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Series Theme: Meditations on the Theme "God turns up"

Meditation No. 1

Meditation Title: To Adam and Eve


Gen 3:8,9 Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man, "Where are you?"


I realised recently that there are many times in the Bible when human beings were just getting on with their lives – and then God turned up! Of course the truth is that He's always here, everywhere; it's just that He makes His presence known when He ‘turns up'. Now this first instance isn't like most of the others, because the impression that is given is that God communicated with Adam and Eve on a regular basis and the reference in our verses above to Him “walking in the garden in the cool of the day” seems to have a regular habit feeling about it, i.e. it was something He did every day, to perhaps come and share with Adam and Eve at the end of the day to see how they had got on in the day.

Now this day was a unique day for it would suggest that whenever the Lord came into the Garden, Adam and Eve would be obvious and easily found, but this time when they heard the sound of Him coming (was He singing?) “they hid”. God ‘turning up' today was obviously something they did not look forward to. For the first time ever they didn't want to meet with the Lord.

Well of course we know the reason, for at the beginning of this chapter we have the account of the Fall, when Eve listened to Satan and disobeyed God for the first time, and then Adam listened to Eve and did the same thing. Suddenly there is a dimension to their lives which had never been there before – they were guilty.

Now perhaps many of us know this story so well that we have taken it for granted, but writing about God's love recently I have come to see something about Adam and Eve's response on this fateful evening that I have never realised before. Everything about their response to the Lord speaks of their guilt. They hid from the Lord and when they do meet Him and acknowledge what has happened, they move into a blame routine. Adam blames Eve and Eve blames the snake. Now all that is very obvious and which, I am sure I've written about at least a half a dozen times over the years but there is something else about this behaviour which is very challenging. It is that neither of them appreciated the fact of God's love for them.

Now the apostle John teaches in his first letter, “God is love”. (1 Jn 4:8,16) When the Lord appeared to Moses in Exodus 34 we find Him revealing Himself as the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.” (Ex 34:6,7) and this description of Him is repeated in many forms throughout the Bible. Everything about God is love. He didn't just become that in Exodus; He has always been love, He always was that.

Now sin blinds us, the Bible tells us, and we either forget this or fail to see it, that everything about God is love. One of the expressions of this love (because love always wants the good for another) is forgiveness. The Lord is always looking to forgive sin and restore the sinner but to do that He needs the sinner to repent. Obviously while someone is still denying their guilt they cannot, living a lie, come close to the Lord to receive all His blessings. Ezekiel understood this as when, speaking from the Lord, he declared, “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” (Ezek 18:23) and then again, “For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!” (Ezek 18:32)

Now what is so terrible about this incident in the Garden of Eden, and the reason for their subsequent expulsion from it, was that neither Adam nor Eve appreciated this. If they had done, they would have simply come to God in humble contrition and said, “Lord, we have been utterly stupid. We did what you told us not to do, we are so sorry, please forgive us” – and I am utterly convinced He would have done! Why because He is love and He wants to forgive and already before creating the world the Godhead has decided that the Son will come to take the guilt and punishment for all sins. We see that in a number of Scriptures. But Adam and Eve don't understand that and so they keep on making excuses and don't face their guilt. While in this state they cannot carry on in the presence of the Lord and so they are expelled from the Garden.

The challenge comes to us – do we appreciate the love of God? Do we appreciate that He is constantly working to draw us back to Himself and is looking to forgive, cleanse, reconcile and bless rather than punish, as the enemy would have us believe. Please note as we start these meditations that the Lord did not come to them and confront them with, “Why did you sin?” He was not looking to blame. That may account for why the Lord is able to approach so many people in the Bible without blaming them. He knows they are guilty of sin and they know it deep down, but it will take many dealings with God before they (and we) realise that God is for them, God loves them. Keep this in the back of your mind as we examine the encounters God has with people. It will never be obvious, but it is there in the background, this incredible truth: God comes to guilty people to draw them to Himself. That is the wonder of the message of the Bible! Hallelujah!

But look at the wonderful threefold descriptions of the believers to whom he is writing. First of all they are those “who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father.” This is similar to Paul's language: he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.” (Eph 1:4) Peter himself, when preaching on the day of Pentecost, spoke of Jesus: “This man was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge ; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” (Acts 2:23 ) Those are the only two times that the word ‘foreknowledge' is used in the Bible, both by Peter.

But again the sense is common in Paul's writings, for instance, “God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son.” (Rom 8:28 ,29) and “God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew.” (Rom 11:2) Later on, speaking about Jesus, Peter writes, “He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.” (1 Pet 1:20) reminding us that it was before God created anything that He looked into the future, of what would be, and saw that Jesus would have to come and saw who would respond to him. This same sense of destiny established, even before God made the world, comes through in John's revelation: “The inhabitants of the earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the creation of the world will be astonished.” (Rev 17:8). Yes, here in this first phrase we catch a sense of the Father's sovereign will and His total knowledge.

Let's consider the second expression: “through the sanctifying work of the Spirit.” The Holy Spirit has sometimes been referred to as the executive arm of the Trinity, the One who administers the will of the godhead here on earth. So, yes, we are chosen before the world came into being in that the Father decreed the means by which people would be assessed (their response to Jesus), but now, today, it is the work of the Holy Spirit to convict us of sin, to draw us to God and then when we make that act of surrender, to come into us and set us apart as new creations, people who are actually different from anyone else, because He lives and work within us. Sanctifying here simply means to set us apart to God so that He can carry out that work of changing us into the likeness of Jesus (see 2 Cor 3:18). We noted from the outset that Peter has been changed from that rough fisherman who was originally called by Jesus. The Holy Spirit has done much to change him – as he does us!

But then there is the third phrase: “for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood.” There is a twofold aspect to this, first the overall intention and then the means by which it comes about. The overall intention of God's plan of salvation is that we will each one submit to His Son Jesus Christ who now sits at the Father's right hand in heaven, ruling. It is only by us submitting to the Son that the Holy Spirit is able to work in us. If we don't submit to Jesus then the Holy Spirit obviously can't lead, guide, direct and teach us. The way that this comes about is by us receiving Jesus' work on the Cross which cleanses us of all sin and makes the way open for us to receive God's forgiveness.

There is a reflection in these verses of what happened at the inauguration of the first covenant: “Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people. They responded, "We will do everything the LORD has said; we will obey." Moses then took the blood, sprinkled it on the people and said, "This is the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words." (Ex 24:7,8) Note the two things: Obedience to God's will (the Law) and then sprinkling with blood (a life given) brought about the covenant relationship. That is what happened then and that is what happens now, except the Lamb used is Jesus. We will see more of this as we work through this letter.







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Series Theme: Meditations on the Theme "God turns up"

Meditation No. 2

Meditation Title: To Abram


Gen 12:1,2 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 and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.


I wonder how many people God speaks to but they don't realise they are being spoken to. Adam and Eve, we saw in the previous meditation, were very much aware of the Lord's presence and of Him speaking to them. No longer do we see the Lord and thus we only ‘hear' him in our spirit unless, on very rare occasions, He should speak out loud into our world. But Abram heard him.

Abram's family lived in Ur which is believed to be in the south east of Mesopotamia, where modern Iraq is. Now all the Biblical account tells is that, “Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot son of Haran , and his daughter-in-law Sarai, the wife of his son Abram, and together they set out from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to Canaan . But when they came to Haran, they settled there. Terah lived 205 years, and he died in Haran .” (Gen 11:31.32) Haran is in the far north west of Mesopotamia . So what we are told is that Terah, Abram's father, had led them from their home in Ur up the trade route towards Canaan but when they had got to Haran they settled there and there they remained until Terah died, after which Abram and his family set off again for Canaan.

Yet in Acts we read, “The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham while he was still in Mesopotamia , before he lived in Haran .” (Acts 7:2) In other words it was before they left Ur that this word we find at the beginning of chapter 12 came to Abram and when we later read, “So Abram left, as the LORD had told him,” (Gen 12:4) that actually refers to leaving Ur . What is intriguing about all this is that the chapter 11 account has Terah leading the way although it was Abram who receive the prodding from the Lord.

Now culture experts will tell us that in that culture the father was the one who led the family and they did what he said, but it still means that Abram must have gone to his father and convinced him that he had heard from God. Now that in itself is intriguing when you think about it, because one wonders what Abram knew of God because the revelation of God, apart from the early accounts at the beginning, was very spasmodic to say the least. Moreover just how did the Lord speak to Abram? This is a key question because we are not told he had an angelic visitation or that he heard a voice out loud, which rather supposes that it was simply in his mind he was getting this ‘message'.

Did the message come once, or twice, or was it an ongoing nagging thought that just wouldn't go away. Whatever it was, it was sufficient to go to his father and convince him. Had his father been hearing from the Lord as well? It is a grey area and we just don't know. What it does tell us, however, was that from the outset Abram was someone who believed in the divine and also that he could be ‘spoken to'. Centuries had passed since Enoch or Noah had lived, the most recent men who appeared to have some relationship with the Lord, and so although information had no doubt been passed down the family line, it would have been very sketchy.

So there is Abram, living with his family, married but childless, in Ur , and he starts hearing God. God turns up on his radar. We really don't know if he had had any prior contact or knowledge of the Lord but now suddenly God starts speaking in such a way that Abram hears it. Bit it isn't a quiet general word – leave your land – it is much more comprehensive than that.

There are really six bits to it. First, “Leave your country, your people and your father's household.” The only problem about that is that it included leaving his father which culturally was not on. So he shares it with his father, who concludes they all need to go and it is not until they settle in Haran and his father eventually dies, that he is able to fulfil this command. Second, “and go to the land I will show you.” Although the chapter 11 account speaks of Canaan it is not clear that they knew that this was the destination when they set out. Third, “I will make you into a great nation.” Now that was amazing for he was childless. That flew directly opposite to his experience. Fourth, “ and I will bless you.” That was very reassuring, “I will do good to you.” Fifth, “I will make your name great.” He's going to become famous! Sixth, “and you will be a blessing.” In other words you will do good to other people.

This is an amazingly comprehensive message for this dweller in Ur to receive. He heard it, understood it and took it in and conveyed it. It is pure prophecy. Abram appears from no where; he is a nowhere man, a nobody, just the son of another nobody – and then God turns up and nothing is ever the same again.

There is something important to consider before we finish. All this might have been wonderful but it would just have remained a series of thoughts in the mind of a nobody, if he hadn't then gone and done something about it. He tells his father in such a manner his father is moved into action. The working out of the “go to the land I will show you” took time and included delays, yet eventually we find, they set out for the land of Canaan , and they arrived there .” (Gen 12:5) and the rest, as they say, is history – but it needed him to respond to the voice of God – as it does us.






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Meditation No. 3

Meditation Title: To Jacob


Gen 32:24-26 So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob's hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. Then the man said, "Let me go, for it is daybreak." But Jacob replied, "I will not let you go unless you bless me."


We commented briefly in the previous meditation how God turned up to a nobody and made him a somebody. What was so amazing about Abram, which we take for granted, was that he actually heard God and responded to what he was hearing and this with virtually no prior revelation. When we come to Jacob we find a man who will know about his grandfather Abram's encounters with God and also of his father, Isaac's praying for many years before he and Esau had been conceived. But that knowledge hadn't touched him.

Now this isn't the first time that God has turned up for Jacob but it is a significant encounter. The previous time had been in a dream that he had while on the way to Haran where his uncle lived. In this dream (Gen 28:10-19) the Lord spoke to him and reiterated His plans for this family, declaring that He would give Jacob this land, even though he was leaving it for the moment, and would make him a mighty people. Now this is an amazing revelation because it says nothing about the sort of person Jacob was; it was all about God's certain plans. It is remarkable because the Bible reveals to us a Holy God, but Jacob is far from holy. He is a cheat, a liar and a schemer and yet God says nothing about this. We might expect the Lord to tell him to clean up his life because he is, after all, the chosen family that God is going to use as a light to the rest of the world – but there is nothing of this! So that first time of God turning up for Jacob was pretty amazing.

But now we have God turning up in a completely different way. Jacob has not changed a great deal. Over the years he has accumulated two wives, two concubines and a big family and lots of flocks and herds. He has made himself a very wealthy man, all by cunning. Now he's returning home and he's been planning on how he can win his brother's heart and be received back home. He has actually included prayer in the plan. He has prayed and asked God for help so that Esau will not attack him, but he's putting most of his trust in his scheme to provide present after present to his brother.

And so night comes and a man turns up and attacks him. The two of them wrestle and wrestle, and carry on until dawn. It is a strange encounter and nothing is said; the two just wrestle in silence. The object is to make the other submit but neither will. Eventually the man touches Jacob's hip and it is put out of joint but Jacob clings on to him. “Let me go,” the man demands. “Not unless you bless me,” retorts Jacob. Hullo, what is this? Already Jacob has a sense of who he has been wrestling with. It is God.

God wrestling with a man? How crazy is that? Surely God could just kill him if He wanted to? Yes, but He doesn't want to. He just wants Jacob to submit to Him. He wants every man to submit to Him because He is the lord of all, the Creator of all things and He knows best how we should live our lives. Throughout his life so far Jacob has considered he knows best and in fact as he has used his guile and cunning, he's done all right. He's made himself rich. And now God comes along and wants him to submit, to give up all his striving and struggling, all his scheming and planning. This physical wrestling match is actually about wrestling in the sphere of the will. In all of this God is saying, “Jacob give up your will to me. Submit to me.”

Jacob is still a negotiator: “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” God had come to him in physical form and God had chosen to wrestle Jacob on equal physical terms, so if God wants to break off now and leave him, Jacob will only let Him go if He will decree good for him. How crazy you must be, Jacob; God could kill you with a word! I'm sure Jacob realised that by now. He has already been severely injured and yet he senses that God wants to play this out on these same terms, so he'll make this demand and see where it goes.

Then comes the punch line as he waits for God to bless him: “What is your name?” That is unkind! He knows what his name is. It is Jacob and Jacob means twister and schemer. It was what his parents thought of him from the moment he was born. “I'm a schemer,” is what he almost screams out. Done! The truth has been faced! It's as if the man then says, “Excellent, you've faced the truth; now I can change you,” and He then gives him a new name, Israel , which means ‘struggles with God'.

Jacob wants one more thing. He wants confirmation of who it is that he's been wrestling with. Is it to boast about later? We don't know, but the man won't give him that satisfaction. Oh yes, Jacob knows who He is (see v.30) and he'll have to rest with that inner knowledge. He's a changed man. He has wrestled with God but at the cost of a disablement that he's now got to live with, and of having to face the truth about himself. He knows what he's really like and he knows that God knows what he's really like. That will make any ongoing relationship with the Lord even more wonderful. God loves this crook! And He loves you and me and He knows exactly what we're like. Do we? That's why God turned up on this occasion; that's why He turns up for us. Facing the truth about ourselves is the first step to submitting to God and let Him rule over our lives.







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Meditation No. 4

Meditation Title: To Joseph


Gen 37:5-7   Joseph 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."


A question I am often asked is, “How can you know it is God speaking to you?” and I think the truth is that initially at least you don't. If one of our biggest problems is that God is invisible, I think one of God's problems is that we so often appear so hard of hearing. It just isn't clear sometimes that it is the Lord speaking. Very often our immaturity or ignorance or naivety, are the reasons we don't realise it is God speaking. Again, I suspect that with a heading about God turning up, we also have preconceived ideas about how He will turn up. Very often His ‘turning up' is just simply a few words spoken into our minds; that can be the start of it, or perhaps it's a dream!

Joseph was a spoilt brat. Being one of the youngest sons of Israel (Jacob renamed), because of who his mother was, he was especially loved by his father, but when one child gets more attention from the parent that just leads to trouble. Jacob spoiled Joseph and that didn't go down well with the other brothers; in fact they hated him. When you spoil a child you also tend to spoil their character as well. Joseph is spoilt and that means he is self-centred and self-centred people are insensitive to other people, and that, here, causes problems. The story of Joseph is fascinating because it starts with God turning up with a dream. It's a good dream as far as he is concerned but bad as far as the brothers are concerned. It had them bowing down before him.

Now you have to wonder why the Lord gave him this dream – and the one that follows, just to make sure they get the message! I mean, if this was going to be the outcome, why say something which the Lord surely knew would provoke the brothers? But perhaps that is the very reason He gave Joseph the dream; He knew how Joseph would blurt it out and He knew how the brothers would respond.

It's very like what happened with Jesus. On the day of Pentecost, speaking about Jesus, Peter said, This man was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead.” (Acts 2:23 ,24) God knew how the Jewish authorities would react if Jesus was given into their hands, He knew that they would crucify His Son and He knew He would have to raise Him from the dead, all in the process of taking the Sin of the world and revealing His Son as Saviour. A while later the disciples prayed, “Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.” (Acts 4:27 ,28) God knew what He wanted to achieve and knew that He would use the wrong motives and bad reactions of the various people involved.

So here we have the same thing happening with Joseph. The Lord knows that in the long-term, quite a few years later, He would be able to use Joseph to save the whole of the Middle East and especially the family of Israel . He knew that the brothers would get so worked up about Joseph that they would sell him to slave traders, He knew the slave traders would sell him to Potiphar who would end up unjustly putting him in prison, and He knew that the end result would be Joseph being taken out of prison and being made Prime Minister of Egypt where he could have such authority that he could save the world against a coming famine.

So this instance of God turning up for Joseph sounds bad news. Well, no, not really. This was God's training ground that He was leading him into – these years of slavery and prison – training to be able to handle the incredible authority he's going to be given at the end. In this training he's going to be taken from being a spoilt brat to a wise world leader – some transformation! (Oh, by the way, read the story through and you'll see that the Lord never left him to it; He stayed with him and gave him favour in the eyes of those who had power over him.)

So Joseph gets a dream as God turns up for him and the whole process gets under way – but Joseph really doesn't have a clue! But isn't that how it is so often. The Lord comes with a prophecy and we think how incredible it is. I'm going to make you a mighty warrior. Right! But how are mighty warriors created? Through much hard exercise and discipline and many battles. Right! Or perhaps the word from the Lord comes, “I am going to make you a person of great grace to whom many others will come with their problems.” Wow, that's great! Well yes, but how are you going to get there? The Lord is going to allow all your self-strength to be knocked out of you so that all that is left of you is His grace. Oh! Oh yes, and vulnerable people only feel secure coming to share with people who appear vulnerable, so all your self-confidence is going out the door. Right!

Oh yes, Joseph tells us that when God turns up it's the start of a life of transformation – for us. Paul knew something of it when he wrote, we…. are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Cor 3:18 ) God loves us just like we are, but He also loves us so much He's got something much better for us, a new ‘me' in the likeness of Jesus. That's what the Christian life is about so much of the time, God making sons in the likeness of Jesus. What fun! What glory!







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Meditation No. 5

Meditation Title: To Moses


Ex 3:1-3 Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, "I will go over and see this strange sight--why the bush does not burn up."


I don't know if you have realised something very important about God and the way He works? Paul saw it: But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things--and the things that are not--to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.” (1 Cor 1:27 -29) This is exactly the opposite to the way the world works. That is seen day in, day out as people go for interviews and present CV's that are boosted up to make them look better than the next person. The strongest and the brainiest and the most beautiful is who we choose - but not God; He chooses the weak, the lowly and the despised, and then moves through them to do incredible things.

That, I suggest, is why He chose Moses. Moses is an absolute failure. By strange circumstances he had been brought up in Pharaoh's palace, a privileged place where he would have received a very superior upbringing. Yet he was still an Israelite and so, when he was forty he was out and about in the country and saw his biological people being mistreated as slaves. He stepped in to help and a man was dead. To cut a long story short the word got out and Pharaoh felt very angry about it and so Moses fled. Eventually he ended up in the desert of Midian , possible a couple of hundred miles away, and there he ends up working as a shepherd for a priest in Midian. For forty years he looks after sheep on the backside of the desert, a nobody, a failure. How are the mighty fallen! One minute a Prince of Egypt, the next a scruffy shepherd in the desert. Year followed year and the past becomes a blurred memory. He is now a nobody, going nowhere, just living out his life. He's eighty years old. He can't have much longer to go. No future left, and then God turned up!

So there he is minding his own business in the quiet of the desert and suddenly he sees a nearby bush on fire, except it is not being burned up. It is God getting his attention. So why should the Lord get his attention in this way? Perhaps because He knows that Moses is a nowhere man with such low self-esteem that it will need something quite spectacular to get his attention. There may be other reasons, but we just aren't told. Moses goes over to the bush and we are told that an angel of the Lord speaks to him from the midst of the flames. There ensues the longest conversation with the Lord recorded in the Bible, and the rest, as they say, is history.

What is the most remarkable thing about all this? It's as I've hinted at above, that God chooses a nobody, a failure, a shepherd with no future. Jesus taught it: “blessed are the poor in spirit for there is the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt 5:3). You probably can't get any poorer in spirit that Moses! Are you feeling pretty low, weak, inadequate, a failure? Hmmmm! Sounds like you could be near the top of the list for a visit from the Lord! He's looking for people like you.

You think you're rubbish? So did Moses. In a hasty moment he'd thrown away a comfortable, affluent life. Yes, he'd had the best of intentions but that didn't stop him getting it wrong. There is a sense that it doesn't mater how we've got it wrong in the past. If we are truly sorry about it and are willing to put ourselves totally in God's hands, we can still have a future that is meaningful and fruitful. If you are feeling strong and self-confident – oh dear! Don't get me wrong, God doesn't demand idiots, just willingness to acknowledge that without Him we're nothing. The apostle Paul was arguably (next to Jesus of course) one of the best brains in the New Testament, but it wasn't that that made him great. No, it was his willingness to submit to the Lord and let Him do what He will with him. Do you need a crisis to realise your weakness? How much better to just acknowledge your weakness to the Lord, and give yourself over to Him?

Oh, you say, but I'm no use, God couldn't use me; I couldn't do the great things that Moses did! Why not; it wasn't Moses doing the great things; it was the Lord through Him. All Moses had to do was do as God said and then the miracles happened. Time after time, as he led the Children of Israel, he came to the end of himself and fell on his face before the Lord, seeking Him to turn up (see Num 14:5, 16:4,22,45) and act. Oh no, it's not about how strong I am, but about how strong He is. Of course at the burning bush Moses didn't realise that. He just thought he was a nobody with no future. In fact he had another forty years of service to go! And you?







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Meditation No. 6

Meditation Title: To Joshua


Josh 5:13 -14 Now when Joshua was near Jericho , he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, "Are you for us or for our enemies?" "Neither," he replied, "but as commander of the army of the LORD I have now come." Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence.


It is a sad thing that there is so often a ‘them-and-us' mentality in so many Christians. It may be about ‘us' and other churches, or it may be between ‘us' and the non-Christian world around us. Whatever it is, there are certain obvious characteristics to it: there is a sense of division, of being different and, even worse, of ‘us' being superior, ‘us' being right and ‘us' having God on our side. It is a very small minded view born out of insecurity!

There are certain things about wars and fighting that everyone knows, things you hear and pick up along the way. The particular thing I have in mind is the sentry's challenge, “Halt, who goes there?” It always struck me as being a bit odd because if it was then enemy they would probably shoot at you. Sometimes that challenge had added to it, “Friend or foe?” But it is fundamental in a battle situation, that challenge, because you need to know if you are about to be attacked.

This little encounter that Joshua has is interesting. Israel have entered the Promised Land and next day they intend to go and take Jericho . They are there at the Lord's bidding. The supernatural supply of manna has just stopped so they will now be living off the wonderful provision of this land. It is very much a new day. They are on the plains of Jericho and Joshua is perhaps out on reconnaissance. Suddenly he is aware of a man simply standing before him - but he has a sword in his hand, so he is a potential threat. Who is he? Is he one of his own people? Rather unlikely! Is he from Jericho ? Again somewhat unlikely. So who can he be?

Joshua challenges him: “Are you for us or for our enemies?” It is a legitimate challenge, it would seem, but the answer that comes back is startling! "Neither," he replied, "but as commander of the army of the LORD I have now come." Wow! Joshua is under no illusions about who it is before him: “ Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence.” This may not be God Himself but it is the next best thing, His representative.

There was Joshua minding his own business – well God's actually – getting ready to take Jericho , and suddenly someone from ‘head office' turns up. When inspectors turn up at a school or business or whatever other organization it is, everyone scurries around to please them for they know they are under the microscope, but it doesn't seem to be that sort of thing here. This ‘man' has come to tell Joshua that God is there – or at least His powerful representative is. His brief response has got two important elements to it. Let's take the latter one first.

As commander of the army of the LORD I have now come.” Hold on, which army? The Lord's army! Which army is that? Is it the fighting men of Israel or is it an angelic host. A revelation of the latter came many years later when Elisha and his servant were shut up in Dothan : “And Elisha prayed, "O LORD, open his eyes so he may see." Then the LORD opened the servant's eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.” (2 Kings 6:17). What this suggests is that when God instructed Israel to fight it would be a twofold army – human and angelic, but the important issue, Joshua, is that you are not the boss! God is, and this is his representative who has come to oversee the coming conflict against Jericho . There are those who suggest that the vibration of the army marching around Jericho was what brought down Jericho 's walls, but the presence of the Lord's army commander suggests it was the angelic host doing what Joshua's army could not do.

But there is another important element to this man's response. It comes in the one word, “Neither.” i.e. I'm not here on your behalf or the enemy's behalf. Hold on, aren't you here on our behalf? No, you don't understand; you're here on God's behalf. Yes, you are going to have this as your land but this is God's plan and without Him you can't do anything meaningful and the glory is going to be all His. You are serving Him not Him serving you. So no, I'm not here on your behalf; you're here on my behalf, let's just get that straight.

And Joshua understands and he falls down in reverence of the One from heaven. It doesn't matter whether this is an angel or a theophany (human representation of God), this is the presence of God come down from heaven so, “The commander of the LORD's army replied, "Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy." And Joshua did so.” (Josh 4:15 ). When God comes, the place is made holy because God (or His representative from heaven) is holy. Respect that, honour him, worship and bow down before heaven's presence.

This is all about getting a right perspective on life.

If God calls you to service, He will guide you and equip you and empower you. He is the One who is working out His plan and He is the one who will give you the strength you need (see Phil 2:13 & 4:13 ). We are not here to glorify ourselves but to glorify Him. Being faced with a battle with the enemy confronting you? Remember, the battle is the Lord's. Let Him direct it, equip and empower you with His grace. We're part of His army, not Him part of ours!






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Series Theme: Meditations on the Theme "God turns up"

Meditation No. 7

Meditation Title: To Gideon


Judg 6:11,12 The angel of the LORD came and sat down under the oak in Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, where his son Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites. When the angel of the LORD appeared to Gideon, he said, "The LORD is with you, mighty warrior."


There are, I think, three sorts of people: the people who live in the past, the people who struggle in the present, and the people who live for the future. The people who live in the past tend to be those for whom the past has been painful and the pain or even, perhaps, the guilt of the past blights the present. They just cannot seem to let go the past. A good dose of amnesia might help! Some people live in the past because it was better than the present and they have difficulty letting go the past and living in the present. The people who struggle in the present tend to almost be overwhelmed by the problems of life in this fallen world. Every day is hard graft. The people who live for the future have caught a vision and are going for it. It is probably true that some of us have elements of past, present and future motivating us. Gideon was a past and present person and God was just about to make him a future person.

When we first encounter Gideon he is definitely a present person. He's threshing wheat in a winepress. Now normally you tread grapes in a wine press; it is a hollowed out area where you collect juice. A threshing floor was an open place where the husks could be blown away. The reason Gideon wasn't threshing his wheat in the open was because the country kept getting invaded by Midianites. It was one of those down times for the nation that are recorded in Judges, when the people had turned from God and so He had stepped back and let them be disciplined by enemy invaders. When they cried out, the Lord raised up a new leader-deliverer.

In response to the angel, Gideon shows he is also a past-person: But sir," Gideon replied, "if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our fathers told us about when they said, `Did not the LORD bring us up out of Egypt ?' But now the LORD has abandoned us and put us into the hand of Midian.” (Judg 6:13). The trouble about looking back to the past is that so often we forget bits of it and only have a distorted view of it. Gideon knows that in the past the Lord did great things for Israel, which makes the present seem even worse.

It is good to remember what God has done in the past if we use it to generate faith for today but the feeling Gideon was left with was, the Lord has abandoned us. Hold on Gideon, that's only half the picture. If you knew all your history you would know that God had spoken of blessings and curses for Israel (Deut 28), the former following obedience and the latter following disobedience, and it's easy to move from one to the other.

But we haven't yet picked up on a most crucial thing, the angel's description of Gideon: "The LORD is with you, mighty warrior." Hold on, there must be a mistake; I'm not a warrior, let along a mighty one! No, but you are going to be. Ah, there's that future dimension which only the Lord tends to see. We just see ourselves in the light of our past failures and present struggles but the Lord sees what He can do with us, and in Gideon's case He can take this cowering, fearful individual and turn him into a mighty warrior.

Gideon is going to take some convincing of this. “The LORD turned to him and said, "Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian's hand. Am I not sending you?” (v.14) What is the Lord saying? Go with the strength you have? “But Lord," Gideon asked, "how can I save Israel ? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family." (v.15) But I haven't got any strength? No, but you will have as soon as you start doing what I tell you because I will equip you. That is what is implied behind the words, “Am I not sending you?” i.e. if I send you I'll give you everything you need to do the job. It's not a case of what you have now, but what the Lord will give you as you get on what He's given you to do. Yes, it's all in the future and so, yes, that's what faith is about – getting on and doing what He said in the confidence that those the Lord calls, He equips.

Surely this is what is behind every first encounter with the Lord. He comes to a nobody but He sees that He can make this person a somebody. The Lord knows the future and He knows what He can achieve given the human He has before Him. Moses might have argued and argued why he wasn't up to it, but he did end up actually doing it. Abram might have tripped over his feet half a dozen times, but he got there in the end. Jacob might have been a twister for a long way along the path, but he got to the place of faith in the end. Joseph might have completely misunderstood the message, but God's plan got him there in the end. So if you're in hiding from the enemy, it may be time to come out and have an encounter with God – if you want Him to use you that is! You may not think it, but He can get you ‘there' in the end!







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Series Theme: Meditations on the Theme "God turns up"

Meditation No. 8

Meditation Title: To Samuel


1 Sam 3:4-6 Then the LORD called Samuel. Samuel answered, "Here I am." And he ran to Eli and said, "Here I am; you called me." But Eli said, "I did not call; go back and lie down." So he went and lay down. Again the LORD called, "Samuel!" And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, "Here I am; you called me."


Over the years I have come to a conclusion. I'm not sure I can prove it from Scripture (I suppose I've never tried to), but it very simply is that God talks to everyone. I'm sure the Lord speaks to everyone on earth. Now it's very obvious listening to people that the vast majority would say that they never hear from God; they just aren't aware of Him speaking – and this includes Christians too! But one of the things that comes over loud and clear in the Bible – and we've seen it in these studies – is that God is a communicator; He is constantly making contact with individuals and speaking to them. I'm sure many of us hear things in our thoughts but shrug them off or reject them, yet in eternity we will find it was the Lord.

Samuel's is a unique start – I suppose each of them we've considered is really – but this one stands out in its strangeness. The Lord seems to call out loud to Samuel (or at least he thinks it is out loud – it may just be in his mind). Samuel is so sure he's heard a voice he gets up and goes to Eli who is the chief priest who he works for. Samuel is only a young person and so when Eli calls, he goes – except it is not Eli. For the first couple of times Eli doesn't realise what is going on. It is only after the third call that Eli realises that Samuel isn't just dreaming but must be hearing from the Lord.

Now the description of Samuel is interesting : “Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD: The word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him.” (v.7) In other words Samuel did not yet have a relationship with the Lord and did not realise that God speaks and, even more, had not yet learnt to discern the Lord's voice. As we said, it is only after the third call that Eli realises what is going on: “Then Eli realized that the LORD was calling the boy. So Eli told Samuel, "Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, `Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.” (v.8,9)

So what has Eli told him to do? He told him to stay where he is when he hears the voice again, to reply to the voice and then stay still and listen. I think those three things are good guidance.

If you think you might be hearing the Lord, first of all stay where you are. Many people who do hear the Lord immediately jump into action or even more, they focus more on the wonder of God speaking than what He actually said. I know this is something that I have struggled with over the years. When God turns up we get all excited and our minds start running ahead and we lose the rest of what He is trying to say.

Now the second thing is to reply to the Lord. I think this is important too. It is a sign of your acknowledgment of the Lord and a sign that you are positively going to listen to what He has to say. It is a faith statement. I can look back on one or two very memorable conversations with the Lord, but a conversation is a backwards and forwards speaking, first one person, then the other, then the first person and so on. But for a conversation to ensue you need to acknowledge the first words. As I said, it's a faith issue.

Now the third thing is to stay still and listen. This is perhaps the hardest. You've had the initial excitement of sensing the Lord speaking and then you've responded. But what we said in the first response is equally true here for I find that I have a mind that can suddenly get full of junk and go off at tangents, and before I know it a number of minutes have passed and I haven't heard a thing from the Lord. At that point I apologise to the Lord and sit quietly and He graciously starts again. This is a real experience but because of the nature of the lives we live, so full of voices and information, I believe it is a very difficult experience and one we need to discipline ourselves in.

I have also noticed that I have a tendency to interrupt the Lord. He speaks and I join in. What I mean is that I cut across Him and I have to apologise. He graciously reaffirms His love for me and tells me He will not give up on me. This is a major learning experience and I am the learner. I have been learning to listen to God for probably over thirty five years and the only thing I can tell you is that I am obtuse and a slow learner – but still God loves me and still God keep speaking – just like He did with Samuel. He doesn't give up when He sees our slowness to hear, our slowness to pay attention, our slowness to learn. No, He loves us and understands us and one of the things the story of Samuel tells us is that He will keep on speaking until we hear.

But then I hear you saying, but not everyone does hear. Yes, I agree. I believe He does speak again and again to everyone so no one will face Him in heaven and be able to say we didn't know. But there are some that I believe the Lord knows will never heed and so He gives up speaking (I may be wrong), but with others He knows that if He keeps on speaking we will eventually hear. I am sure, when I look back, that the Lord was speaking to me long before I came to Him. That's how I eventually came to Him. He spoke to me and stirred a hunger in me and then drew me and saved me. Isn't He wonderful!








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Series Theme: Meditations on the Theme "God turns up"

Meditation No. 9

Meditation Title: To David


1 Sam 16:1,12 The LORD said to Samuel, "How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel ? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem . I have chosen one of his sons to be king." …. So he sent and had him brought in. He was ruddy, with a fine appearance and handsome features. Then the LORD said, "Rise and anoint him; he is the one.”


Sometimes life just carries on. The soap operas on TV convey it well, if only they didn't focus on the seamy side of life. But life does just carry on. We are part of a family, we have a job or part to play in life and life just carries on without anything special happening. And then God turns up and everything is changed.

It must have been like that for David. He was the youngest of a big family and his job was to look after his father's sheep. From things that happen later, there is a sense that he's been doing it for some time. Again from things that occur later it seems that perhaps he wasn't the only one looking after the sheep and so perhaps they took it in turns and now, at the moment we break in to the story, it's his turn.

The first anyone has any inkling that today is going to be a different day is when the present judge and seer, Samuel, turns up. He's quite an old man now but everyone has at least heard of him so when he arrives in Bethlehem and seeks out the elders of the town and reveals who he is, there is great consternation. Why should the judge turn up here? Have we done something wrong? No, it's all right, I've come to hold a solemn sacrifice here. Oh, right, it's the religious thing.

Now whether Jesse was one of the town elders who he just happened to be there is unclear but old Samuel picks on him and sets him apart to take part in the ritual (that's what consecrate means): Samuel replied, "Yes, in peace; I have come to sacrifice to the LORD. Consecrate yourselves and come to the sacrifice with me." Then he consecrated Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.” (v.5). Yes, not only that, he tells Jesse (I'm supposing) that he'll give his sons the privilege of being part of it and so will set them apart to take part in ‘the service' as well – if you'll just get them all here please.

Which is why it comes about that Jesse lines up all the sons before Samuel, for him to do whatever judge-seers do to set people apart to serve God. So the old prophet carries out a parade ground inspection. “When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, "Surely the LORD's anointed stands here before the LORD.” (v.6) He looked good. A big guy who looks like he could take over the leadership, but the Lord has other ideas and we find Him making a most important declaration: “But the LORD said to Samuel, "Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” (v.7)

Oooops! OK, so this isn't the right one. He moves down the line and doesn't get the go ahead from the Lord to do anything. He gets to the end of the line. There must e a mistake, for the Lord hasn't approved any of them. He pauses and thinks and then turns to Jesse. There can only be one other possibility: “So he asked Jesse, "Are these all the sons you have?" (v.11)

Jesse reveals that he's got one more, the youngest who is out looking after the sheep, so they send for him and thus we meet David for the first time, and Samuel promptly pours oil all over his head. Wow! What's this? What is happening? Think! This is what priests did of old when they anointed a new priest. Is that what is happening here? Is David a new priest – or what? And we are told, “from that day on the Spirit of the LORD came upon David in power.” (v.13) That's it, end of story! Well for the time being at least. The old prophet departs and all the brothers look at David and wonder, but that's all that is said. It all seems a bit open ended and unclear and we have to wait for the unfolding of events before it gets any clearer.

Yes, given the passing of time it is clear that God had anointed David to be king but it would be some years before Saul is killed and the way is open for David to step up to the plate. In the meantime there are a load of odd things that are going to happen to him but he's never the same since God turned up.

This account tells us that sometimes when the Lord turns up He doesn't make it abundantly clear what He is saying and why He's saying it. Yes, from the outset of chapter 16, Samuel is told what is happening but basically he's keeping it quiet in case Saul hears and comes and kills them all! In the meantime, there's a new kid on the spiritual block, who's been anointed by the prophet and only time will tell why.

When God first turns up and draws us to Himself and we are saved, it is rare that He explains what He's got on his heart for us and when He does share things they're not always terribly clear. Yet Paul, speaking of our lives says, “we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10) Oh yes, God knows what he can do with us, so He's got a whole agenda lined up for us. He'll drop hints along the way, but that is probably all you're going to get. We're just called to be faithful and He'll do the rest as we walk it out with Him, so don't be put off by the fact that you aren't very clear about where it is that God is taking you – He knows!