13. Divine & Human Interaction

Meditating on the Gems of the Bible:  13. Divine and Human Interaction

Acts 2:23   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.

I was reviewing what I had written earlier in this series and at the end of the first meditation I note I had written the following: “If we have known the Lord any length of time … we can reflect on our testimony and see His hand that has been on us, and we can marvel and wonder and feel great pleasure and we can bow and worship as we delight in Him.”  Getting on in years a little these days, I do what older people do and reflect back on the years that have been and I do marvel at the wonder of God’s blessings that have come to us as a family (as I wrote in that first meditation).

Now the marvel is not just that God has poured out blessing upon blessing upon us over the years, but He has done that despite the people we are – failures, inadequate, with tendencies of getting it wrong. Yes this is the fuller truth. I know what I am and I look back at what I was and I cringe at the memories of what I said or did, at my immaturity, my lack of grace, my confusions, and I marvel that despite all of this – and it is very real, I am not just trying to sound humble, this is how it was and is – yes, despite all this God blessed me and used me.

And then I come to this gem of a verse in the middle of Peter’s preaching on the day of Pentecost. For a guy who had been an uneducated (probably) fisherman, he did OK in that sermon. He has understanding, he quotes the Old Testament and he is full of passion. That’s what the Holy Spirit does for you! But there in the midst of it, is this gem of understanding. When Jesus went to the Cross it was a combination of two things.

First it was the plan of God worked out before the foundation of the world. Moreover I dare to believe that my life also fits that category, “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world,” (Eph 1:4) so that now I am, “God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10). There was no mistake back there two thousand years ago when they arrested Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane. It was not the world getting out of control; it was the plan of God reaching a climax.

Second, it was the work of sinful men. God didn’t make us band together against Christ and crucify him, but God knew we would given the circumstances. I use the pronoun ‘we’ because I dare not exclude myself from what went on. I would hope that I would not have been part of the crowd baying for Jesus’ death, and I certainly hope I would not have been part of the religious or civic establishment that brought about his death (but even there I may delude myself) and the best I could hope for was that I would have been one of those disciples who hid themselves away and left him to his fate on his own.

Am I being too hard on myself (or you)? I don’t think so. As I said earlier on, when you have a lot of years to play with, you have more examples of life to put under the microscope and although God’s grace has genuinely been there in some good measure, if I am honest if the Lord in heaven took me back through my life and we reviewed it together, I would have to agree that there were times where I would like to change how I spoke or acted in the years gone by.

We are all of us less than perfect this side of heaven and the wonder and marvel of God’s love and grace is that those imperfections didn’t put Him off from being with us there and prompting and using us, despite our inadequacies and, on rare occasions, because of them. Sometimes He can only use us when we have lost all sense of self-confidence and the ensuing words and actions come out of weakness or even failure but He still uses them to His purposes.

It is not good, this down side of humanity. It was not good that the religious and civic authorities schemed together to bring Jesus down, or in Pilate’s case just abandoned him to injustice.  It was not good that the crowd allowed themselves to be manipulated into crying out for Jesus’ death. It was not good that  most of the disciples ran away and hid. No, none of these things were good but nevertheless God used them to sacrifice the Lamb of God.

I come across people who preach a hard form of holiness and present a God who is hard and holy and demanding, but when I examine Scripture and I examine human experience I find that this preaching is false and untrue  and unkind and fails to see the wonder of who God is. Here is the paradox: yes, He is holy and He does call us to be holy and after the apparent debacle of the events in the Garden of Eden you might have expected God to abandon this planet and go and find another one in some other galaxy, but He didn’t. Before he released His power in Creation He knew that giving us free will would mean the very early arrival of Sin in mankind. He knew that justice (and Satan, the accuser)  would cry out for justice and demand that Sin be punished and so the Godhead planned how justice might be met and mankind (or at least those who would receive it) could be saved.

And so He took the sinfulness of mankind and used it to bring about the means for justice to be satisfied, by the death of His own eternal Son. No one less than God Himself could take punishment for so many sinful beings, and so we find the awful events of Calvary appearing like a blot on history. Yet out of that blot comes redemption, salvation available to you and me if we will bow and receive it. When we do, it is the direction of our life that is all important. Yes, I will stumble and on occasion fall, but He will be there to get me back on my feet and help me take further tottering steps in the direction of heaven. My desire is to do His will and that, it seems, is enough now. I may miss it or get it wrong but as I keep directed towards Him, His grace will be there again and again to turn my fumbling efforts into something glorious that will bless Him and others. How amazing!  This verse is indeed a gem and it genuinely releases a sense of wonder and awe and worship. Hallelujah!

7. He leads, I follow

Meditating on the Will of God: 7:  He leads, I follow

Rom 12:1,2  I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God–this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.

We made reference in the previous study to the partnership that requires our acquiescence to His leading, in our ongoing Christian lives. Let’s consider that some more.  The apostle Paul in our verses above calls us to present our bodies to God for His use, His disposal some might even say. Talk of ‘God using us’ implies that God leads the way and I follow and allow Him to bring about His will on earth through me. That, surely, what must be in Paul’s thinking when he says what he says above.

Now there is a danger that is observable in modern-day Christianity that can flow out of this talk, and the talk of Christian discipleship. The danger is that we adopt a wrong attitude to our ‘service’.  We see ourselves sometimes as slaves who are at God’s beck and call, who are available to be burnt out on the altar of His service, and in one sense something of this is true but such thinking forgets bigger thinking. Let me try and explain.

Let’s start with Jesus parable that we of the refer to as the parable of the talents in Matt 25. There are three recipients of the talents from the master. When the last one, who had received only one talent faces his master, he declares, I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.” (Mt 25:24,25) Many of us see God as ‘a hard man’ and our life and our service, deep down, is motivated by fear and as a result we are not fruitful. We do what we do because we ‘ought’ to, because it is expected of us, not out of the love and wonder of the relationship that we have with the good and loving God. We see Him as hard, to be ‘obeyed’. Well of course a young child obeys its loving parent because it loves the parent and it is a natural response. The child who obeys out of fear has a poor relationship.

When our children were small we caught them one day holding what was obviously a church service and one of them leading it was clearly supposed to be me! They  took me off well. Little children copy their loving parents because they love and admire them. Where we feel we ‘ought’ to pray, read our Bible, worship, witness etc., each of those actions is pretend and artificial because they come out of duty not out of the loving flow of the Spirit. ‘He leads, we follow’ is supposed to be a natural flowing thing.

When the disciples followed Jesus they did so because they saw something in him that was otherworldish and which was good and worth being with. When God leads it is always to lead us into something good, something which will bring blessing – to us and to others. When God called Moses at the burning bush it was to make him into a great leader and deliver His people. When God challenged Pharaoh it was to confront the one thing that stopped him becoming a giant in God’s sight – his pride. It was – and this would only be seen if Pharaoh had recognized God moving through Moses – a call that would deliver him from superstitious worship and lead his own people out of that as well, into a relationship of blessing with the living God, but his pride and his hard heart rejected that. What a classic picture of folly. Nebuchadnezzar, used by God to discipline Israel and the surrounding nations, didn’t understand that he has acting as the arm of the Lord and so went over the top in his activities and had, himself, to be disciplined as we considered before, but ending up with that real relationship with the Lord where he concluded, “I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just.” (Dan 4:37)

Coming back to our starting verses from Rom 12, I suspect that there are some of us who fear such language: “offer your bodies as living sacrifices.” We fear because deep down we feel God is a hard God who might cause us pain. Another way I have heard it put is that we come with the attitudes of orphans, we don’t see ourselves as sons with a loving heavenly Father. Orphans struggle on their own and have every reason to feel that life can be hard, but we are called to sonship: “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 Jn 3:1) and “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus,” (Gal 3:26) and  “Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but a son,” (Gal 4:6,7) Sons in the Bible are those who enter into the inheritance and joy of the father; they are those who have a relationship and all they do flows out of that relationship. When they ‘work’ it is an expression of that loving relationship.

So often in the parable of the prodigal son, we highlight the wrong attitude of the elder son at the end of the parable: “Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders.” (Lk 15:29) That is the language and mentality of a slave. How many of us serve the will of God like this? Instead of enjoying the wonder of the relationship we get bogged down with ‘serving’ with ‘discipleship’ with ‘laying down our life’. We miss the wonder, the freedom and the abundance of joy and blessing that comes when we realise that God is a loving, giving, good God who desires our constant blessing. If you struggle with these words, it is probable you see yourself as an orphan or a slave or a worker, instead of a glorious son of God. Ask Him to open the eyes of your heart to see the reality of what He has on His heart for you and the wonder of His daily, giving love for you.

11. A Rejoicing People

Meditations in Romans : 11:  A Rejoicing People

Rom 5:11   Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

When one hears about “world religions” we do not tend to hear about people rejoicing. Religion, for much of the time, seems to be made up of those who are focusing on performing rituals to appease their deity or deities. Even when the words appear to praise and extol the One God, the people in question appear to do little rejoicing over the wonder of their faith and appear to have little to rejoice over. Perhaps this is so obvious to us who are Christians that we ourselves have lost the wonder of it and any ‘rejoicing’ is only a formal use of words rather than an exuberant expression of the heart.

This is one of the things that the crusading atheists of our age appear to miss again and again and one wonders if it is because we Christians are not sufficiently vocal over the wonder of what has happened to us. Before I became a Christian I was lonely, insecure, unsure of myself, used abusive language most of the time, was on the edge of becoming an alcoholic, and life just drifted on with little point than coping with the day. When I came to Christ I was utterly transformed. Now I know a number who became Christians when they were children and so do not have such testimonies, but I also know many who do have similar testimonies. It is the testimony of a wonderful transformation and it only happened when we encountered God’s love and forgiveness after we had been told about Jesus.

Chastising Simon the Pharisee, Jesus concluded, he who has been forgiven little loves little.” (Lk 7:47)  The man who had been delivered from demons in the land of the Gadarenes, “went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him.” (Lk 8:39) When Jesus healed two blind me, despite him telling them to tell no one, we find, “they went out and spread the news about him all over that region” (Mt 9:31) No one, not even Jesus could restrain their joy. Possibly the clearest case of this was the man who had been a cripple from birth who was healed by Peter and John who “went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God.” (Acts 3:8)  The truth is that when God does something great for you, you can’t hold it in, you rejoice. Again my favourite testimony in the Bible is the blind man healed in John, chapter 9, who was challenged about Jesus, but he wasn’t bothered about Jesus’ credentials: “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!” (Jn 9:25)

The point should be very obvious – the more you are forgiven, the greater the rejoicing and thankfulness. Even as I write a young lady who has been appearing in the media has just been declared innocent of a crime she had been convicted of and given a long sentence. The new pictures in the press are of this young lady in tears of thankfulness. Perhaps some of us don’t feel thankful or feel like rejoicing because we don’t realise the enormity of our “crimes” and therefore hardly see the point of the Cross.

I spoke earlier of my own testimony and of the wonder of the transformation I experienced. Part of the wonder of the early days was, I am sure, because of the work of the Holy Spirit renewing me. At that time I am not sure that I was very much aware of the enormity of my crimes; I was more taken up with the wonder of what was happening to me. As the years have gone by, I realise more and more what I am really like, left to myself, and I thus realise more and more the wonder of God’s love and of His grace as He deals with me.

Paul’s language, if the translators have got it right, it a little strange at first sight – “we also rejoice in God….” In verses 2 and 3 Paul had said “we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings.” i.e. rejoice because we have now this wonder in sharing in the wonder of God’s very presence and because of that we can also rejoice in the face of adversity because He is actually with us in it and in us in it. Perhaps this part of verse 11 could be translated, “we rejoice because we are in God.” In the same way that Scripture speaks of us being “in Christ” so we are also “in God”. Because He is in us (literally) we are linked or united with Him or ‘in Him’. So our rejoicing here flows from the experience of being one with Him.

Praying for his future church, Jesus said, “I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (Jn 17:20,21). There it is! Jesus is speaking of our oneness with the Godhead. So now today we rejoice because we are one with the Godhead and it is out of the experience of that, that we rejoice or, if you like, because of it and that is what motivates us.

And, of course, all this is because of Jesus who has done all that was needed to bring about our reconciliation to God. Jesus’ death opened the door for us to come to God and as the Holy Spirit convicted us, so we came and knelt at the Father’s feet. As we bowed before His Lordship, we accepted the salvation He offered us and He forgave us, cleansed us and united us with Himself by means of His Spirit, and thus made us His sons and daughters.  As we realise this and as we experience this, we rejoice. As we started out by saying, no where else in the world is there a body of men and women who have this same cause for rejoicing. We are indeed blessed!

4. Same old…

Meditations in Ecclesiastes : 4 :  Same old…

Eccles 1:6,7 The wind blows to the south and turns to the north; round and round it goes, ever returning on its course. All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full.

It is so easy to take for granted what is there all the time. More than that, you can even get to despise it!  In his tirade against how useless everything is, the same old stuff keeps on happening, Solomon turns his eyes on the weather. It’s like he says, “Look at it!  Look at that wind! It’s blowing to the south again today. It was blowing to the north yesterday. It’s always changing but it’s always the same!” If he had lived in the Britain with its mostly changing weather he would have said, “Look at it. South westerly prevailing wind again today, just like yesterday and the day before. More rain coming in from the Atlantic! Bad news for Wales and the South West! Who needs a weather forecasting team to tell us about that?”

Then he gazed out on the hillsides and watched the streams running down. “Look at it,” he continues, “the rain falls on the hills, the streams fill up and pour it down to the rivers, the rivers pour it into the sea, the sea evaporates and the clouds take it over the hills where it rains again, and so the circle keeps on going. In fact it’s been going like that for billions of years they say!” It is all so predictable! What is predictable is so boring! Same old world, same old things happening!  This is a tedious world.

That’s the godless mentality:  look at it; it’s just like a great machine that keeps on going without change!  Boring! That’s what Solomon had arrived at. In fact he had lost the wonder of the world. Over the last twenty years of so, we’ve seen an interesting phenomena in this world. We have seen the advent of very high technology photography so that on our TV screens we have been receiving ever more wonderful insights into the natural world, especially that of wild animals. We have seen absolutely stunning film of enormous whales leaping out of the water, herds of elephants traipsing across hundreds of miles of wilderness, and even the chase of the wild with its grim outcome.  But something I have noticed is that leaping whales are not so exciting now.  Seen one herd of elephants, and you’ve seen them all. What makes for interest is newness, something we’ve never seen before. Yes, there is amazing beauty and wonder in so many of these films, but when it is repeated a number of times, it becomes ordinary and we lose again the wonder of what it there.  We become like Solomon: been there, seen it, what’s next?

It is only when we put all of Creation in a ‘God perspective’ that we start seeing something more.  It is when we go back and see the world as God’s creation, that things start happening. When we start seeing the world as God’s provision for us that says something about Him, and that in its turn makes us wonder and worship. The world thus becomes a means of creating wonder and awe in us which has the worship of God as the end product. When we accept the first chapters of Genesis and see this world, not as a freak accident of nature (the primeval ‘soup’ theory satisfies no one’s mind!) but as the purposeful creation of God (whether he did it gradually over millions of years, or over a very short period of time), it suddenly starts speaking to us.

The first thing that hits you is the staggering variety of that provision.  Why are there over a thousand different types of edible bean, let alone anything else?  God could have given us just ten different types – that would have been a reasonable choice! Why animals with long necks or long trunks or whatever other strange design. If Darwinian evolution is correct, why are there not a whole variety of elephants with different lengths of trunk, and why aren’t there long legged giraffes with short necks? The truth is that we have an incredible variety of plant life on this world, sufficient to give us an incredible choice. A slow walk round a major food store today begins to show us something of the range of food available to us.  Again I’ve noticed that foods we once thought exotic we now take for granted. Perhaps it’s time to get back to realise again that this is God’s amazing provision for us, and so go round the store praising and thanking Him for it all!

The second thing to note is that fact that it is there. Yes, there are places of drought and places of famine in the world, but the big picture is of bountiful provision that is constantly there. Yes, we do need to till the ground, sow the seeds and harvest the fully grown plant, but it is there! Possibly the story of Joseph in the Old Testament is a picture of how life in the world can be when God is included in the equation, warning us when bad weather is coming. In an entirely godly and sinless world perhaps there would be no food or weather problems. Indeed, an examination of the promises of blessing for the obedient Israel found in Deuteronomy 28, confirm that.  It is only when we push God out of this world does it go wrong – but that is our choice.

So, are you feeling jaded about this world?  See it as God’s provision and ask Him to open your eyes afresh to the wonder of that provision and His love that promotes that provision.  Don’t be jaded by the ongoingness of this world; be blessed by it.