|Series Theme: Reaching into Redemption|
PART SEVEN: In Defence of the Faith
Reaching into Redemption Meditations:
Ex 15:13 In your unfailing love you will lead the people you have redeemed. In your strength you will guide them to your holy dwelling.
Questions: Forty-eight studies so far on ‘redemption'. Is it that important? Is it that significant? Have I wasted the last month and a half writing about something that is just a mere spiritual principle confined to the pages of an outdated book of myths, only believed by a bunch of people living in the dark ages of superstition? Is it just something for theologians living in their ivory towers of irrelevant academia that is high and lofty and divorced from the reality of us ordinary people living out our real lives in this ultra-sophisticated, this hyper-technological world of wonder and provision? Really, what is redemption all about?
The Fundamental Answer: The verse above comes from a song sung by Israel after they have been delivered out of Egypt and out of Pharaoh's hands. It had been an amazing time and so now they write and sing this song of triumph, summed up in the verse above – God has redeemed us, God has delivered us, and God has got a place for us to get to. And that is what the heart of ‘redemption' is all about; it is about the reality of having been in a bad place and God intervening to bring us out of that bad place and take us to a new good place. And that new good place is here and now, AND it is also about tomorrow, an eternal future with Him.
The Significance of the Answer: Hopefully as we have worked our way through this long series, you will have seen the reality of this, how God works in our individual lives to keep us on track for eternity with Him. In the ‘big picture' nothing is more important than this. Without it we have no present purpose (than to survive) and no hope for the future (death equals a meaningless end, so why bother to do meaningful things, caring things, heroic things even?) This is the reality here, that all you and I as Christians are experiencing is part of the ongoing process of God to put a real meaning into the present and generate a hope for the eternal future. That hope for the eternal future helps bolster up and support the meaning of the present; we are working towards a very real something.
Our Part in it: Now everything in that immediate paragraph above, is really all about God, His working to deliver us, His working to keep us, and His working into eternity. But the other very significant side of the coin, is that His outcomes in us do depend on our responses. Yes, the person who is indifferent, the person who rejects God's will, the person who is just self-focused, will not be experiencing the present as a wonder from God, it will not hold gems of glory as heaven breaks in to the mundane, it will not come alive with purpose, meaning and power from above.
The whole deliverance out of the past is dependent on our responding to the convicting work of the Holy Spirit, so that we bow in repentance and submission to the Lord for Him to completely redirect and empower our lives. And once that initial deliverance has taken place, our progress, our growth, will be determined in measure by how we respond to His ongoing leading and guidance. How many are born again and then almost come to a standstill or crawl at snail's pace through life, knowing little of the wonder of His presence, His power, His purposes being revealed and entered into? It is only as we sense this, or learn this, that we can fully enter into it – and even then, it will never be a perfect involvement on our part – and experience the wonder of the ongoing work of God in our lives. That is what this has been all about.
The mechanics of redemption: The nuts and bolts of this thing start, we said, with our recognition and acceptance of our guilt and failure; that is not to make us feel bad but to enable us to open our hearts to Him for Him to do His work of cleansing and forgiveness in us, and then impart His Holy Spirit into our lives. That, we have seen again and again in the earlier studies. But that was only the start. Then there is the process of getting the old world out of us and releasing faith in us to live in the wonder of the kingdom of God, here and now, even before we enter into the wonder of life with Him in eternity.
The process involves God intervening in our lives to bring correction and fresh direction and fresh enabling – we call that discipline. The process also involves facing the new challenges that come along as life changes, as societies and cultures change, and as we learn to face the truth of the word of God and measure these life changes against it. We have sought to do that in small measure with limited considerations of the transgender issues that are rising in the world today, in the changes in modern family structures and the breakdown of traditional relationships and the ensuing frailty, weaknesses and pains of the modern alternatives that twenty-first century western man is struggling with.
The Challenges to Belief: Whenever there have been major cultural changes, they always bring a challenge to the Church, a challenge to understand our faith in the light of such changes. ‘Future Shock' was a book written in 1970, I believe it was, by futurologist Alvin Toffler, possibly the first of a genre that has become common today, that seek to identify the changes going on around us and then seek to predict where they will take us. Essentially, ‘future shock' was the struggle to cope with the future arriving now. Since that time, now approaching fifty years ago (!!!), changes in technology and outlook and lifestyles, in the West at least, have continued to multiply exponentially.
The result is that, not only has the world changed dramatically in the past fifty years, struggling to cope with the ongoing changes all the time, actually undermine our sense of reality. In some quarters ‘truth' and ‘reality' are said to be illusions. With this sort of thinking, my questions at the beginning are truly pertinent - are we talking about ‘a mere spiritual principle confined to the pages of an outdated book of myths, only believed by a bunch of people living in the dark ages of superstition? Is it just something for theologians living in their ivory towers of irrelevant academia that is high and lofty and divorced from the reality of us ordinary people living out our real lives in this ultra-sophisticated, this hyper-technological world of wonder and provision?'
Drowning: As I have prayed and thought about this, I believe modern man – including Christians – are drowning in these changes. That is the picture I want to hold on to in the next few studies. These changes challenge you and me and threaten to undermine our faith, our well-established and well-founded beliefs, not on any logical grounds but more like a fog that comes down and envelops us and makes us lose sight of reality. So, I realise I have just used two analogies, but I believe they do convey a little of what is going on in this fast-changing world in which we all live.
But the thing about this drowning analogy, is that it pictures a person floundering in an environment – water – and not coping. The thing about water is that you can learn to swim in it, surf on it or sail on it, and all are pleasurable things. I believe that many of these changes (not all as we will go on to see) are potentially good, but we have to learn to use them wisely, and see them in the light of the reality that this series has been emphasizing. There is no conflict between this series or these changes – except where we allow confusion to overwhelm and drown us.
Drowning means death and death in this context means the loss of reality, the loss of meaning, and the loss of a spiritual dimension which is essential to understand and fully experience reality. That is what is at stake here. So, I thought this present study was drawing near to the end, but we have some more to go, as we seek to put all this in the context, even more than we have been doing, of this modern constantly changing world. Stay with me. Keep the words of the song before you: “ In your unfailing love you will lead the people you have redeemed. In your strength you will guide them to your holy dwelling.” That ‘holy dwelling' is not a physical building, but a life with the living God, both now and in eternity.
Reaching into Redemption Meditations:
50. Drowning in Materialism (1)
Deut 6:10-12 When the Lord your God brings you into the land ….a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant—then when you eat and are satisfied, be careful that you do not forget the Lord , who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
Refocus: We have a bird-spotting telescope; my wife is an avid bird-watcher. Much of the time it is focused on several bird feeders some way down our garden but every now and then she spots movement across the other side of the garden, perhaps a little further away, and the telescope is swivelled round but then has to be refocused. We have been focusing on this subject of ongoing redemption, first in the lives of individuals, then in the life of Israel, and then as it must apply to different, difficult practical questions of modern life relationships. I concluded yesterday with the assertion that I believe many of us are drowning in a number of things that confront us today as never before. This is a day of unparalleled provision and prosperity and indeed peace (as far as wars go), a day of technological revolution like the world has never seen before. Part of that is the communications and cyber revolutions of which people of a hundred years ago would never have dreamt. In the midst of these changes the very way we think is being challenged and changed and so for the Christian with our minds focused regularly on the Bible, in ‘church' and so on, it is a challenge to see how our ‘faith' fits within this new world.
What is Materialism? On the Internet we find, two basic definitions of materialism:
First, “ a tendency to consider material possessions and physical comfort as more important than spiritual values” and then,
second, “the theory or belief that nothing exists except matter and its movements and modifications.”
We'll take those two in order but will only have space to cover the first one in this study. It is necessary to examine something of the nature of modern life in the West, before we can go on to apply the spiritual medicine, so bear with me.
Material possessions and physical comfort before spiritual values: What a neat description of the outlook of the majority of inhabitants of the West. Let's try and be honest about this. How much time do most of us Christians give to ‘spiritual matters' each week? How many minutes do we spend in prayer, or reading or studying the Bible, or in ‘church activities'? The importance we give to these things is revealed in the time we give to them. This is not to say that we should be filling our lives with them, because there is a life to lead, work to be done and so on, but looking at how much we value these things is a good starting point.
Possession Orientated: The wonderful truth is (and it is a good thing) that we live in a time when we, in the West at least – and it is not true across the rest of the world (and we need to keep that in mind and think about those not so well off as us) – have more possessions than we've ever had before. IKEA is a worldwide company with over 400 stores or warehouses, who epitomizes the cultural change in possessions with their ready-to-assemble furniture, kitchen appliances and home accessories. Essentially if you can think of it in your home, they've got it in the warehouse, somewhere. Indeed many people use their catalogue to get new ideas of what to do with their home. It is an ever-expanding world and house styles, and home interiors are always changing and, we are told, the modern person spends far more on their home, garden or back yard than ever before.
The Complexity of Modern Materialism: And this is just basic domestic usage; we haven't gone anywhere near sound systems, video systems, electronic security, and not to mention the ever invading ‘Alexa'-type of sound control systems for the modern home. This also doesn't cover cars, new, second-hand and classic, boats and even planes that modern affluent man so often has. If you don't fit the ‘affluent' bracket, you are probably just an envious onlooker, and because the range of manufactured ‘possessions' gets ever greater as every day passes, so inevitably the gap grows greater between the ‘haves' and the have-nots', and often, it seems it is a generational thing; the older generation may have ‘gadgets' while the younger generation has technology ‘lifestyles'.
The opportunities to make or earn more money is again, I believe, greater today than ever before as the world of software ever blossoms, whether it is in computer games or in artificial intelligence. In the UK at the present time, 80% of GDP (major economic measuring stick for a nation) is in ‘service provision', not manufacturing. It is a sign of moving ‘beyond goods' which for the UK, for example, mostly come from cheap imports. But knowledge and information is power and money, they say. So merely because you cannot touch it, don't rule out of the material equation so much that goes on, on cell-phone screens, iPad or other hand-held devices, or that which goes into running the modern technology that is running so many modern Western lives.
Materialism by Travel: The definition above included the word ‘comfort' but that underplays the reality of modern life dramatically. If to comfort we can add pleasure, experience, leisure activities, travel, etc. etc. we maybe start to build a more accurate picture of modern life for many. One of the things I do these days is run a small group called ‘Nostalgia', the purpose of which is twofold: first to build friendships and invite outsiders into the church complex and, second, to strengthen and build fading memory activity in the elderly. Friendship and worries about loss of memory are two of the key things that worry the older generation. We meet every two weeks for an hour and half, drink tea or coffee, talk and stir memory. The group has about a dozen or so members, ranging in age from 67 to 95. Now one of the things that has shocked me is how much this group of mostly single, aged, ordinary people have travelled. It is a sign of our affluence that this is possible. Every single member of this group – who are not especially affluent – has travelled abroad considerably in the past, and many still do with destinations such as Australia and New Zealand, (and of course the States and Canada) as well as European cities, featuring regularly. This is the modern world and I will avoid getting into the world of cruises which is also big business in this generation. But these are expressions of modern materialism.
In Perspective: Now here is my point at this stage of our series. Using the analogy I shared yesterday, I suggested that we d rown in water – or we learn to swim, surf, or sail. Applying this I would say I believe all the modern things I have mentioned above are part of God's plan for His world. I believe He is the one who inspires inventors and researchers (although I am certain they are 99% ignorant of that fact) and although we do not develop or use many things wisely, I believe it is God's intentions – in the light of the way He has designed us – to give us pleasure in this material world. The five senses – seeing, hearing, tasting, touching and smell – are clear indicators that God has designed us to experience pleasure. Sexual pleasure is another similar indicator. When we think of ourselves as being made ‘in the image of God' (see Gen 1:27) we start to think about the abilities He gave us, to communicate, think, plan, reason, invent, create, design, write, compose, and work, and the modern world that we have been considering is the fruit of all of that.
BUT!!!! Here we must come back to our starter verses which were a warning to Israel, that once they entered into the Promised Land they should not forget how they got there – God! This will take us into the second part of the definition and we will cover that tomorrow. For now there comes this incredibly strong warning which the apostle Paul echoed in his own warning in Romans 1:20-22 “ For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images.” I stop it there because our ‘images' (anything we tend to worship) are different from theirs. We are far more sophisticated and essentially worship our cell phones, our iPads and all the rest of it, and we know we do that if we push God out to the periphery of life as we focus our lives on these ‘toys'.
Redemption! This that we have been considering all these weeks, is at the heart of the truth about life and none of the things mentioned in this study change that. Many today are like little children playing with their brand news toys at Christmas, getting so excited by these ‘new things' that we forget who is behind them all and we fail to worship Him. Hear it loud and clear, these things are good in themselves but if they distract you from God, if they come down and envelop your mind like a fog, they will be the cause of you losing touch with reality – and you will drown. If you like, all these things we've been considering are like the things inside your living place that are enjoyable and make life more pleasurable, but PLEASE NOTE they are not you and your unique existence, they are the things going on around you, but you, the person, are consciously or unwittingly interacting with God and He is working to bring changes to you.
Yes, the things, the ‘toys', will change how you feel, but they are not to be the main determinants as to the sort of person you are. That is to come through your relationship with Him. Paul, in 1 Cor 3:9-17, spoke about building the church, and building people, and the end result can be either a cardboard imitation or the real thing, the reality of which is shown in the trials of life which will destroy the carboard imitation life. If all we have is a cardboard replica of a real life, it will not last. Jesus said the same thing in his parable of the two house-builders (see Mt 7) and it is a warning we should take seriously as we consider these things.
Reaching into Redemption Meditations:
51. Drowning in Materialism (2)
Gen 1:1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth
Recap: Yesterday we observed two definitions of materialism and we thought about the first one, encompassed in the abbreviated form: “Material possessions and physical comfort as more important than spiritual values.” The second definition is more a philosophical one: “the theory or belief that nothing exists except matter and its movements and modifications.” To remind ourselves why we are even thinking about these things, we have to go back to a comment that I made, that I believe modern man is drowning in a variety of things in modern life, and for the Christian these things have the potential of undermining our belief systems and no more so than in this subject of ongoing redemption.
Pondering the basics of life and living: I am sitting at a keyboard. I feel the keys and the mouse. I am observing the words appearing on a screen. If I lived five hundred years ago I could consider this is magic. Today I understand a little about electrical currents and what goes into computer software and hardware. In a while I will go into the kitchen, turn on a tap and water will flow; I will fill and turn on a kettle and not be surprised when it starts making a noise and gets hot. Everything about my modern life is about reacting to and responding to material objects and yet, much of it is unseen. I understand that ‘electricity' is in fact just a form of energy resulting from the existence of charged particles, electrons and protons. There is no marvel about that today although there would have been two hundred years ago. We have to thank Einstein's E=MC 2 for linking mass and energy, and energy is the stuff we cannot see but can experience. We even take this idea of ‘energy' for granted – “ power derived from the utilization of physical or chemical resources, especially to provide light and heat or to work machines”. It is all part of the ‘material world' and as such these are the nuts and bolts of modern science.
Modern Science: Science is founded on the ‘scientific method', an empirical method of knowledge acquisition. Now ‘empirical evidence', “also known as sensory experience , is the information received by means of the senses , particularly by observation and documentation of patterns and behaviour through experimentation.” (Isn't the Internet a wonderful thing!) So we have a material world and we investigate that material world – to find out how it works and what we can do with it – through the senses that we ‘material beings' have.
Limitations and Questions: And that is as far as science can go and so we don't need to be defensive when scientists in laboratories say, ‘we cannot see signs of a spiritual world'. At that point we need to gently smile and ask, “Have you got good and meaningful reasons everything works as it does, why we actually exist – and please don't just give me a ‘mechanical' answer because everything in me and in millions of other people, if not most people, feel there is more to existence that mere physical existence?” You see, a rock has no ‘meaning', it just exists. We can possibly explain the scientific process how it came to be a rock and ultimately it all goes back to ‘particles' (no longer mere atoms and molecules of my school days) but there we hit the biggest mystery of all when we come to the so-called' “Big Bang”.
Francis Schaeffer, a Christian philosopher in the middle of the twentieth century, said and did some memorable things. One of the most helpful here was his concept of ‘nothing-nothing', the thought of there being absolutely nothing, no vacuum, no energy, nothing! When we speak of nothing scientists usually dig themselves an escape tunnel by speaking about energy, but the existence of ‘energy' explains nothing. Imagine the total absence of anything, and remember one of the things science used to say is that you cannot get something from absolutely nothing. Even IF you could explain the big-bang, you cannot explain what was before it that explained why it happened. If some scientific philosopher (and science and philosophy have joined hands in recent decades) postulates a theory (because it is all theory) that somehow energy could come from nowhere, they would be flying in the face of logical science. If he postulates how energy came into being, it would have to be from ‘something'. Our minds cannot cope with nothing-nothing and something coming.
Living with the scientific environment: So yes, we have this material world and we have this approach to measuring it that we call science. No problem. The problem comes when we say (as atheists do) that this is all there is. The interesting fact is that many top world-class scientists are Christians and don't see a conflict, for ultimately they believe there is more than ‘just' a materialistic world. But when your son or daughter sits in a schoolroom, or a room in college or university, their teacher is operating on one level and the odds are that they will insist that that is the only level, materialism is all there is, but in doing that they reveal their ignorance of the amazing diversity of evidence to the existence of a spiritual dimension to life.
Now without doubt, we in the West live in a high state of awareness of science and of technology (science applied), an environment if you like unlike anything any previous generation has experienced. Because of that, perhaps, many people struggle to cope with the voices that are raised to explain it, the most obvious being, “There is nothing apart from the material world, we can explain it all and there is no need for a God.” No, all you are doing is explaining how God has made things to work. The worrying element is not this, but how we apply this knowledge and what we will do with it. (Non-Christian) Minds far greater than mine are, for example, giving warnings that the advances of artificial intelligence and robotics may well create a Matrix (see the film trilogy) scenario that will spell out the death of humanity.
History and Belief: But let's get back to basics again. Historians (and most of the rest of us sane people) believe there was last century a war we refer to as World War Two. Many people alive today still remember it. No question. Choose any accepted historical event of say two hundred or five hundred or two thousand years ago, and historians build up a picture of what happened then by the evidence that has been found and the sequence of events that flowed from it to bring us up to the present. Historians argue and change their minds about various aspects of history but essentially it is all about playing with whatever evidence is available. Today, for example, there are very few scholars (history specialists) who deny the existence of Jesus Christ two thousand years ago. Our beliefs about our past and who we are today are predicated on the evidence we have about historical events and that is as true about the Christian faith as it is about anything else. It's all about evidence, past and present.
A Fundamental Starting Point: Now strangely our presuppositions (another thing Francis Schaeffer majored on) are key. You either begin from a starting point that you believe there can be a God, or you start by saying there can't. We might also add, you may say there is a God, but He doesn't involve Himself in this world, or He does. This was foundational to the confusion caused by so-called scholars at the end of the nineteenth and into the twentieth century who approached the Bible from more of a materialistic standpoint and so denied that prophecy could exist, denied that God could speak to people, denied that miracles could happen, and therefore challenged and wrote off much of what they found in the Bible. It took many decades for greater scholarship in the church to realise that this was a faith battle not a scholarly battle. If you believe the Bible as a complete package, it makes total sense and that sense can be applied into everyday life. Take away a God who communicates, a God who can act powerfully into this world, and the content of the Bible doesn't merely not make sense, it is an absolutely bizarre series of stories that can neither have meaning nor credibility. Start, with our header verse today, with “ In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen 1:1) and we have a completely different ball-game!
A Logical Outworking: If that statement is true, then the logical outworking of that is that this God must be all-powerful (able to do anything) and all-wise (knows everything and knows how everything works – knows every bit of knowledge before the scientist finds out about it) and is good (the world itself is fundamentally a good place if you don't settle next to low coastal plains or volcanic areas - but that is ignoring the facts of the Fall and a perfect world beforehand). The uniformity of the Bible is a compelling piece of evidence; it is not full of contradictions and with at least 42 different writers of 66 books the uniformity of its claims about God are amazing, but you will only see that if you have eyes willing to look with an open mind – and you understand the place of ‘science' in this world – AND don't listen to those who are tunnel visioned and refuse to study more widely than their career specialism area.
If you want to criticize God, the Bible, the Christian faith, you can in reality only do it out of ignorance. If we let such voices pour at us without ourselves becoming learners in these things, then it is not surprising that some are showing signs of drowning, showing signs of abandoning their faith and losing a spiritual vitality in their lives. It is not because the faith is found wanting, it is because those individuals are found wanting, and there can be no excuses. When we speak of ongoing redemption as we have in this series, it must be surely, that part of His ongoing working in us is to teach us to see with a clearer perspective, so we have a broad canvas of understanding of science – and its limitations – and a broad spectrum of understanding of our beliefs as Christians that holds material and spiritual in true balance – as God has made it to be.
Reaching into Redemption Meditations:
52. Drowning in Unreality
Ex 20:22,23 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites this: ‘You have seen for yourselves that I have spoken to you from heaven: Do not make any gods to be alongside me
Unreal gods: A problem that constantly seemed to face Israel was that of idol worship, which was forbidden by the Lord – yet all the surrounding nations worshipped idols. So why did God forbid it and why is it relevant here? The answer to both questions is that worshiping idols is worshipping something that is unreal. The truth is that ‘gods' don't exist, the gods of Athens or Rome that we learn about in history are figments of human imagination, made in the image of fallen human beings. The gods of the nations surrounding Israel were expressions of superstition, unreal, make-believe. Don't worship what is unreal is the message from heaven.
Facing Unreality: So what does our heading today mean, this ‘drowning in unreality'? It means there is a way of thinking today that is quite unreal and its very presence undermines the way Christians think and opens them up, if not to giving way to temptation, certainly to tolerating a lifestyle and failing to speak into the folly of the ways of the world. So what is the unreality that I am speaking about? It is that portrayed in films, TV ‘soaps' and videos. There is also the unreality of ‘computer games'. I have mentioned temptation and toleration as two outworkings of this unreality (and I will go on to explain more in a moment) but within that there are two things to be observed. First, the behaviour is unreal and second, the very culture that we are looking at challenges biblical norms.
Considering ‘Soaps' & ‘Sitcoms': I hope you are familiar with the terms. Soaps are defined on the internet as follows, “ A soap opera is an ongoing drama serial on television or radio, featuring the lives of many characters and their emotional relationships .” A Sitcom is simply a ‘situation comedy' based on a fixed group of characters. The reason they are so pernicious is that they appear every week on TV. The ‘sitcom' genre usually has a very much lighter feel to them and although infidelity is dealt with, it is in much more light-hearted way. Perhaps that makes it more acceptable.
Two Case Studies: Historically there have been two leading influential series, clearly aimed at the younger generation. The first was ‘ Friends' which ran from September 1994 to May 2004 (10 series) and the group being followed were described as, “not above sticking their noses into one another's businesses and swapping romantic partners, which always leads to the kind of hilarity average people will never e xperience - especially during breakups.” That softening comment does nothing to undermine the culture that is conveyed which I will define in a moment. The second is the ‘ Big Bang Theory' , running from September 2007 and currently to series 11 in 2018.
The Culture: There are certain characteristics that are common to both of these long-running series: a) they are very funny, b) sex has a high profile and is portrayed as normal among young people, c) sex is distinct from committed relationship and indeed both series show the horror that is experienced when one member of a couple uses the words, ‘I love you', being seen as words of commitment for which neither of them are clearly ready, d) both series had an almost cult following, especially among the younger generations. Neither series deals with inconveniences such as STD's, unwanted pregnancies, abortions etc. Sex is problem free.
The deceptions: I would suggest (at the risk of being called a kill-joy by the younger generation) the following follies of this culture:
i) Sex is reduced to a simple pleasure with no unpalatable outworkings (see my last comment above; these ‘inconveniences' do in fact have a substantial negative impact on modern society).
ii) As sex is separated from love and a committed lasting relationship, such a relationship has clearly become a difficult thing to acquire and the fruit of this is clearly observed in the trials and tribulations of the younger generations, many of whom now despair of the possibility of any lasting, loving, long-term relationship, especially with the ease of divorce in modern western societies being as it is.
iii) Sex is portrayed as easy, and always enjoyable and instantly on demand, and having no negative impact on the relationship, whereas surveys indicate a) many women confess that very often sexual experience is not pleasurable but they have to do it because that is what is done, and it wins affection from the male (both untruths), and b) the realities of tiredness, monthly periods (often suppressed by the pill), feeling unwell etc. etc. mean that one or other partner, in reality, aren't feeling like it.
iv) Sex is designed (by God and many psychologists would agree) to be just one strand of a growing relationship, friendship, growing trust and sense of security being others. Putting sex before the others (or even using it as a one-night stand) means that the likelihood of a long-term relationship developing is reduced, as is the possibility of creating a family.
v) Despite all the talk of ‘prevention', a surprising number of (therefore) unwanted pregnancies take place, creating either the single parent syndrome (with its negatives), or a forced ‘marriage', or a cohabiting partnership which, by its very nature, has an unstable foundation and often results in the man leaving and we are back to the single-parent syndrome again. There is also the matter of abortions often taken as the norm in this culture.
And in Church? We are often very good at accepting single mothers into the church community but in so-doing we are loath to make negative corrective comments and so our own young people see this as normal for society. It should not be; there are too many negative sides to this for both the mother and certainly the fatherless children. What I observe is an almost casual attitude to these things growing in the church. If we allow this to continue we will be helping the world in undermining the value and benefits of a committed life-long relationship, and of the family unit being a foundation for a safe and secure environment in which children can be raised. Society is very slow to link the growing number of child behavioural problems with family breakdown. If we were honest about these things, our communities would be transformed. We need to talk these things in depth within our church communities, recognising the unreality ethos we are battling against and carefully revealing the good of God's design.
Standards generally: So far, we have talked about the ethos to be countered, and the very folly of the lifestyle, in respect of sex and modern relationships, but I think we should be honestly aware of the impact of various other things coming out of Hollywood. In the US, (not the UK) I have observed many times an inconsistency in believers' attitudes to certain films. Because C.S.Lewis appears to have such a following in the US, Narnia films and then the Lord of the Rings films and subsequently the Hobbit films are perfectly acceptable. Harry Potter films, by comparison, are abhorred, because ‘witchcraft is bad'. Yes, real witchcraft is, and the manufacturing industry that capitalizes on it, also is, I believe, but no more the industry that exalts in Halloween which certainly has a dark or even ‘black' background. But actually, all of these films exalt good over bad and ‘good' triumphs. (If you want to be really discerning, you will note the difference between the first two HP books and the last ones). And do you watch ‘vampire' films or TV???? We need to think about this.
But then I found an acceptance in the evangelical community of ‘The Passion' the worst example of the most extreme, shock-violence possible. Don't say it happened; so did many other atrocities that you and I (I hope) would abhor if they were on screen. My other horror, on both sides of the water, is of the acceptance of the first of the Hunger Games films shown to young teenagers. It's about teenagers murdering other teenagers for public spectacle! I think Paul's “ whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things,” (Phil 4:8) would be an overstatement taken out of context if we try to apply it to modern watching, but there is a truth there to be pondered.
An Approach? These days I would never recommend any watching (My own may be wider than some of you, but I would never recommend it). As a young Christian I was wary, having been brought up in my twenties in a strict evangelical mould, of even watching Crocodile Dundee, and I know there are some Christians who never watch any films. Well that is an extreme, but I would prefer it to the ‘watch anything' extreme. Paul's advice about not putting stumbling blocks before others (Rom 14:13, 1 Cor 8:9) is worth considering. The balance is, how can I remain aware of the standards being pushed by the world? A question to be asked is, “If I watch this particular film/TV series, does it fill my mind, give me nightmares, or diminish my steadfast resolve to hold to God's laws?” i.e. does it undermine my standards? Accepting the ethos, whether it is to do with sex or the taking of life, is the danger that I believe is undermining the standards of many Christians. Even more, because there is this ‘clash of cultures', the ‘modern outlook' of tolerance, I am certain, undermines both the clarity and certainty of the biblical culture, if I may put it like that, in the minds of many. If in doubt, don't watch.
Personal Guidelines: My own personal guidelines for watching today (while seeking to be an informed commentator) are:
Avoid explicit sex on screen which causes images to be retained and thus causes further difficulties of personal management.
Avoid constant use of the ‘f' word or similar for the same reason.
Where relationships involve infidelity, remember the folly and the reality, and where there is violence (either don't watch it or) remember this is manufactured in a studio and unreal. But don't let it anesthetize you to the horror.
If in doubt, don't watch; there is plenty else to do in life!
Finally, does this aspect of life, diminish the reality of ‘ongoing redemption' we have been considering? If yes, it's time for a change.
Reaching into Redemption Meditations:
53. Drowning in Knowledge (1)
Psa 90:2,4 Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God…. A thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night.
Quick Recap: We are still in the series about ‘ongoing redemption' but are now looking at those things in our modern world that have a tendency to swamp or drown the unthinking believer. They are things I have observed the younger generation struggle with because they have been insufficiently taught both the Bible and about these things. The older generations struggle more at a sub-conscious level because these things have subtly become the atmosphere of modern life and they have a tendency to stifle belief and faith, but so slowly they are often hardly noticeable.
Today we move on to consider the subtle way big numbers in science, big people in science, or even big theories may appear to some to bring challenges to the truth in such ways that they stand above contradiction. So let's be like Hans Anderson's little unknowing boy in the story of ‘The Emperors New Clothes' and ask some challenging question about things that are cast in concrete as far as modern science is concerned. Now I have to say from the outset that everything our leading scientists say may be absolutely right. It is unlikely because science has a history of changing theories and ‘facts', so we should hold these things lightly. We won't know the truth until we get to heaven.
Way Back! Let's start with a history book on my shelves entitled “A History of the World”, an authoritative and comprehensive work. Page 1, line 2: “There is the Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago.” Page 1, second paragraph, “We could start more locally with the early history of Earth, beginning some 4.5 billion years ago.” I'm never sure about billions or trillions but Wikipedia says a billion is a thousand million. (Trillion = a million million).
Measurement: Now I am not a scientist, but my understanding is that we measure these periods not by a time machine but by observing an ‘expanding universe' and extrapolating backwards in the assumption of a uniform continuation of movement to a point derived mathematically to have been the point of origin (The Big Bang). The other way of determining age is by carbon dating (used for objects less than 50,000 years old) and radiometric or radioactive dating, both of which assume a uniformity of decay. Notice my emphasis on the word ‘uniformity' which makes all we are saying here pure theory – you cannot prove it, you have to assume the uniformity and once you do, then, yes, it works. As I said before, they may be right, but it is a fool who is dogmatically certain.
‘Big Time': I have a problem with “4.5 billion years” because it is utterly meaningless. It is merely a figure on paper (or screen) and although that figure is then broken down into smaller chunks of ‘events', it is absolutely impossible for the human mind to grasp the concept of a million years, let alone 4500 million years. You and I struggle to envisage a hundred years. We do it by filling it with events. My wife and I have been married 45 years and we make sense of that time by going through all our past diaries and filled ten sheets with things we've done in that time.
Stephen Hawking was the expert on time with his book, “A Brief History of Time”, bought by many, understood by few. My only problem with people like Hawking or Einstein, is that with brains the size of a bus they are beyond contradiction by the rest of us mere mortals. If, as some predict, we will live longer and longer lives, if I were able to live another hundred years (more ‘time') I would break a habit of a lifetime and lay a bet (who would take it?) that another genius will come along and question the current theories of all of these great men – but of course that is heresy in a scientific world that worships these men uncritically.
A Crutch for Evolution: I don't have a problem with the theory of evolution; it may be the way God brought the present world into being, but I doubt it (note that would have to be ‘guided evolution'). I say that because there are so many holes in it that any intelligent critical person (not a negative person, but a person who questions, which is what is missing in life today) will say, “Yes…. but!” You know the biggest ‘elephant in the room' of evolution that evolutionary scientists struggle with – biological sex! If you dare think about it, the very concept of male and female ‘complementary equipment' as coming about through survival of the fittest, is pure nonsense. I leave you to seriously ponder that one.
But the thing about evolution is that it only becomes vaguely credible if you have staggeringly big times to play with, for ‘accidents' to happen, for mutations to die out or develop. It isn't just a case of this is how it happened, it is a case of this is how it would HAVE to have happened. It is only when you think about millions and then billions of years that you have a big enough, long enough laboratory for the necessary changes to come about. If one day some super-mathematician appears and says, “The maths is all wrong; here is a viable alternative,” or scientists suddenly find that uranium breakdown occurs in spurts rather than uniformly, and both conclude that the age of the earth is say ten thousand years (now currently a scary, stupid or impossible thought) suddenly evolution would be in trouble, even more, impossible.
I am simply setting up what ARE possibilities to challenge the set mind, the mind set in concrete that is thus not ‘scientific'. When Stephen Hawking said, “Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change,” he perhaps unwittingly laid down a challenge to mathematicians and scientists generally, because at the moment, people (clever scientists) are persecuted for saying of modern scientific dogma, “I'm not sure about that.”
More Big Figures: It is big figures that intimidate us. Try this from a book of science on my shelves; this is about the ‘Big Bang'. Health Warning: “ A yoctosecond (ys) is a septillionth of a second or 10 –24 s”. Can you think that small? Here's my science book quote, starting to explain the Big Bang: “At the moment of the Big Bang, the entire Universe was much smaller than an atomic nucleus. Within a tiny fraction of a second, it underwent an inconceivably rapid expansion called cosmic inflation”. Additional notes suggest that the temperature was “100 trillion trillion deg.C”. Hullo? Is your mind still switched on? Well, let's see the additional note of how fast the first change took place: “a hundred-billionth of a yoctosecond.” Wow! We saw how small a yoctosecond was just now and now you're saying a hundred billionth of one septillionth of a second! That was only the first part of the explanation of the Big Bang; there are four more stages of incredibly short periods of time, but you can do you own research. But I do like the word ‘inconceivably' in that quote above.
Why all this? Why have I bothered to fill this Bible-blog with scientific information? Very simply because I find that when books baldly state these sort of things, people generally, let alone believers, are intimidated by the ‘fact-ness' of print, the certainty of modern science. When it comes to Christian believers, it is almost natural, when looking at the short period of history covered by the Bible and the Bible's lack of scientific detail, to wonder about the reality of all that we have been thinking about to do with ongoing redemption in this series. I will say it again: the numbers are meaningless, the results of mathematicians' and scientists' speculations, sounding so credible – if only we could understand them. I am not saying don't believe them, but I am saying hold them lightly, see them as theories that are not so set in concrete as many would like to suggest, and see them (IF they are true) as explanations of how God made the world.
The God-Perspective: Our starter verses attempt to poetically convey something of God's greatness: “ Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God…. A thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night.” Not an explanation of how, but simply an attempt at conveying greatness. The apostle Paul suggested that all of ‘Creation' reveals the might and majesty of God (Rom 1:20).
The modern atheistic scientist (and many aren't) seeks to explain the world in purely ‘mechanical' terms so that there is no need for a God, because if there is a God that you and I speak about, that would lay a question against that person's life – how should I live in the light of the knowledge of the existence of such a Being? – and many people don't want their lives directed by someone greater than them. Outlook is often not formulated by facts (which so often need interpreting) but by personal prejudices and fears. How does Genesis fit into all this? We'll look at that in the next study. Meanwhile, keep a clear head, do not be intimidated by great men, great brains, great theories, and great numbers. They may be right, and they may not, but put them all in perspective before the greatness (size and majesty) of Almighty God and we just find a marvellous world brought about by a marvellous Creator who deserves our worship, and in that, nothing has changed.
Reaching into Redemption Meditations:
54. Drowning in Knowledge (2)
Gen 1:1,2 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
Quick Recap: We have suggested that as science pours out more and more knowledge, sometimes the size and volume of that knowledge appears to challenge or threaten believers, undermining their faith. We considered big numbers, big people and big theories and in considering history, I said we would pause up and consider how the book of Genesis fits in with modern perspectives of history. I have to warn you that because I am going to invent a story in a moment, this will be even longer than usual, but stick with me if you can. I hope it will be rewarding.
Contradictions: “Ah,” says an atheistic historian, “it is clear that the Bible is out of kilter with what we know of early history. Your Archbishop Ussher in the seventeenth century said the world was only 6000 years old (from today) according to the genealogies of the Old Testament.” Indeed, but perhaps both Ussher, our historian, and many other sceptics are guilty of, is making assumptions that don't fit.
Genealogies? Taking Ussher's genealogies first, to clear the ground, he assumed that Jewish writing was the same as modern western writing and therefore the names listed in the various genealogies were the only ones and therefore when you add up their apparent ages you only go back that length of time. However the mindset of those early writers was not like our modern chroniclers who insist on every detail being correct. The old Hebrew writers were not concerned so much with the detail as with the direction, so modern scholars believe the that genealogies are more signposts than accurate lists, theological points are being made, rather that detailed accurate-time history.
Adam and Eve? Did two such beings exist and if so, where in history? Traditional theology has assumed they were the first two human beings. Modern secular history suggests there were different strands of ‘being' that became human beings as we know them today. But if the Bible lends itself to speculation so, no less, does modern history. If I may quote from the same book as before, “A History of the World,” the writer/TV presenter is remarkably honest: “There are almost no historical arguments as complex and heated as those about modern man's origins. The reason is straightforward: scientific advances in the study of human DNA and in the dating of bone fragments and other material keep challenging, and sometimes overturning, earlier theories.”
Uncertainty: Listen to a quote from theologian Alister McGrath: “ It is certainly true that the natural sciences aim to offer the best possible explanation of the world, and that they have had considerable successes in doing so. But there are limits to this. The scientist regularly has to propose certain ideas that certainly fit in with experimental evidence, but that cannot be proved , and are thus taken on trust. I notice a firm recognition of this point in … Charles Darwin himself. In his Origin of Species (1859), Darwin points out that his theory of natural selection has not been proven , and that all kinds of objections could reasonably be raised against it . But he still believes it was true, and that these difficulties will eventually be resolved.”
How intriguing and how honest. What am I saying here? I am saying that on both sides of the divide there are question marks. Yesterday I added to those question marks by challenging the concept of ‘uniform' change. We just don't know. The scientific world is concerned about what, in a different context is known as ‘false news' which has arisen in the scientific world more than a few times, and to cite one reputable scientist (reported in the London Times newspaper some years back), “while plagiarism is undesirable, it may do less harm than the commoner practice of altering data analysis methods to achieve a desired result." Humility is called for on all sides.
Mesopotamia? As I child I was taught that Mesopotamia, the land between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers (strangely detailed in Gen 2:14) was the cradle of civilization. I was prepared, with the passing of years, to see that that was no longer believed and was surprised therefore when I find my modern writer still identifying it as such; not the place where historians believe our upright ancestors appeared, but certainly the place where civilization was first formed and developed, the land where we later find Abram comes from, a land that keeps on imposing itself in the Biblical narrative of the life of Israel.
And So? At the risk of shaking up some fossilized grey cells, may I make some suggestions, first those that are often now cited and then add a somewhat revolutionary concept for Evangelical believers. Let's start with two general statements. First the Bible does not seek to be a science book, nor for that matter a historical chronology, at least in terms of nailing dates to the wall. Having said that it is written largely as historical fact, i.e. these things happened in time-space history, and using those things we can see how it aligns with secular historical records. But it is not a science book and does not in any way seek to explain how things came about, only why they did. Second , as we have indicated before, when it comes to people, those who are included are included for a specific reason and it is probable, therefore, that there are many others who existed in the Biblical period who have not been named. We would be wise therefore not to try to identify time by names.
The Big Purpose: Now if I may move on to a more revolutionary suggestion, in terms of the things to be remembered, third , may I suggest that Adam and Eve are certainly two historical characters who appear in a long, long line of human beings but they are mentioned, and their activities are mentioned (the Fall) in the Biblical record. Why? Because the primary purpose of the Old Testament is to reveal a family line, through which God would reveal Himself to the rest of the world, that eventually became Israel. The goal was to show God's unique dealings with a group of people in history, in a ‘manageable' way that did not dominate, oppress or impose Himself on mankind in a way that would override free-will. The genealogy lines go back to Adam and follow a specific strand of his family tree, flowing through Abraham, through David and so on, showing a people who had dealings with God for a specific purpose.
The Ultimate Purpose: That purpose was eventually, at a given point of time in history, to create an environment into which to bring His Son from heaven, to live on earth and his life to be recorded, before dying by execution for redemptive purposes and revealing himself as the unique Son of God. Everything that goes before it in the Old Testament is working towards that. THAT is why God goes to such lengths in this ongoing redemptive process that we have been following over these past seven weeks, to keep Israel on the right track so that they will survive and retain and preserve their history with God. Were Adam and Eve the first human beings in all of history, the only first human beings? No! Were they the first chosen by God to interact with Him? Yes? Did the events of Genesis 1-3 happen in time space history? Yes?
Read it again: Reread Genesis 1-3, not as a detailed-dates history book, nor as a scientific explanation but through the eyes of an inspired Hebrew writer, probably Moses, taking the stories passed down through the generations and confirmed and detailed by God in his times with Him in his forty years looking after Israel. Imagine Moses sitting in the Tent of Meeting (Tabernacle) in the presence of God, wiling away the years, but then being aware of God and a conversation ensues:
“Lord, it is an amazing world.”
“I know, I created it, everything. Would you like to write that down?”
“ In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
“What was it like then Lord?”
“Well after it had cooled down it was just a chunk of rock with a lot of water on it, and gases evaporating but just dark.”
“Wow!” “ The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters.”
“But it's not dark now?”
“That's right, I just said, ‘Light!' and there was, and it shone on the earth, so it was light on that side and dark on the other. That's what you call day and night.”
“Right!” “ Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. Then he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day” and the darkness “night.”
“So what happened next?”
“Well, as the waters evaporated somewhat thick clouds formed and created a shroud for the earth that kept it at a uniform steady temperature. (Necessary for dinosaurs to exist for a period)”
“Amazing!” “ Then God said, “Let there be a space between the waters, to separate the waters of the heavens from the waters of the earth.” And that is what happened. God made this space to separate the waters of the earth from the waters of the heavens. God called the space “sky.”
“Was it just static in space?”
“Oh no, it was like it is now, turning every twenty-four hours”
“Oh, OK. I see.” “ And evening passed and morning came, marking the second day.”
And so the conversation continued on until Moses asked (in our imagination, remember):
“So we have plants and then animals and all the rest, what about man?”
“You're not going to believe that but right back at the beginning I started it all off from just particles, dust if you like. So I'm afraid you all came from dust but with a very specific design and purpose in mind for the end. I empowered him with life, my life.”
“Awesome!” “ Then the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground. He breathed the breath of life into the man's nostrils, and the man became a living person.”
“Hold on, how did woman come to be, so different from a man?”
really wouldn't believe me if I told you. I think I'll keep that one a
mystery from you all. I'll tell you when you come to live with me in eternity
but for now, let's say you both come from the same origin, very different
but the same. Yes, I've made woman capable of bearing offspring so if
you want to write it poetically, to give my people something to ponder
on, simply say I took the human I had made, in the form of a man and then
from that one, made a woman. That will give them something to think about.”
“That's how I did it from the beginning and many years later I chose this couple that you call Adam and Eve who lived in the area up between the Euphrates and the Tigris and we did stuff together there, and the rest you know.”
“But why did you do that? What about the rest of humanity, if they existed.”
“Oh they existed, but the point I am making to you is that this original couple that I chose, created a family tree that I have worked with ever since, right down to you – and I have lots more to do yet, but that's not for you to know at this point in time. You focus on writing up the things that have been passed down the generations to you and I will add clarification as we share together.”
And thus Genesis to Deuteronomy came into being. Now that requires faith to believe but it accords with what is there in writing, and it makes sense!
Read this again: I am willing to concede that there is quite a lot here to take in, so I suggest you go back to the beginning of this particular study. There is a lot more we could have said but as we've gone way over our usual space, we'll leave it there. Remember, take away all the ‘assumptions' on both sides of the divide and I think you'll find you can be a believer with complete integrity. Have I covered all the bases, dotted all the ‘i's and crossed all the ‘t's? No I haven't and so where there are gaps, I'll leave you to pray and think. All I've done is suggest some valid possibilities. We'll have to wait for the complete truth until we arrive in eternity, but in the meantime, read the Bible more, study it more, pray more and be at complete peace in your understanding. Amen? Amen!
Reaching into Redemption Meditations:
55. Drowning in Social Media
Jn 4:24 God is spirit , and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”
Where we are: I nearly covered this subject in the previous study entitled, ‘Drowning in Unreality' but felt that it was such a major and significant subject that it needs dealing with on its own. Remember, we are covering things that have a tendency to drown the modern believer. So that we are quite clear, let's lay out the scale of changes in our world in this area of social media or social networking and our general access to the Internet.:
Understanding the scale of social media :
First a Wikipedia definition: “ Social media are computer-mediated technologies that facilitate the creation and sharing of information , ideas, career interests and other forms of expression via virtual communities and networks .”
Also, Social Networks refers to “ a dedicated website or other application which enables users to communicate with each other by posting information, comments, messages, images, etc. or a network of social interactions and personal relationships.”
Mobile or cell phones are probably the primary means of such communication across the world today. Here's another breath-taking detail from the Internet: “In 2019 the number of mobile phone users is forecast to reach 4.68 billion. The number of mobile phone users in the world is expected to pass the five billion mark by 2019. In 2016, an estimated 62.9 percent of the population worldwide already owned a mobile phone.”
This has to be one of THE most significant changes in the way humans run their lives that has come about in the last hundred years.
(Figures have recently been released that suggest that 70% of people accessing the Internet do it today via a mobile phone.)
Benefits or otherwise of social media: Various websites extol the use of social media and without doubt the general use of the Internet can educate, build confidence and so on. Negative aspects about social network usage, that are highlighted in the increasing levels of concern being expressed, include Cyberbullying, Internet Addiction, Sleep Deprivation, Digital Footprint, Pornography and Sexting. In addition, warnings are given about general internet usage in respect of a ccount hacking and impersonation, s talking and harassment, being compelled to turn over passwords, walking a fine line between effective marketing and privacy intrusion and the privacy downside of location-based services.
Extent of Usage: Figures from the internet (although these vary from time to time) suggest Facebook with 2,200 million users is top of the usage charts, followed by YouTube with 1,900 million, Instagram with 800 million and so on. If you know anything of just those three you will realise the difference in types of site. There are many more in the table. Perhaps, rather than bandy figures about, a better means of observing the changes in culture worldwide in respect of social networking is simply to watch people around you in public spaces. For some people, to not have a phone in their hand would mean a serious sense of insecurity – we are not being dramatic here, it is true – and this, for us who are Christians should, I suggest, be a major cause of concern. We could be negative and speak about how intrusive the use of such a phone link is while in company, but the bigger concern is the downside of the wonderful friendship networking capabilities that has come about, which is this sense of insecurity if we are ‘not in the know'. One might also suggest for Christians, that a study on ‘gossip' NOT being part of the kingdom of God maybe deserves revisiting.
A Pride Builder: Knowledge, they say, is power and as I have watched the use of the Internet and social media in both young and old, I notice one particularly interesting feature: a sense of ‘being in the know' also creates a sense of superiority or, at the very least, a sense of self-worth. Knowledge is available as it has never been available before. With social networking, it is knowledge of what everyone else in my social hub is doing. Being ‘in the know' creates this sense that once being a member of an elite club created. But there is being in the know in respect of the latest news or, for that matter, knowing about anything else. Google has become the most amazing source of information within a few seconds, whether it is to do with the local weather, the weather in your part of the world, how to freeze beans, how many sorts of elephant live in the world, or even what your street looks like! (The car on my forecourt is out of date!!!) Similarly, without doubt when my grand-daughters go out on their own, the presence of a mobile phone and instant access to home creates a sense of security. That is the good side but, although I watch the confidence etc. that exudes from the users of mobile or cell phones around me, I also note that generally there are still in their lives, many insecurities, worries, cares and concerns and, indeed, the knowledge of what is happening to everyone else (not always good) often adds to those things. Pride and superiority on one hand but insecurity on the other, and perhaps all three have increased with the use of the mobile phone.
An air of unreality: Living in the world of constant instant news, of knowledge of what all my friends are up to, and of this amazing sense of being linked in to all my friends is, I suggest, a source of creating an unreal environment in which to live. We think we know, but what we know is only superficial, basic facts of information. We may think that knowledge is linked to wisdom, but it isn't necessarily. We may think that information is the same as ‘understanding', but it isn't. It may just be the particular group of people I know in my local vicinity at present, but when I watch this culture I sadly find absent among the Christians the Spirit of God and it seems as if this reliance on networking and information acts as a substitute – and not a good substitute – for the presence of the Lord in your life. There is an absence of “ The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord,” (Isa 11:2) and one cannot help feeling there is a link. Accept no substitutes.
Concerns: Now I must confess to a real aversion to doing this study because I am aware that it flies in the face of modern culture, a culture that does have, without question, many benefits. Yet, as a spiritual observer it worries me as I observe the things I have commented on above. As I observe chat rooms and comments made by readers on news websites, it seems that so often this facility simply gives opportunity to bring out the worst of people, with hostility, criticism and general grumbling being regularly seen in such places. Not good.
The Source of Security: But perhaps the biggest issue must be, where do we get our sense of personal worth, personal fulfilment and personal security? Is it from being part of one of these networks, or of having knowledge available instantly, or any one of these other benefits? As good as they are, they should not be the primary means of obtaining such senses; it must be through the personal interaction with Almighty God, who is not merely available on the other end of a phone or Internet line, but He is there with you wherever you are and in whatever circumstances and instantly accessible. You will build up that sense of reality in prayer, in reading and studying His word, in Spirit-led and inspired worship. There is no substitute for any of these things.
To Conclude: It is possible that if you are someone who has a phone in their hands most of the time, you will feel defensive by what I have said, but all I ask is that you check out the reality of what I have been saying: do you have a real and genuine sense of self-worth and of security that comes from the knowledge of the living presence of the Lord? And perhaps, even more as a test, if you shut off your phone and left it in a drawer for a week, would you still have that? If you can honestly answer ‘yes' then no problem, but otherwise perhaps some thought needs to be given to making some changes in your lifestyle.
Presumably you are here because you have been reading these studies, and so I end with asking the very basic question, are we each aware of being in the midst of God's process of ongoing redemption for us? If we are not then, is this particular culture a hindrance to that? Let's conclude with Psa 121 and may this be our anchor: “ I lift up my eyes to the mountains — where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord , the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip— he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord watches over you— the Lord is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.”
Reaching into Redemption Meditations:
56. Drowning in Confusion & Uncertainty
Psa 15:1-3 Lord , who may dwell in your sacred tent? Who may live on your holy mountain? The one whose walk is blameless, who does what is righteous, who speaks the truth from their heart; whose tongue utters no slander, who does no wrong to a neighbour, and casts no slur on others;
Today: We are considering facets of the culture in which we live in the West today, things that threaten the lives and spiritual wellbeing of God's people. Today we come to consider truth. Truth is important to God as the verses above show, and yet today we live in a time when truth and integrity are in short supply. Let me give you some examples of things that have stood out to me over the years in respect of truth that have contributed to getting us where we are today.
A Downward Slope: I have testified on these pages before that for seventeen years from the late 1970's to the mid 1990's I taught Law. Each year as I started the course off I gave the students various group exercises about laws, rules, etc. and asked them did they believe there were absolutes, did they believe there were such things as right and wrong. At the beginning of the period in the late 1970's about 1 in 60 said no. Over the years there was a gradual change so that by the mid 1990's they all said, no, there were no absolutes, no such things as right and wrong. Britain last century.
A Dubious President: I have always been a fan of Alistair Cooke who died in March 2004, having been an avid listener to his weekly quarter of an hour “Letter from America”. In August 1998 he did a talk following President Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky (and at least two others previously, all well documented) and the president's four-minute address to the nation excusing himself for having lied to his wife and the nation. Cooke noted that a poll showed that 60% of the American population said that he lied, while 60% said that despite that he was a good president and should not be impeached. Cooke went on to consider what was meant by ‘moral authority' and ended up citing a senior retired politician who suggested that those 60% were as morally guilty as the president. The key point was that the majority of the American population divorced personal immorality from public service achievement. Perhaps it is not surprising therefore that today it is often suggested that what a person does in their private life should not be used as a criticism of them in their public role. America with a blot on its name.
President & Prime Minister: Both the UK and the USA have a foreign affairs history where we have supported seriously dubious world leaders on the basis of ‘love my enemy against my bigger enemy'. Neither of us have a good record in respect of international integrity. But when it comes to weighing the truth and getting it wrong, possibly the best example was that of George W Bush and Tony Blair embarking on a war against a nation that apparently had weapons of mass destruction – but didn't! – and without an understanding of the religious nuances of the country they were attacking, and without a plan how to deal with the aftermath. The key issue that released all that was ‘questionable truth'. US and UK adrift.
UK & Brexit: And so we come up to date in observing the cultures and leaders of our communities in which we live today. Two years ago the UK held a referendum in which a majority clearly voted to leave the European Union. Since then there has been outright war, partly operated through the media, a war of truth. So great was this that earlier in 2018 a large group of academics established a website to counter the untruths that were being spoken. I could document this war in detail but will overcome that temptation. But consider what is happening here. In any ordinary election one party gets a majority and are elected and that is it (vote-rigging aside – but that didn't happen here). We accept the vote of the majority as an outcome of democracy, and although we may grumble about this party that wasn't ‘ours', we accept it. Except with Brexit that hasn't been happening. There have been big names (Tony Blair being one – where have we heard that name before?) and big money being offered to establish campaigns to overthrow or rather reverse this vote. So much for democracy, so much for truth and integrity. Britain again.
A Presidential Negotiator: I hesitate to make comment in this area as I have good Christian friends in the States who highly esteem your present president. He clearly has an agenda which appears to have some merits and maybe some not so good, but that is true of any politician and our individual views, isn't it? But what has caused so much consternation has been the apparent contradictory approach to truth. I have seen the newsreels where he has said one thing one day and the next day said the exact opposite excusing with such words as, “I didn't really say that right,” or “that was not what I meant.” This is not about the media's take on these things, but the actual words spoken. Some excuse the approach saying he is not a politician but a business negotiator. Traditional politicians used the ‘pork barrel' analogy to get money for their district by negotiating with Government on the basis of “we will vote for this is you give us some money for our district.” Tit for tat negotiation.
The President appears to use a contractor's approach of “I'm giving you nothing. I will demand a high price / tax or whatever, and while you worry about it for the next few weeks, I'll let you put in a bid higher than you might have done before, and I'll let you ease me down towards that.” Legitimate perhaps but different and challenging for politicians and media alike. The apostle Paul said, “Was I fickle when I intended to do this? Or do I make my plans in a worldly manner so that in the same breath I say both “ Yes , yes ” and “No, no”?” (2 Cor 1:17) That sounds incredibly like that which the newsreels are showing. Does the end justify the means? Not in God's book. Clever tactics maybe, but ones which are sowing mistrust, doubt, questioning and a demeaning of the image of the US abroad. Intriguingly these trends today are producing a spate of books to seek to handle what is going on, e.g.” A Field Guide to Lies”, and “Win Bigly”, both signs that confirm what I have been saying.
Fake News: Wikipedia defines it as follows: “ Fake news is a type of yellow journalism or propaganda that consists of deliberate misinformation or hoaxes spread via traditional print and broadcast news media or online social media.” Call it what you like, ‘fake news' is untruths, lies. However these is a distinction to be made in our understanding between ‘information' (data) and opinions. If half of what is said on the Internet is true, then we are living in a world where nations hack the computers of other countries and also disseminate ‘information' which is untrue. No doubt one day someone will produce an authoritative record of exactly what was said and what was actually true in the last presidential election in the USA and my implication as a mere observer is that the two things are probably not the same. In the realm of government and opposition predictions at election times, we should be very clear that rarely do any of the predictions work out. A confusing world.
The Impact: Now if this is the world in which we live then it is not surprising that there is a new sense of confusion and uncertainty that causes worry, antagonism and a general air of political rivalry rarely seen before in the modern Western world. A leading respectable member of the UK Parliament recently said, “I have been in Parliament forty years and I've never known a time of such hatred and bitterness and I've never known such a sense of drift.” And as one leading churchman added, “These are big things that we cannot control from (where we are) but they can make us anxious. What does an anxious church look like, what do we look like when we are caught up by anxiety? Instead of not being ‘of the world' as we're commanded, we're to be in the world but not of it, instead of that we become in and of the world, we are no longer holy, we are not different and above all we cease to be resilient. We lose our capacity to deal with challenge, we only do it by defensiveness.” A drowning church?
God's Perspective: We should, therefore, refocus our minds on God's word to seek understanding and I would suggest that that brief extract from Psalm 15 that we used as the header verses demands our attention. David's question is who may get close to God (believers) and what follows are the requirements for such a person. First it is someone whose walk through life is above criticism (there's a challenge!). Second, they are someone whose life conforms to God's will (which at the very least means seeking after it). Third, it is someone who speaks the truth from the depth of their heart, i.e. total honesty. Fourth they do not say false things about others. Fifth they do nothing to harm those near to them. Sixth they cast nothing untrue, false slurs or harming to others. Now line those things up with what we see around us today and ask two pertinent questions: Do these things match me? Can I support any leader of any kind for whom these things are largely absent? And let's have no dividing personal and public behaviour, words and attitudes!!! Unrighteousness in one half of life mean an unrighteous person, full stop!
Here are again are those verses, check them out: “ Lord , who may dwell in your sacred tent? Who may live on your holy mountain? The one whose walk is blameless , who does what is righteous , who speaks the truth from their heart; whose tongue utters no slander , who does no wrong to a neighbour, and casts no slur on others.”
Reaching into Redemption Meditations:
57. Drowning in the Sea (Recap)
2 Sam 22:4-6 “I called to the Lord , who is worthy of praise, and have been saved from my enemies. The waves of death swirled about me; the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me. The cords of the grave coiled around me; the snares of death confronted me.
Recently: In the last seven studies we have been considering aspects of the culture we find in the West at this time in history, aspects that threaten our very spiritual lives if we allow them to overwhelm us, and I likened this to being drowned by these things. Now to draw these threads together to better enable us to see the big picture, let's consider the analogy of the sea as a description of the culture that we live in. We said near the beginning that ‘drowning' is the negative outcome of being out at sea, but alternatives are that we swim, we sail, or we surf. In other words the sea has the capability of killing us by drowning but it also has the capability of being used for enjoyment, business or travel, all legitimate pastimes or experiences. The analogy of the sea is also useful when we consider it is often tumultuous, there is constant movement and change and it can be threatening. (Jude used a similar analogy – Jude v.13)
What this says is that a godless culture is always bad and harmful, tumultuous and changing, but ‘culture' in itself is neutral and so all of these things can be positive if they are godly, i.e. we enjoy them within the confines of God's guidance and direction and we avoid excesses. These things we have been considering are not bad in themselves, but they are bad when we use or experience them in a godless fashion. When that happens they change from things provided by God for our blessing, into things that have the potential to destroy us. Let's examine each of them again briefly to see these things.
The Possibilities of Materialism: Now the truth is that God has provided everything material and spiritual for our blessing. When we speak of materialism we tend to mean a life that excludes the spiritual and excludes God. All material things, we say again, are potentially things for blessing. Used in excess, most things become harmful. The ‘world' is materialistic (godless) but we as Christians should always hold a balance that accepts, is aware of, and operates in, a spiritual dimension as well as a material dimension. Our spiritual lives are threatened when we forget or fail to operate within that balance and almost invariably it will be the spiritual side that will suffer. Having said that, there have been those who reject the material dimension and speak of it negatively, forgetting it is God's provision for us to be used wisely and thankfully (Jas 1:17, 1 Tim 4:3,4). However our greater threat is likely to be we get caught up in materialistic living and that is a life where we forget the spiritual dimension that we are called to experience, live in and serve in. The call is therefore not to let enjoyment of the material world become the all-important thing in life but maintain a balance whereby we operate in, experience and enjoy both realms.
The Danger of Unreality: Being creative, which includes writing books, making films and so much more, is part of being made in the image of the Creator, but fiction is always fiction and we must never forget that. Even more we must always remember that the human author, film-maker etc. is a human being who may or may not be conveying an incomplete picture of what life is about. ‘Romanticism' tends to view life unrealistically through rose-tinted glasses while ‘realism' tends to point out only the harsh realities of life. Often a book or film will express one of the other but rarely both together, and therefore we should always remember what the author or film-producer is aiming to do and, in our minds, refocus in the light of the truth about God, and us as sinners with the possibility of redemption, i.e. remember what is and what is not ‘real'. The danger is always that if we are regular readers or regular watchers of TV, videos and films (and computer gamers, for that matter) we can get swept up in what we have seen/experienced and lose contact with reality, how life really is. The temptation that the enemy puts before us, is to believe the lie that I can live in that unreal ‘reality' and forget that actually there are always consequences to be born with such things in the real world.
Holding Knowledge Lightly: Knowledge in itself is neutral. The problem with ‘knowledge' is that sometimes what we think is real or true is not, it is merely an opinion or a hypothesis that may yet change. Knowledge becomes dangerous when we allow untrue knowledge (rather like ‘fake news') to determine our outlook on life, our perception of what is or is not real and true. It is also dangerous when we allow knowledge to boost our egos or more specifically our pride. Pride always means a loss of perspective, making us think we are greater, more powerful, cleverer, than we are. Pride also questions whether we need God.
There is a saying, “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing,” which the Internet suggests means, “ a small amount of knowledge can lead to overconfidence, leaping to invalid conclusions based on what you do know without taking into account the things that you don't know.” The wise person knows that the more you do know the more you should realise how little you know, and thus will maintain an outlook of humility. Failing the understand these things means we can become overwhelmed and even intimidated by big people, big theories and big figures. At such times a healthy dose of reading the scriptures and remembering that God is THE big person who is all-knowing and all-wise, is a wise approach. He alone should be our ultimate source of wisdom. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” (Psa 111:10) and, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” (Prov 1:7) Never let go that perspective.
The Life of Social Media: The use of social media and social networking, we observed, has many benefits to our lives today AND many curses. In the light of the many fears that are being raised by a variety of professionals, we would be wise to take note of not only the warnings of abuses and harms that can ensue but also the very real fear of addiction to usage. There is also the concept of the loss of reality that can arise, in both security and knowledge terms that we noted can distort the reality about ourselves and the world around us. Really an extension of the previous paragraph.
A Confusing & Uncertain World: In both the USA & the UK and indeed many other ‘Western' countries, Christians are now clearly in the minority and since our nations have largely rejected God we have lost a moral base and no longer believe in absolutes - values or principles which are regarded as universally valid – and so relativism rules which says that knowledge, truth, and morality exist in relation to culture, society, or historical context, and are not absolute, i.e. right or wrong depends on every unique situation and will be different for every situation. At least that is what is said except the moment someone harms ‘me or my family' and which point we scream, “that's not right, where are the police, justice needs to be done, someone needs to pay for this!”
So we live with the ‘law of exceptions' that says, “well, yes, generally it is wrong for someone to steal but perhaps there are exceptions, such as when someone is on the point of starvation,” or “well, yes, it is wrong to kill another person, but perhaps there are exceptions such as when a SWAT team have to take out a terrorist carrying a bomb.” Ever since Hiroshima we have accepted that killing a large number of people is an unpleasant fact of life to save a much larger number of people from an ongoing war. Perhaps as Christians we might say that we recognise that in a fallen world sometimes an evil is necessary to prevent a greater evil – but it is still evil. But these are ethical dilemmas, necessary evils from living in this fallen world, but that is very different from the blatant misrepresenting of truth, telling outright lies etc. that have become almost a fact of life in recent years across the global communication and media networks.
Coping with ‘the sea': Surfing or sailing on the sea of modern culture is appreciating the wonder and goodness of so many aspects of this world. Culture is sometimes defined as “ the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society,” i.e. the way societies think and then act. For us as Christians things like self-awareness, understanding, knowledge, wisdom and discernment must be major tools in our armoury as we seek to cope with the things these last studies have been dealing with.
Helps? Realizing that
we don't have to comply with the pressures of peers and advertisers to get the latest piece of hi-tec,
rejecting the false and unreal perspectives that are often put before us,
rejecting the intimidating atheistic voices that seek to challenge with their skewed and incomplete ‘facts', hypotheses and opinions,
taking control of thoughts about myself and others from Christ's perspective and not that of my Facebook friends, and
refusing to be swayed by those who shout loudest in the noisy media market place of political, theological or simply ideological ideas.
Understanding & Living in Christ: Remaining above the surface of the water (culture) is what happens when we take hold of such truths as, “ God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,” (Eph 2:6). The threefold thrust of that is that:
we are to see ourselves as intimately united with Christ,
in a place where we are (with him) to rule over our circumstances, and
where we are above – and therefore can see clearly – the shambles of the world below us.
In the light of all this, we might do well to finish this study with Paul's prayer: “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation , so that you may know him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.” (Eph 1:17-19) Amen!
PART EIGHT: Finale
Reaching into Redemption Meditations:
58. Redemption and Mankind
Gen 1:26 Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. They will reign
Rom 8:19 the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.
Very big picture: Before I come to the very end of this series, I want to ask a question that I have never heard asked before. What is God doing with mankind? What do we see going on in the world that provokes us to ask this question? Some will simply say, “Working to bring salvation through Jesus Christ,” and I would be the first to agree with that. Others might say, working towards an end judgment, the return of Christ, as seen in the book of Revelation, and again I would have to agree with that. But your bigger answer to my question is likely to depend, I suggest, on how you view what is going on in the world. Some would say, it carries on getting worse and worse but that is only true depending on your measuring stick. (Yes, this is still all about redemption – bear with me). We need to look at the very big picture of the world to try to catch what is going on
Bad AND Good: In our Western society there are many things that are very negative, but these tend to be in respect of personal individual human behaviour, and I would be the first to stand on the hillside like the prophets of old and shout out against this. But that is only one side of the picture. The other side of the picture is summed up in advances in technology, hygiene and health and in food production. We have not done away with famine or disease, but very large strides have been made in this last century in food production and in eradicating a variety of diseases, but that is an ongoing war. I saw on TV only within the last week a warning from some people in the know, about plant diseases that are spreading that threaten to wipe out plant life which in turn would wipe us out. But there are people (some Christians, some not) who are working to control these things – they are working that original creation mandate to rule the world and, as I say, (and we Christians forget this) this is Christian and non-Christian alike.
God's Working in it all: In a previous book on the love of God, in one chapter I investigated the development of revelation of God in the Bible through history covered by the Bible. Alongside that I also did a brief outline of how knowledge and inventions increased through history. The big question for those with minds big enough to think these things, is how much was God involved in all this, how much can we attribute to the hand of God, what does God think of our technological improvements? If we consider that creation mandate, I suggest that increase in revelation of God, increase in knowledge and increase in technological advance are all things on and from the heart of God and, I suspect, when we get to heaven we will be mind-blown by God's involvement.
A possible conversation in heaven? “Wow! It was you who inspired Einstein to get to E=MC 2 ? It was you who showed scientists quantum physics and all the rest!” “That's right, have you not realised that my intent was for my world to develop and bless you all more and more, and that I had to do it on a gradual basis if I wasn't to completely dominate you? I have wanted you to grow up and take responsibility for my world, but only few have seen that? Yes, I have been saddened by the way, again and again, mankind has wrongly used all the good I have given you, but it was the risk I had to take if I gave you freedom of will. Most of the time, most of you do not realise that it has been me inspiring new ideas, opening up thoughts that bring further understanding and knowledge. So, yes, I am working to draw all men to myself, but while I do that I seek to bless my world as you all, in differing degrees, work to rule this world I have given you.”
Using Common Grace Wrongly: This is what theologians call ‘common grace', the blessing that God gives to all mankind. The rain falls on the just and the unjust! So we extract minerals from the earth and we make things but along the way, because we don't refer it to God, we pollute lands and seas and air, and we inadvertently cause more diseases and that is all part of the great mish-mash of the redemption of the world mandate of Genesis 1 in a fallen world state.
Struggling to fulfil the creation mandate: And so we find ourselves at this amazing point of history (which may be the countdown to the end, only time will tell) where we have made so many advances (with God's help, for those with eyes to see) but we still have before us the challenge of how we proceed without damaging the planet any more, how we can cope with (and reverse?) the effects of the damage we have done, and how we can avoid doing any more damage. As we advance robotic and artificial intelligence research, the challenge is to know when to say stop, where we see such research having a damaging if not lethal impact on mankind. The challenge is to say, how can we use technology not to wipe out more and more human beings from a distance, but how can we use technology to bless all races so that no one wants to put that blessing under threat by a war.
Seated in the heavenly realms? We have at various times in both this and previous series considered the reality of what the apostle Paul says and which we quoted in the previous study: “ God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,” (Eph 2:6) but how is that applicable here? I concluded yesterday, the threefold thrust of that is that we are to see ourselves as intimately united with Christ, in a place where we are (with him) to rule over our circumstances, and where we are above – and therefore can see clearly – the shambles of the world below us. Because we are to see ourselves linked to him as he rules from heaven over the last times, we are to see him as our source of revelation and wisdom to enable us to live and rule over the circumstances that surround us in these days.
Twofold Thrust: Now I would suggest that those two things are to be used for two purposes. First they are to be used to help us understand all the things we've been considering in the past week, the aspects of modern Western culture and also learn how to cope with them. That's what the studies of the past week have all been about, starting to focus on and hope to understand these aspects so that (negatively) they will not drown us, and (positively) they will help us rise up and survive them.
But, second , revelation and wisdom are to be the tools we use to understand our place in these things as God works out His redemptive purposes in the midst of all this as we've seen before: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” The Lord will extend your mighty sceptre from Zion, saying, “Rule in the midst of your enemies !” (Psa 110:1,2) and “ Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet ” (1 Cor 15:24,25). As we understand, so we can then move, led by his Holy Spirit, to play our part in the redemptive purposes of the Godhead, planned from before the world began, orchestrated from heaven today, being worked out as expressions of the kingdom of God on earth using you and me, until a final time when He will wind all things up.
How? Well we have just said, using revelation (insight, knowledge & understanding from on high) and wisdom (knowing what to do with it) and hopefully that should make us people who (positively) stand out as God's good resources to this world, bringing His good in greater measure. But there are also the two very simple but vital words Jesus used of us: salt and light. Somehow, we are to use that revelation and wisdom to have a purifying effect on the world and a life-revealing effect on the world.
Positive overcoming Negative: Historically, in recent decades at least, Christians have been known for bringing condemnatory words on the defects of society (the sin of man!), and while that is necessary, there is perhaps a better way which is to live such spectacularly good lives, lives that are great examples, not being dominated by the pressures of materialism, not being unreal, not being intimidated by the tsunami of facts and knowledge that has poured forth in the last century, not being addicted to the phone or internet and its negative effects, and not being swayed by the currents of confusing communications within the modern global village. As others drown under these things, we are to be those who, linked to our satellite navigator at the right hand of God in the heavenly realms, navigate the stormy waters with peace and goodness prevailing, purposefully steering constantly to that eternal harbour that awaits our arrival with anticipation. Let's do it. Let's purify by example, let's bless by wisdom and goodness and a sense of loving security that comes from on high.
Positively How? How can we be more positive in these things? I am aware in the above paragraph I have used (wisely) the defensive negative word, ‘not' a number of times, but what are the positive ways we can handle those aspects of modern life? Let's run it again: let's live spectacularly good lives, lives that are great examples, lives that use materialism, blessing the poor, being there for the needy, lives that are real, transparent and attractive, lives that give thanks to God for the tsunami of facts and knowledge that has meant blessing for the human race, lives that use the phone or internet wisely to build relationships, and be informed to counter untruths, lives that question and query the acrid voices of doubt and put forward words of peace and the wisdom that comes from on high.
In other words may we, in the words of a leading churchman in the UK recently, focus the church on bringing people to Christ and transforming society. May our part in the creation mandate achieve this with His enabling and to His glory. Amen. “ Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.” (Rom 12:2 Message version)
Reaching into Redemption Meditations:
59. Redemption and the Church
1 Cor 12:27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it
Now the Church: Yesterday we asked the question, ‘What is God doing with mankind?' and made a few suggestions. Now I want to turn to another equally important question, what is God doing with the Church? The problem for most of us is that we each tend to be parochial, i.e. we are limited in vision to our own little experience and we assume that is the norm, but possibly it isn't. Over the past century there have been a number of changes to the church world-wide but the greatest one, I would suggest, is the attitude and then experience of the church in respect of the Holy Spirit. Whole new denominations sprang up in the last century that were Spirit-focused. In the back quarter of the last century the charismatic movement took the Spirit into more traditional mainline denominations, while at the same time provoking a whole new outlook on ‘church'; the concept of the ‘body of Christ' came to our awareness. Over the past twenty years or more, while the bulk of ‘the Church' has been carrying on as normal, in some quarters it would appear that the Spirit is provoking new thinking about just what the church is. Indeed words like ‘fresh expressions' seek to express something of this.
Expectations: (I speak for the UK, not the rest of the world). While these ‘fresh expressions' appear to be popping up here and there, rather like unexpected mushrooms appearing in a lawn, what we see for most of church, is carrying on, “same old, same old.” In most, expectations for change, for life, for vibrancy, for impacting the world, is not great. Indeed it goes further than that, for in many there appears a world-weariness, except it is not weariness in respect of the world but in respect of the church. Talking recently to some long-term friends from elsewhere in the country who we only see every couple of years, this sold-out for God couple said, “We're all just so tired. We've done it all, we're so busy and we're so worn out, we've got no more to give.” Another couple who are good friends closer to home had dinner with us recently, again long-term faithful Christians, and when I casually commented, “How is church?” they replied, “We don't do church, it doesn't do anything for us.” Again they are a couple worn and weary. We need a revival! I remember one well-known international prophet who a number of years ago prophesied a coming revival which, if my memory serves me right, would be about 2021 or 2022. Time will tell, but we need it.
Let's make it personal: As a retired leader, I still have the heart to see life, growth, salvation, change, maturity and Spirit-life flowing in God's people and out into the world, but so often as I watch Facebook pages, church comes over more as a social club, not God's power-packed army of radical change. Church goes on, ‘same old, same old'! Change is resisted, life is absent. There are exceptions, in churches and individuals; there is a remnant of both that yearns for and wants to go in the Spirit and see Him being Lord. But when it is a case of ‘business as usual' or world-weariness, what are we left with? We can either continue with the week by week ritual that lacks life, or we can drop out, or we can stand on the hillside like a prophet of old and declare the truth and trust for the Spirit to come and bring transforming life to the words we declare. Opt out, cop out or opt in? What will it be? As with Joshua I would like to say, “as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord .” (Josh 24:15)
Church Context: As an individual I am called to maturity, to grow up: using his word (Heb 5:14) and obeying his word (Mt 7:21, Mt 28:20), allowing his graces to develop in me (Jas 1:4), to be stable (Eph 4:14), learning to play my part in the ‘body' (Eph 4:16), resisting the lure of distraction by riches & pleasures, and learning to deal with worries, all of which hinder growth, maturity and fruitfulness (Lk 8:14,15). But then in this context, the big issue is that I am also a member of the body of Christ, the Church (Rom 12:4,5, 1 Cor 12:12,27, Eph 1:23, 4:15,16,25, Col 1:18) designed to continue Christ's expression and work of God on earth (Heb 10:5-7), a body to do the will of God on earth. Working all these things into reality in my life is what ongoing redemption is all about. So, if I am to opt-in, regardless of what anyone else might do, what is to be my role in this ‘body' in these days, these days of uncertainty, of constant change, of world-weariness?
Holding the Truth: I believe we need to restate some of the most basic and obvious truths that can get submerged in this age that we've spoken about earlier in this series. For example: “What is a Christian? One who has become God conscious , one who has had a God-encounter, one who has surrendered to God, sought and received His forgiveness earned by His Son, Jesus Christ, one who has been made right with God by His Son, one empowered by His Spirit, one with an ongoing relationship with God that hopefully grows day by day, week by week, month by month and year by year, one who is being changed into the likeness of the Son, one who is open to Him, to be used by Him to bless others. A Christian is a divinely supernatural work of God.” We may become world-weary, but this is still a basic unchanging truth and if it is true – and I am certain it is – we need to be challenging ourselves and each other: God-conscious, surrendered, empowered, changed, used, divinely supernatural? Is that me? If not, then I am living as less than I am designed to be.
Let's have another example: “What does it mean to be spiritual? To be spiritual means to be conscious and aware of another dimension, the dimension that complements the material world, the world of God, of the angels, of demons, of spirits, of powers and principalities. To be spiritual means to feed the spirit as well as the mind. To be spiritual means to flow in the spirit in harmony with the Holy Spirit. To be spiritual means to experience a living relationship with the unseen One, the Lord of all things, to refer to Him, talk with Him, question Him, ask of Him, worship Him and live with the awareness of Him.” Is that me, is that us? Aware, feeding the spirit, flowing in the spirit, referring to, talking to, questioning, asking, worshiping Him? Is that how I live, is that how we, the church, live?
Let's just have one more of these ‘basic-truth' concepts: “Why do Christians think the ‘will of God' is so important? The Bible teaches that God is all-knowing and all-wise and that He is perfect, loving and full of goodness. This means that everything that God thinks, says or does cannot be improved upon (i.e. is perfect), and is an expression of love and goodness. It follows, therefore, that everything God wants for us is the very best, cannot be improved upon, is loving and utterly good. If this is true – and the Bible says it is – then we would be unwise to reject His plans for us (Eph 2:10) and should do all we can to find and follow His unique will for us.” Am I concerned with His will, do I trust that it is epitomised by love and goodness and His perfection, and that it is for my blessing?
Alone and together: Now these three things are, I suggest, just three of the many things that go to the heart of what it means to be part of the Church, the body of Christ. They are things I need to ponder on and apply as an individual, but they are also things that we need to ensure are at the heart of our church life. Without them, we are well off-beam. Now these are quite specific things, but the danger is that we expect the same of the way we each work them out. Now what I have noted over the years is that each Christian has different faith levels. This may be in general terms, i.e. someone has a generally low level of faith, or the opposite, or it may be to do with a specific area. For example, one person may have a high level of faith for praying but perhaps little faith for giving, while another person may have great faith for giving but little when it comes to praying.
Thus we should never take each other for granted; we are all different and I need your differences, I need your grace and your gifting. This is where those who opt out are at a severe disadvantage, they do not have the resource that is you. Even more – and I have observed this a number of times – when we step right out of the ambit of the church (and our criticisms may be spot on) we actually make ourselves vulnerable to attack from the enemy. That I believe was what was behind Paul's teaching to the Corinthian church when he spoke about putting a specific sinner ‘out' of the church, so that he would be vulnerable to the work of the enemy and be thus chastised and brought back to repentance (see 1 Cor 5:5,13). Sadly we take for granted the protection we receive by being a part of this living body. Paul's teaching in 1 Cor 12 is twofold: first, I am unique, we are all different and, second, we need each other because of those differences.
Church being Redeemed? The church in the West seems to be reducing in numbers in terms of percentage of the population, but at the same time, many parts of it are looking healthier and are exhibiting life. Although many are indifferent to change and to life, there is still that faithful remnant that hungers and thirsts to be the real body of Christ that exhibits his reality, exhibits his life, his love and his goodness, his revelation and his power. The challenge to me, and to each of us, is will I opt out when I am faced with this indifference or will I determine, with His grace, to remain one of the faithful ones who will continue to hold to the truth and live it out? Will I be working wherever and whenever I am given the opportunity to bless, encourage and build those either side of me in this body, communicating and imparting His love and goodness wherever I can? Can that be you as well? This is how we play our part as God works in this ongoing process of redeeming the Church.
Reaching into Redemption Meditations:
60. The path behind us
2 Pet 1:12 So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have.
2 Pet 3:1 Dear friends, this is now my second letter to you. I have written both of them as remind ers to stimulate you to wholesome thinking.
A Long Way: We have travelled a long way with this set of studies and so with Peter (see above) we perhaps need to do a ‘reminder study' before we come to the very last ones in this series. I don't know if you have ever gone walking over hills and valleys, and paused to look back at the wonder of where you have been that has enabled you to arrive where you are? I often encourage people to do this with their life story, to write down the key things that have happened in your life. I started doing it several years ago, using old diaries to pick up the highlights of the life that my wife and I have lived together – but I gave up. Then by accident a year or so back I came across it and started again and ended up producing a little ten-page booklet of our history together. It was worth the effort and it has given us grounds to praise and thank the Lord for what He has done in our lives – and it has strengthened us in our love and our resolves for today. So where have we been in this series and what has it shown us?
Imperfect men of the Old Testament: After the two introductory studies, the next twelve were about key men of the Old Testament, all of them with feet of clay who got it wrong somehow. Yet they were men with whom God persisted. We saw their failures and we saw God's discipline in their lives. God loves and accepts and keeps on with us, but He does discipline is to keep us on the right track. Our sins may not annul our eternal destiny, but they will have consequences which God allows to act as corrective discipline in our lives, into which He continues to work.
Continuing with Israel: We then had six studies in respect of how God redeemed Israel as a nation. The more I read the Old Testament, the more I find the failures of Israel stand out, but the more I see that, the more I wonder at a God who persisted with this foolish people (who are just like the rest of the world despite their relationship with God) and kept on persisting to bring about what I called a ‘God-environment' into which to bring His Son two thousand years ago. Then we saw a little over eighteen hundred years when Israel were dissolved into the world before being brought back into the open last century. God has not finished with them. Amazing.
Godly Apostles: We followed this with four quick observations of Peter, Paul and John, seeing how the same ongoing redemptive process worked in all three of these giants from the New Testament. Yes, each one of them flawed, but each one of them being moulded by the Master Potter with amazing results. Again the ongoing working of God in godless men to make them godly.
Fundamentals: We continued with nine studies, three sets of three, to focus our thinking on what we have been delivered from, what we are being delivered to, and the essentials or basics of what redemption is all about. We need to keep on doing that.
Modern life problems: In part 6, in thirteen studies, uncomfortable studies, we considered some of the struggles within western nations with gender distinctions and relational breakdowns. These are no doubt things we would prefer to not think about (and simply stay in the safe waters of basic Bible Study) but if Scripture doesn't speak to these things then we might ask what relevance does it have to life today? Our call was to be open, understanding and compassionate in respect of those who are struggling with these issues in our world today. The Pharisees would have legalistically written them off; Jesus seeks to redeem them.
Culture Problems: In part 7, in nine studies, we faced some of the primary problems that we in the twenty first century culture struggle with, things that threaten to overwhelm us, things that appear to drown us, things that challenge whether all this talk about ongoing redemption has any validity in the face of these threats. They are things that not only intimidate us, they intimidate most people, but we should be the best equipped to handle them. They are simply developments of a fast-changing technological world, things that can bless us or curse us. Understanding them puts them in perspective and helps us see the world with its good and bad in which we find ourselves, the arena in which God continues to work out His redemptive purposes in us.
Be Positive in the Face of Failure: Thus we arrive at the finale where we stand on our present hillside and look back. We yesterday started this ‘finale' by seeking to be positive about the changes of this most remarkable world in which we live, a world that God made, and into which He brings revelation, knowledge, understanding and much more, to enable us human beings to improve this world with technology. Yes, as history has already shown us, we have a penchant for getting it wrong and for misusing what we have been given (not realizing that it is a gift we have been given by the Creator). We who are God's people and who have His revelation and wisdom, should be the best equipped to understand what is going on in the world, and thus we need to learn how we can earn the right to speak into it, as we work out our twofold mandate of bringing people to Christ and transforming society, being salt and light – purifiers and life-bringers.
The call: The call was to approach this positively in an attitude of faith looking to bring the love and goodness of God to His world. There is a sense whereby He seeks to redeem this world, continuing to develop it for the good of mankind, and yet the sinfulness of mankind only turns its back on Him and refuses to believe in His goodness. Thus they pursue paths that are not only self-serving but also destructive. Our call is to resist these things with all of His grace, wisdom and truth, and that process in us, is still part of His redeeming work in each of us. Left to ourselves, we would probably prefer to sit back and ignore the world and simply enjoy our little part of it; so much easier. Yet His call is for us to be salt and light and that means effort and involvement, and for that we need all of His grace.
Life Transformation: As He brings that and involves us, so we are changed and when we get to heaven, if he allows us to look back from His perspective and observe our lives, seeing where we came from, how we handled the path, how we changed, and how we were transformed, I believe we will marvel, we will gasp at the wonder of it all. For now we only see as through a dark glass or in a dirty mirror (1 Cor 13:12) and so we struggle to understand our part in this incredible redemptive work of God that continues right up to this second and on into eternity. Throughout these studies, I felt myself mind-blown with the wonder of God's ongoing process in us fallible and so often failing human beings. It continues in a world that is as dramatically different today from four thousand years ago as chalk is from cheese, and yet it does not change. His goal? To deliver us from a godless way of thinking and living into a godly way of thinking and living. He never changes, His purposes never change, but His work is to bring changes in us to make us something more than we are today. Our part is to be aware of it (hence this series) and to cooperate with Him in it. May it be so.
Reaching into Redemption Meditations:
61. On the Way (1)
Acts 9:1,2 He went to the Chief Priest and got arrest warrants to take to the meeting places in Damascus so that if he found anyone there belonging to the Way , whether men or women, he could arrest them
Gal 2:2 I wanted to be sure I was not running and had not been running my race in vain.
A Journey: It is interesting that in Acts the new faith was referred to as ‘the Way' which suggests a journey going from somewhere to somewhere. The apostle Paul several times refers to our faith as a race and of course a race has a beginning and an end. In addition to our Galatians verse above, he said to Timothy, “ I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race , I have kept the faith.” (2 Tim 4:7) Throughout this series we have contended for the idea that our lives as Christians are a long redemptive process, that it is God's intention to change me, and you, and the world. Why? Because He wants something better for us than that which we have presently. Never settle for the present, there is more on God's heart for you.
The Range of God's desire: I have just recently been listening online to a Bible week in the UK, a week that always has very high faith levels, excellent teaching and an expectation of the power of the Holy Spirit working. What I have found interesting and challenging is the language of worship leaders and other leaders as they lead the worship and wait on God, such as, “I believe the Lord wants to reach out to those who have been holding onto fears for many years and release you from them,” or “there are people here tonight who have been struggling with their marriages and tonight I believe the Lord wants you to recommit yourselves to making them work with His grace.” Now I don't have a problem with those words as such, but they have triggered a thought in me that I have never seen so clearly before: Yes, God does want to come and minister to those people but also those who struggle with anger, with sexual temptations, with worries at work, with worries about their children, and those who are feeling spiritually lethargic, those who are feeling like giving up, those who feel failures, those who are struggling in a myriad of ways, yes, He wants to minister to ALL of these things, all of these people, so why doesn't He, because these are surely things He wants to redeem us from? The change in respect of each of these things IS God's will for us, so how does it work?
Aspects of Change: Does God wave a magic wand and we are changed? No, of course not. The Lord works through clearly defined channels. We can see them in the New Testament and there is nothing hyper-mystical about them. They are easily understood, so let's consider each of them.
A. My Self Will: Now there is a clear indication in the Bible that we do genuinely have free will and we have the ability to choose how to act in response to anything God says. The Bible shows that God speaks and expects people to respond. He wouldn't bother to speak if He didn't have that expectation. Now we also have examples in the Bible of people who did respond positively in belief (and many of our earlier studies showed individuals who did respond positively to God) but we also have examples of people who rejected what God said and disobeyed Him. At the outset Eve could have refused to listen to Satan, but didn't and so gave way to his suggestions, the temptation in the Garden of Eden.
Heart Condition? You and I can choose how we respond when we hear the word preached, but it is not that simple. There is our ‘heart condition' and the things that impact upon it. Heart condition? The Bible speaks about hungering and thirsting (Psa 42:2, 63:1, 107:9, 143:6, Isa 44:3, 55:1, Mt 5:6, Jn 7:37, Rev 21:6, 22:17). The person who hungers and thirst is, without doubt, a more open vessel to receive from God. In the Gospels we find people crying out to Jesus to help them. Is that us? Is it possible to make yourself ‘thirst' for God or is it something He has to do? Both!
Our Choices: I can choose, in respect of the so-called spiritual disciplines, to make more time to wait on God in stillness, I can choose to deepen my study of His word, I can choose to deepen my prayer experiences, I can choose to purpose to worship more fully, I can choose to take notes, listen more carefully and more purposefully respond to the preached word, and all of these things are our efforts to draw near to God. As I do these things I believe there is a changing that will take place in me as He responds ( “Come near to God and he will come near to you” – Jas 4:8), and I will find a raising of faith within me, an increase in awareness of Him, and a thrill and sense of thanksgiving rise in me. I can choose to do these things and then have to trust in His responses. This is my contribution to this part of the redemption process.
But there are also the big life choices – not to steal, not to covet, not to commit adultery, not to tell lies, not to abuse others in word or deed, not to defame others. Those are the negative choices I have to make, but there are also positive ones – to speak well of others, to encourage others, to love others, care for them with compassion, accept others and be there for them. These are another set of choices that I have to make as part of my redemptive process.
B. The Faith Level Present: Now there is no doubt that faith is a key issue. John Wimber used to say that faith was present in someone in every recorded instance of healing in the Gospels. But I have watched over the years and this I know , the preacher who faithfully expounds God's word under the anointing of the Holy Spirit releases faith in his hearers. Such preaching should produce a ‘wow factor' response. That may be “Wow, that was amazing, isn't God good, I must serve Him,” or “Wow, God is holy I must bow before Him and commit myself afresh to Him”. If preaching leaves people unmoved, either they have hard hearts, or the preacher is unexcited by God's word and lacking the anointing of God. Bringing God's word, preachers can come with a high faith level and expectation and generate or release faith.
‘Non-Faith' Churches & People: Very often ‘church services' or ‘church meetings' completely lack faith. Why do you need to depend on God turning up when you have a service all laid out and it must be stuck to? Where is there room for the Holy Spirit to move to bring revelation, fresh direction, empowering to bring healing, deliverance or change generally? Being part of a church that is like this means spiritual growth – the journey along the path of God's redemptive work in us – is slowed down, either to snail's pace or actual standstill. I used to agree with those who said you never stand still, you either go forward or backwards. I'm not so sure that is true, because I do know Christians who appear at a complete standstill in their lives and I suspect they are still thinking the same way and doing exactly the same things as ten years ago. That is not growth, but it is also not backsliding, for they would say they are bona-fide Christians who pray, read the Bible, go to church, worship etc. But have they grown in character and spirituality, wisdom, revelation and insight, are they moving in gifts of the Spirit, being more available and more used of God? No. Yes, sadly I also know those who once were part of church life but no longer, and who now appear to exhibit little if any spiritual life. Their complaints tend to be about the lack of reality in much church life, but they have opted out from trying to change that from the inside and so simply sit outside and criticize.
The Church Spectrum: But the point I wish to make here is we are not people in isolation in this redemption process, we are part of the church and ‘the church' can encourage us, release faith in us (which is what the Eph 4:12 ministries are supposed to do) and generally help us to grow – or not! The ‘Church' worldwide is a complex organism and often more an organisation than an organism. In some places you might find a group of ten believers meeting together with a measure of life flowing between them but having little impact on anyone else. At the other end of the spectrum it is possible to find mega-churches with superstar preachers who justify why a personal jet is necessary, and their pew fodder are supporters who simply finance these stars but show little similarity to the disciples of the New Testament, and the ‘body of Christ' is no more than an untouched idea in Paul's writings. Wherever we worship on this spectrum, can we blame the leaders for failing to lead us to the spiritual heights with God and in transforming the world by His Spirit? Yes we can, but that is no excuse for us making poor choices that limit our growth. I can choose to study God's word, to pray and seek God's face, and worship and witness – or not. I can choose to read books that will stir, challenge and build my faith – or not. I can choose to go on spiritual retreats, Bible conferences and the like – or not. I can choose to contribute to my spiritual growth – or not!
Locked in to circumstances? Sometimes it feels like our life circumstances lock us in and lock us down. Sometimes personal illness strikes, sometimes accidents occur, sometimes we get abandoned or falsely accused and hurt, sometimes we lose a loved one unexpectedly and prematurely and life seems seriously unfair. Sometimes the clouds of gloom or depression hang over us and no one seems to care, and so talk of a redemptive process appears unreal; we don't appear to be going anywhere. But the thing is that despite what we are choosing to do, or not, and despite what others in the church are doing, or not, God is always there quietly working in the background. and that well known verse of Rom 8:28 still proves to be true: “Moreover we know that to those who love God, who are called according to his plan, everything that happens fits into a pattern for good.” (JBP version) or “we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.” (Message version). Our part in this redemptive process is sometimes to simply hang on in there and be able say, “Yes, I still love God,” and then just trust that in all the imperfect circumstances surrounding us, He IS still working through His redemptive process in us. Amen.
Reaching into Redemption Meditations:
62. On the Way (2)
Phil 1:6 he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
The end? And so we eventually come to what I feel must be approaching the final study in this series. My feeling is that this is where we will soon stop. It's time to move on. And that is a characteristic of this ongoing redemption that we have been considering for nearly two months, there is always something more to come. We used to watch that TV series ‘The West Wing' and anyone who has worked their way through all of those series about life in the White House, will remember the President who deals with each problem or facet of the job and then says to his aide, “What's next?” There is always for the Christian a “what's next?” Let's start by noting some of the things this simple verse above says.
The Starting Place: “He who began a good work in you”. God started something in me – there was His call, His conviction, His conversion (the offer of justification, adoption and an empowered and new guided-life), to which I simply said yes, but I am what I am because of what He started off. In each of the earlier Bible studies in this series, in each of the people and in the life of Israel, it was because God initiated contact, God started the relationship, and the redemptive process started from there and continued from there.
An Indeterminant Goal: “until the day of Christ Jesus.” This redemptive process will continue until a specific point in history, when it will stop. 1 Cor 15 speaks of our future after death when we will be raised in a new body. The work will have been finished. The mystery is whether we will have to wait until a specific point in God's planned history, or whether it happens the second we die (e.g. Lk 24:43). But there is an end goal that God is working towards. We don't know that day. If it is the day of our death, it still remains the great unknown. The older we get, the greater our awareness of our mortality. When we are younger, the honest truth is that death is something so far off (at least in our thinking) that it will never happen. Reality says we never know when it will be. People do die in middle age or younger. When we hit our sixties it is statistically more likely, but for those who are sixty, we may yet have another forty years to live out on this life.
His Purposeful Activity: “he…. will carry it on to completion.” The truth we have seen again and again in those earlier studies, and sought to apply in the later ones, is that God is continually working to change us – all of us who are Christians! Until that ‘completion day' I am still a work in progress. His goal is, we have seen again and again, to deliver me from the old self-centred, godless life that I lived before I met Christ, and deliver me into a life we refer to as ‘the kingdom of God' where His will is preeminent in our lives and we are being changed, bit by bit, into the likeness of Jesus Christ. In some of the earlier studies we sought to put content to what we meant by being ‘delivered from', and then what we meant when we spoke of ‘being delivered to.' As this is the penultimate study it might be helpful to add some thoughts about how this applies to different generations.
Redeeming the Young: For the Christian who is a young person, the biggest challenge is to understand what our calling means, and how it is wise to be distinct and different from the unbelievers in our generation. Choosing God's design for say love, relationships, careers etc. requires wisdom to see how His way is best. That part of the redemptive process is about God accompanying us through the desert of modern culture that is so deceptive. It requires us to make seeking Him out and seeking to understand His will, His law, a priority. Help to achieve that comes best from Christian youth leaders hopefully. It is a major decision-making time.
The Middle Years: Handling success and established routines becomes the challenge for these years, working to hold on to a living relationship with God in the midst of the busyness that comes with raising a family, working out a career. The redemptive process here involves enabling us to triumph in being parents without tearing our hair out, or career people without getting utterly worn out. It is in this period that most of us make the greatest impact on the world because our energy levels are at their best. This is ground breaking time.
Into Retirement: Except so often people say, ‘Christians never retire'. No, we become grandparents and those who hopefully have the wisdom of years, who are there to stand by those in the generations below who are still slugging it out with the world. But retirement means new purposes, and time to use them. We have two elderly Christian friends who have faithfully served the Lord all their lives. They live elsewhere in the country, but we try and visit them, every 6 to 9 months. She is just 90 and he is just 89. Like many elderly people they are not so fit and healthy as they once were, but when we visited them recently he said, “Of course our biggest cry to the Lord is, ‘Lord, what can we do more for you?” They are still looking to go all out for God. They stand as shining beacons to the rest of us, with that challenge. If you are in this age bracket and wonder about your role, consider the following: “ The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the Lord , they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age , they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, “The Lord is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.” (Psa 92:12-15) Somehow with the grace of God this can be us – flourishing, growing (still!), bearing fruit, fresh ( “lithe and green, virile still in old age” says the Message version), speaking out a powerful testimony to all we encounter, God is great, He is still my security, and He is utterly loving and good.
Shut In: But there are those of us whose latter days are not ones of great freedom and our contacts are few and far between, and the enemy plays on this and writes us off. Paul, speaking of God's purposes declared, “ His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms , according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Eph 3:10,11) The picture he conveys is of all the heavenly watchers – angels, demons, powers and principalities – all watching us and watching to see how we cope with the circumstances that face us, watching to see how God's salvation through Christ is being worked out in us. Whether it is living alone with just three days of life left, or years and years in isolating circumstances, the picture of us being watched by these heavenly watchers, says we have the capability of bringing glory to God, even when we are on our own and no one else can see us. Even alone we have the opportunity to bring glory to God and that is wonderful. That is just as much part of these redemptive processes we have been talking about for so long, as anything else is.
How Long? Paul wrote, “ I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” (2 Tim 4:7,8) We cannot be certain about the final days of Paul's life but in his writing here to Timothy when he says, “I have finished the race”, there is a sense here that he has come to the end of his journey through life. He anticipates his reward in the presence of God. Tradition suggests that after his imprisonment in Rome he was released and only later arrested again and then executed; he yet had some days to live out this journey. As we said earlier, we never know how long this redemptive process is going to continue. If we are elderly, like my two friends, the temptation is to think, today or tomorrow could be the end. It might be but on the other hand, there may yet be many days to come. Whether it is young or old, we may feel weak and frail but that should never stop us shining like a candle in the darkness. The challenge for today is still, “What's next?”
To Summarise: May we never forget that whatever the circumstances, whatever the age, as Christians we are participating in a process that God is working out in and through us, to redeem us from our old selves, the selves in the mould of the self-centred and godless world, and to redeem us to become something more wonderful than the world can possibly conceive, a child of God, ever growing into the likeness of their Father. And how can this be? Because His unique son, the Son of God, Jesus Christ, died on the Cross at Calvary to make it all possible. His death was the price paid that enabled this process to start, to continue and to be brought to completion one day, in you and me. Hallelujah!
Reaching into Redemption Meditations:
63. In and Out
Heb 11:13-16 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one.
Possibilities: The thrust of these studies throughout is that God delivers us out of the bad into the good; that is what redemption is all about, but as I come to the end I am aware that the fact that we have been saying it is an ongoing process and that we are ‘works in progress', means that for many things in our lives, there is still a sense of incompleteness, of not having been fully delivered out and fully delivered in. I am always aware of what the writer to the Hebrews says about the people of faith from the Old Testament in our starter verses above. There are some crucial things to be noted that impinge very much on this idea that we have been pursuing of ongoing redemption.
Unfulfilled Promises: “They did not receive the things promised.” That is a pretty honest statement, and one which can both be misunderstood and used by critics of God and faith – “See, you say God does this and that, but as I watch your life, so much of it doesn't seem to be so wonderful in the way you talk about!” Ah, but read on, “they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance .” The Message version paraphrase puts it, “They saw it way off in the distance, waved their greeting, and accepted the fact that they were transients in this world.” I like that.
An Illustration: Those people realised that this world was purely an entrance foyer to eternity and they were simply passing through it. I like that picture I've just touched on. Imagine a cold, rough, harsh street in which you have lived, and in front of you is a great building and you hear a voice calling, inviting you to come in. As you peer in through the open doors you see an interior that is so different to this street outside. You realise you have tolerated this awful street for too long and you long to experience the wonder of what you glimpse inside. Yet you feel unworthy and so simply kneel on the steps, but a voice calls again and bids you enter. In humility you timidly pass through the entrance doors. Inside it is full of light and beauty. A servant comes up and offers you new clothing and you realise all you had worn previously was threadbare, torn and dirty. In a vestibule to the side you are able to change, and you emerge in splendour.
The area inside the entrance doors is enormous and glorious and splendid and there is so much to see. There are so many things to which your attention is drawn, and time passes rapidly as you enjoy and enter in to so much of what is before you. But then the voice comes yet again and invites you to ascend the stairs that lead out of this area, but you hesitate. There is so much here in this room that has become so familiar, there is so much that is good, and you feel there is still so much yet to explore, and so you hesitate. But the voice is persistent, and you know it is a command which you cannot refuse and so you ascend the stairs and pass through the door at the top. Suddenly your breath leaves you because what is before you cannot be described as a room, it is a world, and you gasp at its beauty, and as you glance back through the door behind you, all that you had been experiencing simply looked grey by comparison to the wonder, the colour, the brightness before you and, suddenly, you realise that the room below where you had spent so much time, yes, so much more wonderful than the street outside, was but the entrance foyer to this new world.
It is but an illustration, but an accurate one I believe. The street outside was our old life. Entering the doors was our conversion. The time spent in the entrance foyer was simply to start to prepare us for the reality to come. Accurate? But incomplete, for it is but a parable, and parables never tell the whole story. So back to our experience of this ‘entrance foyer', a place of promises where some are fulfilled and experienced, and some are simply glimpsed at a distance as we gaze up the staircase and catch just a glimmer of what is beyond.
Past, present and future: “ If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one.” Do you see the three periods within this verse? The past – the country they had left. Surely this refers to Abram, delivered ‘out of' his old life in Ur. The present – implied, the land where he now lived, Canaan, learning to experience God's presence. The future – a better country, a heavenly one. His encounters with the Creator-God of the world left him with a yearning, for something better, but for years he had to live out his life on this earth, struggling with childlessness, struggling to believe the promise of God, struggling with trying circumstances, struggling with a wife who wanted to speed faith up, struggling with apparently impossible commands of God to give up the fruit of the promise, struggling to remain true to God's calling and find a wife for the fruit of the promise, a woman who would not absorb the fruit of the promise (yes, Isaac!) into the life and the ways of Canaan. Yes, the life of this man of faith was so often a struggle, but that is how life is in this fallen world.
In and Out: But here is the thing, and let's continue with Abraham as our example, having been delivered out of Ur (by the calling of God), as we watch his life portrayed in those many chapters of Genesis, the Lord is with him and is delivering him IN the land, IN his present life. The Lord is delivering him from himself and from his wife's wrong notions, He is delivering him from enemies in the land and from the outworkings of the folly of his nephew, He is delivering him IN Canaan. But he, like the other faith-filled saints of Hebrews 11, catches a view of something better, something more, and so, like them, has now been delivered OUT of this present world into the land of promise, not Canaan but eternity in God's presence, heaven.
And Us? We are just the same, for we too experience being delivered out of our old life, are being delivered IN this present life and will one day be delivered OUT of it into eternity. In this present world, we have to accept it is often a world of struggles, of trials and even tribulations and God will deliver us IN the midst of these things and then OUT of them. A crisis arises in life, and it causes us great anguish. We cry out to the Lord, but the circumstances don't change, they cannot, they have happened – but peace comes, and we are delivered OUT of the anguish, even in the midst of the unchanging circumstances. “ in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:6,7) There are also times when the circumstances change as we pray, and we are delivered OUT of them; it is that simple. As we noted with Peter and James, we can never guarantee the outcome. James was executed by Herod (Acts 12:2) while Peter was imprisoned prior to a similar death but then was delivered out of the prison by an angel. James was delivered into eternity, while Peter was delivered into freedom, only later to also face martyrdom, being prematurely delivered into eternity.
Living in the incomplete and imperfect: So here we are in this present world. Satan's greatest temptation is to try to get us to believe that this is all there is, and thus live a totally self-centred and godless life. All the while the Spirit of God reaches out to us to remind us of the truths we have been considering here today; we are living in the redemptive process of God. This world is but the ‘entrance foyer' to eternity. However, within it, because it is a fallen world where sin prevails, it is often a struggle, and yet all the resources of God are there and are being employed by heaven to deliver you IN this world so that at the right time – His time – you can be delivered OUT of it and INTO your inheritance waiting for you in eternity.
This is the ‘big picture' that we are called to live by, all because of God's incredible love for us, manifested through the amazing work of the Son of God on the Cross at Calvary, and the ongoing working of His Holy Spirit. See it, live it, rejoice in the wonder of the present and at tiny glimpses of the even more wonderful future that is still to come on this earth and then into an even more incredible dimension in heaven. Hallelujah and Amen!