|Series Theme: God Of Transformation|
Meditations on “God of Transformation”: 1: Let there be light
Gen 1:1-3 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light.
There is a theme that runs through the Bible that has come to my attention and which will form the basis of this particular series of studies – that God is a God of transformation, that He comes to bring change. Now as I have observed church life over the years, I conclude that so often there is a form of unbelief that prevails that looks at the present and is not in faith for it to change, certainly not for the good, but that flies in the face of the testimony of Scripture. My hope is that as we progress through these studies my faith and yours will be released in a new measure to break free from the shackles of materialism that says we live in a closed system where nothing can change, only the furniture get moved around!
The appropriate place to begin is at the beginning and, in the first three verses of Genesis 1 above, we see the very first recorded transformation taking place. Now I suspect that these words are so familiar to us that we have perhaps taken them for granted and fail to see the wonder behind them.
The opening statement, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”, makes a bald statement but without explanation. It may also be a summary of what follows. Now it is what follows that I think we so often take for granted and give little thought to: “the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep.” The planet we call earth was a mass of rock covered by water, and dark. Here's my question: why? God could have said, “Go!” and the whole earth as we know it could have come into being in an instant, but He didn't; He reveals it in stages. Why? Because God seems committed to doing things in logical stages – you see it throughout history – and therefore we see it in the Creation narrative of Genesis 1.
The first sentence doesn't even take us back as far as the scientist's ‘Big Bang' for we are presented with an Earth that exists but as a formless mass. It is into this that we find God's first creative declaration, “Let there be light.” When God says it, it is done. He could have said, “Let there be a compete earth”, but He didn't. Why? I suggest the answer includes that thought that He wants us to think about the stages and ponder on them. We're doing that purely in respect of the first one, the bringing of light.
But what is light? Depending where you search you will come up with various answers varying from the less technical to the highly technical. For instance, “Light is the natural agent that stimulates sight and makes things visible. Light is what allows us to understand the world we live in.” That explains what it does. But then, “ Light is part of the electromagnetic spectrum, which ranges from radio waves to gamma rays. It is the very narrow range of electromagnetic radiation that our eyes can actually see.” Then “visible light is carried by a fundamental particle or energy packet called photons,” and “light involves fluctuations of electric and magnetic fields, which can transport energy from one location to another.” So it's all about energy. Where does this energy come from? God, because God is energy. That's not quite what the Bible says for the nearest you will get is Jesus saying, “God is spirit” (Jn 4:24). My definition (which still leaves lots of questions) is that the Spirit is energy or power with personality. In any of the heavenly visions in Scripture, light seems to emanate from the throne or the very presence of God.
When God said, “Let there be light,” this may be the very first time the divine expressed Himself in material form (accepting that light particles or waves operate in the material existence. Isn't it interesting that when God's presence filled first the completed Tabernacle (Ex 40:34,35) and then the completed Temple (1 Kings 8:11) it came as an incredibly bright light in the cloud, that we call the glory of the Lord. The glory of the Lord is simply an incredibly bright light. When Jesus was revealed on the Mount of Transfiguration his clothes shone with incredible light (Lk 9:29).
How amazing that the primary manifestation of God the Spirit is in the form of incredibly bright light, and when He speaks into the dark and formless world it comes as light. The fact that the sun, moon and starts don't appear until v.14 either means that they did not become visible until later because of the vapour covering the earth or because God is making the point that He is the originating source of life, not the light from the sun etc. I suggest both can be true but when considering meaning, the latter takes on significance. There are few plants that can live without light. We human beings wilt without light. Light is fundamental to life and without it life can rarely exist (but see creatures in the depths of the oceans as an exception). Light in increasing forms translates energy into heat and without that heat we cannot live. Thus from the outset it is like God is saying, “Let there be here in this material world the means to sustain ‘life'.”
A study of the word ‘life' in the Bible opens up massive areas for consideration but ultimately that is what we are all about – living beings and we live because God has turned His energy into light which in turn enables life in this material world. God is thus both the source of life and the sustainer of life – spiritual AND physical!
Can we appreciate light so that it stirs praise and thanks in us? When the sun comes out and brings life to nature, when the moon and stars shine ay night reminding us of the enormity of this universe and reminding us, so the scientists tell us, of millions of other universes, all created by our God. And when a rainbow appears with the spectrum that together makes up white light, and the clouds create shadows and shades of light, let's marvel at it and give thanks to the Lord of all things, the Creature not only of what we know but infinitely more.
Meditations on “God of Transformation”: 2: Bear Children
Gen 11:29,30; 12:1,2 The name of Abram's wife was Sarai… Now Sarai was barren; she had no children…. The LORD had said to Abram, "Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you. "I will make you into a great nation
In the beginning of the Bible God says, “ Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.” (Gen 1:28) There are a few women who, perhaps because they fear childbirth or don't want the bother of looking after a child, or want to put a career first, don't want children, but most women at some time or other long to have a baby, and failure or inability in this respect is perhaps one of the hardest aspects of living in this Fallen World where things go wrong and sometimes women are barren. There are some notable women of whom it was written, ‘she was barren' – Sarai (Gen 11:30), Isaac's wife Rebekah (Gen 25:21), Jacob's wife Rachel (Gen 29:31), Hannah (1 Sam 1:5) and Elizabeth (Lk 1:7).
Because we have the Bible it is easy for us to see these stories and see that God turned up for each of them and enabled them to conceive, at least two of them miraculously in old age. And this is at the heart of this – God's ability where our ability falls short. In the first meditation we saw the wonder of God breaking into the material world that He had created and deists would have us believe that once He started it all off He stood back and had nothing more to do with it, but each of these stories of these women tell a different story; they tell us of a God who intervenes in human affairs and brings about a physical change in the most intimate realm possible, that of the process of having children. Not being a woman I flounder here but I suspect that this particular ability is the very thing that goes to the heart of being a woman, the ability to bear children, and if you are a woman of child-bearing age, you are reminded of it every month and it has profound emotional effects on you. There is nothing more wonderful, and therefore when it is denied, nothing so terrible.
In only one of those women do we find the cause stated as, “the LORD had closed her womb,” (1 Sam 1:5) in the case of Hannah. We would assume, rightly I believe, that in all the other cases, it was just a case of this is what happens in the Fallen World we've already referred to. But that raises a second matter in respect of God. We have already noted that He steps into the affairs of mankind but now we should add a word: He steps into the affairs of sinful mankind, mankind that often suffers because of the general presence of sin in the world. God does not just sit back in heaven and grumble like a grumpy old man, “Well you brought it on yourselves.” No, he comes into this fallen world and redeems us from the effects of this fallen world. He did it in respect of all the women we mentioned above and He did it in respect of all the crowds of sick and demon possessed people that flocked to Jesus to be healed – and “he healed them all” (Mt 8:16, 12:15, 14:36). Notice the word ‘all' there. There are many other places in the Gospels where the word is not there but implied by the way healings were reported.
With the ministry of Jesus, what was is incredible was that God incarnate, moving amongst sinful human beings did not seem to run diagnostic clinics whereby he checked to see who had fully repented of their past sins, he simply healed all who came, including the selfish and those who would not bother with him again. This is the incredible grace of this Creator who brought this world into being, knowing that having been given free will, we would use it to turn against Him and yet He carried on and did it, building in a plan to redeem us through the death of His Son, the Son who would first dispense the power of God to whoever wanted it to be healed.
This is not a God who creates the world and then stands aloof at a distance; this is a God who creates His world and then becomes intimately involved with it, interacting with and touching these physical human beings, who may or may not respond positively to Him. He has the power to change things in this physical, material realm, the same power that brought it into being and He uses it to straighten crooked lives, put back together broken lives, mend fragmented lives, and heal sick lives. He prefers our cooperation and looks for our responses of love, but clearly He acts even in the absence of that . How incredible!
In Sarai's case He would wait until she was well past child-bearing age and was clearly incapable of having a child – and then He enabled her to have one. Having spoken to the couple about it a number of times before He did it, the story clearly shows He was wanting their faith to develop, but more than that, surely He was showing them – and us – His love for them and His power that was not merely ‘spiritual' but which operated in this material, physical world of which we are now part.
He appears to delight in changing it, bringing change to the defective lives that are the result of the Fall, and putting them back together as they were originally designed to be. How wonderful.
Meditations on “God of Transformation: 3: Be a Prime Minister
Gen 37:2,5-7 Joseph, a young man of seventeen… had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him all the more. He said to them, "Listen to this dream I had: We were binding sheaves of grain out in the field when suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright, while your sheaves gathered around mine and bowed down to it ."
I suspect I have commented more than a few times, when I write these meditations, about watching people receiving personal prophecies. They may not actually say it but the look on their faces says, “Oh yes? In a million years! Who are you kidding!” Our capacity for not believing God is often very high! (That's a gentle way of saying we're good at unbelief). The trouble with personal prophecies is that they come wrapped up for a person who is not yet what the prophecy says; that's what makes it a prophecy, it speaks to the future. So we look at ourselves or we look at the person receiving a word from a visiting prophet and we find it difficult to comprehend a leap from what is now to what the word says. Especially if we have low self-esteem (and many of us do) we find any sort of elevation somewhat mind blowing, and the greater the elevation the more impossible it seems and we forget that this is God speaking and nothing is too difficult for Him (Mt 19:26, Lk 1:37).
All of these things come together in the case of young, spoilt-brat, Joseph in the Old Testament, one of the younger members of a large family, most of whom hate him because he's his father's favourite and spoilt. So he has a dream. It is a prophecy and he unwisely shares it, which only goes to make the brothers hate him even more, because the prophecy has his family bowing down before him. Their personal animosities cloud their judgment and so they instantly write off what he is saying. There is a grave danger when it comes to prophetic words, of looking at the bringer and, even more, the way they bring it and then writing it off. I have seen it happen.
A women in a large meeting brought ‘a word' and because she was a bit weird and brought it in a rather dramatic way, the leader of the meeting just quickly passed on to the next thing in worship. I confess my instinctive reaction was relief but the moment we moved on I had one of those inner checks that said, “No, this was my word”, and so we missed it. One of the disconcerting things I have observed over the years is that when it comes to finding someone to convey His word, the Lord is often more concerned with availability than finding someone who is perfect. The number of perfect people around are few and far between, and so He takes what is available and sometimes that person doesn't match up to our Pharisaic expectations, and we are the losers.
Thus, more for personal reasons than for anything else, the family write off young Joseph's dreams and the drama of his life unfolds. The sons sell him into slavery and from slavery he ends up in prison. It looks like it goes from one bad place to a worse bad place. Some fourteen or so years pass before Joseph gets known as a dream interpreter in the prison. Then when the Pharaoh (for he is now in Egypt ) starts having dreams and casts around for a dream interpreter, it is not too long before Joseph is dragged out before him. He gets the interpretation of the dreams and before he knows it, Pharaoh has promoted him to Prime Minister of all Egypt, second only to himself, because he alone seems to exhibit the wisdom and revelation necessary to manage the country through the good years and then bad years of the next fourteen years. Thus at least twenty eight years have passed before his family turn up in Egypt seeking food to help them cope with the famine back home, and in the time he has changed and his role has changed and everything about him has so changed that it takes some time before he reveals to them who he is.
Now that is the story and there are two vital things to note in it. We've already considered the first one, that prophecy may come through unlikely vessels and to unlikely people, but God knows what He is about. The second thing though, that only comes out when you look at the unfolding story, is that it took nearly three decades to be fulfilled, and herein is a crucial point.
Very often the transformation that God wants to bring about and which He spoke about in the prophetic word, takes time to be fulfilled. So often the end result is after a process of transformation – our transformation – and that takes time. Previously in this series we considered God breaking through into the material world that He had created, and it took time. Then we considered Sarai and other barren women, and it took time before they conceived. Now we have seen the transformation of Joseph and again it has taken time. The lesson that should be shouted from the roof tops is that God loves to bring transformation but so often He takes His time with it, because He is thorough and He is working with human beings who He does not force on faster than they can go. God is not in a rush, even though we may often exhibit impatience. It is a very significant lesson for many of us. Let's heed it.
Meditations on “God of Transformation: 4: Set my people free
Ex 3:9,10 the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt ."
The story of Moses is truly amazing – and it is also shocking. Again and again when we study the Bible, there is little point unless we seek for the application in our lives today. If we use Moses as one who conveys lessons to us for our lives with God, the lessons are numerous and scary.
The first thing we should always remember about Moses when we come to the incident at the burning bush is that we are watching a failure, a no-hoper. Our trouble sometimes is that we don't empathise with Moses because we see him only as the great leader who confronted Pharaoh and then led Israel for forty years, but the truth is that when we encounter him at this point he is someone who clearly has lost all confidence in himself – which is why there is a chapter or more of him arguing with God why he should not go and do what God wants. The basic reason is, I'm not up to it! And that, surely, is where we should be empathising with him. There he was, Prince of Egypt at forty and had it made, and in the space of twenty four hours throws it all away and spends the next forty years in a life of isolation looking after sheep in the desert. You can't find a bigger failure that this! So if you blew it somewhere in life, pick yourself up; it is not the end, God is good at taking hold of failures and transforming them.
Yes, this is going to be a story of multiple transformations. Moses is going to be transformed from a lowly shepherd to a confronter of one of the most powerful men on earth, and then a leader of a nation. What a promotion: shepherd to national leader! Awesome! But I'm not up to it! Then there is the transformation of Israel , a nation of slaves within a bigger nation of slave drivers, delivered out of Egypt and given their own land. Amazing! Then there is Egypt , a nation led by a proud despot, a nation full of superstition and idol worships, seeing everything that moved as somehow led by powerful forces or beings, and disdainful of Israel . Before the end, they are giving gifts to Israel , they are leaderless and their land is a wreck and virtually every family is missing an eldest child, a land full of mourning. Devastation! Oh yes, the story about Moses is a multi-transformation story!
But the biggest thing about this story is almost too obvious to note and it is that these transformations all involve Moses' activity but he is merely the mouthpiece; the transformations come about because God acted and brought them about. Moses becomes who he is because God gives Him the words. The nation gets wrecked because God brought nine judgments on the land. Families are mourning because God took a son from every family that had a son. Pharaoh is dead because God brought judgment on his folly. Every single change is a change caused by God.
Now I say we take these things for granted because we struggle when God starts speaking to us – whether directly through His written word, through preaching, through prophecy or even through our circumstances, and the quiet whisper into our spirit by His Holy Spirit. When He does we start catching a possibility of moving into something more than we are at the moment, but many of us fail to even hear those words when they come simply because we are so loaded with a sense of inadequacy from our failures or from the beatings of life in general, that our barriers go up even before the words really reach to our hearts. But God is patient and He perseveres and brings His word again and again to us, but just like Moses we struggle – you've got the wrong person, I can't do this, I'm not up to it. No, exactly! You aren't up to it just like Moses wasn't up to it but he eventually did what he was told and God did what only He can do.
This is the point, isn't it. I cannot save anyone. I cannot heal anyone. I cannot find wisdom for anyone. I cannot change circumstances. I am just a human being, but like Moses, yes, I can be obedient to what God says and again and again, all He says is put one foot in front of the other, speak one word after another, and then leave the rest to Him. He is the one who convicts of sin, not me. I can speak words for hours on end to someone (and I've done it) and nothing changes, and then God steps in gives a word or does something and suddenly there is a life changed in front of us! Or someone asks us to pray for them and we pray with virtually no hope, just praying because we love them and they asked, so we prayed, and to our surprise God turned up and they were healed. No one was more surprised than us! But that is how it happens. It was God!!!!
Now this is the fourth of these meditations in this particular series and I would suggest that it is possible for us to have read the previous three about God who brings transformation, and for some of us, deep down subconsciously there is that rider – it's for them. Implied – not for me. But if we are a Christian already, we have been transformed already and perhaps you take that for granted or fail to realise just how much you have been transformed, but if you have been born again, you ARE transformed! So if it happened to start your new life off, why can't it be applied into other areas of your life? Have you been looking at other people and saying, “I couldn't be like them, I'm not a leader, I couldn't do that”? If God can take a failure like Moses, why can't He take you? Come on now, you can say with Isaiah, “Here am I, send me,” (Isa 6:8) or with Mary, “ I am the Lord's servant," Mary answered. "May it be to me as you have said." (Lk 2:38) Just remember, it will be God, not you who brings about change, who imparts ability. All you have to do is say, “Yes, Lord.” Amen? Amen!
Meditations on “God of Transformation: 5: Go take the land
Josh 1:1-3 After the death of Moses the servant of the LORD, the LORD said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses' aide: "Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them--to the Israelites. I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses.
The taking of the land of Canaan is truly a story of transformation – but it is a messy story, because it involves sinful human beings. Yes, the people of Israel may have been called by God at Mount Sinai to be a special people for Him, but the unfolding centuries simply tell us, or perhaps reveal to us, that they were just the same as any other human beings – sinful. The call to them was twofold – to clear the land of its present occupants and to establish themselves there as God's holy people to reveal Him to the rest of the world. If only it was that simple, but they are sinful just like any other human being and whoever you look at in the Old Testament it is a story of getting it wrong, of failing, of slipping away from God. Oh no, don't have any romantic feelings about the people of Israel ; they were then, and still are, just sinful people.
Yes, they are clearly in God's plans and purposes but simply because He chose them, not because they were righteous. (see Deut 9:4) This is the big lesson about Israel – they were ordinary people, yes, people called into relationship with God but still ordinary people. Yes, there have lots of good things, as the apostle Paul said, “ Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs.” (Rom 9:4,5) Yes, all these things marked them out, but they were still sinners, as their history shows so vividly. If you wanted to check the assertion that we are all sinners, just look at the life of Israel recorded in the many books of the Old Testament.
When it comes to the Exodus, travelling to Sinai, then travelling to the Promised Land, it is characterized by grumbling and even sinful rejection of God within just a month or so of having had the most amazing revelations of God on Mount Sinai, and after having witnessed His incredible activity dealing with Pharaoh and Egypt and delivering them out of slavery. On one hand it is the most amazing record of the powerful works of God in deliverance and of His incredible grace in not destroying Israel for their constant and ongoing folly, but on the other side it is this amazing and frightening record of the folly of sinful mankind who, when handed salvation on a plate, criticize and grumble at every step along the way! That's what we're like.
So they approach the Promised Land, having seen all these wonderful works of God, they send in twelve spies who come back and of whom ten give a damning and negative report of what the opposition was going to be like. So they refuse to enter and take the Land so the Lord consigns the older generation to live out their lives wandering in the desert until that generation (over the age of twenty) had passed away and the younger generation could then enter.
Now the taking of Canaan , I have found over the years, is the primary account in the Bible that raises the ire of critics. Many times on my blog sites I have had people ranting about a God who could consign an entire people (well actually a collection of peoples) to death. This is genocide. Well I have even heard leaders at seminars trying to defend this and it annoys me that the detractors and, it seems, most of the defenders, show they have not bothered to read carefully the books of Exodus through to Joshua. I have researched this and if you want to see it in detail go to Chapter 19 of my book, “The Judgments of a Loving God” on www.readbiblealive.com where I go into this in detail.
Here is the most damning fact against those detractors. In those books above that refer to the taking of Canaan, the Lord instructs Israel to DRIVE OUT the inhabitants of the land and the words drive, driven or drives appears 33 times. The word ‘destroy' appears just 4 times in respect of the inhabitants and there are question marks over those because they sometimes seem linked with ‘drive out' suggesting that the ‘destroy' means remove their existence from the Land BY driving them out. When there was subsequent destruction it was because the inhabitants, bound by their occult practices, failed to give way to the fear of the Lord and ended up fighting Israel and deaths occurred as in any other common war at the time. According to God's instructions the possibility was a clearing of the Land without the death of any person. We know that is not what happened but according to His instructions that was the possibility.
To consider the transformation of the land we first need to note a description of life in Canaan before Israel came from a dictionary/encyclopaedia: “Just how sinful many Canaanite religious practices were is now known from archaeological artefacts ….. their ‘worship' was polytheistic and included child sacrifice, idolatry, religious prostitution and divination,” i.e. it was a land riven by occult practice, fear and superstition and extreme child abuse and sexual exploitation. Life counted for little.
Now consider God's intent: a land where the people lived under the Law of Moses which extensively worked at creating a harmonious society by laying down ways of living where the weak and the vulnerable and the alien were cared for. Furthermore there were laws recognising that people could get it wrong, and so showed ways of restoring human relationships (sometimes through restitution) and restoring relationships with God through the sacrificial system. The objective was peace and harmony, and respect for human life and for individual humans.
Before we finish we should perhaps just note how this picture of taking Canaan works as a symbolic picture of our lives when we come to Christ. (see Eph 2:1-3). All of the old worldly and sensual practices are to be “put to death” (see Col 3:5) and the sanctification process that will continue throughout our lives on this earth is about bringing every area of ‘the land' that is our life under the rule of King Jesus. It is a powerful picture of transformation which starts at new birth and continues throughout our lives here on earth.
Meditations on “God of Transformation: 6: Are you too small?
Jud 6:15 Gideon asked, "how can I save Israel ? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family."
I suspect that if an alien arrived on this earth in disguise and observed human beings, one of the questions he (or she) would ask is, “Why do they think so little of themselves?” Low self-esteem is so common as to almost be the norm. I guess the answer is because in this Fallen World we have learned that there are many people who are bigger and better than us and because people are not naturally nice, they delight in showing off how they are bigger and better than us – but that may be their way of covering up their own low self-esteem. It comes from the years of childhood and I suppose we should not be surprised because in Junior school classes there tend to be only one of two queen bees holding court while the rest of us look on and wish we were as pretty, as handsome, as clever or as popular – but we weren't. And then in the knocks of life, a family member or a teacher or someone else we looked up to told us we were not clever, we were in fact no good, and we believed it and the die was cast.
The story of Gideon has always been a favourite of mine. I love the hidden humour that is there. When we come across Gideon we find he “ was threshing wheat in a winepress.” (Jud 6:11a) Normally you threshed wheat in a high open space where the wind would blow the chaff away. Gideon was doing it in a wine press which was a depression in the ground out of sight. The reason is given: “to keep it from the Midianites.” (v.11b) These were people bigger and better than him. The earlier part of the chapter tells us that they were a powerful marauding people who came in and dominated the land and definitely made Israel feel sub-standard!
But the thing about Judges is that there is an order repeated again and again: Israel drift away from the Lord, so the Lord lifts off His hand of protection from them, so they cry out to the Lord, so He sends a deliverer. The only thing is that Gideon doesn't know he's to be the next deliverer! So when an angel turns up with a message from God, he is not prepared for what is about to happen.
I love the angel's greeting to this little man (in his eyes at least) who is hiding away from the enemy, scared out of his life because of them: “The LORD is with you, mighty warrior.” (v.12) If you really catch the realities of this, you won't stop laughing for five minutes. Mighty warrior!!!!???? You've got to be joking. Yes, that's what Gideon thinks as well. But you see the thing is that when God brings a prophetic word of encouragement He sees you as you will become, not merely how you have been or what you are now. He speaks of you as you will be when you are exercising your full potential. He looks forward to what you will be – a great victor – while you look back at what you were – a failure. Our problem is that we tend to define ourselves by what others have said about us, or what the world has done to us, or by our own mistakes or failures, and we thus fail to see what we can become in Christ.
We even demean ourselves in what we are doing and fail to see the reality of it. “I am only a housewife.” What's with the ‘only'? You are one of the relatively few (more are coming) wonderful people pouring their lives into the upbringing of their children. You are God's source of life for them. Or, “I'm only a computer keyboard typist?” Only? You are God's secret weapon in that office to bring His blessing to the people around you; you just haven't seen it yet!
We won't go through this story word by word. In summary the angel sends him to deliver Israel . (v.14) He splutters with our verse above pointing out that he is a nobody (v.15) and the Lord's answer is, “I will be with you.” (v.16) You know that's all you need to know when you say “I am only a…..”, that the Lord is with you and He's with you to give you wisdom, understanding, insight, strength and power. That's what He does with His children.
Yes, there is a lot more to the story of Gideon and you can read it yourself in Judges 6. He has to go and sort out a family matter first (v.25-32) and that after the angel had brought him further encouragement (see v.21,22) to help him believe – the Lord does that as well for us again and again when we ask and sometimes when we don't ask! Then we have the famous time when Gideon's uncertainty shines through even more brightly and we have the famous fleece exercise (v.36-40). But then it starts getting funnier because Gideon calls out Israel and has a lot of men with him and the Lord intervenes and says, “You have too many men for me to deliver Midian into their hands.” (7:2) Hang on, we said there were loads of Midianites so don't we need loads of soldiers to go after them? Not when you have God on your side; He does things differently. He reduces Gideon's army down to just 300 (7:1-8) and yes, they defeat the Midianites (v.8-25) who go squealing as they went. In the midst of it there is another nice little example of God's encouragement (see v.13-15).
It's an amazing story of transformation and, I believe, speaks to many of us today. Gideon is transformed and Israel is transformed. He, feeling a failure, had to come to realise that the Lord was with Him and therefore he could do whatever God put before him. What a lesson. And don't forget there are three examples of God's encouragements in all this. First a little power demonstration (6:21,22) then, second, his father coming out on his side when he has stood again idolatry (6:31) and then, third, encouragement out of the mouths of the enemy (7:13-15).
If God gives you big stuff to do, first of all remember that a) it is Him sending you and b) He will be with you to enable you, but then realise He knows you need little encouragements along the way. Look for them and expect them, He delights to helping us along. So dump that low self esteem and say with the apostle Paul, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength,” (Phil 4:13) remembering that, “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” (2 Cor 9:8) Be blessed!
Meditations on “God of Transformation: 7: Take that giant down
1 Sam 17:26 David asked the men standing near him, "What will be done for the man who kills this Philistine and removes this disgrace from Israel ? Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?"
Giants come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Now that may appear a strange opening comment but the truth is, that apart from being big, ‘giants' in our lives can take the form of people – a dominant employer, an abusive parent, or a local street thug – or an overwhelming circumstance that threatens us – a downturn in trade that threatens bankruptcy, a life threatening illness, or an accident where people are blaming you – all of these things loom large in our lives, threaten us and destroy our peace, and so often they are not of our making, they just arrive. The curse of living in a Fallen World.
For David the giant was a real, genuine, massive human being who dwarfed everyone around him and he came and shouted at Israel and threatened or rather challenged them. So large and so well armed was he that you would be crazy to tackle him alone and I have often wondered why Saul didn't just get his ten best men and say, “Together, get out there and take this character down so we can get on with this battle,” But he didn't, he went along with the crowd and cowered in his tent wondering how to not lose face.
And then David turns up and seems to have a completely different mindset to the rest of Israel . Oh, just a giant. No problem. Is there any reward for whoever take him down? Where's the queue to have a go at him? There's no queue???? You may have heard the quote about the famous Pentecostalist from last century, who is credited with having woken up one night to find Satan sitting on the end of his bed, and said, “Oh, it's just you,” and turned over and went back to sleep. Like David he understood spiritual warfare and understood that Satan is only a fallen angel who is given power by God to operate only so far as the Lord allows him.
So taking down a giant is no problem to David and he tells Saul this, but it's still a problem for Saul so, thinking in his way, he gets David to put on the king's armour, but the problem is that David doesn't fight using armour, and this armour wears him down, so he excuses himself and dumps it and just takes his sling, gathers five small stones and heads out for the giant. Small job to be done!
I don't know if you have ever read the Asterix the Gaul cartoon books. They are delightful. Their druid has a magic potion that makes Asterix and all the others from his village invincible (super strong) against the Roman invaders and so every time there is a fight you see Romans flying through the air as they are dealt with by this diminutive little character and his friends. Because it is so inevitable there is a lightness about the battles in these stories. I feel like that about David. He knows his capabilities – he's already killed a lion and a bear that had come after his sheep – and so there is no fear in him. Even more, he knows his God and he knows he has a covenant relationship with the Lord who will look after him. Listen to his language: “ Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (1 Sam 17:26) i.e. this character has no relationship with God so how dare he challenge God's people!
So back to our giants. How do we deal with them. Well let David be an example from whom we can learn. First know who you are – a child of God with a loving heavenly Father who is there for you. As the apostle Paul said, “If God is for us, (and He is!) who can be against us ?” (Rom 8:31) Now here's the thing, for this situation to be transformed, we do not work by an a,b,c or 1,2,3 ‘method', we work through our relationship with the Lord. There are some guidelines but don't get mechanical. First, David was able to look back to previous times when the Lord had enabled him to deal with predators who were coming after his sheep. Now you probably have testimony – stories of times when God has helped you and enabled you. No, then this is going to be the first one! But you probably do if you think about it (go away and sit down on your own for half an hour and make a list of things God has done for you.) Let His past provision encourage you in the present.
Next, go and talk to the Lord about this ‘giant'. Even talking to Him so often puts it in perspective and brings it down in size. Ask Him for wisdom, the knowledge of what to do. (Jas 1:5). You are looking for five small stones – well you really only need one but why not look for more. These are the things that God wants you to aim for, or say or do, in this situation. They will be things that express His love or His goodness, and they will be expressions of righteousness and when you express them, you will be stepping out in faith and thus pleasing God (Heb 11:6). These are words of wisdom to know how to deal with this giant.
Sometimes that word may simply be, “Stand still and watch” and God deals with it. Sometimes it may be “Clothe yourself with love and goodness and go and talk to them.” The point is that God desires to give you success in dealing with this giant, but it will not be in the ways of the world, it will be in His way. His ways involve such words as grace, humility, gentleness, love, care, kindness, goodness. These are the things He wants you to have and these are the things He will give you as you turn to Him. And the result? Peace! The giant has been dealt with. The situation has been transformed, and you will be blessed and the Lord will be glorified. Do it any other way and be prepared to get beaten about the head by the giant. Don't let that happen!
Meditations on “God of Transformation: 8: See into heaven
Isa 6:1 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple.
There is NOTHING so life transforming as encountering God. Even catching a sense of God's presence changes you. It is the most wonderful thing that can happen to you and yet the most mysterious, tantalising and fleeting. For all we have considered so far in these studies, the truth is that God hides Himself. Maybe it is as if He knows that if He fully revealed Himself to us we would be destroyed. When the apostle John had a vision of the risen and glorious Christ he wrote, “ When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead.” (Rev 1:17) When Ezekiel had a heavenly vision we read, “This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. When I saw it, I fell facedown.” (Ezek 1:28) Years ago I was part of a group that had spent the day praying and fasting and during that time we had a wonderful sense of the Lord's presence. Later that evening when we had all parted, I suddenly realised that I was tiptoeing around the house, as if I was afraid to break the wonder.
Isaiah was a prophet, or perhaps at the time of the verse above, a prophet in the making. King Uzziah had ruled for many years and had been a real stabilizing force in the nation – and then he died. It has often been commented upon that in the vacuum that follows the death of a great leader, the sense of emptiness and of loss often drives people to face the reality of their lives and their need of the Lord. The United Kingdom in the second decade of the twenty-first century is in a unique position in the word. It has a Queen who has reigned for longer than any other monarch and although many people probably do not realise it, she had become a symbol of stability. One day she will die and on that day the nation will suddenly find that sense of security removed and there will be a major hole in the national life. This is how it probably was when Uzziah died. Joshua probably felt similarly on the day when Moses went off never to return again.
Into such voids, the Lord often speaks. Sometimes we have to have all our security removed before we are open enough to hear or see the Lord. On such a day the Lord grants Isaiah a vision of heaven. He is not taken up with the wonder of the throne room, just with the One at the centre of it and those immediately around Him: “I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple.” (Isa 6:1) We have just spoken of a throne room because this One is seated on a throne. He is clearly a ruler and his throne is “high and exalted”, i.e. above any other, but then there is something strange – “the train of his robe filled the temple”. This throne room is a temple!
Why a temple? What is there about a temple? Well it is the meeting place of God and man, it is the place God has designated to be where He will be found by man on earth, in Jerusalem . But this is a temple in heaven, and so the same emphasis is being made, this is the place of God's designation where He will meet with mankind. A temple reminds us of sacrifices offered, that enable man to approach a holy God. It is also a place of worship, and so it should not surprise us that the heavenly vision in Rev 4 is all about worship and it is only when the vision moves on to deal with earthly matters, the overseeing of the End Times, that we see, “a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the centre of the throne.” (Rev 5:6) Jesus, the Lamb of God, the only means for mankind to be able to stand unharmed in the presence of the holy God.
In this holy presence Isaiah is just aware of his shortcomings: “Woe to me!" I cried. "I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.” (v.5) A prophet is all about being a messenger, a speaker of words from God and so Isaiah doesn't focus on his deeds but his speech and he realises he falls far short of anything demanded by a holy God in heaven. He is doomed. On the Day of Atonement, coals of fire were taken inside the Most Holy Place (Lev 16:12), when sacrifice was made to atone for sin. Now those coals are applied to Isaiah's lips. No, he is not being destroyed, he is being cleansed by the work of heaven: “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” (v.7b)
Once this has been done, it opens the door for something else: “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” (v.8a) These words are purposely said in his hearing as if they want to see his response: “And I said, "Here am I. Send me!” (v.8b) Isaiah, now cleansed, recognizes he can stand before the Lord by the Lord's enabling, and so declares his availability. The Lord commissions him: “He said, "Go and tell this people: `Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.” (v.9)
It is a strange commission – go and tell a people they will hear God's word but not understand it. We said earlier on the Lord almost hides Himself, but it is so that true seekers will be revealed: “if from there you seek the LORD your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul.” (Deut 4:29) This is why Isaiah's message to the people will be so true. It will only be true seekers who will find the Lord, only true seekers who will realise what Isaiah is saying. The rest will hear his words and just wonder whatever he is on about.
Let's recap the lessons that come out of this. The greatest transformation comes about in a human life when we encounter the Lord, and such times of revelation often come when things we rely upon are removed, our security is taken away. At such times the Lord draws close offering revelation. The point of all true revelation is to reveal the Lord and that revelation will evoke in us a sense of personal unworthiness as we realise what we are like as His light shines on us and reveals us as we truly are. Then the revelation will show us afresh or anew the only source of sanctification – the Lamb of God who takes away all sin, who died on the Cross to take our guilt and our shame. As we receive that afresh we are offered a fresh opportunity to serve the One who is Lord of all, for He has made us worthy and we sing with the heavenly host, “you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” (Rev 5:9,10) Transformed by heavenly revelation! Hallelujah!
Meditations on “God of Transformation: 9: Can these bones live?
Ezek 37:2,3 He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, "Son of man, can these bones live?"
Ezekiel's valley of dry bones has to be one of the classic examples of transformation by God and they present us with a question which, I suggest, is actually far more applicable to our lives that we realise. Observe first of all that this was a ‘vision' and visions are initiated and given by God: “ The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the LORD and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones.” (v.1) It's a pretty negative vision at first sight, the classic “valley of the shadow of death”, (Psa 23:4) It's a graveyard without the graves.
The bones have just be abandoned – at least that is what it look like. But then, “He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry.” (v.2) Many bones and dry bones. A picture of utter desolation and absolute hopelessness. Death has come and gone, the birds have cleaned the flesh off the bones and all that is left are the last remains of what were human beings.
As we said, it is a picture of utter hopelessness. How often do we find ourselves in life in situations that we feel are utterly hopeless. There has been a family break up, or there has been a financial collapse and bankruptcy, or there is a terminal illness or an accident leaving you with a serious infirmity. These are the sorts of things where the word ‘impossible' looms large.
But then God turns up with an awkward question: “He asked me, "Son of man, can these bones live?” (v.3a) If you've been round church long enough you know there can be smart-alec preachers with trick questions which only the unwary answer. Is this a trick question? Does God want him to say, “No Lord, I know that once sinners die, that is it; there's no coming back,” or does the Lord want him to make s presumptuous answer that exudes unrealistic faith? I like his answer: “I said, "O Sovereign LORD, you alone know.” ( v.3b) That is wisdom. This is a hopeless situation and without the Lord it will stay like it, but He can change it IF He wants.
Then it starts getting silly and I say it like that because I know from experience that when you ask people to do things like this – talk to inanimate objects – they feel silly and would rather not: “Then he said to me, "Prophesy to these bones and say to them, `Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! This is what the Sovereign LORD says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD.'” (v.4-6) Look at what is here. Ezekiel is to speak God's will to these bones and it is that these bones will come together again and form into skeletons. Crazy!
But… “I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.” (v.7,8) Awesome! Pretty spectacular, huh! Yes, pretty good, but they are not exactly alive.
“Then he said to me, "Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, `This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe into these slain, that they may live.'” (v.9) Again stuff we feel silly doing, but if God said it…. “So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet--a vast army.” (v.10) Wow! Amazing! Like something in a fantasy film! How did that happen? God happened!
What does this tell us? It tells us that God delights in involving us in life transformations, circumstance transformations. But why? Because He wants us to realise the wonder of what it really means to be a child of God. Do you remember those incredibly challenging words Jesus spoke: “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing.” (Jn 14:12) What did Jesus do? Listen again to his mandate: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour.” (Lk 4:18,19) There's a lot there about speaking out God's will – telling the ‘poor' they are loved, telling the prisoners that in Christ they are free, telling the blind that in Christ they can see, and generally declaring this IS the time to receive God's blessing. The only actual doing word among that list is releasing the oppressed, setting people free from demon oppression or possession. The rest is bringing people to God and then declaring what they now have and are.
Remember Jesus said, “the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing.” (Jn 5:19) It's all about joining in the work of God, of being available to Him so that He can direct us what to do. So often it will just be speaking out His will and then leaving Him to do it. Ezekiel couldn't make bones come together or be brought to life, only God could do that. But he could speak out the truth of God's intentions to bring the change, which God then did. It all comes back to a God of transformation who loves to involve us in bringing it about. Ready?
Meditations on “God of Transformation: 10: Are you too dirty?
Zech 3:1-3 Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right side to accuse him. The LORD said to Satan, "The LORD rebuke you, Satan! The LORD, who has chosen Jerusalem , rebuke you! Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?" Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel.
There is nothing, I believe, that immobilises a Christian so much as a sense of guilt, failure, unworthiness and uncleanness. There are often discussions in Christian circles as to whether or not we are still sinners. The New Testament doesn't usually speak of us as sinners, although the apostle Paul did say, “ Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners--of whom I am the worst.” (1 Tim 1:15) Note the present tense. However the reality is that it speaks of us more as ‘saints' but we are saints who sometimes fall, The highly pastoral apostle John spells this out for us: “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defence--Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.” (1 Jn 2:1) Yes, the truth is that although sin no longer has power over us and sin isn't to be part of everyday life, we do still from time to time get it wrong – we sin!
The thing abut sinning is that it makes us vulnerable to Satan's accusations and the trouble is that he is always half right. Yes, I have blown it, yes, I did not speak as I should have done, yes I lacked grace, and yes I spoke unkindly. All those things are wrong and, in fact, they are all different ways of speaking about the same thing. And then he heaps on the judgment: “A fine Christian you are! Is that how Christians are supposed to behave. I don't think you are even a real Christian because a real Christian couldn't act like that. For goodness sake, stop kidding yourself!” And that's how it works. It starts by pointing out your failure, then generalizes it, then starts speculating negatively about it and then starts making suggestion about how not to carry on being a Christian. He starts from a truth and spreads to lies, because the bigger truth is that although I have blown it, I have not been written off by Christ. He understands and he is there to restore me.
I often think that perhaps one of the first verses we ought to get new Christians to learn is, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 Jn 1:9) It shows us God's desire is to forgive us and cleanse us but for that to happen when we have got it wrong, we have to be honest and face our sin and confess it to Him. It is vital for our ongoing wellbeing that we each learn the truth of that verse.
In our verses from Zechariah above, Zechariah is given a vision of what is presumably the throne room in heaven where the Lord, an angel and Satan stand around Joshua the high priest. As we'll see as we read on, Joshua looks a mess; he is dirty. This presumably represents his sin for Satan is accusing him but the Lord steps in: “The LORD said to Satan, "The LORD rebuke you, Satan! The LORD, who has chosen Jerusalem , rebuke you! Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?” (Zech 3:2) The reference to Jerusalem says, “I have a relationship with these people, they are my people.” Now Israel had only just recently been brought back from exile in Babylon . Yes, there they had appeared as failures, condemned for their ongoing sins that resulted in the destruction of Jerusalem, but now the Lord had brought them back to the Promised Land and now they were restoring the Temple and the walls of Jerusalem. There is a major restoration / transformation process going on. So yes, Joshua has been snatched from the fires of destruction in Babylon and is now back in Jerusalem serving here. Yes, the past has been black but today is a new day.
Then we see what Joshua looks like: “Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel.” (v.3) There is no hiding this and indeed when the angel gives instruction about Joshua he highlights his state: “The angel said to those who were standing before him, "Take off his filthy clothes." (v.4a) Heaven deals in realities and the reality is that Joshua needs a serious makeover! It starts – “Then he said to Joshua, "See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put rich garments on you." (v.4b) This is the business of heaven, the work of Christ on the Cross, to take away our sin. We cannot do it, only he can.
Then something fascinating happens: “Then I said, "Put a clean turban on his head." So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him, while the angel of the LORD stood by.” (v.5) Notice the ‘I' for Zechariah gets drawn into what happens and as a prophet he speaks the will of God – carry on reclothing him, do a complete job, don't stop until every bit of dirty clothing has been replaced.
As with the apostle Peter in John 21, the restoration process doesn't just end with a cleansing and forgiveness, it ends with a recommissioning. There is a job to be done, and yes, there are standards to be upheld but if you will do it, it is here for you.
Do you see the wonders of this transformation? It doesn't matter how big your sin or how far you have fallen, when you acknowledge it and confess it, He forgives you AND cleanses you AND sets you off on a path of service again. Next to Satan, do you know who is the greatest stumbling block to all this happening? You and me! We can't believe it can be that good. We feel it is too good to be true and so we want to DO things to make up for our sin, but you cannot ‘make up', you can only receive the free gift of His grace and receive His forgiveness and receive His cleansing and then just be thankful.
All you can do in this process is confess and then let Him do the rest. The whisper of “It can't be that easy,” comes from the enemy. Ignore him. When you take communion declare, “I am forgiven. I am cleansed. I am sent. He loves me and is for me. In fact, don't wait for communion, go and stand in front of a mirror and declare it to yourself, and then go into the middle of your room, look up and declare it to all the unseen onlookers in heaven, and worship and give thanks. Hallelujah! Transformation!
Meditations on “God of Transformation: 11: Is it too bad?
Hab 1:3,4 Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds. Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted.
Again and again in these studies I refer to us living in a ‘Fallen World' a world where sin entered with Adam and Eve and the perfection that was, was lost for ever, or at least until God remakes the heavens and the earth.. Because it is a Fallen World things go wrong and no more so than by the activities of mankind. If we look at the big issues, whether it is the threat of nuclear war, the threat of biological warfare, the threat of terrorism, or even the apparent threat from global warming, they all have one thing in common – they are caused by human activity. If you consider social upheaval it is the same, whether it be global slavery, or global suppression of woman, or individual actions like child abuse, wife beating, sexual infidelity, marriage breakdown and divorce, theft, burglary, violence on the streets, murders or rapes. And with all this things comes a major question: why doesn't God do something about it?
This is the ultimate question behind Habakkuk's questioning: God why do I see so much wrong and you seem to be doing nothing about it? It was the cry of one of God's faithful children living in the midst of an unfaithful nation. Why is this nation allowed to carry on like this, is at the heart of Habakkuk's cry. He doesn't ask why is this nation like this because as a prophet he knows the answer – it is man's sin, but he still has the overriding question, Lord, why do you put up with it.
The Lord's answer in verses 5 to 11 of chapter is basically, “I'm not, I'm bringing the Babylonians to discipline Israel which only brings further questions from Habakkuk that might be summarised as, “But hold on, you are a holy God, a good God, how can you look on evil men such as these under the king of Babylon?” (v.12-17) He is still struggling with the things he thinks he knows about the Lord. There is a pause and so he determines to go and watch and wait to see what the Lord night say (2:1). Eventually the Lord replies, “Yes, what you say is true but even as I use Nebuchadnezzar and his armies there will come a time when I will hold them to account. It may appear to take some time but be patient for it will happen. Indeed I will deal with everyone who does evil in whatever form it appears. These things will happen to the unrighteous. The righteous will live by his faith for I am still reigning from within my temple” (2:2-20)
Habakkuk prays, “I have seen and I have understood, I have seen you act with your mighty power, I have seen you bring justice and discipline, and I have seen you deliver your people and I understand you are Sovereign Lord (3:1-16) and so, however bad things get I will rejoice in my Lord who enables me to do all I need to do.” (3:17-19).
Do you see the transformation that has taken place in Habakkuk, who started from a place of questioning and finished in a place of implicit truth. How did it come about? First he questioned God. The Lord is not afraid of us asking questions. However, if we ask questions we also need to have an ear that listens for answers. Habakkuk got a quick first answer but that left an even bigger question. The Lord often doesn't give us glib answers but wants to take us into deeper understanding. The need for deeper understanding often means we will have to wait on Him until He speaks and often He holds back on speaking, perhaps to provoke us to draw closer and closer with more urgent prayers. As we persist so He then answers.
Habakkuk challenges us to realise that God does want us to be people of understanding. I've always been struck by a little verse that describes some of David's warriors: “ men of Issachar, who understood the times and knew what Israel should do ” (1 Chron 12:32) Oh that the church had in it men and women who “understood the times”, who recognized what God was doing in His world, who are able to stand with faith and courage in a day when everything is not going right.
However to be a person of understanding means we will be both people of the Word, who spend much time in the Bible (for understanding of His ways), and people of prayer, who wait on God with listening ears and open hearts (to see how He applies it). When we do that we will become people who can realise we are in the midst of the judgment of God when terrorist or other action happens, and still be confident in God. Reading the book of Revelation suggests that the end time will include times of upheaval and if we are in those times, we should expect it, but they also call us to be people of faith and trust. Trust is about having foundational confidence in God (which Habakkuk eventually got to) and faith is about stepping out when God speaks to do His bidding.
Meditations on “God of Transformation: 12: Are you past it?
Luke 1:18 Zechariah asked the angel, "How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years."
I am part of the older generation and so I empathize with those around me or older than me and I understand that sometimes the weariness of age, the aches and the pains, the wakefulness at night, the lack of energy, all these things act as a brake on what in younger years was seen as zeal. We are still all for God but that doesn't mean we still have the energy to go to the world and attack enemy strongholds like we might have done in those earlier years. If we attend Bible weeks and we hear calls to step out anew, we think, “Bless those young people, Lord, as they go.” From time to time we reflect back with a degree of nostalgia to the years when we were involved in bringing others to the Lord – yes, some of us were really good at bringing new lives into being – or we were involved in this work or that work, maybe we were speakers at various meetings. Yes, those were the days, but now they are past.
If we agree with any of the sentiment in the paragraph above, we may be in danger of finding ourselves in the same place as Zechariah when an angel came to him and suggested something was going to happen in his life that was naturally beyond him – his wife Elizabeth, also in old age, was going to conceive and they would have a son after decades of childlessness. Zechariah's response was basically, “You've got to be joking!” We might be most condemnatory and judgmental of him if we had not just read the paragraph above and agreed with it. If we did agree with it, we have settled in a place of believing we are past it and now it's time for the younger generation to step up to the plate. Well, yes it is, but that doesn't mean we are out of commission.
I believe I have told in others of these series of an uncle of my wife. His story is worth repeating. He had been a Christian for most of his life. A rather prim and proper Christian his children would say, setting them high demands of their lives, but the Lord doesn't stop working our sanctification (changing to be like Jesus) until the last day we leave this earth. This man basically retired when most of us do in our sixties, I believe, but when he was seventy his wife went down with one of those debilitating old age things and became bed bound, incontinent, and eventually didn't even recognize him. He refused to put her in a home and cared for her in this state for ten years until she died.
These years, I believe, softened him and at ninety, he belonged to a relatively small evangelical church in the south, looked after the elderly of the church, led a house group and took Bible Studies, and went and took the assembly at a local primary school once a term. We were invited to his ninetieth birthday party, where I would guess there were about sixty plus people, Christian and non-Christian. They brought out a cake and he had to blow out the candles, at which point somebody shouted, “Speech! Speech!” So for the next ten minutes (and I mean only the next ten minutes), he gave his testimony and truly glorified the Lord sharing the Gospel. He finished with a very funny story which ended right in your face with the truth that you will either go to heaven or hell depending on how you responded to Jesus, and then sat down. I came away from that party thinking, “Lord, at last I have found someone I want to emulate. Lord, I want you to use me every day until I die, and can I keep going at least until I'm eighty five doing that please? Whether He grants me that last bit, only time will tell. I hope so, but that is still my daily cry as I pray.
Now if I am speaking to those approaching or in their so-called retirement years, remember Zechariah. His problem was that he was too religious and was a law-keeper but when your natural resources start to run down, rule keeping isn't the way ahead; we need additional resources, we need the Lord's power afresh in our lives if we are to continue ‘child-bearing'. Seriously, if you were a good spiritual child-bearer in your earlier years, what has changed? A person coming to Christ is still a work of God. We merely speak words and the Holy Spirit brings the conviction. Nothing has changed. Except maybe the lie that you listened to from the enemy, “You're too old!!” Liar! God's power and ability is still there for you! Yes, there may be limitations on your physical and maybe even mental life, but you've got enough energy and enough clarity to read this, understand it, and do something about it – with HIS energising.
I am about to get up and go and preach later this morning and yes, I have had to pray for supernatural energy (especially when I woke up early this morning) but what has changed? If I have not relied on the Spirit all the years I have preached I've been wasting my time! The truth is we often speak out of weakness so nothing changes. My favourite challenging verses these days are, “ The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the LORD, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age , they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, "The LORD is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.” (Psa 92:12-15)
Hey, you and I, if we are Christians, are part of ‘the righteous' because God has said so, and so I'm going to flourish and I am determined with His grace to go on bearing fruit in old age and I will continue to testify to the Lord's goodness right up to my last day on this planet before I move on to heaven.
Those verses are God's promises to you. Zechariah thought he was past it, and naturally he was. The world and the enemy would like to tell you the same, but the story of Zechariah challenges that. It is the story of transformation, of a childless couple to a couple of parents – and that in years beyond what anyone else thought was possible – anyone that is except God because His Holy Spirit comes and energises and enables things to happen that the enemy doesn't want to happen. It's all about availability and willingness and then His resources. We provide the first, and He provides the second. Don't let your latter years just get frittered away. There are great possibilities ahead!
Meditations on “God of Transformation: 13: Are you too young?
Luke 1:31 You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus
A number of years ago I had some friends who went to Argentina to observe a great move of God that was going on there at the time. I will always remember the testimony of one of the ladies who went, probably in her mid forties. She said a small group of them were taken to see a children's church, I presume an offshoot of the mother church where the adults worshipped. The children's church was overseen by sixteen or seventeen year olds, who monitored a team of younger leaders who were between eleven and thirteen, I think it was, so oversaw younger leaders about eight or nine who oversaw the younger children. When the visiting party of adults arrived they were greeted by the children and some of the leaders cried, “Let's pray for our visiting friends,” and so this lady found herself surrounded by four or five children, the oldest being about twelve who promptly instructed the younger children how to ask the Holy Spirit to come on the adult. The last you remembered hearing were the words, “Often when the Spirit comes you see the person's eyes flickering,” before she went down under the power of the Spirit.
Now yes, from what I heard those were unusual revival conditions but even so, if the Lord was doing that with those young people, isn't that His desire for your Christian people generally? I believe one of my most exciting times of ministry was quite a number of years ago with a youth group in Los Angeles where I had been invited to speak to this mixed group of teenagers, Christians and non-Christian. Again this may have been a time of special anointing but I can only tell what happened. After having given ‘the talk' for about a quarter of an hour or so, one of the Youth Group leaders asked me would I be prepared to pray over any of them who wanted me to. I agreed to this and simply addressed the group and said, “I have been speaking about the reality of knowing Jesus as you Saviour and Lord. Now it may be that there are some of you who truly do know him as that and if you like I would be prepared to pray over you and ask his blessing on you and see what he might have to say to you. If that is you would you like to step forward (they were in a big circle around the room) About half the group stepped forward.
I gulped and started working my way round the group, praying and prophesying over them all. When I got to the end, I gave a sigh of relief but found I was getting a nudge from the Lord – “Ask if others would like the same”. I turned to the rest (and you may see my sense of unbelief) and said, “It may be that one or two of you, who don't have that same sense of conviction might nevertheless like God's blessing as I pray and seek His heart for you. If that's you, would you like to step forward.” I expected two or three at the most but in fact the whole remaining group of about fifteen immediately and without hesitation stepped forward. Which is how I came to prophesy over fifteen or so non-Christian teenagers. Out of my depth did not describe it. When we finished and the meeting was breaking up two of the “non-believing” boys came up to me and as teenagers do, simply confronted me with, “How did you know all about us when you prayed over us? Who told you about us?” God is good.
Now I say all this because the story of the angel coming to Mary is almost too familiar for many of us, as we have heard it so many times at Christmas, and I believe because of the romantic or sentimental feelings that go with it, we can find it difficult to take in the wonder of what is there. We have a good Jewish girl, engaged to be married but maintaining strict celibacy before the wedding, when an angel comes and says she is going to have a baby without any male human help. She was troubled at his initial greeting and when he then goes on to explain this, she is even more confused. How can such a thing be? The basic answer is, God will enable it to happen. OK? Are you up for this? “ I am the Lord's servant," Mary answered. "May it be to me as you have said.” (Lk 1:38)
That was probably a unique example of the willingness of a young teenager (she could even have been as young as twelve) to step into God's purposes and take on something that would create misunderstanding in those around her and even decimate any reputation she might have had of being a ‘good Jewish girl'. It was a lot to ask of her, but she rose to it.
Now if you are a young person the Lord is not going to ask anything so drastic of you, but He may be calling you to serve Him. This doesn't mean to go off to Bible College or anything like that, but it will be to give your heart to Him and make yourself available to Him. Now if that is happening to you, you need to be aware of some of the aspects of this. First of all, from this story of Mary we have a humble girl, who is not pretentious, who does not think a lot of herself but on the other hand doesn't struggle with low self-esteem. She simply accepts (after the initial shock) that his is God on her case and she feels secure in that. There is no pride in her, in fact quote the contrary.
Second, she knows her limitations. There is no brash, “Cool, bring it on dude” sort of response in her, just this humble acceptance of God's calling. She cannot do anything so if anything spectacular is going to happen, it's got to be God bringing it about. He's the one who does all the stuff, all He wants is our availability and willingness to be used, and then He will show the way ahead and provide whatever power is needed.
Third, although there are going to be misunderstandings around her, she trusts God to sort them out. Someone is going to have a serious talk with her fiancé Joseph. An angel does it in a dream.
Fourth, she knows God's commands and lives within then which is why she is still a virgin and is thus available to God. The Lord doesn't look for perfect people to use (because none of us are perfect) but He does look for those who take Him seriously to do His serious business.
We could probably find some more for you in Mary's story, but I get the feeling that if you are a young(ish) person, God will already be speaking to you and you only need these little encouragements. I really believe God is looking for an army of young people in these days, young people who will stand up and say, “We will not go the way of the rest. We will go for God and take all He has to give and go with Him to do all He wants to do!” Is that you?