20. God of Transformation

Getting to Know God Meditations:  20. God of Transformation

Ezek 37:1-3   The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”  I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”

No Spectator God:  ‘Deists’ believe in a ‘God’ but one that sits outside of our existence, a mere spectator, having set the whole thing going. How far from the God of the Bible, which is perhaps why deists don’t believe in revelation because the whole book is about revelation. The God of the entire Bible is one who intervenes in this world, who interacts with this world, who seeks to redeem and restore this fallen world, and thus is a God of transformation.

Ezekiel: No more is this seen than in this vision that Ezekiel has that we find in chapter 37.  Ezekiel lived in the closing years of the existence of the southern kingdom (the northern kingdom had gone some 150 years beforehand). The kings of Judah at this time were a bad lot. The God of revelation had spoken to them again and again through Jeremiah in Jerusalem and Ezekiel in Babylon (he had been one of the early Jews to be taken there in exile by Nebuchadnezzar). God had called them again and again to put the nation straight, to deal with all the evil that there was there but they refused. Thus both Jeremiah and Ezekiel brought words of warning that destruction would come.

If you read their writings this is not for the faint-hearted; it is unrestricted horror. There was nothing surprising about this in some ways. Nebuchadnezzar was the all-powerful despot of the region and had already swept through the land and culled it of some of its leaders. (Daniel was one who got taken with his friends into the court of the king in Babylon where he became God’s mouthpiece to this and subsequent reigns in Babylon.  An amazing story – read the first 6 chapters of Daniel to see it.) When armies attacked and there was resistance, there would be fighting, even a siege, and there would be deaths; it is what men do to other men (and women and children – no exceptions in outright war!).

The Future: So Ezekiel has been getting these words from God that suggest that the days are drawing very near for the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of the entire nation brought about by Nebuchadnezzar’s next invasion.  It is clear from his writings that he sees it all coming. It looks like the end of Judah in the same way that Israel (the northern ten tribes) had been removed from the map back in 722BC.  He doesn’t know it for certain but the southern kingdom will cease in 587BC when Jerusalem and its temple is destroyed. Yet within himself, he knows it is coming. He grieves over the certainty of what is about to happen – and then he gets this vision.

The Challenge: A vision, unlike a dream that you get when you are asleep, occurs when you are awake and conscious but suddenly everything before you disappears and you just see the revelation. He sees himself in a valley and the floor of this valley is covered with dry bones. It is the picture of a graveyard where no one has been buried, what happens after a great battle and the invading army has left and the land is now empty. The birds come and pick the carcasses clean. There is nothing left of the inhabitants of the land except their dry bones. As he gazes with horror, I suspect, on all of these bones, God’s voice comes to him: “Can these bones live?” (v.3a)

A Wise Response: I like Ezekiel’s answer, it is an answer of wisdom.  Trying to be smart, we might have said, “Oh yes, Lord, you can do anything,” but Ezekiel knows it is not so much a matter of God’s power and ability but God’s will. He simply says, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.” (v.3b) God has the power, God can do it, but does He want to do it. There is about to be – and this vision corresponds to it – a mighty act of judgment on this ungodly kingdom by another ungodly, but more powerful, kingdom. The sinfulness of mankind will bring about what God has warned them about. It will happen but after it, what? Is it the utter end of this ‘experiment’ by God with a chosen nation that has refused to let Him  lead them into blessing after blessing (except in the early days under David and then Solomon and once or twice afterwards), is this the end of Israel?  What is God going to say about these dry bones, these ‘left-overs’ of Israel?

New Life, New Future: We won’t work our way through what follows but God instructs Ezekiel to prophesy over these bones, life, breath from God, tendons and flesh to cover them again (v.5-10)  and they will rise up again as a vast army.  It happens as he does and then comes the word of explanation: “Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.’” (v.11-14)

See the things He says through Ezekiel:

  • “I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them;
  • I will bring you back to the land of Israel.
  • Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord,
  • I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and
  • I will settle you in your own land.
  • Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.’”

And, remember, this is all spoken before the destruction comes. God will sovereignly move to restore Israel to the Land. His plans, that we saw in earlier studies to use Israel in a variety of way, have not changed. Israel will still be there in some four hundred years when the time is ripe for Jesus to come!

Overview: But what we see here is also a picture of God’s intents for mankind. As we’ve seen before – and again it was through Ezekiel – He doesn’t delight in deaths of people, He wants them to return to Him so that a relationship with Him can be lived out and He can further express His love to us. This is the ongoing message of the Bible. It was a purpose stated from before time began and reiterated again and again and again through the pages of the Bible. God does not want us to remain in the mess we so often create for ourselves, but wants to restore us to lives of peace, harmony, blessing, provision, safety and security. This is the end result of His restoring work.

The terrible thing about this, we should never forget, is that even the weakest of us can resist His will, for He never forces it upon us. All of this goodness is there for the taking but it only comes as the outworking of the relationship with Him for He is peace, He is love, He is goodness and we share all those things as we share in Him.  May we learn that.

8. Mourning & Grieving (2)

Transformation Meditations: 8. Mourning & Grieving (2)

Isa 61:1-3   He has sent me ….. to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion

In the previous study we focused on personal grief, what happens when someone close to us has gone, but I am aware that when Isaiah wrote these words he included, “in Zion” which suggests that he also had in mind the grief that a man or woman of God would have felt when Israel went through times of unbelief and the land was invaded and Jerusalem was plundered, and the glory of God removed.

We find such times of mourning in the life of Israel expressed in its earliest years by David when Saul and Jonathan were killed in battle by the Philistine army. This man, described as a man after God’s own heart, poured out his grief when he heard of their deaths with the refrain, “How the mighty have fallen!” (2 Sam 1:1) and repeated again and again “How the mighty have fallen in battle!” (2 Sam 1:25,27) The song of lament extols them both, despite the fact that again and again Saul had tried to kill him. He extols Saul, honoring his position of king over the people.

Years later Jeremiah (it is believed) lamented over the destroyed Jerusalem after Nebuchadnezzar’s army had burned down both city and Temple: “How deserted lies the city, once so full of people! How like a widow is she, who once was great among the nations! She who was queen among the provinces has now become a slave.” (Lam 1:1) In chapter 2, verses 1 to 8 it is again and again attributed to the Lord. Yet in chapter 3 there is hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. (v.22-26) Anguish with hope.

In the New Testament Jesus mourns over what will yet happen to Jerusalem: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate.” (Mt 23:37,38)

In each case there is a mourning over what has happened or what is about to happen to the people of God and, more specifically in the latter two, to Jerusalem, the city that held the Temple where the Lord had revealed His glory, a glory that had gone.

The question arises, are we sensitive to the state of God’s people, do we yearn to see the glory of God revealed in and through His people, do we anguish when that is absent? The song of the Messiah brings hope, because the Messiah is sent to comfort us, even when we mourn over the loss of His glory. One day Jesus WILL return (see Rev 19) and God’s honor will be restored. In the meantime those with eyes to see grieve over so much formal ritualistic religion where the life of God is absent, but they also rejoice when they come across the body of Christ empowered and directed and moving by the Spirit and the glory of the Lord is seen. Pray over both situations.

7. Mourning and Grieving (1)

Transformation Meditations: 7. Mourning & Grieving (1)

Isa 61:1-3   He has sent me ….. to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion

The list of those to whom the Messiah has been sent to minister goes on to include those who mourn and grieve. The synonyms for the two words are almost exactly the same so it suggests Hebrew parallelism, but the action for both is apparently different. A dictionary suggests ‘to comfort’ means, ‘to ease or alleviate a person’s feelings of grief or distress,’ while ‘to provide’ means, ‘to make available something’. So the Messiah comes to alleviate a person’s distress by providing them with something. The implication is that when we mourn we are lacking something which the Messiah then comes to provide.

So when do we mourn? We mourn over loss of someone loved. We have a sense of sadness at their absence. The word grieving is slightly stronger and usually speaks of a more intense sorrow at such loss. Now this is a subject that calls for honesty. We are all different and we all feel differently about people we love. I have taken and attended a number of funerals and watched ‘the mourners’.

Some people stand or sit throughout the service in tears, others appear unmoved, and Christians often rejoice at the ‘promotion’ of their loved one to heaven. Yes, there will still be a great gap in our lives at the loss of our loved one, but the reality of heaven and the comfort of the Lord’s presence can turn such a time into a time of praise and worship.  However strong the reality, the anguish is still so great for some that tears are the appropriate expression. There is no ‘right’ way.

But then there is the death of a loved one who has gone through years, perhaps, of suffering, and death is a welcome relief. Most people feel it is unseemly to express such relief at such times, but it is the reality and we should not feel guilty about it. Then, of course, there is the death of a person we hardly knew, and sorrow is almost hypocritical in such a case. Care and concern for those who remain, is something else.

So we said that the Lord, the Messiah, Jesus, comes to provide something that is missing. What can that be? There may be loneliness, an acute sense of being left alone when a life-long partner passes away. The Lord comes to bring comfort through an intense sense of his loving presence. For some grief may be accompanied by fear, an intense worry about how they will cope on their own. Again, perfect love casts out fear (1Jn 4:18 – although that is strictly in a context of judgment, it is nevertheless true).

The assurance that only he can bring also brings a sense of security. Similarly it may be the absence of peace, because of the nature of circumstances surrounding the death, but again it is the Lord’s presence with us that brings that peace. Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles.” (2 Cor 1:3,4) God is known as a God of comfort, not One who stands off at a distance, impartial and uncaring. When Jesus went to the tomb of Lazarus, he wept, he felt for the people. God feels for us, draws alongside us with His comforting presence. If you are grieving, may you know that experience.

5. Darkness?

Transformation Meditations: 5. Darkness?

Isa 61:1b   He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners

The work of the Messiah, we said, is to transform us, to redeem us, to save us, and we are looking at some of the aspects of his mandate in Isaiah 61 and reiterated by Jesus in Luke 4. Previously we considered the broken-hearted, captives and prisoners. Now we need to consider darkness.

There is a specific prison that is referred to here. In a sense the other prisons we referred to are legitimate but this characteristic needs special attention – darkness. Isaiah, speaking about Galilee prophesied, The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” (Isa 9:1,2 reiterated in Mt 4:15,16) Now why was Galilee in the north of Canaan referred to as being a place of darkness?

First, it may be that being furthest away from the Temple in Jerusalem, the presence of the Lord seemed weakest, if I may put it like that. His light, His glory, seemed at a distance. There are some for whom the presence of the Lord always seems at a distance. You hear it spoken of, but it is mere words.

Second, Galilee being in the north was always the first to bear the brunt of the enemy invaders that so often came from the countries of the north; they were more vulnerable than the south. There are some who, for a variety of reasons, feel more vulnerable to attacks of the enemy.

Third, because of that, there would be what can only be described as a dread of what might be coming. It only need a whisper, a rumour, that countries to the north are arming and a dread would fall afresh. There are some who live with a sense of fear, of dread of what ‘might’ happen. The enemy has imposed a sense of insecurity and you almost expect the worst.

What is the answer to these three things that bring a darkness to our hearts and minds? It has to be, first of all, the truth, the word of God. The Lord is with you and for you (Rom 8:31) and will never leave you or forsake you (Heb 13:5) and is working for your good (Rom 8:28). He has plans and purposes for you (Eph 2:10), plans that are good (Jer 29:11). He loves you (1 Jn 4:4,16) and sent Jesus to die specifically for you as an expression of His love for you (Jn 3:16,17) so that now you are a child of God (1 Jn 3:1) This is the truth. Stand before a mirror every morning and declare these truths. Copy the verses our and declare them every morning.

Second, it has to be the presence of His own Holy Spirit who does indwell you (1 Cor 3:16, 6:19) if you are a Christian, born again of His Spirit (Jn 3:3-8), and He is your inner resource if you will listen to Him, to His words of encouragement and affirmation, but it will mean resisting the lies of the enemy: “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you.” (Jas 4:7,8) He HAS come to release you from darkness (Isa 61:1, Col 1:13). We are children of light (1Thess 5:5) and so darkness – fear, dread etc. – is to no longer be part of our lives. May it be so.

4. Prisoners?

Transformation Meditations: 4. Prisoners?

Isa 61:1b   He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners

The work of the Messiah is to transform us, to redeem us, to save us, and we are looking at some of the aspects of his mandate in Isaiah 61 and reiterated by Jesus in Luke 4. Yesterday we considered the broken-hearted; today we consider captives and prisoners.

Perhaps when we think of drug addicts or alcoholics, the concept of someone being a prisoner to their addiction is easy to understand. Thinking about humanity being prisoners needs a little more thought. Accepting that there may still be aspects of our present lives that indicate we are still prisoners, requires honesty and grace.

Now it seems there is specific similarity in these two words – captive and prisoner. They both imply in their meaning having had their freedom taken away by someone or something else. A definition of a ‘captive’ is ‘a person who has been taken prisoner’. Definitions of a ‘prisoner’ include, ‘a person captured and kept confined by another’ and ‘a person who is or feels confined or trapped by a situation’.

The first place we can be captives is in our head. First there are the lies we believe. Someone told us again and again when we were young that we were rubbish, worthless, failures, and so now we believe it; it is ingrained in our thinking, but it is a lie. You are made in the image of God and precious to God, you are someone, someone special. If you’ve become a Christian, God loved you so much that He sent His Son to die for you (Jn 3:16,17)

Second, there is the anguish we feel in our minds as we battle with either guilt or fear. Perhaps we did fail and maybe it was big-time and so yes, we were guilty, but Jesus died for that failure, died for that guilt and shame, and having confessed it to him, you can now be free from it. In fact if you feel it is still there and you have confessed it, realise it is the voice of the enemy you are listening to. Draw near to the Lord, resist the enemy and tell him to leave with his lies (Jas 4:7).

But then we may be captive to bad circumstances. Maybe there are those to whom we are related, or those who are over us at work, who impose on us, abuse us, and demean us. Find a spiritual friend or church leader, share it with them; you probably need support to break free from that relationship. It doesn’t have to continue. Stop being a prisoner to other people.

Some of us will be prisoner to a creeping illness, or an infirmity, or just creeping old age. We can’t escape it. We can pray against it and we can ask others to pray for us, but if at the end of that it still seems that this is the path the Lord wants you to walk, remember that His grace is always there for you and as He said to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor 12:9) Those are not glib or trite words but the truth. Even in weakness, even in limitation, His power can be present.

Be a person who draws near to Him and knows His presence and in that presence, you will find power to cope; not merely to survive but to glow, even in adversity, even in affliction, even in illness. You may be a worn ‘earthen vessel’ but you contain the glory of God (2 Cor 4:6,7). May you know it. “He has sent me to … proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners.” 

2. The Poor?

Transformation Meditations: 2. The Poor?

Isa 61:1 the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.

We have started to look at the subject of life transformation that takes place when a person encounters God and we have started by looking at the Messiah’s mandate in Isa 61, quoted by Jesus of himself when he started his ministry.  The Messiah comes and says, this is what my Father wants me to do – to proclaim good news. When Jesus started his ministry he declared, The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mk 1:15)

How frustrating; there it is again, ‘good news’. Well, perhaps we have to see Jesus’ summary of what he then went on to do: “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.” (Mt 11:5) Well good news certainly for the first five in that list, but there it is yet again, this reference to ‘good news’ being proclaimed to ‘the poor’. So what is the ‘good news’ and who are ‘the poor’?

Well I am old enough to remember the excitement in the Christian world when ‘the Cross and the Switchblade’ was published, the story of a young pastor who felt called to the streets of New York. It’s a long time back so my quote may not be completely accurate, but I remember one time when he was looking on the street people as his team was preaching in the slum streets and he pondered on what they were really achieving. A girl, I believe it was, came up to him and said, in respect of the salvation she and a number of others had received as the Gospel was preached there, something like, “Pastor Dave, the streets don’t change, the poverty and drugs are still here, and we still live here, but inside we are utterly different, utterly changed.” Something like that, at least. That stayed with me. The outward circumstances may remain the same – we may still be on low incomes, in poor circumstances – but inwardly we are transformed.

It may not be monetary ‘poor’; surely the blind, the lame, the lepers and the dead of that list in Mt 11 are poor. Surely those in Isaiah’s list – the broken-hearted, captives, prisoners, those who mourn and grieve, those in despair, they are all ‘poor’. Surely the reality is that anyone who has not entered into a living relationship with Almighty God, anyone who has not received the riches of God’s kindness, forbearance and patience (Rom 2:4), His shared glory (Rom 9:23), His wisdom and knowledge (Rom 11:33), His grace (Eph 1:7), His glorious inheritance (Eph 1:18), and his power through His Spirit (Eph 3:16).

So what is the good news for these people, for all of us, because whoever we are, if we haven’t entered all of those things, we are ‘poor’. The ‘good news’ that God announces from heaven is that, “I love you, I have sent Jesus to die for you, I want to redeem you, justify you, forgive you, adopt you and empower you, transform you.” THAT is the good news. Let’s exult in the wonder of it, praise and worship Him for it, share it, and ensure it is beyond mere words, but comes with the power of the Spirit to guarantee that complete life transformation.

1. Transformation Declared

PART ONE: The Need

Transformation Meditations: 1. Transformation Declared

Isa 61:1-3 The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners,  to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion — to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.

I recently finished the series entitled, ‘Reaching into Redemption’ which was all about the ongoing redemption process of God which starts when we are saved and continues throughout our lives. Some might prefer to refer to this as our sanctification, but I wanted to put the focus on the Lord and His activity, even though it did involve us. Having completed that series I have pottered in various attempts at other meditations but find myself coming back to this subject of ‘transformation’, the incredible nature of what takes place when God meets with a human being.  The thrust or main purpose of this, I sense as I have prayed, is the potential for life change that comes with encounters with God, something that perhaps we so often take for granted. My intent is that each of these (limited number of) meditations will be a lot shorter that those ‘Redemption’ ones, for I am aware the length of those required a high level of discipline to read, so I am intending to make these more manageable.

In this first study I simply want to take a preliminary look at these amazing verses from Isaiah that Jesus quoted at the beginning of his ministry in a synagogue in Nazareth (see Lk 4:18,19) Let’s be very simple; the intent of the Messiah, empowered and directed by the Spirit of God, was to proclaim good news to the poor, but that wasn’t just a word exercise, it was to be a life transforming exercise:

  • He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted,
  • to proclaim freedom for the captives and
  • release from darkness for the prisoners….
  • to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion
  • to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes,
  • the oil of joy instead of mourning, and
  • a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.

Note first of all the people he goes to: the poor, the broken-hearted, the captives, prisoners, those who mourn and grieve and despair, to bring them to a place where there is something beautiful about them, and they are characterized by joy and known as a people of praise. So here’s the questions that must follow: do we see people around us without Christ like this, do we see life transformations like this when they (we) come to Christ, or is our evangelism simply words without power? The activity of Jesus seen through these words is a power ministry and he says to us, “whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing.” (Jn 14:12) May it be so.