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Series Theme: God Of Transformation
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Meditations on “God of Transformation: 14: Are you too righteous?


Matt 1:18,19 Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.


I recently commented, in the series on the Nativity, that God takes risks with us human beings. The fact that He has given us free will means that we do not have to comply with His wishes – and that is a scary thing. It is scary because, first of all, from a practical point of view, we may not be good at hearing God's voice and thus miss the things He has for us. But it is also scary that we can misunderstand the voice of God and reject it, thinking it is the voice of the enemy for He seems to be saying something that runs counter to our understanding of His general will. The problem is that at any point in life we only have partial understanding and so we settle in to a particular way of thinking and that shapes or moulds everything that is before us, and so we can almost accidentally reject God's will through misunderstanding – understanding that is not complete.


Joseph is an example of this, of what might been a wrong course of action through misunderstanding. He knows that he is not the father of Mary's child and that leaves only one logical conclusion – she has been unfaithful to him and there is another man who is obviously the father of the baby she is carrying. But he's a righteous man and so he doesn't want to do anything unkind or spiteful and so he decides the only course to take is to divorce her (break off the engagement) quietly. If that had happened Jesus would not have had a physical father to be there to provide protection and security from the human standpoint at least. He is about to do what is reasonable at least and it is only a dream with an angel in it that persuades him otherwise. Thank goodness he took note of the dream. God trusted him to respond positively to the dream. What a risk!


But as I look around the Christian world, I realise that you often see these situations where people are set in a particular way of thinking, which they consider right; they consider they are righteous. They are good, solid, faithful Christians – but set in a particular way of thinking. Now I am about to shoot myself in the foot by doing what I am about to complain about – people who complain and critically write off other Christians. I don't want to do that because I want to emphasise that so often this is the Achilles heel of good Christians, good righteous Christians.


I was given a book for my birthday by a friend who is obviously worried about keeping me on the straight and narrow, a book about how the church has gone off the rails in respect of truth. Now I am sure, as I hear things (mostly from America I have to say) from various corners of the Christian world that there are some weird and wonderful things being said or done in some quarters that are being attributed to the Holy Spirit, but which I suspect may be blown away within three years. I may be wrong and I want to recognise that the people concerned are good hearted and well-intentioned, just like Joseph and only time will tell whether what is happening is of God. But the book slates and denigrates these people and I have come across more than one or two such books in the past that seek to pull down other Christian groups. The writer may be right, but I always remember Dr. Francis Schaeffer warning about how we should disagree with one another – in genuine love. So there is the writer AND the people he writes about, all good Christian people, all believing their outlook is right – but opposite. Someone isn't right.


We can all have our personal perspective which may or may not be right. For instance I was talking with some old friends recently who go to a growing church and their complaint was that it was becoming completely impersonal and that was sad. We talked about the difficulty of maintaining meaningful relationships in such churches and indeed what the point of the church is. This is a really fertile ground for conflicting opinions. I come from a perspective that says church is not spectator sport, it is where Jesus wants to involve every person in body ministry.


I confess I occasionally watch Christian TV or ‘God channels' and cringe at the sight of massive auditoriums where people sit as spectators with their personal issues only being dealt with at the preaching level and rarely by persona interaction. Are all these nicely dressed people laughing at the preacher's jokes actively interacting with their local community and ministering the love of God to individuals with good works and spiritual gifts? Whether we like it or not we make our TV preachers ‘stars' and we elevate them beyond what is healthy. All preaching is, in a measure, a performance, but I struggle with big performers on the platform. I look back, with immense thankfulness to a heritage of preachers who exuded humility as well as incredibly insightful and anointed preaching. I struggle with preachers who have a salary as big as that of the CEO of a large company. I struggle with preachers who have to have body guards and managers. This seems a far cry from the Christianity that Jesus' modelled.


But here is the danger in being critical of these things because God uses them all! We can seek to be righteous in all we say or do – and yet still misunderstand the will of God and be wrong, and we'll probably only find that out when we get to heaven! Joseph found it out through a dream and I would hope that we are each sufficiently open to the Lord to be able to comprehend His will through such a tenuous communication.


The simple lesson here? Check out how you feel about other Christians and other churches and, yes, check out not only WHAT you think about them, but how you feel about that. I will write books about theological understanding but not about how different people think differently from me, for if I do I will be in danger of using my righteousness as a cloak to cover a judgmental heart. The simple lesson is to hold our ‘opinions' lightly and be open to the Lord for Him to bring us greater understanding, while at the same time seeking to be careful to find the truth but doing it without a judgmental spirit. A difficult area! Is my righteousness fixed, unbending, legalistic and/or judgmental? As I said, a difficult area.


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Meditations on “God of Transformation: 15: Is this too impossible?


John 3:4 How can a man be born when he is old?" Nicodemus asked. "Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb to be born!"


There is a form of religious life that is content with a religion that reveals itself through ritual “in church” and in “being nice”. These people, when asked, say they are Christians for, after all, they go to church regularly don't they and they ARE by many standards, nice people. The apostle Paul wrote to his young protégé, Timothy, about such people – having a form of godliness but denying its power.” (2 Tim 3:5) These are people who take on a form niceness or religiosity but who have not been impacted by the power of God.


We have now seen two week's worth of these studies (assuming you read one a day) and so what we have seen again and again is God changing people or situations by His power. Again the apostle Paul wrote, “the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.” (1 Cor 4:20) Mere words do not take a person into God's kingdom, the place where God's presence is, where God's reign is expressed. It is power – God's power. This is the truth that many do not like, that we can only enter God's kingdom, we can only be truly changed on the inside, by HIS power working in us and transforming us.


And this brings us to Jesus' conversation with Nicodemus and the use by Jesus of the phrase being ‘born again'. Oh, say some defensively, this is just those people who try and be super-spiritual, trying to make it all sound something more complex that it is. Well actually you cannot be more simple that to accept Jesus' very simple analogy: “Jesus declared, "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” (Jn 3:3) Make that more simple and you might say, “No one can enter into a living relationship with God unless he or she receives a completely new life.”


Now note the words “new life”. This is not “a new set of rules to follow” which is what we put on and try to work on, but it is an absolute change of life, which starts on the inside and works outwards. It means the things you start saying or doing come about because of the change that is taking place on the inside. There is a transformation here that goes beyond mere superficial behaviour; this is heart change, attitude change, belief change, life transformation.


Oh this is too complicated, says the nice religious person, you don't need to make it that complicated! No, precisely, it is not complicated it is ultra simple. I don't normally try and distil things down to ‘three point sermons' but let's try and do that for simplicity sake here.


First there is a change in belief . In fact there are two beliefs that change and they may come in different orders with different people. The first change in belief is about me. I come to realise that I am lost, I am not the good person I kidded myself I was, as much as I put on a good front. I try to be nice but every now and then I get a flash of insight and realise that I am actually not nice and this comes when I say or do things less than are worthy of a nice person. Most of the time I used to cover it up and pretend that's not how things were but it didn't matter how much I tried, when I was being honest with myself, I knew I was still just a self-centred individual and God seems miles away. I could go to church but it was mere ritual and the thought of God being close or even speaking to me was completely foreign.


It was my recognition that I needed help that turned me in God's direction and I found that I was confronted by a God of love who wanted to come and bring change to me. This God was revealed through the person of Jesus Christ, God's unique Son, who came and expressed the love of God in a most wonderful way but then, allowed himself to be crucified, put to death in the most horrendous way possible. Why? I was told it was to take the punishment that was due to me for all the sins of my life. So how does that affect me, I asked. It means the way is open for you to come close to God and receive His love and forgiveness. How can that happen?


Thus we come to the second thing which is a simple action by me. I bow before Him and surrender my life to Him and ask Him to forgive me. It IS that simple.


Then the third thing is what God does for me. First there is His declarations – I am forgiven, I am cleansed and I am adopted as His child. Second, there is His action, which is to put His own Holy Spirit within my life, within me, inside me – yes, that's it. His Spirit is His power and so He doesn't just call us children, He gives us power or the ability to live as His children. We have this new power source on the inside and it is that which transforms us. His very presence within me, picks up the change of attitude that I offered to Him – for Him to take and lead and transform my life – and He does just that. He communicates with my by His Spirit within, as well as by His word, the Bible, and He guides me, teaches me and leads me on. I am a new person, from the inside out, but it is not just me, it is Him in me. Again the apostle Paul put it, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Cor 5:17)


I could not do this because it is not merely a wish to change – I had had that before but couldn't do it when I strived to. No, this only happens when I invite Him in and He comes in the power that is His Spirit, and He changes me from the inside out and empowers me to walk or live it out every day until I die and go to be with Him in heaven. Yes, it IS impossible humanly speaking, but this isn't humanly speaking, this is the God of transformation being invited in and He comes and transforms.


To take out of context a beautiful little word from Jesus, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” (Rev 3:20) How that encapsulates what happens. He comes knocking on our lives. We probably don't realise that it is Him but when we start questioning who we are, that is Him knocking. He brings us to a point of surrender where we open the door of our lives – our will – and we invite Him in. Then look at the promise – He will come in and sit and share most intimately with us, that is what eating together is all about. That is the most beautiful picture possible perhaps that distinguishes the new life from that old self-centred and (in truth) godless life that we had previously. What an incredible transformation! Hallelujah!


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Meditations on “God of Transformation: 16: Is the need too great?


John 6:5-7 When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, "Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?" He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do. Philip answered him, "Eight months' wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!"


On two occasions Jesus fed large crowds and at each of the two there was a different challenge presented. In this time in our verses above, the feeding of the five thousand (see v.10), the crowd is there stretched out before them, coming towards them v.5 says, and Jesus' first thought is for the wellbeing of this people, They are on the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (v.1) and there are no shops nearby, although it was doubtful if even a few shops could cope with this crowd. Yes, still, there is a need and Jesus confronts it by speaking it out: he said to Philip, "Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” (v.5) He knows it is an impossible situation but he says it, “only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.” (v.6) The test is to face Philip with the need – a very large crowd of hungry people and nowhere in the vicinity that can provide food for them all – and see if he suggests asking for heaven to change or transform the situation somehow. But all Philip can do is acknowledge the size of the problem: “Philip answered him, "Eight months' wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!” (v.7) Everything we have read so far simply emphasises the enormity of the need. We'll look tomorrow at the smallness of the available resources but let's for now simply focus on ‘the need'.


We live in a day where, whether it is the USA , the UK or other Western nations, Christians are now in a minority. Figures suggested vary according to who you listen to but for the USA at this time I have heard it said that only about 30% of the population are regular church goers (and that says nothing about the quality of their church going) while in the UK it is only about 5%. In other words there is a harvest of about 70% waiting in the USA and 95% in the UK . The only trouble is that they either aren't or don't realise they are (spiritually) hungry. So that makes the need out there ever greater.


I don't believe the church in the USA has come to this yet (still living on your national optimism in the face of falling numbers) but in the UK , I believe in many is the feeling, rather like Philip, “What can we do? The problem is too big?” Indeed we may believe in revival and so move to the fall-back position of saying, “Well God could move sovereignly so we'll leave it up to Him to bring the change that is impossible for us.” There is an element of truth in that, for really it is only God who can bring salvation and yes, the history of revivals shows that He can move sovereignly and sweep millions into His kingdom, but have you noticed, the history of revivals indicates He clearly only wants to do that from time to time. They are few and far between. So where does this leave us?


It leaves us recognising that only Jesus can provide for this crowd, only Jesus can satisfy the hunger in these people, only this one single body confronted by this great crowd can meet the need that is there. But hold on, where is this body today? Here, in you and me, for the New Testament tells us that we are the body of Christ. Now Christ is the head of this body and so he is the one who imparts wisdom and direction to it, and his Holy Spirit is the one who will release power through this body.

Now there is a danger at this point that many fall into and write books about. And it is to suggest a method or methods by how we confront the need before us. That is no good if our faith level is so low that we believe the problem is too big to be confronted. That is what this story so far is all about – confronting Philip with an impossible need and seeing if he comes up with the answer, “Well Lord, I can't deal with it but I know you can and I know so often you want to involve us, so what do you want me to do?”


Within that little sentence is a handful of key issues. First , recognize that indeed the problem before us is beyond us. We, on our own do not have the resources to handle it. So, second , we need to turn to Jesus and seek Him for answers because he DOES have answers to EVERYTHING and if we don't truly believe that then we are really lost! But, third , there is this thing that again and again it is obvious that Jesus wanted to, and still wants to, involve his disciples in what he is doing, so our praying would not be merely, “Lord, help, help, please do something,” but should be, “Lord, show us what you want us to be doing.”

The followers of Jesus under persecution in Acts 4 prayed but realised they needed to be part of the answer and so asked, “Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.” (Acts 4:29) But they were willing to go even further than that, they wanted to be doing the works of Jesus as he had said (Jn 14:12), “Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” (Acts 4:30) The result? “After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.” (Acts 4:31) i.e. instant answers. Being filled with the Spirit brought boldness and ability. At the very least we need a church that is filled with the Spirit, open to Jesus' leading, and ready to speak to the world.


I repeat again, Jesus has the answers; he just looks for people who will not be dominated into submission by the magnitude of the problem. We've seen how David overcame the giant, in an earlier meditation, and that is what we have before us today. Of three things I am certain: 1) God wants to change the situation, and 2) He wants to use His church to do it, and 3) The change will come when His church is open to receive His wisdom, His power, His direction and, as He speaks, His faith. Go with that and watch the transformation! We may be living in one of the most exciting periods of history in this next decade – if we hear.


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Meditations on “God of Transformation: 17: Are the resources too few?


Matt 14:16,17 Jesus replied, "They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat." "We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish," they answered.


Yesterday we considered the feeding of the five thousand, and even calling it that, highlights the problem – the need is too great – and when the need appears too great we can be made to feel hopeless in the face of it. There are too many starving people in the world. It is hopeless! There are too many non-believers in this country; we are outnumbered, it is hopeless. Well humanly speaking that is true but crisis equations or spiritual conundrums work differently. Imagine it like this: MASSIVE PROLEM + tiny human resources = inactivity and no change to the MASSIVE PROBLEM and if that is what you work with, that is how it will be.


But consider a different approach: MASSIVE PROLEM + tiny human resources + intervention of God = Transformation. Our problem, all too often, is that we focus on the tiny resources and say, “We can't do this!” We allow their smallness to keep us looking at them hopelessly and so we fail to turn to the Lord and say, “Lord, what do you want to do with these resources and what part do you want me to play in this?”


The two feedings of the two crowds have exactly the same elements, MASSIVE PROBLEM + tiny resources. Well they are resources adequate for one or maybe two people but look at them in the light of the MASSIVE PROBLEM and they are dwarfed and appear simply as tiny resources that are completely inadequate for the situation. Both sets of feedings (the 5000 and the 4000) have the same transforming element – Jesus! Size, magnitude, volume, whatever are no problem to the one who helped bring the world into being and now upholds it. Here he changed food; at a wedding he changed water into wine. It's all the same, he is the God who can transform our material circumstances; we've just got to believe in him and believe he is here for us – and then be available, because as we said previously, he loves involving us.


If you want an Old Testament picture of transformation that we have not covered (well not this part anyway) look at Moses arguing with God at the burning bush. Moses has shrugged off all of the Lord's arguments to use him until eventually, the LORD said to him, "What is that in your hand?” (Ex 4:2) Now, as we've said many times before, when the Lord asks questions it is not because He needs knowledge but He wants to draw your attention to something. Moses looks at his hand: “A staff," he replied.” You see, it doesn't need a great deal of revelation to see what you have that the Lord wants to transform; you just have to stop, pause, think, look and take note of what you have.


“The LORD said, "Throw it on the ground.” What? Let go of it and let me do something with it. You have a gift (yes, you do) but you hold it tight because it is precious to you, you value it, it's all you've got. All right, now let go of it and let me transform it!


“Moses threw it on the ground and it became a snake, and he ran from it!” Wooah! What happened, that's not my gift anymore! No it's not, it's God's and He's showing it to you in a different form, the form of the snake, Satan the enemy because even a gift or an ability can be used by the enemy to bolster you and stop you going on to receive the full blessing of the Lord. It is still yours but it's being shown you in a different form.


Now you need to take hold of it and use it for God's purposes: “Then the LORD said to him, "Reach out your hand and take it by the tail." So Moses reached out and took hold of the snake and it turned back into a staff in his hand. "This," said the LORD, "is so that they may believe that the LORD, the God of their fathers--the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob--has appeared to you." (v.4,5) When you take control of it as the Lord directs, it will be transformed again and that transformation will convince others and bring changes. It may be that that picture may be a picture of what has to happen to your life. You may need to lay it down for the Lord and He may need to transform it, initially into something that does not look good, but then He will transform it back into something that in His hand can do great things. Moses is going to take this staff and hold it out over the land and see things change. The ‘staff' may your gifts or it may simply be your will. Very often the first tiny resources to be changed are us, but the Lord looks for our willingness and availability.


Jesus takes the tiny resources, the loaves and fish, gives thanks, breaks them and hands them to the disciples. OK, you take them and feed the MASSIVE PROBLEM with them, and when they do, the tiny resources appear as MASSIVE RESOURCES feeding a TINY PROBLEM! Heavenly algebra is good isn't it!


Sometimes it simply needs the wisdom of God to bring transformation. This happened many years ago. I caught a vision from heaven about reaching out to a local needy community providing a Saturday morning club for 6 to 8 year olds (I didn't see those younger and those older seemed too daunting, so this was the age group I was left with). I shared it with the church and only one person responded with enthusiasm. In fact most other people said, “We're too busy or too tired, and there's not enough of us to do something like this.” We prayed and felt we should go to the youngest house group we had and ask their advice. We went to them and said, “Look this is what we're going to do but we need ideas and we think you'd do better at coming up with ideas than us. Can we brainstorm ideas for ten minutes and see what we come up with for us?” Ten minutes later we had a board covered with about thirty ideas and then one of the group said, “Hey I like those, I could do that” and another joined in and said, “Yes, me too.” Before we left that evening we had a full team and shortly after started a work that lasted a number of years. It needed a vision that people could buy into but to get there we needed the Lord's wisdom first.


What MASSIVE PROBLEM is there, out there in your community, that the Lord wants to do something about? What has He put on your heart but you've said, “Oh no, it's too big and my resources are too small!” Talk to Him about your need of His wisdom and then listen and get ready to move. He's just waiting to transform your tiny resources!


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Meditations on “God of Transformation: 18: Are the distractions too great?


Matt 14:30 when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, "Lord, save me!"


There are things and people in life who distract or pull us away from faith. Obviously there are unbelievers who may deride us and what we think and believe but it is both much bigger and much smaller than that. It is bigger in that we live in a nation that is predominantly godless and therefore their outlook on life is godless. They are materialistic and only materialistic and so if we listen to them our faith will be quenched. Materialistic teachers are part of this whether they are unbelieving Religious Studies teachers or materialistic science teachers or materialistic sociology or psychology teachers, they all present a godless world view and the enemy seeks to use that to quench faith in believers.


But it is in the small personal things as well that we find faith-quenchers or faith distracters. Quite honestly it can be a headache or migraine or some other debilitating physical thing that pulls us down and makes us feel les than able to step out in faith. It come be someone's criticism or negative words generally that can have the same effect. The truth is that we are in a battle to overcome distractions or things that would quench our faith. We can start out well but get sandbagged by the enemy along the way, or sometimes it can be just the ordinary things of life that suddenly get to us and pull us off course or distract us from our goals, just like Peter.


Our verse above, you possibly know well, comes from the account of when Jesus sent the disciples off in the boat at night and then appeared to them walking across the water. The sight quite naturally scared the life out of them and so Jesus calls across the water to reassure them. It was at that point that Peter said something that made him unique among men: Lord, if it's you," Peter replied, "tell me to come to you on the water.” (v.28) For a second something rose up in Peter and seeds of faith were birthed. For a moment he believed and KNEW that if that was Jesus and he could do that then he could get Peter to do it as well. Normally it is impossible to walk on water but Jesus was not bound by the possible or impossible, he was (and is) God. And for a second Peter knew it. He had to or he wouldn't have called out like that. I don't know if you've ever had those moments when you have spoken out and you realise what you are saying is true, and that it was a statement of inspired faith; I have, but then you suddenly hit a wall of reality and think, “Oh my goodness, what have I just said,” but the faith is still there and it holds you firm. You know it is true.


So there is Peter making himself available for the most unique of human experiences and he waits. Then comes the voice, no, the command, from across the water, “Come!” and he steps over the side of the boat hardly realizing what he is doing and walks on the water. Yes, at the moment in time, apart from the Son of God he is the only person in history to be able to walk on water.


And then there is the distraction. If he had kept his eyes on Jesus only, he would have been all right but he is suddenly aware of the wind, and no doubt the waves, and he allows himself to be focused on them and he starts sinking. Disaster! But not quite, because Jesus was there to catch him and lift him back into the boat. What a confused bundle he must have been at that moment. The proud side of him would want to burble out to the others, “Hey, guys, did you see that, I walked on water!” but then there was the other side of him that was aware that he had blown it part way and had needed to be rescued.


But what an amazing picture: a fisherman who sails on the water who was transformed into a man who walks on the water; let's not lose sight of that. What brought about the transformation? First of all it was the presence of Jesus. We can only ever step out in faith in the presence of Jesus. It is his words and his presence that transforms us from godless unbelievers into faith-filled miracle workers! It is knowing His will and sometimes we have to ask him to clarify it, just like Peter did. “Lord, is this you, is this you asking me to do this thing?” And then we listen with anticipation and when the word comes, faith bursts forth in us and we step out. That's what this spiritual life is all about, about being people of faith because without faith we cannot please the Lord (Heb 11:6). It's about being a people who catch the voice coming across the waters of life that says, “Come!” and we just know it is him and we step out and do what no one else is doing! Awesome!


But then there are the distractions, the wind and the waves of life that grab for our attention when we are making the walk of faith, enabled by the Spirit, and the potential is suddenly there of drowning or at least sinking. As we step out on a new course, a new adventure with Jesus, a voice comes from over our shoulder, “Whatever are you doing? You must be crazy.” Don't listen to it, focus on what He has called you to do, continue to walk by faith and not sight, and bless His heart. Ignore the faith quenchers or the faith distracters or even detractors, and stick to what you know you have heard and what has caused you to start out on this venture, and remember, you are a child of God and he is there for you, to see you through it to glory on the other side. If you falter, He still loves you and will be there to catch you, but that's only a safety net that you don't have to use. Stick with your faith, hang on in there, despite the wind and the waves. Go for it and keep going for it!  


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Meditations on “God of Transformation: 19: Is it too hopeless?


Jn 11:16 Then Thomas (called Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, "Let us also go, that we may die with him."


There are certain things in life that we are all sure about: if you jump out of a plane you fall to the earth because of gravity, if you're locked up in a room you cannot get out because you cannot walk through walls, if you cut a major artery and can't stop the bleeding you will die, and when you die you stay dead. When loved ones die you accept it, you mourn and you attend their funeral. That's what you do with dead people – and you leave them there and get very offended with grave robbers. No, dead people stay dead and are to be allowed to remain in their grave. You can understand Thomas's response to the current situation therefore. Let me remind you of it.


Lazarus is a friend of Jesus, but Lazarus has become ill, (Jn 11:1) seriously ill, so ill in fact that he dies. But it's not that simple because while he is still ill, his sisters send for Jesus (v.3) but Jesus seems to think it is all right and so delays going (v.4,5). After two days pass, he lets on to the disciples that in fact by now Lazarus will have died, but it's all right, he's going to wake him up (v.11,14).


It is at this point that Thomas makes this flippant comment - and it is a flippant comment IF it refers to Lazarus because it appears he doesn't believe Jesus can do what he's said. But actually in the midst of the conversation there is the recognition that Bethany is back in Judea (v.7) and the disciples remembered that when they had been there before, the authorities had tried to kill Jesus there (v.8). Thomas' remark now seems to have a different feeling about it but I would personally question whether Thomas genuinely felt ready to die with Jesus because when it came to it, he along with the others fled. So we have Thomas raising this conundrum for us: is this a flippant comment about Lazarus or an unreal comment about Jesus. You know what this says to me? It says that when we come to the impossible – specifically resisting death – we are all over the place.

Have you ever been involved with praying for a seriously ill person, a person perhaps with a life threatening illness? I have more than once and it is chaotic. There are those who just give up and accept that this person is going to die and talk spiritually abut the healing that comes after death, and there are those who call for prayer and fasting and settle in for the long haul – until the person dies – and there are those who fluctuate in faith from one day to the next, praying fervently one day and then giving up the next, but praying fervently the next and so on. The point is that death is challenging and God's will is rarely clear. I gave up praying on one man because it dragged on for months, but he was healed and is still around six years later. I gave up on praying for one lady in hospital because she looked so bad, and so just committed her to the Lord (if I'd been of another persuasion I'd have given her the last rites!) but amazingly she revived and is still around fifteen years later.


But then there are those for whom we have prayed, full of faith, and they died and we all wondered. In fact only a few days ago I was reading of a man who had had cancer, and it had gone into remission but then several years later it flared up again and the prognosis was death – soon. The church prayed for him and he was miraculously cured and the doctors were left scratching their heads in amazement. Four years later the cancer came back and despite more fervent prayer, he died. Why did God heal him earlier but not later? I don't know; perhaps He just wanted to give him four more years to achieve certain things but then wanted him home. We must hold the reality of heaven and sometimes just let the Lord take His children home when He sees fit.


But generally the coming of death is a mystery and so when Lazarus dies it is an open and staying shut case! But not with Jesus. He is in the transformation business and the greatest transformation must be from death back to life again, and only he can do that. The is the ultimate “impossible” situation and when we are confronted with such things we are reminded again of Ezekiel and his valley of dry bones: “Can these bones live?” “You know Lord.” Yes, God's will is the all important feature of these situations. In Lazarus's case it was to raise him from the dead, as it was for the young man at Nain (Luke 7:11-15) and the rich young ruler's daughter (Mt 9:18,23-25). Let's establish THE key fact – Jesus CAN raise the dead, Jesus can transform the impossible situation, we've seen it again and again already. Death just seems doubly impossible and is complicated by our emotions when it is someone we love.


But we've got to accept a second key fact – sometimes He doesn't. When challenged his followers to “Leave the dead to bury their dead,” apart from the obvious teaching, there is the implication that there people dying all over place in Judea and Galilee in the three years that Jesus was ministering there, but I can only find the examples above for when he raised the dead. Usually he leaves the dead to stay dead.


However, we have been hinting at ‘impossible situations', those circumstances that seem utterly impossible to change. In world terms there are despots who hold an iron-fist reign over their people and there appears no way they can be removed. But think again of Idi Amin or Mao Zedong. In their day they seemed ‘impossibilities' to remove. Or think of the Berlin Wall, another impossibility to remove – until it did in 1989. Again and again in life we seem to be confronted with impossibilities – until they are gone! I think while we face them we need to remain godly (keeping close to Him) and faithful (holding fast to what we know as a child of God) and trusting (simply believing that nothing is impossible for Him) and giving thanks for all the good things while we wait for the bad thing to be dealt with. Impossible things are called impossible because without God there is no hope but with Him…… He can transform! Lazarus, come forth! Watch for faith to be released to enable you to be the human voice that God uses to declare the transformation just before He does it.


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Meditations on “God of Transformation: 20: Beyond us?


Jn 20:15 Thinking he was the gardener, she said, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him."


There are things that are just beyond the human intellect to understand. I have to say I cannot grasp the meaning of “fifty million light years” or ‘fifty million galaxies”! Those are the easy ones not to understand; shear size – or it may be smallness seems beyond our comprehension. It's one of the reasons that I am slightly sceptical about scientists trying to work a second before the ‘big bang' when they say there is absolutely nothing before it. When you have absolutely nothing – really nothing, no energy, nothing – how can something come from nothing? I just about coped with yesterday's meditation about Lazarus coming back from the dead. I've seen films where people are ‘kick-started' back into life, so I just about comprehend God kick-starting Lazarus back to life – bit it is not something I would expect in normal life to happen. And when the bringer of life himself appears to be very human and allow himself to be executed, I think I find some sympathy with Mary when in the Easter Sunday morning she encounters to risen Jesus but doesn't realise who it is.


I think we take some of the things in the Bible for granted, the things we've read again and again and we'll have heard this account every Easter. How, people ask, could Mary not have recognised Jesus? Was there something about him that looked different, was he wearing a hood so his face was partly hidden, or was the shear unlikeliness of it all the thing that made her confused? I had an experience a few years back that gave me a little understanding. My wife had arranged a special time away for us for a special birthday (I don't do special birthdays but she does, so….) and had kept as a surprise where we were going. I had not a clue. We eventually pulled up outside a large house somewhere about a hundred miles north of where we live and she climbed out of the car muttering something about needing to find a key. Without thinking about it much I assumed it was an office where you collected a key for a holiday chalet nearby, or something like that. She went through the front door and I followed her into a large hall. There seemed to be no one around so she opened one of the doors, peered in and then shut it again and went to do the same to the next door and so I joined in the search for ‘the office' and opened a door at the end. There were people in there and so I shut the door thinking, “Oh there are other people here already, I'd better tell her,” but as I shut the door – and I did actually shut it – I suddenly realised that I knew those people; they were the rest of my family, my grown up kids and their partners and our grandchildren. For a second I had looked at them and not recognised them – simply because I was not expecting them. In fact they were all there together for we were going to stay in the massive house for the week together; a brilliant surprise, but a surprise it was!


I can only suggest that there are some things that in our mind are impossible so that when we are faced with the impossible, it doesn't register with us. Maybe, just maybe, that was how it was with Mary and if we'd been there it would have been the same with us. Now I've taken all this time to say all this because I think when we come to Jesus' resurrection we come to the peak of God's transforming power and yesterday and today we arrive at an area that may be familiar in words but in reality and our own personal lives, still hits as an impossibility – because we simply cannot understand how it can be.


Now if we know our Bibles we know that the apostle Peter on the Day of Pentecost, after speaking about Jesus' death, went on, But God raised him from the dead,” (Acts 2:24) and happily accept that as if that makes any more sense. Don't hear me wrong, I believe it implicitly but I still don't understand the physics of it, if you like. But it becomes even more personal when the apostle Paul; writes, “if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.” (Rom 8:11) Life to our mortal bodies? Does this mean when we die or is there an experience of that in some measure at least here and now? And that takes us back to the vexed subject of healing. Am I open to Jesus healing me or people near me? He certainly healed everyone who came to him in the Gospels. Is he different now? Does he not want to heal in the same way now? Your answers will depend on how far entrenched your mind is in terms of what is and what is not possible.


We're now at our twentieth illustration of God who transforms – GOD who transforms! Is there really anything He cannot transform TODAY? Isn't Jesus Christ the same yesterday and today and for ever? (Heb 13:8). Should we, I wonder, like the father, pray, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mk 9:24)


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Meditations on “God of Transformation: 21: I need to see


Jn 20:25 But he said to them, "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it."


The thing about the Christian community is that we are a totally mixed bunch. I was pondering the other day how important is it to know and to understand, i.e. how important is it to learn the truths of the faith. Personally I want to know, I have a thirst for knowledge – if only I had a memory that matched the thirst!!! I would always encourage new believers to learn, to read the Bible, attend Bible studies, take notes on Sunday mornings, keep a journal – but that isn't where everyone is at. Some of us don't like writing, some of us are not god at memorising. Does that make us a lesser person? No! Just a different person.


Yes there are great men and woman of God who are also great scholars, but there are also wonderful men and women of God but who have little understanding of words such as redemption, justification, sanctification, or glorification. They are simple people with wonderful faith and do wonderful things in the name of the Lord. And the Lord loves each of us just as we are. I was talking to a friend the other day and reflected on the fact that if it was possible to measure knowledge and understanding, I would guess my knowledge and understanding of the things of the faith have increased a hundredfold, if not more, in the years since I became a Christian but the Lord loved me exactly the same when I was a young Christian as now.


There are days when I feel a saint. I wake in the morning and the sun is shining and it's good to be alive. I have a long ‘quiet time'. I pray and I feel like I'm in heaven and His word comes alive in every sentence. I encounter people in the day and share the Lord. I attend a church meeting in the evening and the sense of the Lord's presence is very real and I contribute much to the meeting and people go away blessed. I have further time with the Lord and go to bed praising and worshipping. In fact perhaps because I went to bed late, I wake up next morning feeling terrible. I feel muzzy headed and when I open my Bible the words look fuzzy, so I shut it and simply pray, “Lord, you know.” and that's it. The day totters by and it's like walking through syrup, physically, mentally and spiritually. I stay in and watch rubbish TV in the evening and go to bed shattered. Now here's the question: on which day does the Lord love me most? Answer, both! I suspect He feels differently about me on the two days – pleased on the first, saddened on the second – but He still loves me the same on both.


Now I say all this with Thomas in mind. He had missed seeing Jesus when he had first appeared after his resurrection and so when all the others bubbled with the wonder of what they had experienced when they had met Jesus again, he is gritty. He thinks they must have been hallucinating or it's some form of hysteria. For him nothing less that being able to touch Jesus personally and feel for himself that he is real flesh and blood alive again, will do. And you know what? The Lord loves him!


For some of us, just hearing someone else's testimony, of hearing some teacher giving an academic explanation of some word in the Bible, just doesn't cut it for us. We need something more tangible and so even all these meditations about God transforming leaves us feeling, “Well I'll believe it when He does it for me!” That's OK, He still loves you just as much as me. But be honest, is your refusal to believe more to do with a fear of what the consequences will be rather than struggling with the possibility? You see, if it is that, then so often the fears of ‘what might follow' are completely unfounded and unreal. The Lord probably isn't going to ask you to confront a Pharaoh, He's already had a Moses for that. He probably isn't going to ask you to walk on water, because you're not likely to be in a storm on a lake seeing Jesus walk towards you, and anyway, your name's not Peter.


No the truth is that Jesus didn't leave Thomas doubting for the rest of his life, he came to him a week later and said (basically), “OK Thomas, if that what you want, here I am, touch me.” And Thomas fell before him and worshipped him. An all or nothing person, our Thomas! Is that you? If the Lord comes close and transforms your understanding, will you worship him? Is your heart for him, it's just that you need to get it a bit clearer? If you've read these meditations for any time you will know my testimony in this respect – there have been so many times when I have prayed and asked for encouragement and then it has come, often within minutes, sometimes within days, but it has always come.


You see the Lord understands us and understands our struggles. And in fact goes along with our little charades. I know this by Gideon's little episode with the fleece (Jud 6:36-40) where the Lord went along with his requests. I have to warn you that sometimes, to get to the place of transformation, the Lord does invite us to step out in faith so that He can then prove He's there for you. For example, consider what He said through Malachi to the people of Jerusalem in his day: Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this," says the LORD Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.” (Mal 3:10) Trusting Him materially was a problem for them so He says, well, go on, trust me, bring tithes as the Law says, and I'll guarantee you that you will be blessed so greatly you'll hardly be able to handle it – but you step out and do it first.


There's just one more thing. Yes, sometimes there will be a material answer – and yes, He will bring a material change – but as He is seeking to teach us to walk by faith (which means by hearing Him), are you open for Him to speak to you and bring a confirmation or encouragement that way? Be honest, is your request because actually you don't want an answer or is it a genuine need for clarification? If it is the latter, then He will speak and will seek to bring transformation to your understanding. Thomas had the physical Jesus in front of him and it had been a physical question posed by the other disciples. Today it will be unlikely to be that, so dare to pray, ‘Lord please transform my understanding, strengthen my faith, speak Lord, for your servant is listening.”


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Meditations on “God of Transformation: 22: Will you go again?


Jn 21:15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?"


The upheavals of life, indeed sometimes of the Christian life, means that there are times that we look back on with regret and sometimes, confusion. Life is not always clear cut and when it goes wrong or goes in ways we neither expected nor understood, we are often left hurt, confused and wondering. If these things have never happened to you, congratulations that you have created a cocoon of your life that is utterly sheltered from the rest of the world, but for most of us, when we dare be real, there are parts of our history that we prefer to forget.


If you are not comfortable with this line of thinking, may I gently suggest you are exhibiting signs of insecurity, an inability to be real with yourself and with this world. Have you ever thought that if the Christian world was, in God's plans, always to be totally secure, comfortable and easy, then there would be someone at least in the Bible who showed that? There isn't! The truth is, as we say so often, we are living in a Fallen World where sin dominates so many, life goes wrong, things break down, accidents happen and people are often nasty. That's not the whole picture by any means but it is true.


If you wanted a Biblical example of all this, then you couldn't ask for a better one than the apostle Peter. He starts out being called by Jesus, but then very soon realises that he and Jesus, although in the same boat literally, are in reality in very different boats (see Luke 5:1-9). But boats feature big for ‘the Big Fisherman' and it is out of a boat that he steps and walks on water, as we saw recently. It would have been a boat that helped him out of a mix up where he had opened his mouth too much (see Mt 17:24-27). In fact Peter's experiences with Jesus could almost be summed up as so often opening his mouth and putting his foot in it, as we say.


Yes, without doubt he was a leader and stepped out where others feared to tread, but he still kept on tripping over his own tongue. It comes to a peak at the Last Supper where first of all Peter refuses to let Jesus wash his feet (Jn 13:6-8), but then goes for it wholeheartedly (v.9), and shortly afterwards declares he will lay down his life for Jesus (Jn 13:37). He then went even further, if everyone else deserted Jesus, he never would (Mt 26:33,35). Shortly after this he couldn't even stay awake to pray with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mt 26:40). Within hours Peter is denying Jesus three times before he flees the precincts of the Palace of the Chief Priest in tears.


When he looks back Peter has got some great tales to tell of his ‘Christian life' but also there are things where he goes strangely silent. Oh yes, it hasn't always been a bed of roses, but perhaps it has for such a bed is prickly and that's how it has been for Peter sometimes. So Jesus meets him after his resurrection and tells them all to go to Galilee where he will meet them. They trek off up north again and wait. Peter is still not good at waiting: I'm going out to fish," Simon Peter told them, and they said, "We'll go with you." (Jn 21:3). There is a distinct air of déjà vu about this because, “they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.” And then Jesus appears on the beach. I wonder if Peter thought, “Oh no, not again.” Anyway he dives into the lake and swims ashore ahead of the others to meet Jesus, who already has his own fish and is cooking them on a fire. But there was also bread there (v.9). Loaves and fishes? The echo of yet another occasion when the disciples had not lived up to Jesus; expectations.


But then, after the meal comes that interrogation between Jesus and Peter. I once got in a mix up with Jesus and someone came to ‘help' and started out, “Well, that's a fine mess you've got into isn't it.” That didn't do anything to help me out of the mire. But Jesus does it differently: “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?" "Yes, Lord," he said, "you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Feed my lambs." (v.15) Hold on, what happened there? It's not clear whether Jesus refers to the other disciples or to the fish (and his past life) but Peter won't rise to the bait and refuses to measure himself against either others or his past career and so answers with a neutral, “You know I love you.” That's all I can say. Don't ask me to compare myself or check myself against others or against my past. Yes, I do love you. Good enough, here's a small job for you, look after my young followers. You still want to use me? Yes.


OK, says Jesus, let's check it out a bit more: “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?" He answered, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Take care of my sheep." (v.16) Again Peter refuses to get into a discussion about the depth or reality of his love. He is no longer the brash responder, no longer so sure of himself. I can't get into ‘how much' I love you, I just know I love you. Good enough. I've got a slightly bigger job for you. Jut take care of my followers. OK? You still want to use me like that? Yes, but let's check it one more time, very simply, “Simon son of John, do you love me?" (v.17). That's painful because it is so basic and so fundamental: “Do you love me?” It goes directly to the heart saying, come on now, be ruthlessly honest with yourself. What do you really and truly feel for me? “He said, "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Feed my sheep.” What? Pardon? You heard. I like that confession, you know who I am, you know that I know the absolute truth about you, and yes, I know you love me. OK, I have a slightly bigger job for you: feed my followers.


You see this is the wonder of the Son of God who is our Lord: he has died for all your failures and mine and as long as we're willing to face them with him and give them over to him, his grace just wants to pick you up and carry you on to bigger and better things. Transformation from failure and guilt means standing in front of the one who knows all things and being transparently honest and open with him, recognising that he is not only Lord but also 100% our Saviour. We will be what we will be only when we let him be our Saviour – Saviour of every failure, every heart ache, every feeling of guilt and shame. I can't cleanse me of all of that but he can. And then incredibly, he has something more for me to do. I would have written me off years ago, but he forgives us, cleanses us and picks us up and sets us going again.


Don't be under any illusion this will not make you perfect – you're only that as you allow him to lead you moment by moment – for there will be times when you show glimmers of your past still, but that wont disqualify you. If you don't believe me, check it out in respect of Peter when he gets sent to Cornelius. First of all he argues with God in a vision because he doesn't understand (Acts 10:14), then he needs the Lord's encouraging to go with three Gentiles (v.20), then he's not totally truthful it seems about how he had felt about it (v.29) and then sounds somewhat disparaging (v34,35) but the Lord uses him and fills the Gentiles with His Spirit. Honesty, openness, availability, willingness. Be transformed!


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Meditations on “God of Transformation: 23: When he comes


Acts 1:8   you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem , and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."


I suspect most of us underplay the Day of Pentecost, and yet what happened on it brought about the greatest people transformation that has ever occurred. Consider the events. Jesus has returned to heaven and, I suspect, left an even greater hole in the lives of the followers than after his death. He has been with them for about five weeks or so, and had shown them that he was truly back there with them as the risen Christ. He had no doubt laughed with them, talked with them and, of course, he taught them. And then he returns to heaven. In his closing words he has told them to wait for the promise of the Father from heaven, the coming Holy Spirit, and so they continued to meet together and pray. They appoint another to replace Judas but beyond that they do little other than pray. I mean what else can they do, their head who was the one who did ‘the stuff' or specifically appointed them to do specific things, has gone. Until God comes and speaks with them or does something, they are somewhat helpless.


Jesus has said they will receive power when the Spirit comes but they don't know how that will be, but they certainly feel powerless in the face of the Jewish and Roman authorities. The authorities have the power, not them. Jesus had spoken about them being his witnesses there in Jerusalem and then up through Judea and Samaria and then – can you believe it? – to the ends of the earth, whatever that means! But all they can do for the moment is sit around and pray – and no doubt talk and speculate.


And then the Spirit comes. He comes first with manifestations, sounds like a violent wind filling the house and then what looks like tongues of fire over each one of them, and yet they are not being burned. And then it happens to them: suddenly they are all “filled with the Spirit” to overflowing and the overflowing is heard as they all start speaking in languages they don't know, languages recognised by other visiting Jews as from all different countries. But the languages are praise and worshipping God, declaring His wonders. There was nothing pre-thought out about this, it just happened. He came and they did what came naturally and in so doing immediately the first part of Jesus' last command was being fulfilled, they were being witnesses to God and as the days went on they would be witnesses to Jesus as the Spirit enabled them. The sound came from heaven, the sight came from heaven, the Spirit came from heaven and the praise came from heaven; this was a 100% God event!


I am aware of the various schools of thought that you find around the church about being filled with the Spirit. Some say it happens when you are born again, some say it happens as a distinct event at a later date, some say it happens again and again. Rather than get bogged down in defending any one of those (and if you want to know what I personally believe is that it should happen at rebirth but frequently happens as a later event and certainly happens again and again) I would much prefer us to focus on the effect of being filled with the Spirit – whenever that happens – and ask the question, do you know personally these outworkings?


On this particular day we have already noted the noise, the sight, the effects in the believers of being able to worship in other languages and then – which we haven't mentioned yet – Peter being enabled to preach a great sermon and see wonderful fruit, thousands being saved. In Acts 4:8 we read, Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said….” In other words the Holy Spirit – refilling him? – enabled him to have great boldness to testify to the religious leaders. A little later we read of the believers praying together and then, “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.” (Acts 4:31) which was clearly an answer to their prayers. Now I can't help but note that one minute they weren't filled and the next minute they were, which suggests a more than once experience (although of course there has to be a first time), but the big thing to note is the effect – boldness and enabling to speak God's word.


For persecutor Saul, when Ananias was sent to him (Acts 9:17,18) he was filled with the Spirit and was enabled to see again, his blindness was healed, sight or vision was given. We also note that very soon he was out preaching (v.20) a possible effect of what had happened to him; now he was testifying to Jesus in his preaching.


When Peter preached to the Gentiles in the house of Cornelius we read, “the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.” (Acts 10:44-46) Although the word ‘filled' was not used that clearly was what was happening with identical effects as on the Day of Pentecost. Message? It's for Gentiles as well as Jews.


Bizarrely after persecution, on one of Paul's journeys, we read, “And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit .” (Acts 13:52) The Holy Spirit clearly filled them and they knew joy which overtook any fears they might have had. Power in another form. A while later after some believers had been baptized in water, we read, “When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied.” (Acts 19:6) Again, clearly a filling and similar fruits – gifts of the Spirit. More power.


So here is the central message of the Holy Spirit: when He comes He transforms the weak and helpless into power-filled, witnessing, emboldened believers. If these characteristics are absent from the Church or any individual local church, i.e. the believers, then the church needs to be praying and seeking the Lord because what we have been reading is clearly God's intention for His people. Any view less than this has surely got to be unbelief.


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Meditations on “God of Transformation: 24: The power of fear


Acts 8:1 On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem , and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria .


Over the years I think the verse that has impacted me more than most in the New Testament, at a practical level at least, is Rom 8:28 – we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” It is “in all things” that leaps out, the fact that God will be at work in whatever is going on in the world and He will be working in it for our good. Now fear is a funny thing; it is what we would call a negative emotion and yet so often it acts as a safeguard to protect us, so it makes us run away from a blazing building or a tsunami of persecution and the threat of imprisonment. You only stand around in the face of these things if you are fireproof, or in a watertight bunker, or in God.


Now that last bit makes us think about what was going on in Jerusalem and why different people reacted in different ways. Saul of Tarsus was wreaking havoc in the church, taking Christians and imprisoning them. The apostles stood fast but most of the rest of them fled and “were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria ”. The apostles knew the call and the power of God and they knew they had already stood before the Sanhedrin and been threatened and yes some of them had been in prison and been released by God. But other people didn't have that security and so they fled, they got out the way of the marauding Saul.


So were these people who ran, lesser Christians? Did God write them off? Does He write us off when we don't seem able to stand up to the pressure sometimes? For the answer to that, watch what happened to one of those who fled: “Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Christ there. When the crowds heard Philip and saw the miraculous signs he did, they all paid close attention to what he said. With shrieks, evil spirits came out of many, and many paralytics and cripples were healed. So there was great joy in that city.” (Acts 8:4-8)


Isn't that amazing! First of all, it seems, all those who were scattered took the word with them and shared it. Philip is a classic example. He ends up in a city in Samaria, starts sharing about Christ and finds the Lord is with him to perform miracles, and bring healing and deliverance and the city is transformed! And he was just one of the runners! Until then he had just been a deacon in the Jerusalem church and so the Lord took the opportunity of the persecution to take him out to new pastures where he could be stretched and used even more.


But, says the cynic, you quoted Rom 8:28 and so are you saying that that persecution was God working for Philip's benefit? No, I am saying that the Lord who is sovereign over even the devil, allowed it in His greater will, but that it was something that happens in a Fallen World and so the Lord simply uses it to spread the Gospel. Was it for Philip's benefit? Well in which zones, so to speak, do you think Philip was most blessed in? As a deacon in Jerusalem or in Samaria where he is seeing people being saved, healed, delivered and so on, and the city being transformed by the joy of the Lord? I know which one I would be more blessed in! Oh yes, without doubt, he is more blessed in what he is doing. Transformation from deacon to signs and wonders evangelist, courtesy of a nasty bout of persecution!!! Awesome!       


So your world turns nasty or you are presented with a major life difficulty that threatens your future and at least your peace. Do we lie down in the middle of the road and let the steamroller of life in the Fallen World run us over, or do we say, “No way, Lord, please use this change to your glory and for my good as your word says”. Sometimes life seems to go really pear-shaped. It may be our own fault or it may be caused by other people or simply circumstances beyond our control. Actually, it doesn't matter the cause; what does matter is what can the Lord do with us in and through these things?


We've already seen, earlier in this series, the story of Joseph in the Old Testament, where he was sold into slavery but was brought by God into the place of most power in the whole of the Middle East . His bad circumstances had been brought on by a combination of a) an insensitive father who had a favourite, b) his own pride and youthful arrogance and c) the jealousy and hostility from his brothers. Into that melting pot came two prophetic words that created even more hostility initially, and then circumstances where the brothers were given the opportunity to sell him as a slave, which they took, and then a variety of other negative incidents that ended up with a long-term jail sentence.


It can't get much worse than that story. And yet in the midst of it we find, “The LORD was with Joseph and he prospered,” (Gen 39:2) and “while Joseph was there in the prison, the LORD was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden,” (Gen 39:20,21) Yes, all circumstances of a Fallen World, but the Lord was still with him in the midst of it all and yes, He was working for his good and the good of the world, so much so that by the end of the story we find Joseph saying to his brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Gen 50:20) Yes, he had learnt it, that even though he was living through the negative circumstances of a Fallen World, the Lord had been with him throughout and, even more, the Lord used it to bring good.


So, whether it be persecution or other life challenging circumstances, remember, as God's children He IS there for us and He WILL be working for our good in it all. To conclude, remember another person we considered earlier in the series – Habakkuk – who by the end had come to a place where questions had given way to a trust that could say in the midst of the Fallen World stuff, “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior.” (Hab 3:17,18) How could he praise the Lord in the face of all that? Because he had learned that God was at work and that to bring change and that change to bring blessing. True then, true now. Praise Him in the midst of it and watch for the transformation, watch for the opportunities, watch for the blessing. Hallelujah!


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Meditations on “God of Transformation: 25: Purpose by direction


Acts 8:26 Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, "Go south to the road--the desert road--that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza ."


Yesterday we saw how the believers of Jerusalem were scattered from Jerusalem by persecution and saw how one of them, Philip, was amazingly used by the Lord in Samaria. One of the temptations in the Christian life is to settle in the area of blessing where we are. The Lord (or circumstances) has led us here and it is a good place. Philip is in a good place where he is blessed and being used.


It sometimes takes something special to get us out of that place where we have settled and in Philip's case it was an angel. For each of us, the changes of life come through different means. We often talk about how the Lord can speak to us and guide us and, yes, there have been times in my life when I look back and can remember His voice coming in some particular way to bring new guidance, but a little while ago I was reflecting on the Lord's goodness through the years of my life and I was surprised to note that in the three times I have made a major career change they were all because of the circumstances. Yes, I did need to check with Him but it was the circumstances that pressed me to move. The first one was an office move that made travelling a pressure on our family so I took redundancy. The second one was an employer cutting back and so I took early retirement. The third one was age and an obvious moment to move over and let others lead while I went off to do something new. It was the circumstances that brought the pressures to move, and yet afterwards in every case I can see the Lord's blessing on the move and although initially in each case I took a drop of salary, our standard of living and quality of life as a family improved greatly – every time!


It may be that your motivating force for change is a negative thing. In each of my three changes the circumstances appeared uncomfortable but necessary. Your negative thing may be change of health or change of financial circumstances or who knows what. I say this because when the angel comes to Philip in the middle of his revival in Samaria and tells him to go south on the desert road – without any other instructions or guidance – he would be less than human not to struggle with what appeared a very negative instruction. Most of us would reply, “But I am involved in a good work blessed by the Lord,” but he goes. The transformation appears to be from fruitfulness to barrenness – I mean what good can happen on a desert road going nowhere.


Well of course it wasn't going nowhere, it was the route for an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians.” (v.27) Be very clear this man in the chariot is a very important person. In our context we might say the Governor of the Bank of England or the Secretary of the US Treasury; that's who we have here, and Philip this is why you have just been yanked out of the midst of the revival in Samaria, so you can catch this man who is on the edge of the kingdom, bring him right though and send him back to his country where some believe he established the first Christian church in Africa. That's who you are going to, but of course the Lord did not give him that little detail when He called him to go south.


After Philip has shared the Gospel with this seeker and baptizes him, we read, “When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea .” (v.38,40) I have often though that the reference to the Spirit meant He caught up and whisked him away invisibly, but it may just be that he received that urgent sense of the Spirit's directing that he needed to move on to the next assignment which led him up to Caesarea where he appears to have settled and stayed for some twenty years at least (see Acts 21:8).


What we have here appears a life of transformation: a deacon in Jerusalem, a power evangelist in a Samaritan city, a personal witness on a road going south, an evangelist in Philistine cities and eventually an evangelist in Caesarea. What motivated the moves? First persecution, second an angel and third the Holy Spirit. Yes, a variety of different things leading him into a variety of fruitful ministry areas. What a beautiful example of an available believer.


Our lives often contain ‘seasons', periods that appear fixed, but only for a time, when we then move on to the next ‘season'. If you are a mother of young children that is your present season. Make the most of it while you can, rejoice in it, thrive in it, be blessed in it and do what no one else can do in the same way, establish them in life and in the Lord. Create an environment for them of love and security where He is known to be a resident friend. You are studying at College or University. You are in a season. Make the most of it, rejoice in it, be blessed in it, and in it learn to receive His help in learning. It will soon come to an end and you will need to move on to your next season. But in every season there will be opportunities to share the love of the Lord and to know His presence and His blessing.


Unlike the natural seasons, every season we are talking about can be fruitful in some way or other. The fruit may change but He never wants us to be static, unchanging, unlearning, unproductive. A different season simply means a different series of opportunities, just like Philip had. Some may be dramatic, others less so, but the all-important, over-arching thing is that you know His will, that you are where you are by His appointing and doing what He wants with His enabling and His power. As I shared earlier, guidance comes in different ways and you may simply have gone by the natural circumstances of life before you and the peace He grants you, or you may have had a dramatic word that came through preaching and then by prophecy and then by the counsel of a friend. The ways are endless and they are all valid. Rest in your experiences of Him and rejoice as He moves you on to the next ‘season' of life and service. Hallelujah!


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Meditations on “God of Transformation: 26: The End Goal


Rev 21:1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.


There are various schools of Interpretation when it comes to the end times and eternity and I simply want to side with the old preacher who said, “I'm a pan-millennialist, it will all pan out right in the end!” The fact that there are these various schools indicates that it is not so clear cut as some of us would like to think. Very largely the future is a mystery although God has given us some pointers about His will.


I finish this series picking up this verse of hope from the last book of the Bible. Apart from stating the obvious it declares that God acknowledges the fact that what exists needs replacing! This fallen, sinful world cannot be the end objective for the Lord. We might think that heaven itself is to be His ultimate goal and yet He says here that He will be remaking heaven as well as the earth which brings a double whammy to the debating table. Somehow He still has a better heaven on his heart and the end product of His long-term goals is not just heaven but a new heaven AND a new earth. A material earth in the same sense as now? Time alone will tell.


The picture is confused by something the apostle Paul added to the equation when he was speaking about the resurrection from the dead, how we will all appear in our post-death state in eternity: So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.” (1 Cor 15:42-44) We will have new bodies but they will be imperishable and they will be spiritual. The only thing I can say about that is that they will not be material. Will the new heaven and the new earth be in a new ‘spiritual' dimension? Time alone will tell.


You may have heard powerful preachers laying down their precise interpretations so I will leave you with whatever the future holds. When you get there you can say, “See, I was right….” or not.


So why end on this unclear note? Well I come back to one of my original comments above: God acknowledges the fact that what exists needs replacing! Now perhaps the word ‘needs' is too heavy, perhaps the sense should be that God knows that He can produce something better in the future than we know now. There is nothing heretical or surprising about this because everything we know about history is that it has been changing for the better. Put aside all our qualms about the moral state of society today and without doubt living in this world today (and yes, I meant put aside all our concerns about sin as well) is much more wonderful than living two hundred years ago. Yes, we probably all have our gripes or dislikes about something today but overall what the Lord has allowed (or maybe even enabled) us to do and to have is wonderful in comparison to say two hundred years ago. We are fed better, clothed better, cared for better and have better health care than ever known before. Change. It take place slowly but don't tell me our loving God is against that list of things, but He works slowly and allows us to develop slowly so inventions and scientific break throughs happen slowly, and yes, so much of it is good.


But there is a whole big part of the world that doesn't have the abundance that so many of us in the West have. While there is slavery (and it is worse today than in the days when slaves were being shipped across the Atlantic), while there is poverty, while there is starvation, while there is forced prostitution, child abuse, wife beating, denigration of women generally, and so much more, there are things that need changing.


The Revelation verses of chapter 21 continue: Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." He who was seated on the throne said, "I am making everything new!" (v.3-5) This is God saying, “I know this Fallen World is not the best in the long-term, but it was necessary while I gave you free will, but it is not the end goal.” The end goal is without death or mourning or crying or pain. That is where God is going to end up, and you and me with Him. So, how does He want us to view all this?


Well I suggest it is not to sit back passively and helplessly and say, “Well, it's a sinful fallen world and we cannot change that so there is no point doing anything. We'll just wait until he comes and brings the change." Hold on; He has come and He did bring a glimpse of the change. One of the things Jesus did almost more than anything else was heal people and remove their cause of pain and anguish and tears. It was only a start and he said to us, “anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing.” (Jn 14:12).


On one hand I find this one of the most embarrassing verses in the New Testament, because mostly we, the Church, are NOT doing this. He didn't just say, ‘some of the things I have been doing' but the implication is ALL of the things Jesus had been doing. Jesus came to transform lives then and there, not just in eternity. Jesus IS concerned with the here and now, which is why he has inspired Christians down through the centuries to campaign against slavery, open poor houses, start hospitals, build orphanages, create unions and so many other charitable works that care for the poor, needy and oppressed in a whole variety of ways, all working out Jesus' mandate when he said, “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 favor.” (Lk 4:18,19) The year of the Lord's favour was clearly then and every year following when He can express His kingdom through His church.


Yes, we will have to wait for that final transformation but in the meantime, just as Jesus didn't wait but revealed His Father's will and got on with the business of transformation, so that lives and communities were transformed, so we too are called to be people of transformation, people who are being transformed and, as the body of Christ, similarly bring transformation to others, individuals and communities, as we allow Him to lead us into it.