not stand on its own. As we said above, it can be seen in the context of what we were faced with in the first reading – the Fall, and yet a glimmer of hope. It is as if now that glimmer of hope has been enlarged. Yes, in the previous reading there was someone referred to as the offspring of the woman, i.e. a human being. Now that human being is being identified as someone who comes out of the family of Abraham. Now of course Abraham’s family continued through Isaac, the child of promise, then through Jacob who became Israel, and hence to a family that grew and grew to become a nation in Egypt, who were otherwise known as Hebrews (Gen 14:13), their ethnic name, then Israelites (after Israel) and later Jews (from the tribe of Judah). This ‘people’ we’ve just named, were the context into which this future person will be born. The first lesson here, is we need to understand the big picture before the details. But there are two things about them that are crucial.

2. A People of Blessing: The fact that Abram had managed to have Isaac in his old age had been a miracle. Isaac’s wife Rebekah then, only managed to conceive after twenty years of Isaac’s praying (Gen 25:20,21,26). When the Advent story eventually unrolls, we find an aged, passed-bearing-age woman, Elizabeth, involved and then a young virgin, Mary. It is almost as if God is making the point, these people exist because I enabled past age, or barren women, or virgins, to conceive. They are a miraculous people. That was God’s side of the whole story. The lesson? Nothing is impossible with God (Lk 1:37) For deeper thought: each one of us who is a believer, is a miracle person, born of the Spirit (Jn 3:5,8), born of God (Jn 1:12).

3. A People of Faith: The second thing about these people is that they were a people of faith. It was because Abram believed God that He declared him righteous (Gen 15:6) and faith becomes the big issue about receiving salvation in the days to come. The Lesson? We are called to be people of faith, those who hear God and respond in obedience to Him. (Rom 3:28, Heb 11:6, 2 Cor 5:7, Heb 10:38)

4. A Man of Mystery: This ‘offspring of the woman’, this ‘offspring of Abraham’, is clearly the means of God blessing the earth. Now that, in itself, is a challenge to us, because the world is fallen, Adam and Eve were cast out of the presence of God, and the future for sinful mankind looks bleak – but then we are told that God intends to BLESS (decree good) for the WHOLE earth, and that through this coming one. It is both amazing and a mystery. It is amazing that God who has been rejected by mankind still wants to bless mankind and, at that point in history, it was a mystery how He could do that in the face of man’s rebellion.

There are at least two lessons here: first we may not understand fully the will of God, but the evidence is so great that we should always simply trust that He intends to bless us; second, salvation comes when we face our folly and our failures and become open to receive His grace in the form of all that Jesus has done for us on the Cross. That’s what this ‘offspring’ came to achieve, the possibility of a new start for you and me. That was what was wrapped up in this ‘mystery’.

5. An Incredible Opportunity: Perhaps the greatest lesson of this particular reading, and it is truly an incredible lesson, is that an individual can become part of the plans of Almighty God to redeem His world. That was Abraham. In two different ways he impacted our future, and we have picked them both up above, but they bear restating here.

First, he was the father of a nation through whom God would work to bring into being an environment into which His Son could come and reveal Him, bless the world and carry its Sin. If you have read these studies or meditations for any length of time you will know that one of my favourite New Testament verses is, we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10) Now that verse may say a variety of things but here, in this context, it says God has ways whereby I may impact this world at His leading. I don’t have to be a leading politician, a great philosopher or inventor or industrialist. I just have to be me, the child of God, empowered and directed by God’s Holy Spirit.

My favourite story, and I am told it is true, is about an American, who had a van (or a lorry), and who used to go around the district picking up young people to take them to the youth group at the local church. One young man who he invited, I think, wasn’t very keen but went along and got saved. That young man happened to be called Billy Graham who became the greatest evangelist of our time.  A man with a van, taking the local kids to church. How many million people are now in the kingdom because of what he did that day, forming just one link in the life of that young man who God had his eye on. I never know who read these or what effect they may have. You may think a conversation with a neighbour of little consequence, but if you are being one of the links in their chain, you never know what the outcome may be.

Second, Abraham became such an example of faith, the great apostle Paul used him as the key illustration of justification by faith. We never know who will be watching, for whom we will be an example that transforms their thinking. Abraham had a big impact in his day, but his example has come down through history to make the path clearer for you and me.

Do you have grandchildren who watch you? Are there fellow pupils at college who watch you? Do you have workmates who watch you? Do you have an unsaved partner or unsaved children who watch you? Example can be an incredibly important thing. These are the things, I believe, that come out of this second reading if we will do more than just let the words go by in the midst of the carols. Let’s not miss what the Lord might want to say to us this Christmas.

2. The Big Context

Nine Lessons of Christmas Meditations: 2. The Big Context

Reading 1: Genesis 3:8-19

Gen 3:15    I will put enmity  between you and the woman, and between your offspring[a] and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel

The Context: According to the website of King’s College Cambridge where this service has been held for the last ninety-nine years (2018 will be its centenary), “The main theme is the development of the loving purposes of God…seen through the windows and words of the Bible”. Note in particular the words ‘development’ and ‘loving purposes of God’. This first reading, seen without that understanding could be considered an obscure Biblical quote, apparently randomly chosen from Scripture, but it is not. The thrust of these verses, so often merely heard as words with little meaning for today, is in fact a most dynamic understanding of the plight of the human race set in the bigger context of the entire history of the world. Nowhere else in history, is written down this understanding which makes sense of why the world is like it is.

The Reading: The reading is about Adam and Eve AFTER the Fall, after the perfection of the garden, it’s environment, this couple and their relationship with God has been shattered. They have disobeyed God by a specific act of disobedience. The text shows the couple in the Garden (clearly located in Mesopotamia) encountering God from whom they hide (v.8). The Lord calls to them and they have to confess their fear (9,10).  From this they confess their guilt but blame one another and the serpent (v.11-13).  In what follows God tells a) the serpent (v.14,15), then the woman (v.16) then the man (v.17-19) the consequences of their disobedience. That is it.

Lessons? Now the whole point of this short series is that we ask ourselves, what do each of these readings teach us.

1. The Bigger Context: It is said that post-moderns do not like and do not trust ‘big pictures’ of history but that may be true of some of the world’s so-called ‘big pictures’ but to reject this one is to reject the one account that makes sense of the whole world. We live in a fallen world; that is the Scriptural picture. For those who reject the Bible we live in a world of contradictions, where human beings clearly have the possibility of greatness of achievement but at the same time spend so much of their time fighting. At least one historian has suggested that human history is the history of wars. The first lesson is that we live in a ‘fallen world’.

2. Consequences: But why should it be? The Biblical solution is set out here in these verses: God made a perfect world and whenever we exert our wills contrary to His, contrary to His design for humanity, it all goes wrong. Even before the Lord starts spelling out the consequences that are going to follow because of their broken relationship with Him that has just come about, consequences because they will be cut off from His blessing, the blessing of His very life-giving presence, and be left to their own endeavours, there were already obvious negatives that had not been there before: guilt, shame and fear which had entered human experience following that disobedience seen in the early part of Genesis chapter 3.

These characteristics are now inherent in the human race and although conscience is part of us that kicks in when we know we do wrong, we can yet override it and harden ourselves against it. Yet, deep down, there is this feeling about God, and so we rationalise Him or reject Him in our self-centred godless state that the Bible calls ‘Sin’ (with a capital ‘S’) that is expressed as ‘sins’ (small ‘s’).

Sin is what has become the natural propensity to be self-centred and godless, while ‘sins’ are the individual acts of thought, word or deed that flow from that. The consequences are always tough (in health & childbirth v.16) and in everyday work (v.17-19) and are ultimately destructive (Gen 2:17)

We see this in the most simple and obvious ways. For example, God has given us appetite and food to eat – an incredible range of foods – and while we eat naturally we are healthy; when we start to eat for comfort or for greed, we eat in excess and obesity follows and a whole range of other harmful effects on the human body follow. The second lesson is that we have to live with consequences of disobedience to God.

3. The Nature of this State: If we think on from these verses and what we have said so far, and examine the human condition and human experience, we find two things: we are helpless and hopeless. We would like to be different – hence shelves of self-help books and New Year resolutions so quickly given up – but we find (if we are honest) that, in reality, we cannot change as we would like to; we are helpless. So we tolerate our state, seeing no hope of change, and so we cover it up with projects or activities, things that will take our minds off our hopes that are being dashed. The third lesson, in the face of all this, is that we need help.

4. God’s Long-Term Plan: The verses of this reading appear, at first sight, to present a helpless and hopeless situation where we are having to live with the consequences of our choices, However there is, in the midst of them, one very strange verse, spoken to the serpent or Satan: “I will put enmity  between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” (v.15) Stress, but more than stress, between the woman and Satan, who she already blames. But she will have offspring, children in the human race and one particular one – ‘he’ – will be in conflict with the ‘offspring’ of Satan with the end result that in that conflict Satan is going to ‘strike his heel’ but ‘he’ will crush Satan’s head.

Now that leaves us scratching our heads as to what these two ‘injuries’ can mean. It is only in the fullness of time, as we watch the unfolding events of the life of Jesus Christ, and his death, resurrection and ascension, and see the effects of all of that, that we see things happening that fit these descriptions. Now alternative paraphrase renderings suggest that both ‘strike’ each other, but the end products of the big picture show something else. Satan ‘wounds’ Jesus but Jesus totally destroys the power of Satan over others.

That IS the big picture. The ‘wounding’ of Jesus? The Cross which looked like it was a terminal wounding but proved to be temporary as he was raised from the dead. The ‘crushing’ of Satan? The fact that the work of the Cross means that his power over believers is removed. We have been taken out of his dominion and put into the kingdom of the Son (Col 1:13). Then in the long-term he will be cast into eternal destruction (Rev 20:10). That is the guaranteed end because God has decreed it. So the fourth lesson is that God has a plan (hazy to us at the beginning) that was formulated by the Godhead before the foundation of the world and we are part of it today, and that is very reassuring when we see the things going on around us in today’s world.

And So: And so here we have indicators of the big picture, of a wonderful world, that is now fallen, a world where we must live with the consequences of our actions, but a world in which there is hope because God has planned for it, and the signs are there, back in the Old Testament and the New Testament, and all around us today, that He is working it all out and working towards an end resolution that gloriously involves us. Hallelujah! So, if you attend a service of readings and carols and you hear this reading, ask the Holy Spirit to remind you of the wonder of these ‘lessons’ that are being conveyed in this first ‘Lesson’ of the nine.

2. The Fall

Meditations on “The Big Picture” 2. The Fall

Gen 3:6    When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.

If the Creation is the first stepping stone on the path of human history, the Fall must be the second. The words ‘the fall’ are nowhere to be found in Scripture but they are simply used by us to describe what happened in the Garden of Eden at some specific time in history. There are those who suggest that the story of this couple is merely that, a made up story. Admittedly the name Eve only occurs twice in Genesis and twice in the New Testament but Adam’s name appears nine times in Genesis as an historical figure, once in a family tree in 1 Chron 1, once as an example in Hos 6:7, and then eight times in the New Testament. Although Jesus (at least in the records) referred to neither of them he did refer to Genesis 1 & 2 in an historical context (see Mt 19:4,5 referring to Gen 1:27 and Gen 2:24) implying an historical dimension to the book of Genesis from the beginning onwards.

The very existence of human beings, distinct from any other living creature, is a challenge. In Gen 1 we find God creating all living creatures and then human beings, “male and female he created them.” (Gen 1:27) Now I love the simplicity of this and especially the nightmare it creates for evolutionists. Did you know that the existence of sexual reproduction is almost certainly the biggest stumbling block in the theory of evolution. Even evolutionists acknowledge it is their biggest problem and no one has come up with a satisfactory answer to it. It is almost certainly the biggest challenge to the veracity of the theory of unguided, ‘survival of the fittest’ evolution.

So what do we find in the account of Adam and Eve? Why is it so significant? Let’s start with what we find in Genesis chapter 2:

First of all we find two living creatures that we now call human beings who are capable of communicating with complex language and capable of communicating with God.

Second, we find God giving this couple a mandate to reign over all other creatures (see Gen 1:28) thus placing them, contrary to the strange beliefs of some ‘green’ activists, above all other creatures, clearly superior to them.

Third, he gives them intellect of such magnitude that they can take and understand instructions and take responsibility for their actions. He makes them moral beings, although at that stage they had only one negative rule to follow – you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil,” (Gen 2:17a) and note in the light of what we have just said about taking and understanding responsibility, “for when you eat of it you will surely die.” (v.17b).

Fourth, implied within all this is the existence of free will (it is meaningless to give an instruction and a warning if it is not possible to choose which path to take).

Very well, let’s move on to Gen 3.  Put very simply a tempter challenges Eve over what God actually said and did He really mean it?  Eve, you will remember from above, is an intellectual and moral being with free will. She chooses to use her free will to go against  or disobey God’s one negative rule (Gen 3:6) and also draw her husband into her disobedience. As the apostle Paul would later say, “Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning.” (2 Cor 11:3)

But then we find a number of consequences following: a) self-awareness (3:7), b) a sense of guilt and shame (3:8), and then c) blame passing (3:12). These are the changes that took place in them. This is followed by the Lord’s corrective action in respect of them. Why some of these things is only open to speculation. Taking them in reverse order, we find the Lord bans them from His presence and from the Garden (3:23,24) and prevents their return. This is without doubt the most severe thing the Lord can impose on them – separation from Him, separation from His source of everlasting life. The human race needs to face what it means to be on your own – and then cry out for what was before. Until we realise our loss we will not cry out for God’s salvation. This separation, this exclusion, is not a spiteful one-off act of a touchy God but a careful act of loving compassion of a God who yearns for them to come to their senses – but it may take several millennia before that happens.

It is perhaps because of being on their own, separated from His ongoing daily blessing, that it means the world will be dysfunctional – work will be hard, having children will be hard, relationships will be hard – these are the things He speaks into being in chapter 3 verses 16 to 19, and they may all be like that because of the distance of God from mankind (although subsequent chapters reveal that He carried on having dealings with mankind.)

When we speak of ‘The Fall’ we are referring to an event that produced a fall from a wonderful relationship with God in a world of total peace, to a world where God seems at a distance and the world ‘goes wrong’. In the bigger picture?  This is how it is  and has been ever since that time, but it has been changed through the salvation that comes through Jesus’ death on the  Cross, so that a relationship with God is made possible again, and His presence and His power will be available in a measure at least. Yes, it will not be fully experienced until we leave this present life but Jesus’ ministry was clearly to counter the works of this fallen world.  Our role is somehow to join in with what he is doing so that we too may counter the broken works of this fallen world. Ponder on that.

1. In Eden

“God turned up” Meditations: 1 :  In Eden

Gen 3:8,9 Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?”

I realised recently that there are many times in the Bible when human beings were just getting on with their lives – and then God turned up! Of course the truth is that He’s always here, everywhere; it’s just that He makes His presence known when He ‘turns up’. Now this first instance isn’t like most of the others, because the impression that is given is that God communicated with Adam and Eve on a regular basis and the reference in our verses above to Him “walking in the garden in the cool of the day” seems to have a regular habit feeling about it, i.e. it was something He did every day, to perhaps come and share with Adam and Eve at the end of the day to see how they had got on in the day.

Now this day was a unique day for it would suggest that whenever the Lord came into the Garden, Adam and Eve would be obvious and easily found, but this time when they heard the sound of Him coming (was He singing?) “they hid”. God ‘turning up’ today was obviously something they did not look forward to. For the first time ever they didn’t want to meet with the Lord.

Well of course we know the reason, for at the beginning of this chapter we have the account of the Fall, when Eve listened to Satan and disobeyed God for the first time, and then Adam listened to Eve and did the same thing. Suddenly there is a dimension to their lives which had never been there before – they were guilty.

Now perhaps many of us know this story so well that we have taken it for granted, but writing about God’s love recently I have come to see something about Adam and Eve’s response on this fateful evening that I have never realised before. Everything about their response to the Lord speaks of their guilt. They hid from the Lord and when they do meet Him and acknowledge what has happened, they move into a blame routine. Adam blames Eve and Eve blames the snake. Now all that is very obvious and which, I am sure I’ve written about at least a half a dozen times over the years but there is something else about this behaviour which is very challenging. It is that neither of them appreciated the fact of God’s love for them.

Now the apostle John teaches in his first letter, “God is love”. (1 Jn 4:8,16) When the Lord appeared to Moses in Exodus 34 we find Him revealing Himself as the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.” (Ex 34:6,7) and this description of Him is repeated in many forms throughout the Bible. Everything about God is love. He didn’t just become that in Exodus; He has always been love, He always was that.

Now sin blinds us, the Bible tells us, and we either forget this or fail to see it, that everything about God is love. One of the expressions of this love (because love always wants the good for another) is forgiveness. The Lord is always looking to forgive sin and restore the sinner but to do that He needs the sinner to repent. Obviously while someone is still denying their guilt they cannot, living a lie, come close to the Lord to receive all His blessings. Ezekiel understood this as when, speaking from the Lord, he declared, “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” (Ezek 18:23) and then again, “For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!” (Ezek 18:32)

Now what is so terrible about this incident in the Garden of Eden, and the reason for their subsequent expulsion from it, was that neither Adam nor Eve appreciated this. If they had done, they would have simply come to God in humble contrition and said, “Lord, we have been utterly stupid. We did what you told us not to do, we are so sorry, please forgive us” – and I am utterly convinced He would have done! Why because He is love and He wants to forgive and already before creating the world the Godhead has decided that the Son will come to take the guilt and punishment for all sins. We see that in a number of Scriptures. But Adam and Eve don’t understand that and so they keep on making excuses and don’t face their guilt. While in this state they cannot carry on in the presence of the Lord and so they are expelled from the Garden.

The challenge comes to us – do we appreciate the love of God? Do we appreciate that He is constantly working to draw us back to Himself and is looking to forgive, cleanse, reconcile and bless rather than punish, as the enemy would have us believe. Please note as we start these meditations that the Lord did not come to them and confront them with, “Why did you sin?” He was not looking to blame. That may account for why the Lord is able to approach so many people in the Bible without blaming them. He knows they are guilty of sin and they know it deep down, but it will take many dealings with God before they (and we) realise that God is for them, God loves them. Keep this in the back of your mind as we examine the encounters God has with people. It will never be obvious, but it is there in the background, this incredible truth: God comes to guilty people to draw them to Himself. That is the wonder of the message of the Bible! Hallelujah!