4. God in the Wilderness?

Meditations in Isaiah 40: No.4. God in the Wilderness?

Isa 40:3   A voice of one calling: “In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

We cannot leave this thought of God coming to the wilderness. It is an amazing thought and dare I suggest, one I have never heard preached about, perhaps implying we take it for granted. But that is what the prophet is saying here, that a highway is to be made in the desert so that God can come along it, in the desert. This is God in the desert. To catch the full impact of this we need to remember how we finished the previous study, with this thought about ‘desert’ or ‘wilderness’ being pictures of those spiritually dry times of life, times that are sometimes frustrating as we look for blessing and all we see is disorder, grumblings and lack of vibrant power and life in the church.  It is to such times that this word now comes.

There are a surprising number of times in the Bible when God turns up in the desert or wilderness. We concluded the last study with mention of Moses at the burning bush. There God comes to the desert with revelation, so first, desert can be a place of fresh revelation, fresh direction, fresh calling and sending, when God turns up.

Second, we find God leading Israel through the desert to the Promised Land (see Ex 15-19) – the journey through the desert had to be taken before Israel could reach the Promise Land BUT the Lord was with them throughout their journey. So, second, we can know the Lord’s presence with us in such desert times.

Third, we find God providing manna for Israel, food that kept on appearing for forty years there in the desert. Bread is sometimes a picture of God’s word on which we have to learn to feed. So, third, the desert experience can still be a time and a place of feeding on God’s provision, His word – yes, there in the desert!

But, fourth, water was also an issue in the desert and there they had to learn that although the environment was dry and arid, they would still, nevertheless, have provision from the Lord of water. Water so often is a picture of the Holy Spirit and so, fourth, even in the desert (before the circumstances change) we have to learn that the supply of the Spirit is there for us. Rely on Him, seek Him, receive of Him.

Yes, there was also, fifth, a time of battle while in the wilderness – against the Amalekites and God gave them victory. So surprisingly, fifth, the desert can still be a place of victory with God over our enemies.

Now remember, these are all illustrations of what can happen when God turns up in the wilderness, but there is yet a further dynamic picture to be considered.  In Ezekiel 47, the prophet has a vision of a river that flows out of the temple and down into the land and he is told, “This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah, where it enters the Dead Sea. When it empties into the sea, the salty water there becomes fresh. Swarms of living creatures will live wherever the river flows….. where the river flows everything will live. …. Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river. Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fail. Every month they will bear fruit, because the water from the sanctuary flows to them.” (Ezek 47:8-12) This river is the river of life that flows out of the presence of God and here is the incredible thing – it transforms the desert!

As God comes down this highway in the desert, His presence transforms the desert, your life and mine and the world around us through us.  Can you grab that truth by faith and live it?  He turned the desert into pools of water and the parched ground into flowing springs” (Psa 107:35). “I will turn the desert into pools of water, and the parched ground into springs. I will put in the desert the cedar and the acacia, the myrtle and the olive. I will set junipers in the wasteland, the fir and the cypress together.” (Isa 47:18,19) Your life and mine?

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45. Recap 3B

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 45. Recap 3B

Eph 2:6,7  And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.

Jesus transforms life: As we moved into the final Part, looking to apply practically the theory of the previous Part, we observed the barrenness of religious life in Israel until Jesus came bringing life transformation through the power of God. That was a challenge for us today, to become a people who don’t simply act as spiritual sponges absorbing the word through sermons Sunday by Sunday, but who are to genuinely become the ‘body of Christ’, learning to minister one to another and then to the world outside.

God & People of Communication: We moved on into thinking about us being a people of revelation, expressing Jesus to the people around us as we learn to listen to him and then convey what we hear to one another, to strengthen, encourage and comfort one another.  I gave illustrations of listening to God. We pursued this whole subject of learning to listen to God and gave a further variety of illustrations. We confronted the fact that the word, ‘said’ comes up again and again in respect of God in Scripture and considered the God who communicates and still wants to speak to His gathered people.

Guidelines for Personal Prophecy: We laid out ground rules that personal prophecy today is to strengthen, encourage, and comfort, and we are to keep it simple and express love in accordance with God’s written word. Our words should come with humility and deference and without dogmatism, in everyday English, without dressing it up, and being open enough to check how our recipients are receiving it and leaving the outcome in the Lord’s hands.   In such ways we can be available to the Lord to bless others.

An Imaginary Example: In the following four ‘studies’ I gave an imaginary example of a prayer meeting and what came out of it so that we might see the fruit of listening to God and then following up with raised faith levels to see how He wants to work out the answers to that praying.

Living in the Fallen World: To bring a balance to what could potentially become triumphalist teaching, we considered the reality of living in this fallen world where things go wrong, which can often bring confusion, pain and questions. We considered the matter of discipline which can be painful but is always for our good in the long-term.

Exercising Authority: Back on the main track we considered how, being seated with Christ in the heavenly realms, as he rules at his Father’s right hand, bringing in the kingdom of God on the earth, we may be led by him to exercise authority as through prayer we may proclaim, testify, command, bind or loose and pronounce the will of God. To catch the bigger picture, we reminded ourselves of the ‘creation mandate’ where we have been called not only to fill the earth but to reign over it and subdue it, and we saw that this includes the vast majority of activities that we call ‘work’.  This not only means that we seek to do well in our work, but we look for ways that the Lord might want to work in it sand through it.

How Jesus ruled: Considering the subject of authority, we considered various ways that Jesus ‘ruled’ while he was on earth – having control over the physical world, which included bringing healing etc. – but also in the way he controlled himself and his tongue and his emotions. When we apply them to ourselves we see areas of life for us to work into as he leads us.

Being a Relevant People: We expanded and clarified our thinking about being a relevant people in the midst of today’s world, as we reminded ourselves of the outworkings of that imaginary prayer meeting and all that followed. The outworking of all this, as we are led by Jesus, means lives are touched and changed and circumstances can be transformed, and God is glorified as the kingdom is expressed.  We noted that it isn’t just supernatural gifting but also expresses the nature and character of Jesus to bless the world around us through our ‘good works’.

Being a Distinctive People: Finally, we considered our distinctiveness that is holiness, being utterly different in the mold of the Lord, specifically as we express love, unity, truth, and goodness or, more generally, the ‘fruit of the Spirit’.   In these ways we are to grow as a body that is led by the head, Jesus, who is seated at his Father’s right hand in heaven, bringing in the kingdom of God on earth.

And So? How can we sum all this up?  This third phase, if we may call it that, of Jesus being glorified when he is lifted up, of him ruling at his Father’s right hand in heaven, is all about how, when we allow ourselves to be led by his Spirit we will become a people who don’t only express the character of Jesus but also the works of Jesus. It will be not only by what we have historically called ‘sharing the gospel’ (presenting the truths of the New Testament about who Jesus is and how he has come to bring us salvation) but also by being his ‘body’ today, being led by his Spirit as he rules in this world in the midst of his enemies, to express God’s kingdom in the midst of the effects of the fallen world around us.   As we do this, lives and circumstances will change. The only question is, will we rise to be this people the scriptures describe?

13. Transformer

Jesus in John’s Gospel : 13 : Jesus, transformer of people

Jn 1:42 Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter).

When we look at someone we tend to see, quite simply, the exterior and observe that person’s body language and appearance (1 Sam 16:7), but when God looks at someone He sees everything about them, their thoughts, their feelings, their past and their future, everything is revealed. In our verse today we go to the heart of the effect of the Gospel: Jesus transforms people!

Simon comes to Jesus and Jesus looks at him with the eyes of God and sees his potential and knows his future. We sometimes say, “God loves you just as you are, but He also loves you so much that He will not leave you as you are but will change you into someone much more wonderful.”  Commentators are sometimes somewhat chary of implying too much into the names here, but some suggest that Simon means a stone, while Peter (or Cephas) means a rock.  If that is so it is a good picture. Simon, the man who stood in front of Jesus was a rather hasty, easily moved, impetuous man. By the time God had finished with him, he was truly a rock, one who was steady and unmovable, one who could be relied upon.

Names in the Bible were often highly significant and name changes even more so. Abram (exalted father) was changed (Gen 17:5) to Abraham (father of many). Jacob (twister) was changed (Gen 32:28) to Israel (he struggles with God). The name change implied a new relationship with God, and certainly a new phase or new understanding about that person’s life. At the very least a name change here means a life-implication change. Jews were initially identified by their father, so Simon was son of John. Thus he was identified according to his past. There is a sense when Jesus simply says, “You will be called Cephas (Rock)” that it is like he is saying, “Your past doesn’t matter. You won’t be known by someone else’s name. You will stand alone, known for who you are, because of what you are.”

There is a great truth here. We are not a Christian because our parents were Christians. There is even a sense that to become a Christian we have to be separated from our parents to enter into a greater relationship with God. In the same way that a man leaves his parents to be joined to his wife, so the same is true of becoming a Christian (Eph 5:31,32). When we become a Christian we become a new person and our old life now no longer counts: if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Cor 5:17).  Any status we had from being part of a particular family doesn’t count in the kingdom of God, only our relationship with God. Similarly our past failures don’t have to impinge on the present (only crimes that we may not have confessed, or sins we may not have acknowledged against other people).  We become a new person forgiven and cleansed by Jesus’ work on the Cross, energized by the Holy Spirit, and adopted into God’s family by the Father.

See also that Jesus knows what we can be. Peter is a wonderful example of someone who was accepted in his raw, rough state by Jesus but was transformed into one of the leading apostles moving under the power and authority of God. Remember, that that end result was despite the many times Peter opened his mouth and got it wrong, including the time when he denied his master. Jesus is in the business of transforming us!