17. All Things

“Hound of Heaven” Meditations: 17. All things

Rom 8:28 we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him

Perhaps no other verse encapsulates this idea of the Hound of Heaven so much as this one. We have considered some of those in the Bible that God pursued, we have considered in Psa 23 the goals to which he seek to drive or lead us. But then we come across this giant of a verse that puts it all together.

“We know” says Paul. He speaks with a confidence that comes from experience, from years of now walking with the one he once pursued, now realizing that in reality it was the other way round; this God he had once espoused and been so zealous for was in fact working for his good. He hadn’t struck him down for his ignorant unholy zeal, merely blinded him for a short while so he could contemplate the wonder of what happened to him on the Damascus road. And then a little, unknown believer came to him, sent by God, and laid hands on him and prayed for him so the Spirit came on him and filled him.

He who had been so zealous, so powerful, so full of his own certainties, had been brought to nothing, but as time went on and the revelation continued he realised that this God who he now saw in a new light, was there working for his good, had steered him off the wrong track and set him on a new life-filled, dynamically energizing life.

All the time God has been there, watching over him, never forcing him or curtailing him except at that one all-important moment when he had been stopped in his tracks and asked, “Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4) Persecute? I thought I was serving you! But then came the realization that the voice from heaven was the one who not long back had been crucified – and everything changed.

For years Saul had been taught. For years he lived off the privilege of his upbringing, never realizing there was One there in the background urging him forward, but for a goal that he himself never dreamed of. Nothing about Saul who became Paul was an accident. Eventually there came this well-educated man for God who, when his perspective was set the right way up, would work and travel and write in such a way that millions in future generations of believers would benefit from his insights and revelation. God had been working all things for good. But to see this, we have had to step back into the big picture and that is what we are going to do for the rest of this series – step back to try to catch the big picture as it is revealed through the pages of the Bible from end to end. We’re not going to look at individuals as such but at the big sweeps of Jewish history to observe the Hound of Heaven pursuing His plans and eternal purposes.

3. Family Pressures

Short Meditations in John 7:  3. Family Pressures

Jn 7:3 Jesus’ brothers said to him, “Leave Galilee and go to Judea, so that your disciples there may see the works you do

Jesus seems to have regularly attended these feasts and, as we said before, made use of them to reveal something of himself and his purposes for his people. Now, putting the verses 2 to 4 together we are going to see that although this was Jesus’ custom, he would not be pressurised into going to the present feast by his family. Yes, it is a good feast to attend and yes, it would be a good opportunity to reveal himself, but we are going to see that Jesus’ focus is on his Father’s will.

What is it that the Father wants? Does the Father want him to attend this festival? He will assume nothing.

But first we have to observe the pressure or expectation put upon him by his family. We are going to see that their words came from unbelief (v.5) but nevertheless there is an expectation expressed.

The words in themselves seek to have genuine purpose; if they wanted greater publicity for him, it would appear ‘sensible’ for his fame if he took his works south to Judea where there will surely be many more people who will want to follow him, and surely the Feast of Tabernacles will be a time when many pious Jews will be attending the celebrations in Jerusalem, so what a good opportunity it will be to gain more followers.

All good human thinking. But there feels the same sort of thinking here, being put to Jesus, that Satan used when he tempted Jesus at the beginning of his ministry, when he, “took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” (Mt 4:8,9)

The temptation then and the words now, both have the suggestion of Jesus gaining publicity and fame for himself, and so often in modern evangelism, I sense, we try to use publicity to draw people to an event rather than just being Jesus and letting his love and power attract. It is always a subtle temptation.

Now there is something here that I confess I have never much thought about before and it is Jesus’ relationship with his family. Matthew reveals that Jesus had four brothers and at least two sisters (Mt 13:55,56). Marks tells us of one occasion when the family was clearly against him (Mt 3:21). Those are the obvious things we know of his family context, but I wonder what these misunderstandings and failure to believe in him would have left him feeling as a person? If you have a family who misunderstand your faith and even oppose it, you are in good company!

27. Goodness in the Body

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 27. Goodness in the Body

Ex 33:19   the Lord said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you

2 Pet 1:5  make every effort to add to your faith goodness

Theory & Practice Overlap: In the previous study we considered love as an expression of Jesus in his body on the earth, revealing the kingdom on earth. Between the previous study and this one and then the ones that follow in the next sub-Part under the heading of practicalities, there is much overlap and it is difficult to decide whether these present two studies should come here under the heading of ‘Theory’ or under the next heading ‘Practicalities’. Love is a very practical expression of the kingdom of God through the church as is our next subject, ‘goodness’.

Defining Goodness: Forgive me is I take a section from something I have written elsewhere as we try to tie down just what good or goodness is, and does it apply to God? A dictionary defines ‘good’ as “having suitable or desirable qualities; promoting health, welfare or happiness; benevolent, not troublesome” and goes on to give reams more uses of ‘good.’ ‘Good’ signifies in our thinking something that is pleasant, something positive that we are happy with. Moses declared of God, “He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he” (Deut 32:4) and all of that description could be summed up in, “He is good!” This was Moses’ declaration. Everything that God thinkssays and does IS good. Moses knew God more intimately than any other man in the Bible apart from Jesus and so he is good for a character reference.

David reminded himself of this truth when he needed lifting up:

  • according to your love remember me, for you are good, O LORD,”(Psa 25:7) and
  • Taste and see that the LORD is good, ” (Psa 34:8) and
  • You are forgiving and good , O Lord,”(Psa 86:5) and
  • You are good , and what you do is good,”(Psa 119:68) and
  • Praise the LORD, for the LORD is good(Psa 135:3)

And Us? But what about the body of Christ? The apostle Paul declared, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness.” (Gal 5:22) and the apostle Peter added, “For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge.” (2 Pet 1:5) But what really is goodness? How should we expect to ‘see’ it in evidence in the life of the church, in the life of the kingdom? Well look up synonyms of ‘goodness’ and you find, virtuousness, decency, kindness, honesty, integrity. On the other hand, badness is linked with evil, immorality and so on.

Modern Scandals: Now one thing I have observed over the last ten to twenty years, is that scandal has hit every public institution from the monarchy, all main political parties, the police and so on. What is a ‘scandal’ you ask? Something that brings, shame, dishonour, and disgrace to individuals and the institution because of their ‘bad’ behaviour. When it comes to the church (in the USA & the UK) what has been a tragedy has been the number of leaders who have fallen into adultery and, we can only say, it should not be. Perhaps it is not surprising that there have been so many divorces in the life of the Church, and in one particular wing of the church so many scandals to do with child abuse. At one point the apostle Peter declared, “it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household,” (1 Pet 4:17) and one cannot help wondering if the church in the West will soon come under the judgment of God (or is maybe under it even now.)

Our own church? But to backtrack, do we find virtuousness, decency, kindness, honesty, and integrity as fundamental, observable characteristics of our local church? In our dealings with one another and our dealings with the people round about us, are we known as being trustworthy, people with whom it is good to interact? And ourselves? Can people say of us, “there is not an ounce of negativity, gossip, unwholesomeness, and unkindness in them”?

The Example of Leaders: Let’s put some more content to this by considering leaders who the New Testament sometimes calls elders, and sometimes overseers, for they should be examples of what the church should be: “Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.” (Titus 1:7-9) Similarly Paul wrote to Timothy, “the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect.  …..He must also have a good reputation with outsiders…” (1 Tim 3:2-7)

Facing the Truth: I suggest here is a good ‘map’ to chart the possibilities of the way that ‘goodness’ is to be seen in the church so that it can go on to express the kingdom, a handful of positives and a handful of negatives. In respect of free-will, someone has said, ‘God has dignified us with choice’. The truth is that the unbelieving world is blinded by the enemy and their hard-hearts prevent them from seeing the truth until the Holy Spirit uses their circumstances to convict them and show them their need.

But here is something quite terrible: we, the church, have the word of God and are indwelt by the Holy Spirit and, in that sense, we have no excuse if we abuse grace with our disobedience. And yet we each have to face our imperfection – more so when you have the courage to look back on your earlier years with honesty – and then realise that God still chose us, still convicted us and still drew us to Himself and still blessed us in amazing ways – that truly is grace.

A Call to Awareness: And so the call must be a call to awareness that we are called to be good, called to express goodness and wherever we see anything in ourselves that mars that, to seek to put it to death. Two of my favourite New Testament verses challenge me in all this: we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph 2:10) and “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Mt 5:16)  In the light of this study, should we perhaps see those as ‘works of goodness’ and ‘deeds expressing goodness’? There are some grounds for further thought.

36. The Testimony of Works

Short Meditations in John 5:  36. The Testimony of Works

Jn 5:36 I have testimony weightier than that of John. For the very work that the Father has given me to finish, and which I am doing, testifies that the Father has sent me.

Twice Jesus had made mention of John the Baptist as he has been discussing testimony, first as he referred to the testimony that John gave to Jesus and then, second,  how John’s ministry had burned like a light in the darkness and had been gladly received by many – for a while at least.

So, yes, it was true that John had shone in the darkness, a light from God who seemed to shine bright in the spiritual darkness of the day, but says Jesus (and he is not being petty, just truthful) Jesus’ own testimony was far brighter than that of John. John came speaking the words of the kingdom and caused people to repent, but that was only the beginning as far as God was concerned.

Jesus came to bring the kingdom or rule of God by power. On the Day of Pentecost the apostle Peter declared, “Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.” (Acts 2:22) Jesus didn’t speak just words, he brought literal change to people.

In the Isaiah mandate that he read out in the Synagogue, he declared, “He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Lk 4:18,19). To John’s disciples he said, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: 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 11:4,5) Now we try to rationalise or rather spiritualise those things but the truth is that when you look at Jesus’ ministry in the Gospels, these were all physical realities. The challenge comes when Jesus said, I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing.” (Jn 14:12)

It is plain and simple unbelief to deny these obvious words that are Jesus’ calling to the church. Consider also, “go and make disciples of (or from) all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”  (Mt 28:19,20) i.e. do what I taught my disciples to do, i.e. what I do!!!  It was for this reason that Jesus could say, “the very work that the Father has given me to finish, and which I am doing, testifies that the Father has sent me.There was no way that any man could do these things unless the Father had sent him and enabled him to do them. What was true then is true now – but we have been called to do that. We have some learning to do.

19. The Son who works

Short Meditations in John 5:  19. The Son who works

Jn 5:19  Jesus gave them this answer: “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.

In John we find many things about Jesus that we find nowhere else in the New Testament. In our verse above, first and foremost we find the Son’s reliance upon the Father and yet within that there is also the Son’s declaration that he is impotent without the Father. If only Christians would remember this. The Lord gives us a great ministry or opens up an area of successful service for us, and we foolishly think how good we are, but the truth is that it is all from the Father and if He wanted to, He could remove it all in an instant, but in His grace, He allows us to continue, even though we have silly thinking!

In his teaching on the vine, Jesus reminded us that “without me you can do nothing.” (Jn 15:5) As it is with Jesus, so it is with us. The Son looks to the Father and we look to Jesus and without him we are limited to fragile human thinking that so often goes off the rails, or human activity that so quickly runs out of energy.  Why is it that we so often find ourselves confused and drained of energy? It is because we struggle on in our own endeavours.

Jesus always operated within the sphere of what the Father was doing: “the Son can do nothing by himself.”  I wonder how often we limit what the Father is able to do because we are bumbling around in our own affairs with human wisdom and human energy?  Remember when Jesus went to his own town he was surprised that he was able to do so little because of their unbelief. From what we’ve just read it means that the Father was limited by the unbelief in the town and so Jesus was able to do so little. Our unbelief so often manifests itself by our own human planning and endeavours.

Consider Sunday morning gatherings of God’s people. How often do we so plan ‘the service’ so fully that God is pushed out? It is a very real and very common thing. I recently witnessed a service that had obviously been planned out to have worship, communion, preach and then some sharing about the church’s activities.  The only problem was that God turned up half way through and one of the leaders acknowledged that he sensed the Lord was there and wanted to minister to a number of people there. Because of a certain lack of clarity, they did not wait on the Lord for that clarity, but the senior leader pushed the service on to clearly make sure we had enough time to cover the other things – and the ministry never happened – time ran out! We missed the wonder of what Jesus wanted to do as He sensed the Father’s will, as did we, and then passed on, fruitless!