2. The Heart of God

Christmas Threads Meditations: Thread 2: The Heart of God

Prov 8:30,31  I was constantly at his side. I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence, rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind.

(Additional Reading: Prov 8:22-31)

Catching God’s heart: I guess many of us would agree with those famous words from Jn 3: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son…. God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him,” (Jn3:16,17) but I wonder if familiarity has dulled our understanding of these two verses. It was God’s love that sent His Son into this world. We saw in our first study that the Father sent the Son and we see it again in these two verses, but let me ask you a question that perhaps you’ve never been asked before: how do you think the Son felt about that? In the Godhead the authority is with the Father who instructs the Son and the Spirit, but this instruction is going to have some terrible implications within it  So let’s limit the question a bit to, what do you think Jesus felt about this instruction in respect of us?

God has Feelings?  I take us down this path because I think sometimes we lose all the emotion from the Advent story for I have a feeling that, for many, the emotion associated most with God would be anger, but I don’t believe that is the truth. Yes, God does get angry sometimes but is that all we find in the Godhead? I find our starter verses from Proverbs amazing. You really need to read verses 22 to 31 of Proverbs 8 to catch the full import of it. Technically it is ‘wisdom personified’ speaking but when you consider the Godhead, it has to be the Son who the creeds tell us was ‘begotten of the Father’ (and begotten simply means ‘comes out of’) who, from verse 27 on indicates that he was there alongside the Father creating the world.

It’s a lovely picture which corresponds perfectly to Jn 1:3 and Heb 1:2 and Col 1:16. But see what the Son says: “I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence.” (v.30) Delight, joy, pleasure, describe how the Son felt working alongside the Father. But then, even more wonderfully, “rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind.” (v.31)  The son was blessed by the world they were bringing into being – and blessed by us human beings! Yes, he had this same joy and pleasure in us that he had in the world and in his Father. That is incredible! That’s how it was before the Fall.

Yes but we fell!  Yes, I can hear the negative put-down in this truth, but how do you think God felt about the Fall? Angry, yes, but anything else? Well a while later, when things start going seriously wrong in the world we read, “The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled.” (Gen 6:6) The Message paraphrase puts it, God was sorry that he had made the human race in the first place; it broke his heart.”  This is one of those times when God appears, not only as the One who stands outside time and sees everything from beginning to end, but also as the One who is there in time experiencing it as if for the first time. If it had been us, we might have said, “Oh why did I ever create this world when I see what a mess it gets into?” and our hearts would be broken.

Think Again: We often come across ‘the joy of the Lord’ in Scripture but to see more of God’s emotions we simply need to watch Jesus outside Lazarus’s tomb: When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “Where have you laid him?” he asked. “Come and see, Lord,” they replied.  Jesus wept. Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” (Jn 11:33-36) The original Greek seems to suggest that in Jesus’ weeping there was also a feeling of anger as well as anguish, anger for the effect of sin, both in bringing about Lazarus’s death and the impact it had on the family, as well as what he no doubt felt for Lazarus himself. God who is troubled, God who anguishes – over us! This is the love of Jn 3:16 that instinctively enabled the Godhead to plan Advent even before they uttered a word to create the world.

Time to Pray – Thanks: “Lord, I catch but a bit of what your word seems to reveal about how you feel about us.  Father, thank you that you love us, and sent Jesus to die for us. Thank you that it is your love that energizes you to plan all of this to save us. Thank you so much. Amen.”

Prayer Time – Requests: “Lord, please forgive us that so often we never bother to try to catch your heart or understand how you feel. Lord, please open my heart, fill my heart with the truth, touch my heart with the wonder of the emotions you feel that are the guiding and motivating force behind all the Nativity accounts. Please help me see it this year like I’ve never seen it before. Amen.”

5. The Big Picture

Studies in Isaiah 54: 5. The Big Picture

Isa 54:6 “The Lord will call you back as if you were a wife deserted and distressed in spirit— a wife who married young, only to be rejected,” says your God.

Two Approaches:  As we look at this verse it appears that there can be two approaches to it. There is the approach that sees it in the context of the history of Israel and then the approach that sees it in the context of the history of the world. Put most simply we have a picture that portrays a wife who has been rejected, deserted and distressed, which can be either Israel or the world (and we will look at both) whom the Lord calls back to Himself. What follows in the ongoing verses is simply an expansion of that.

Israel, the wife: This has to be the primary meaning within a prophecy that comes from a Hebrew prophet to Israel in their time-space history. We must note the words in verse 6, “as if you were”. It is a picture, an analogy, to describe what they are like. The implication is that the Lord is like their husband. He had called them – through Abram and then later through Moses – to become a uniquely identifiable people with a uniquely distinct relationship with Him, a relationship likened to that of a husband and wife.

When? Now there is always a problem with prophecy: it may be spoken out of time, about a future time, a future time that is not yet identifiable, and it may be fulfilled more than once! So the Lord speaks of a time when He had apparently given them up: “For a brief moment I abandoned you,” (v.7a) and, “In a surge of anger I hid my face from you for a moment.” (v.8a) Now in Isa 36 we have an historical insert: “In the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah’s reign, Sennacherib king of Assyria attacked all the fortified cities of Judah and captured them. Then the king of Assyria sent his field commander with a large army from Lachish to King Hezekiah at Jerusalem.”  (Isa 36:1,2)

It was one of those numerous times when the Lord would discipline Israel – to bring them back to Himself – by using an enemy invader. The reality is that it happened so many times – the book of Judges is full of it – that it is difficult to suggest from our perspective when the Lord was referring to. The fact that Isaiah refers to Cyrus, who later becomes an instrument in the Lord’s hand for getting Israel back to the Land after the Exile, suggests it could be that this prophecy is yet to be also used for encouraging Israel in that later time as well as in the present when Isaiah is actually speaking out these words.

A Changed People:  The point of this word – in the present at least – is to reassure Israel that they were not utterly cast away. Now the truth is that the Lord does not just shrug his shoulders and pretend that sin has not happened; He always deals with it. The Exile, possibly many years later, was a time of purging Israel of their idolatry and of creating a new faithful heart in them. Thus when the remnant eventually started returning after some forty years, they came back with changed hearts. We need to realize this, that when the Lord speaks of restoring Israel after a time of disciplining, it is a purged people He will be restoring, a changed people.

He’s not going to just turn the clock back so that the old sinful attitudes are still there and He is doing nothing about it, He is going to change them. Previously, if He appeared to be doing nothing, it was simply that He was staying His hand of judgment to give them time to repent, and if they did not, then the judgment came to discipline them: The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Pet 3:9)

So when we try to understand the ways of the Lord, we should always understand that even though discipline comes, it comes with the purpose of changing us and the end result is to be a restored and changed people, a people who have been cleansed by the judgment (discipline) and had their hearts changed and transformed. Perhaps we should also note the tense at the beginning of verse 6: “The Lord will call you back…” There is a future sense to this. It is the Lord declaring His intention of what is yet to come, but that is how it is so often with prophecy; it is not merely stating God’s will for the moment, it also so often declares it for the future.

The World:  But the second approach we said above is about the world. The big picture of salvation after the Fall is perhaps portrayed here. This is the big picture of God’s plans and purposes for the whole world. At the Fall we were cast away. His relationship with mankind – Adam and Eve – was fractured by sin. When I first studied this judgment of being cast out of the Garden, I marveled that this was not the end of the ‘God + Mankind’ equation. God did not totally abandon us, He gave us what we wanted, what Adam and Eve had revealed, autonomy, the freedom to live our lives as we will – with all the repercussions!  We would learn, we had a need, of someone to save us from the mess that we all make of life.  And thus it was that it was like He hovered in the background. It was clear that He spoke with Cain and Abel, had dealings with various others in the ensuing years, and eventually called Abram into relationship with Him.

The Anger of the Lord: The words of these verses that we are considering could equally be applied to the Fall and what followed it: “The Lord will call you back as if you were a wife deserted and distressed in spirit— a wife who married young, only to be rejected,” says your God.” (v.6) They had a relationship with the Lord to start with, but their sin meant that, “For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with deep compassion I will bring you back. In a surge of anger I hid my face from you for a moment.“ (v.7,8) The folly of sin evokes righteous anger; it is a right response to wrong.

In our defensiveness we so often fail to see this, perhaps only made clear when one of our children do wrong and provoke anger within us.  Anger is a rising of indignation, a rising of displeasure at what has happened. The thing should not have happened, it was pure folly for it to happen – and of course that is true of all sin, we should know better, but there seems to be this blindness that is part of sin, so that we don’t see the folly and so proceed with the sin. It is stupid and so any onlooker with an unbiased mind would feel a sense of anger that it ever happened. If we could see clearly we would feel it; God does see clearly and so feels it.

The Compassion of the Lord:  “I will have compassion on you,” says the Lord your Redeemer.” We may settle in anger and fume; God never does. It may be right to respond with anger at our folly but God never leaves it there. He looks upon us and anger is tempered by compassion. He is love (1 Jn 4:8,16, Ex 34:6,7) and love always looks for the best in everyone else. Anger is appropriate but it is overwhelmed by compassion and out of that God acts to redeem us.

There is a mystery here that C.S.Lewis sought to address, that God appears to stand outside of history, like He looks down on history, as seen as a road below that He can see from beginning to end, but also He steps into history and acts as if everything is new. So although the Scriptures are clear that the Godhead planned salvation, seeing the effect of free-will, even before they made anything, when the Fall took place God’s response to the moment was anger followed by compassion, and it was that compassion that moves Him to continue to interact with mankind. Never say God doesn’t care for us, He does. He may discipline us, “for a little while” (Heb 12:10) but it is that Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace.”  (Heb 12:11).

Thus in these verses we also have the wonder of our salvation. Whenever we fail the Lord and come under His discipline, always remember it is but for a moment and the compassion of God will be there to restore us to Him: “I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 Jn 2:1) God’s constant intent is to redeem us and that is what the whole of the Bible is all about. See it and rejoice in it.  Hallelujah!

Snapshots: Day 30

Snapshots: Day 30

The Snapshot: “seven years of famine began.” Living in a Fallen World is often confusing. Israel has lost his favourite son, and now famine threatens to wipe them out. It feels a hard world – but that is without understanding what God is doing. The ‘dead son’ will be raised to life and be their savior, but that is still the future. Sometimes the sun shines brightest before the storm that brings life to the desert. When Jesus entered Jerusalem they shouted, “Hosanna!”, Lord save us. A week later, others cried out, “Crucify him.” It was a confusing time, a terrible time, and it seems no one could see the glory of the future behind the black thunder clouds.  But God has a plan so rest in that truth, and it’s always a plan for good, our good. How incredible.

Further Consideration: Whether we like it or not – and I know some people who think it is a cop out – the world we live in is broken, dysfunctional or as we usually put it – fallen. It is not as it was when God first made it. When sin came in, God stepped back and said the equivalent of, “OK, you want to run it you way, I’ll let you do that.” The result was that sin prevailed, and the world went wrong. Sickness accompanied sin, and that included sickness in the plant life and in nature at large, which included the weather and the way the planet works generally.

Thus sometimes there were (and are) famines because rain doesn’t fall, seeds don’t germinate and so on. If we blame God for famines, we must blame Him for giving us free will, not that He made us do wrong, but allowed us the opportunity, and everything else followed. So that’s the world we live in – where it goes wrong – but the amazing thing is that God didn’t step right of the equation, He is still there when we turn to Him and He is available to help. That doesn’t mean He will immediately jump in and do what we want and reverse the working of the fallen world, but it does mean that there are times when He sees that that is possible without upsetting the balance of our free will.

But sometimes He holds back because He sees that allowing the brokenness to continue means He can use it for a greater purpose. Now when it comes to the seven years of famine above, God has seen (and told Abram about it) that this can be just one link in a chain that results in Israel ending up in Egypt. There, because they do not leave when they could early in the day, they settle, end up slaves and need that most incredible event, the Exodus, which brings judgment on sin, reveals the power of the Lord and the uniqueness of Israel. This famine is just one link in that chain, but Jacob didn’t see that yet, and so often we don’t see the fact of present difficulties being a link that will lead to something amazing. Patience and grace needed.

57. Drowning in the Sea (Recap)

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 57. Drowning in the Sea (Recap)

2 Sam 22:4-6  “I called to the Lord, who is worthy of praise, and have been saved from my enemies. The waves of death swirled about me; the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me. The cords of the grave coiled around me; the snares of death confronted me.

Recently: In the last seven studies we have been considering aspects of the culture we find in the West at this time in history, aspects that threaten our very spiritual lives if we allow them to overwhelm us, and I likened this to being drowned by these things. Now to draw these threads together to better enable us to see the big picture, let’s consider the analogy of the sea as a description of the culture that we live in. We said near the beginning that ‘drowning’ is the negative outcome of being out at sea, but alternatives are that we swim, we sail, or we surf. In other words the sea has the capability of killing us by drowning but it also has the capability of being used for enjoyment, business or travel, all legitimate pastimes or experiences. The analogy of the sea is also useful when we consider it is often tumultuous, there is constant movement and change and it can be threatening. (Jude used a similar analogy – Jude v.13)

What this says is that a godless culture is always bad and harmful, tumultuous and changing, but ‘culture’ in itself is neutral and so all of these things can be positive if they are godly, i.e. we enjoy them within the confines of God’s guidance and direction and we avoid excesses. These things we have been considering are not bad in themselves, but they are bad when we use or experience them in a godless fashion. When that happens they change from things provided by God for our blessing, into things that have the potential to destroy us. Let’s examine each of them again briefly to see these things.

The Possibilities of Materialism: Now the truth is that God has provided everything material and spiritual for our blessing. When we speak of materialism we tend to mean a life that excludes the spiritual and excludes God. All material things, we say again, are potentially things for blessing. Used in excess, most things become harmful. The ‘world’ is materialistic (godless) but we as Christians should always hold a balance that accepts, is aware of, and operates in, a spiritual dimension as well as a material dimension. Our spiritual lives are threatened when we forget or fail to operate within that balance and almost invariably it will be the spiritual side that will suffer. Having said that, there have been those who reject the material dimension and speak of it negatively, forgetting it is God’s provision for us to be used wisely and thankfully (Jas 1:17, 1 Tim 4:3,4). However our greater threat is likely to be we get caught up in materialistic living and that is a life where we forget the spiritual dimension that we are called to experience, live in and serve in. The call is therefore not to let enjoyment of the material world become the all-important thing in life but maintain a balance whereby we operate in, experience and enjoy both realms.

The Danger of Unreality: Being creative, which includes writing books, making films and so much more, is part of being made in the image of the Creator, but fiction is always fiction and we must never forget that. Even more we must always remember that the human author, film-maker etc. is a human being who may or may not be conveying an incomplete picture of what life is about. ‘Romanticism’ tends to view life unrealistically through rose-tinted glasses while ‘realism’ tends to point out only the harsh realities of life. Often a book or film will express one of the other but rarely both together, and therefore we should always remember what the author or film-producer is aiming to do and, in our minds, refocus in the light of the truth about God, and us as sinners with the possibility of redemption, i.e. remember what is and what is not ‘real’.   The danger is always that if we are regular readers or regular watchers of TV, videos and films (and computer gamers, for that matter) we can get swept up in what we have seen/experienced and lose contact with reality, how life really is. The temptation that the enemy puts before us, is to believe the lie that I can live in that unreal ‘reality’ and forget that actually there are always consequences to be born with such things in the real world.

Holding Knowledge Lightly: Knowledge in itself is neutral. The problem with ‘knowledge’ is that sometimes what we think is real or true is not, it is merely an opinion or a hypothesis that may yet change. Knowledge becomes dangerous when we allow untrue knowledge (rather like ‘fake news’) to determine our outlook on life, our perception of what is or is not real and true. It is also dangerous when we allow knowledge to boost our egos or more specifically our pride. Pride always means a loss of perspective, making us think we are greater, more powerful, cleverer, than we are. Pride also questions whether we need God.

There is a saying, “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing,” which the Internet suggests means, “a small amount of knowledge can lead to overconfidence, leaping to invalid conclusions based on what you do know without taking into account the things that you don’t know.” The wise person knows that the more you do know the more you should realise how little you know, and thus will maintain an outlook of humility. Failing the understand these things means we can become overwhelmed and even intimidated by big people, big theories and big figures. At such times a healthy dose of reading the scriptures and remembering that God is THE big person who is all-knowing and all-wise, is a wise approach. He alone should be our ultimate source of wisdom. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” (Psa 111:10) and, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” (Prov 1:7) Never let go that perspective.

The Life of Social Media: The use of social media and social networking, we observed, has many benefits to our lives today AND many curses. In the light of the many fears that are being raised by a variety of professionals, we would be wise to take note of not only the warnings of abuses and harms that can ensue but also the very real fear of addiction to usage. There is also the concept of the loss of reality that can arise, in both security and knowledge terms that we noted can distort the reality about ourselves and the world around us. Really an extension of the previous paragraph.

A Confusing & Uncertain World:  In both the USA & the UK and indeed many other ‘Western’ countries, Christians are now clearly in the minority and since our nations have largely rejected God we have lost a moral base and no longer believe in absolutes – values or principles which are regarded as universally valid – and so relativism rules which says that knowledge, truth, and morality exist in relation to culture, society, or historical context, and are not absolute, i.e. right or wrong depends on every unique situation and will be different for every situation. At least that is what is said except the moment someone harms ‘me or my family’ and which point we scream, “that’s not right, where are the police, justice needs to be done, someone needs to pay for this!”

So we live with the ‘law of exceptions’ that says, “well, yes, generally it is wrong for someone to steal but perhaps there are exceptions, such as when someone is on the point of starvation,” or “well, yes, it is wrong to kill another person, but perhaps there are exceptions such as when a SWAT team have to take out a terrorist carrying a bomb.”  Ever since Hiroshima we have accepted that killing a large number of people is an unpleasant fact of life to save a much larger number of people from an ongoing war. Perhaps as Christians we might say that we recognise that in a fallen world sometimes an evil is necessary to prevent a greater evil – but it is still evil. But these are ethical dilemmas, necessary evils from living in this fallen world, but that is very different from the blatant misrepresenting of truth, telling outright lies etc. that have become almost a fact of life in recent years across the global communication and media networks.

Coping with ‘the sea’: Surfing or sailing on the sea of modern culture is appreciating the wonder and goodness of so many aspects of this world. Culture is sometimes defined as “the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society,” i.e. the way societies think and then act. For us as Christians things like self-awareness, understanding, knowledge, wisdom and discernment must be major tools in our armoury as we seek to cope with the things these last studies have been dealing with.

Helps? Realizing that

  • we don’t have to comply with the pressures of peers and advertisers to get the latest piece of hi-tec,
  • rejecting the false and unreal perspectives that are often put before us,
  • rejecting the intimidating atheistic voices that seek to challenge with their skewed and incomplete ‘facts’, hypotheses and opinions,
  • taking control of thoughts about myself and others from Christ’s perspective and not that of my Facebook friends, and
  • refusing to be swayed by those who shout loudest in the noisy media market place of political, theological or simply ideological ideas.

Understanding & Living in Christ: Remaining above the surface of the water (culture) is what happens when we take hold of such truths as, God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,” (Eph 2:6). The threefold thrust of that is that:

  • we are to see ourselves as intimately united with Christ,
  • in a place where we are (with him) to rule over our circumstances, and
  • where we are above – and therefore can see clearly – the shambles of the world below us.

In the light of all this, we might do well to finish this study with Paul’s prayer: “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.  I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.” (Eph 1:17-19)  Amen!

22. Dead to the World

Short Meditations for Easter on the Cross: 22. Dead to world 

Gal 6:14  May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.

The cross, a symbol. Many people wear it around their neck. Churches have it on their spire; it appears in many such places, a symbol at the heart of the Christian faith. Paul has just been speaking about those who boast in outward, physical expressions of their faith but, he says, I won’t boast in any such thing; the only thing I will ‘boast’ about, the only thing I will get excited about, is my Lord’s cross. It isn’t, he infers, what I do but what he has done that we should get excited about.

But then he says something strange as he talks about the cross: “through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”  The JBP version puts this well: “God forbid that I should boast about anything or anybody except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, which means that the world is a dead thing to me and I am a dead man to the world,“  and the Living Bible puts it, “Because of that cross, my interest in all the attractive things of the world was killed long ago, and the world’s interest in me is also long dead.”  Don’t they put it so clearly, but even they need thinking about.

By coming to God in repentance we surrendered our old lives to Him for Him to make us anew. The reason He could accept us was the fact of Jesus dying on the cross to take our sin, our guilt and our punishment, as we’ve said before. But in so coming to Him we gave up the allure of the ways of the world and surrendered to the ways of God which are far better. But it is a two-way street. Not only have I died to the ways of the world, but as far as the world is concerned I am a write off. Just the other day I heard someone launching off about their mother-in-law who was ‘a born-again Christian’ and it was said in a derogatory way.

For many in the world we are irrelevant as far as they are concerned in terms of running the country, and yet isn’t it a strange thing that when Government or local government has problems in society and they are looking for help, they come to the local church because they recognise here are a group of caring people who will step up to the mark to help the community. As far as they are concerned, if we speak of the cross, we are dead people, yet as a resource for the needy community they recognise we are vital. (That doesn’t mean to say that there will not be spiritually hungry and thirsty people who won’t see is and be drawn to Christ, for our ‘good works’ are to be attractive – Mt 5:16)

The Cross is not merely a symbol, it is what divides us from the world around us and determines our lives and our future.

15. Peace in World Crises

Short Meditations on Peace 15. Peace in World Crises

Psa 121:3    He will not let your foot slip– he who watches over you will not slumber;

The truth is that we live in a worrying world and because we live in media saturated world, we hear about all these things that can cause worries and worries, of course, rob us of the peace that should be ours. In 2016 in the UK there have been worries over leaving the European Union, in the USA there were worries over the candidates in the race for the White House. On top of these things there are ever the clouds overshadowing us of Global warming and Global terrorism. Back in the last century there were worries over the Cold War with the USSR and those worries have been resurrected by the activities of the Russian president. Will it all end in one big bang?  On top of these things we have virus’s that seem to appear from nowhere and we now use words like Pandemic to describe the potential horrors of world-wide plagues. We live in a fallen world and things go wrong, so how can be possibly have peace in the midst of all this?

The first thing to remember, taking hold of the ‘big picture’, is that God is in control of His world and it IS His world, because He made it, perfect at the beginning but not so now. Second, remember He is working with a heavenly agenda and although He allows wars to bring discipline to nations, He is still in control. Third, remember His adversary, the devil, is only a fallen angel, one small being in God’s big creation and Jesus taught us to pray, “Deliver us from the evil one” (Mt 6:13) which is a daily reminder that we need God’s protection – which He’ll give!

Our header verse above comes from a psalm that is all about security and in it the Psalmist reminds us that our help, our security, is to come from God (v.2), who keeps watch over all His children (v.3,4). Indeed, he goes on, He will keep watch over you twenty-four hours a day (v.5,6) and He will keep you from harm (v.7) because He sees everything you do (v.8) and, by implication, will make sure you remain safe.

The book of Revelation is a strange book as far as many are concerned but after an introductory chapter and then two chapters addressed to local churches of Asia Minor, our perspective of history is set in the light of what is in heaven – God Almighty (chapter 4) and the lamb of God (chapter 5) who is given a scroll which is end time history to open. This is God who is sovereign, God who came to save you, God who is overseeing all that happens today. Let everything else be seen in the light of these truths, these realities, It is your loving heavenly Father who is supreme over all things. Be at peace in His love.

2. Not a Lonely Machine

Meditations in Meaning & Values   2:  Not a Lonely Machine

Eccles 1:5-7  Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever. The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises. 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. To the place the streams come from, there they return again.

In 1967 Arthur Koestler wrote a book called, “The Ghost in the Machine”, the title coined by Oxford philosopher Gilbert Ryle, and is really about the mind–body relationship. Both believed that the mind of a person is not an independent non-material entity, temporarily inhabiting and governing the body.  The title of that book could equally apply to the idea that deists have, that there is a God but he sits at a distance allowing the world to just continue on as a machine. Indeed the concept of the world as a machine is common to many modern thinkers.

In this they have good company in Solomon as he writes Ecclesiastes. In our verses above there is this sense of a world that just keeps on and keeps on, doing the same thing all the same with no change, a meaningless world. His reference to the water cycle is of course accurate: streams flow down to the sea, the sea evaporates, the water vapour forms clouds, the clouds cause rain and the rain falls on the ground and eventually runs into streams which run into the sea……

Yes, that is how God has made it to work but merely because that is so, it doesn’t mean that is how it always was, or always will be. This mechanistic deist or even atheistic world view forgets, ignores or maybe is ignorant of certain things.

First of all it all had a beginning. For modern scientists it is the ‘big bang’ but what they struggle with in their materialistic searching is what happened a second before the big bang.  They are in a scientific cleft stick because on one hand they maintain that for anything to happen, there needs to be an originating force but supposing there was a big bang, what was before it? One of the crucial things we struggle with is the concept of ‘nothing’. The atheistic scientist would like to tell us that before the big bang nothing existed because if ‘something’ existed it would just push their search back a further stage, but the problem is that if there was really absolutely nothing (and Christian philosopher Dr. Francis Schaeffer used to call it ‘nothing nothing’ to emphasise the point) we cannot conceive of something coming from absolutely nothing.  Absolutely nothing is a concept beyond our imagination and something coming from it is impossible – unless the something before it was God. Where did God come from, asks the sceptic? I don’t know; I said there are things beyond our conceiving. All we have is, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Gen 1:1)  God did it, on purpose.

The modern scientist, if he is an atheist, wants an impersonal mechanistic beginning but if such a thing was possible then it would be absolute chance that brings it about and everything that follows would be absolute chance, and absolute chance rules out meaning and purpose and that would be all well and good except we all live our lives as if there is meaning and purpose to them. That is the greatest mystery: why? The answer has to be because the personal God gave us that sense. There was a beginning, a beginning with personality behind it, that of God, a beginning with a purpose and a meaning, not an accident.

On an earlier day Solomon had compiled the book of Proverbs and there he had personified wisdom (that later revelation reveals was the Son of God) and there the Son says, Then I was the craftsman at his side. I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence, rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind.” (Prov 8:30,31) What a beautiful picture of God, Father and Son, working together to bring into being this world in ways that defy our intellect, a world from nothing, but rejoicing together, “rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind.” Nothing impersonal about that; they enjoyed bringing it into being and enjoyed what they made. Nothing about a ‘miserable old God’ in that!  Indeed when they had done it, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” (Gen 1:31) It may be a stretch of the imagination to see the Father turning to the Son and saying, “Good job son!” but it does have that feel about it. So this world had a beginning, a personal one and that is important.

But poor old Solomon has this fatalistic feeling that this ‘machine’ is going to go on for ever and ever. Actually no! This world has a limited duration, not because it will wear out or run down but simply because one day the Lord is going to say, “Enough!” and we find at the end, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away.” (Rev 21:1) We don’t often think about this, perhaps because the Jehovah’s Witnesses go on about it but the truth is that there is coming ‘the Day of the Lord’ a day of great accounting and then these things follow. Now whether these are things that will happen in chronological order or they describe the process we go through after we die, only time and eternity will tell, but the big point is that the present world will not remain.

Does this mean that like Plato and his followers we tend to despise the material, despise the present physical world?  No, definitely not!  This present world is God’s gift to us and we best enjoy it when we enjoy it in parallel with enjoying God. It is a wonderful world; yes it is a fallen world and sin and Satan spoil it, but as children of God we can enjoy to the full the wonder of this world that God has provided. So even if it is the water cycle, the next time you think about it, rejoice and give thanks and say, “Lord, thank you for the wonder of this, that you have given us water to enjoy in so many ways – to drink, to mix with so many other things, to swim in, to sail upon, thank you that it is here for our enjoyment. Hallelujah!  A lonely machine?  No way, a wonderful world given by God and…..  no, I’ll save that for the next one!

16. Not for Condemnation

Short Meditations in John 3:  16. Not for Condemnation


Jn 3:17   For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

Guilt and shame do terrible things in us. They make us defensive and they pull us down. They demean us and strip us of power to live. They make us want to hide away – and especially from God. And the terrible thing is that deep down every one of us knows we are a sinner. We may adopt strategies to cover ourselves up but essentially we feel naked. We struggle to achieve. We see it all the time in society. It goes from the young woman with low self esteem who has a baby as the only means of creating a sense of meaning, purpose and fulfilment, to the small man who was mocked when he was young, who now drives himself to create a business empire where he is a ‘somebody’. “All have sinned.” (Rom 3:23a) we know it.

Inadequacy, not being what we would love to be, what we envy in others, what we sense we could be, if only… We wish we came from a better background, we wish we had been better educated, we wish learning came more easily, we wish we could be successful, we wish we were more handsome or pretty.  Incapable, struggling to overcome bad habits, bad attitudes, finding our mouths blurt out things which we immediately regret. Not being what we wish we could be. “And fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23b) or “and fall short of what we know we could be in God’s design.”

And so we have these mixes of guilt, shame, inadequacy, incapability and they pull us down and make us little people, unrighteous people, unholy people, sinners – and we wish it could be different, but God is big, God is holy, God looks for spiritual giants, God is there to condemn us, surely.

But that is not what Jesus or John think: “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world.”  The world is us. God knew what we were like, He knew all the things above and He still sent Jesus. But that isn’t strictly accurate, the way I have just put it. He sent Jesus BECAUSE we are like that. He’s come to rescue us not condemn us, he’s come to save us not slay us.

That’s the ultimate for God: “to save the world through him.” Salvation comes only through Jesus Christ, the Son of God who died for our sins and for our salvation. It is “through him”, through Christ; there is no other way, no other method, no other strategy that you can find in the whole world that does this, that forgives sin because the punishment for sin has been taken, that forgives sinners, cleanses sinners, adopts redeemed sinners as children of God and empowers them with the very presence of God – all because of what Jesus has done!

15. The Gospel

Short Meditations in John 3:  15. The Gospel

Jn 3:16   For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

Thus we arrive at what is almost certainly one of the best known and most quoted verses in the Bible. My own feeling is that this and subsequent verses are commentary by John rather than ongoing speech by Jesus. There is an objectivity about them, I believe, which separates them from what has gone before. Other commentators disagree, but I will approach it as John’s summary. Verse 19 onwards especially has the feeling of the early parts of chapter 1 which is John. Whoever speaks it, it nevertheless is The defining statement of the role and purpose of Jesus Christ.

The starting point is the love of God, “For God so loved the world.” Right back before the foundation of the world as the Godhead looked into the future of the world they would create, they saw all that would happen on the part of mankind, but their love still made them go ahead with what looked like a doomed plan. Love was not put off; love looked and saw that there was a way, a costly way, that mankind could be won back but it meant the Son going to the earth and living a human life and then giving up that life – or rather have it taken away from him by mankind – to take the punishment that only the divine being could take to cover every human being and satisfy justice.

Thus we find, “he gave his one and only Son.” Note the emphasis that there is only one true Son of God (the rest of us are adopted). There are no others and therefore anyone else subsequently claiming to be the Son is a pretender. Moreover as far as the Father is concerned, He is giving up to this awful fate His one and only beloved Son. Yet love was willing to do this to win us back.

All it needed was for us to believe in this plan, believe in the Son and believe what he had done, “that whoever believes in him.” Belief is essential because without it we will not surrender our lives to him, so they become available for him to save and to change. This is no mere intellectual assent, this has to be heart and mind assent, heart and mind belief, for without it we will be holding back and it is essential that we completely give ourselves to Him so that he may do a complete work in us.

The outcome is twofold, seen as a negative and then a positive. First the negative: “shall not perish.”  The effect of the Cross is that we will not die for eternity and we will not suffer eternal punishment. Then the positive: “but have eternal life.” We’ve seen it in Jesus’ words previously. This is the end game: life with God for eternity, and it begins right now. This is the wonder of this. Hallelujah!

22. Love is

Meditating on Great Themes in John:   22. Love is

John 14:31      the world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded me.

We have commented that sometimes these ‘themes’ run all the way through John and at other times they are simply a short burst of light in one place. Well, the word ‘love’ appears 27 times, I think it is, in John and the word ‘loved’ another 21 times. Having reached chapter 14 in our studies I found I was arrested by this short but strange verse above which links love and obedience. In the verses just before this one Jesus has spoken about his ‘going away’ (14:28,29) and then says, I will not speak with you much longer, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold on me.” (Jn 14:30) That in itself is a strange verse because it says although Satan is coming to do something soon, he has no hold on Jesus. The implication has to be, in hindsight, that this refers to the coming time when Jesus will be arrested, tried and condemned and put to death on a cross. Satan may provoke all this but the implication is clear that Jesus is allowing this to happen and, we know, that is so that the will of God planned before the foundation of the world can be worked through and salvation brought through the Cross.

So, implies Jesus, by observing all that I am about to go through the world must learn of my love for my Father that will I will go through the Cross because it is exactly what my Father wants, it is exactly His will. My love for him must be seen through my obedience of Him.

Now love, in John’s Gospel, is seen in two ways: first in God’s love for us, but then it is seen in us, for Him, by our obedience. To receive His love we have to be obedient to His calling and His directions and that obedience reveals His love now in us, reflecting back to Him. Well we said above that the words ‘love’ and ‘loved’ appear nearly fifty times all together in John so we haven’t enough space to cover them all, so let’s just pick out a few to consider.

Our starting place must be to see His love for us in that classic verse, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son.” (Jn 3:16) Later in his first letter John will write, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 Jn 4:10) This is the way round it is. God first loves us and that melts us so that we can come to love Him.

As the end approaches we find, “It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love. (or to the uttermost)” (Jn 13:1) One commentator’s version puts it, “although he had always loved his own people in the world, decided to show them what his love was like in a way which went to the ultimate limit.” Now we may take that to refer to going to the Cross but what he then did immediately after this verse should also be taken into account. He strips down and as a servant washes their feet and then proceeds  to eat the Passover Supper with them and explain many things of the kingdom that are found nowhere else.

This is Jesus sharing his life with them and revealing the sort of people they are going to have to become to follow him. This is the love of the Godhead opened up and revealed – the Son is given from heaven, he enters into intimate relationship with his followers, reveals his servant heart, and literally lays down his life so that we might be saved and be able to come into that same close relationship with the Father.

It is with this in mind that he instructs his disciples: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit–fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. This is my command: Love each other.” (Jn 15:9-17)

Watch his teaching:

1. Love is revealed in the way Father loves the Son and the Son loves us.

2. We are to live in the light of this love at all times.

3. Proof of that is obeying God in all things at all times – but that brings joy.

4. Jesus love in us is a sacrificial love that puts others first.

5. This love takes us from being servants to friends of Jesus, chosen by him to come into a deep relationship out of which fruit flows.

6. As we live like this the Father will give us whatever we ask as we live in His will.

7. His will? To love one another!

Love starts with the Father, is seen in the Son and is expressed towards us. As we encounter it and allow it to melt us, so we are transformed and express it. Being the sinful beings that we are though, it isn’t something we only do naturally, it is something we have to actively put on (see Paul in Col 3:14). We may not feel (emotion) loving all the time and so it is simply an act of the will to be obedient to the Father’s leading and teaching. Love and obedience are inseparable as John shows in his first letter again and again.

Love is shown as the essential character of God (God IS Love – 1 Jn 4:8,16) revealed in His sending His Son (Jn 3:16) and in Jesus laying down his life for us (Jn 13:1). As we receive his love and receive him into our lives so this love becomes a basic feature of our lives and behaviour and as such is seen in our obedience of him. Amen!