21. Process

Meditations in Meaning & Values  21. Process

2 Cor 3:18    And 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

In the last meditation we spoke about reaching full potential which, we said, only comes when we fully surrender and let God work in us to bring us to become what He has on His heart for us. The problem is that when it comes to understanding the world and more specifically my part in it, we want it now and we are impatient to have understanding now. We spoke briefly about the years it took to change Abram, Joseph,  Jacob and Moses and we did use the word ‘process’, but we didn’t really think about it beyond that and yet this concept of process is vital to understand as a Christian is you are not to suffer frustration.

The truth is that the Christian life seems to come in crisis moments followed by long periods of gradual change. For instance it was a crisis when you were converted and everything seemed to change all at once – except you came to realise there was an even bigger, more long-term work beginning which would carry on for the rest of your life. That life-long process of change is called sanctification. You were sanctified when you were saved and you are being sanctified for the rest of your life.

Simply observe a human life growing up into a bigger baby and then into a toddler and then a young child, and so on. If you are a parent you will be especially aware of that. Now if it happens in the physical world, why are we surprised that it happens in the spiritual world.

Thus Solomon in Proverbs wrote, “The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter till the full light of day.” (Prov 4:18) In that he was acknowledging that our live constantly change and he used the picture of the rising sun to convey a very positive change that takes place in us. The apostle Paul used a very similar picture to convey the same truth in New Testament terms as we see in our verse above: “we …. are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory.”

Now both of these pictures convey a gradual change. It doesn’t happen all at once; it take time for it is a slow and gradual process. This is what frustrates us when we don’t understand the ways of God. God takes time because He knows that for any change to take place in you in any real measure, it has to take time. An oak tree doesn’t shoot up from an acorn in the ground in one day. It doesn’t form a strong trunk and branches in once day. Leaves don’t form and come out in one day. It takes months and years. Although it flies against that ‘instant’ or ‘must have it mow’ mentality of the twenty first century, it won’t happen.

Now this is made more complex for the Christian because the Lord may have spoken a prophetic word into you early on in life – and you are still waiting for it to be fulfilled. In the previous two meditations we considered the lives of Jacob and Peter, noting the crisis they each had to go through. Often the process of change is simply worked out in the ordinary everyday events of life – learning to cope with the boring and humdrum as well as with the busy and active, learning to cope with people, learning to cope with time or money pressures, all these things work to change us. But then there are also the crisis moments when our sovereignty is challenged and we have to see it must be handed over to God.

Now for so many of these changes to be brought about in us, there are two necessary ingredients in this material existence. They are time and events. I was sitting and pondering this in respect of changes in our church life the other day and found myself asking the Lord, “Lord why aren’t the changes that I know you want coming about?” His answer was, I believe, we are waiting for circumstances of change. i.e. the circumstances were not conducive to change. When everything is going smoothly, people are content to stay as they are. It is often only as things get difficult that people cry out for God to come and bring change.

The need to wait for circumstances to change is aptly revealed in the story of David. David was a shepherd boy but one day the judge and prophet Samuel turned up and anointed him to be king. The only difficulty was that there already was a king, Saul, and he was so insecure he wouldn’t tolerate any thought of a successor. So David carried on looking after his father’s sheep – a king (in God’s eyes) looking after sheep. Who does that remind you of? Circumstances meant that David ended up at the battle front where the warrior spirit within him meant him killing a giant (Goliath) and obtaining fame. He was taken into the king’s service but after a while the king’s jealousy meant that David had to flee or be killed. This resulted in him on the run from Saul, even having to take refuge with the enemy and even feigning madness at one point to survive – but he’s still God’s anointed. It is only when Saul dies in battle that the way is open for David to come forward as his successor, and then only initially as king over the southern part of the kingdom and it took a further seven years to become king over all Israel. In the process David was changed.

Very often we want instant understanding but we are called to live by faith and not by sight (2 Cor 5:7) and understanding only comes more fully (not completely) with the passing of time and life-changing circumstances. Very often we think God is concerned with how well we perform the tasks He puts before us, but in reality He is more concerned about how we are changing into the likeness of His Son. That is the crucial issue. We need understanding but we also need patience and perseverance. The promise will come.

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2. Delighting in God (2)

Meditating on the Gems of the Bible:   2. Delighting in God (2)

Psa 37:4  Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Whenever writing a meditation I have always sought to be real and for this reason I (unusually) let a day go by without writing because as I reflected at other times in the day on this verse it worried me and I am not sure how real it is to say that I (or you) actually ‘delight’ in the Lord. Do we really take pleasure in Him? It is for this reason that I continue with the same verse (aware also that I haven’t touched the second half of it either).

In the Law it was quite simple: Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” (Deut 6:5) It was a command, an instruction to love God. Somewhat formal perhaps. When we come to the Psalms, there is a more emotional feel: “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God.” (Psa 42:1). That speaks of a deep yearning in the psalmist to know and encounter God. Then that same psalmist speaks again: “Send forth your light and your truth, let them guide me; let them bring me to your holy mountain, to the place where you dwell. Then will I go to the altar of God, to God, my joy and my delight.” (Psa 43:3,4) He speaks about being drawn to the place of God’s dwelling, to the place where he will encounter “God, my joy and my delight.”

There it is again, this idea of God being our delight. It is a word that seems to shout strong emotion about God who has so touched him that he is thrilled by God’s wonderful presence. He is able to say that he enjoys the Lord. Yes, that is the amazing aspect of this whole thought about delighting in God, it speaks of enjoying God and that is not a concept or idea that we normally think about when we think of the Holy One of Israel, the God who lays down laws and requires His people to obey them, and holds them accountable when they fail.

Yet here it is, this thought that the psalmist in Psa 37 brings to us, that we can (and should) delight in God, take great joy and pleasure in Him. This surely must be one of the most challenging verses in the Bible for it calls us into an intimacy with God that many of us would doubt is possible, a relationship whereby His presence (not just His name) brings us great joy and pleasure. Is this something we really attain to? I ask the question in fear and trepidation of being presumptuous.

And yet, yes, there are times when He has spoken His word and I have been thrilled with it and with Him.  Yes, there have been times when He has drawn particularly close and I have known the warmth of His love. It’s not like it all the time, but there have been those times and I am sure there will be those times again. I can’t delight in an abstract figure the God of pure information that is understood by the intellect, but I can delight in the very real person.

Some of us (many of us?) may delight in learning about Him and we delight in what we know about Him, but this challenges us to go beyond the intellect, this challenges us to focus all that we are on all that He is – when He reveals Himself. Everything about Him must come by revelation, it must be because He shares it with us. But then we respond to the calling. He speaks, it seems, so quietly that we probably don’t even realise that it is Him, but we pause up like Moses before the burning bush and we start thinking and maybe even start searching from within our spirit. And so He shares some more of Himself and we respond again but with the revelation of Himself comes the revelation of what we are like, and we don’t like that. But we have heard His call and so we surrender our lives as we have heard of His wonderful love through Jesus. And now we have His own Holy Spirit within us and from time to time we catch a special sense of His leading or His teaching or His simple revelation of the presence of the Godhead – and we marvel.

Sin within us shouts that this cannot be possible and as the revelation grows, that He can’t love us like that, but He keeps on speaking and gradually our hearts are won over to the truth and we understand He loves us exactly like we are but, even more, He loves us so much that He wants something better for us. Gradually – so slowly – that becomes a reality and our inner being is transformed to believe, it is true, He loves me, He is for me, He accepts me just as I am and loves me just like this, and love melts hearts and my heart is melted and I realise that I have feelings for Him that can only be described as pleasure and joy.

Along the way I find I can call Him daddy because He is a loving father to me, and even more my heart is melted. But it is all a matter of revelation. It is also a matter of transformation and it is me who is being transformed. On a good day – and not every day is like that because we are still people in a fallen world struggling to put sin to death, to challenge self, and to resist the enemy – but on a good day I hear His voice, I catch glimmers of His heart and I am left wondering and marvelling and I thrill over Him.

In this transformation process I realise I am thinking differently. I want the things He wants. I hate the things He hates, I desire the things He desires. I find my desires are different from what they were before I met Him. He has changed them. He has given me new desires and as I walk the path with Him I find He leads me in new paths and find it is enjoyable because I am doing new things, thinking new thoughts, speaking new words, and all these things, I realise, are  a way of receiving those desires that have been formed in me. As I have come to a place by His leading where I can delight in Him, I find he puts new desires in my heart and then brings those things into being. How amazing.

7. The Way of Return

Meditations in 1 John : 7 :  The Way of Return

1 John  1:9   If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness

The whole thing about the Christian faith is that it is about returning to God. The work of salvation on the Cross by Christ was so that we, who were hostile to God and His enemies, could be reconciled to Him: For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” (Rom 5:10,11) The Christian life is all about being brought near to God with our sins forgiven and dealt with on the Cross, so that He, by His Spirit, may work in us to conform us (make us like) His Son, Jesus. That was why Paul said, “we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness.” (2 Cor 3:18).

This reconciliation was made possible by Christ’s work on the Cross, and came into practical being when we surrendered our lives to him and became a Christian. From then on it was all about access to God and Him having access to me.

But of course we all know the experience of having blown it and feeling a million miles away from God. Yet that isn’t actually how it is, it’s just how it feels it is. We briefly mentioned this previously but from God’s side He has not turned away from us, but Christ is active on our behalf: “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)  Yes, this is the truth: when we get it wrong, Jesus speaks up on our behalf. I imagine him turning to the Father and saying, “Father, I died for them. Please send the Spirit to draw them back to us, send Him to draw them back into that daily relationship with us, for I have done my part by dying for them, so their sins are dealt with.” This is the intent of the Godhead, to draw us back into relationship with them.

So how does He do that? The Spirit comes and convicts us of what we have done wrong. How does he do that? He simply speaks to us again and again and reminds us that it was wrong and that we will lack peace until we have dealt with it. Our conscience is that part of us that weighs ethical issues, moral issues that need facing, and the Spirit comes and speaks to us at conscience level and reminds us what, deep down, we already know: we got it wrong – and we can’t just leave it.

This latter issue is an important and significant issue. As we said, deep down we know within ourselves that we have done wrong and we know that we have hurt or offended the Father and that there is an unresolved issue between us. You see exactly the same thing when a child breaks lose against a parent. Nothing may be said but the child knows that it has offended the parent and done wrong. We see it in children and in adults; there is often a ‘making up’ behaviour that follows by the offender, an artificial brightness that tries to gloss over what happened. Yet the truth is that we know that this is not right and experience tells us that the only way to properly deal with it is to own up, face it and say sorry.

Perhaps because of this, throughout the Bible forgiveness only follows repentance, that facing up to our wrongs and saying sorry. And that, at last, brings us to our verse above which, when we have come to the place of confession, acknowledgement of our wrong and request for forgiveness, brings great reassurance. Unlike some world religions, or even misguided parts of the Christian Church, we will never get back to God by working to appease God and show Him how good we really are – because He knows the truth and knows that this side of heaven we will always need the sanctifying work of the Spirit changing us. And, of course, He has laid down the appropriate way for our sins to be dealt with.

Christ has taken every sin in his body on the Cross and so every sin has been dealt with, but that has to be applied to every individual human being and it can only be applied when they acknowledge their state and their need and accept what Christ has done for them. Then and only then does the work of Christ on the Cross apply to them.

But it is more than that because as we have noted in both this and the previous meditation, this side of heaven we will still need the sanctifying work of the Spirit changing us, because we can still get it wrong. Yet even every new failure has already been dealt with on the Cross, for Christ died for every sin ever committed, past, present, and future. But that still needs applying and the way it is applied is by us facing the sin and confessing it.

It is at that point – and the first part of the verse is down to us – that the work of Christ kicks in and we can be assured that God will remain true (faithful) to Himself and to His word, and so we can be guaranteed that when we do confess, then He WILL forgive. It is that simple but sometimes we struggle to accept that simplicity and so feel after we’ve confessed we still need to prove to God that we are good. No we’re not, but our intent is to be.

So, if you are aware that you have a bad attitude towards God or against any other person, or if you are aware that you have said or done something you know you ought not to have said or done, then realize the truth and respond according to this verse. Amen? Amen!

20. Life Transformer

Jesus in John’s Gospel : 20 : Jesus, transformer of life

Jn 2:7-10 Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.” They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”

John’s Gospel is full of picture language. Some of it is Jesus’ direct teaching, e.g. I am the gate (Jn 10:7), some of it are references from others, e.g. Behold the Lamb of God” (Jn 1:29). Some of it was clearly figurative language with a meaning, e.g. If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him (Jn 7:37,38). Sometimes he did things which were a picture of a spiritual reality, as in today’s verses.

First of all the facts of what actually happened, the things we would have seen if we had been there. They run out of wine at the wedding feast, Jesus instructs the servants to fill large jars with water and when they do that and take it to the master of the banquet it has all turned into first class wine. That is what actually happened but the next verse, as we’ll see tomorrow, says This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed at Cana in Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him.” This, says the writer John, revealed something of Jesus.

So what did it show about Jesus? Well first, quite obviously, it shows that Jesus was a man of care and compassion. The wedding was in trouble and he had the means to help so he did. Second, he obviously had the power to do miracles, for turning water into first class wine is certainly a miracle. But was that the only reason that John included this miracle which does not appear in the other three Gospels? John tries to get us to think and believe. So in its basic terms, what happened here? Jesus took something very ordinary (water) and turned it into something capable of bringing pleasure, something of character and wonder (well that’s what connoisseurs of wine tell us about a fine wine).

So here are millions of tired and weary people, living ordinary, humdrum lives, who are longing for something more and Jesus comes along and says, “Yes, they’re a bit like water aren’t they, just sufficient to stay alive, but would you like them transformed to be full of interesting flavour, full of potential to bring life and joy, and to be freed up?” That’s the offer that is hidden in this little episode, the offer of life transformation.

Isn’t that exactly what Jesus did all the time? He did it with the twelve disciples who travelled with him and with the women who accompanied them. Mary Magdalene was a classic example. He did it with people he encountered. Zacchaeus was a classic example.  When I look back on my life I see a life that has very clearly been changed from ‘water’ to ‘wine’. I have friends who I know have been similarly transformed. There is a challenge in all this: if we have become a Christian, has it been a life transformation, because if it hasn’t you’re not getting the full effect! Paul spoke about us, we…are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord (2 Cor 3:18). That is what the Lord is doing, changing us into Jesus’ likeness, and it’s a change as different as water into wine!

1. Changed

Meditations in 1 Peter : 1 :  God who changes us

1 Pet  1:1,2 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To God’s elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood:

So this is a letter from the great apostle Peter, the apostle who is a fisherman, the apostle who keeps on putting his foot in his mouth. No it’s not!  Well it is, but he’s clearly no longer a fisherman and he’s clearly someone who has something to say that isn’t a rash comment. This is a letter from a mature apostle. This man has changed since we first met him in the Gospels. Certainly he has help in writing this letter (See 5:12) but this is the letter of a man who has been transformed by the Gospel, transformed by meeting Jesus, transformed by the work of circumstances and transformed by the work of the Holy Spirit. He is also a man who is not afraid to speak to the Church at large, specifically here to the area that today we call Turkey.

To whom does he speak? Some say it is primarily the Jews but “God’s elect, strangers in the world, scattered….” could equally be a description of all Christians, Jew and Gentile. They are the ‘elect’ because they have been chosen by God, as we’ll see in a moment. They are ‘strangers in the world’ because they have been set apart, again as we’ll soon see. And they are scattered throughout the area we call modern Turkey, a minority of believers. Peter will speak about suffering and persecution and therefore the reason for the recipients of this letter being scattered is almost certainly persecution.

But look at the wonderful threefold descriptions of the believers to whom he is writing. First of all they are those “who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father.” This is similar to Paul’s language: he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.” (Eph 1:4) Peter himself, when preaching on the day of Pentecost, spoke of Jesus: This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” (Acts 2:23)  Those are the only two times that the word ‘foreknowledge’ is used in the Bible, both by Peter.

But again the sense is common in Paul’s writings, for instance, “God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son.” (Rom 8:28,29) and “God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew.” (Rom 11:2) Later on, speaking about Jesus, Peter writes, “He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.” (1 Pet 1:20) reminding us that it was before God created anything that He looked into the future, of what would be, and saw that Jesus would have to come and saw who would respond to him. This same sense of destiny established, even before God made the world, comes through in John’s revelation: “The inhabitants of the earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the creation of the world will be astonished.” (Rev 17:8). Yes, here in this first phrase we catch a sense of the Father’s sovereign will and His total knowledge.

Let’s consider the second expression: through the sanctifying work of the Spirit.” The Holy Spirit has sometimes been referred to as the executive arm of the Trinity, the One who administers the will of the godhead here on earth. So, yes, we are chosen before the world came into being in that the Father decreed the means by which people would be assessed (their response to Jesus), but now, today, it is the work of the Holy Spirit to convict us of sin, to draw us to God and then when we make that act of surrender, to come into us and set us apart as new creations, people who are actually different from anyone else, because He lives and work within us. Sanctifying here simply means to set us apart to God so that He can carry out that work of changing us into the likeness of Jesus (see 2 Cor 3:18). We noted from the outset that Peter has been changed from that rough fisherman who was originally called by Jesus. The Holy Spirit has done much to change him – as he does us!

But then there is the third phrase: for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood.” There is a twofold aspect to this, first the overall intention and then the means by which it comes about. The overall intention of God’s plan of salvation is that we will each one submit to His Son Jesus Christ who now sits at the Father’s right hand in heaven, ruling. It is only by us submitting to the Son that the Holy Spirit is able to work in us. If we don’t submit to Jesus then the Holy Spirit obviously can’t lead, guide, direct and teach us. The way that this comes about is by us receiving Jesus’ work on the Cross which cleanses us of all sin and makes the way open for us to receive God’s forgiveness.

There is a reflection in these verses of what happened at the inauguration of the first covenant: “Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people. They responded, “We will do everything the LORD has said; we will obey.” Moses then took the blood, sprinkled it on the people and said, “This is the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.” (Ex 24:7,8) Note the two things: Obedience to God’s will (the Law) and then sprinkling with blood (a life given) brought about the covenant relationship. That is what happened then and that is what happens now, except the Lamb used is Jesus. We will see more of this as we work through this letter.