|Series Theme: The Truth about Guilt|
PART TWO: Specific Failures that produce Guilt
The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 20. Unintentionality
Lev 4:13 “If / the whole Israelite community sins unintentionally/ and does what is forbidden in any of the Lord 's commands, / even though the community is unaware of the matter,/ when they realize their guilt / and the sin they committed becomes known, / the assembly must bring a young bull as a sin offering and present it before the tent of meeting.
Next: As we go to move on in this series on Guilt, to consider specific ways we get it wrong, perhaps as a bridge between the more general issues we have been considering and the specific ways we fall short in this next Part, we would do well in this study to note the fact of unintentional sin which nevertheless means a person is guilty. It is also worth noting that so often people write off the book of Leviticus as just Old Testament law that is no longer applicable, but in the verses we will be studying we will see specific examples of principles that apply generally.
Groups & Process: Our verse above is about the whole community of God's people, that's the starting place for this particular group of verses. This law is reiterated but covering different people – a leader (4:22), anyone in the community (4:27) i.e. it covered everyone. The issue is of doing wrong unintentionally, i.e. they were not aware that it was wrong. But then the Law assumes there will come a point when they will realise they are guilty of a sin. It is at this point that the Law is provided whereby the sinner can deal with their sin in an appropriate manner – offering a sin offering. So we have different stages of the process: the sin, awareness of it being a sin, it being atoned for by a sacrifice . The same is true of the other two instances we have just noted.
Sin Types & Process Again: The nature of different types of sin is made clear. For example, sin by not acting: “If anyone sins because they do not speak up when they hear a public charge to testify regarding something they have seen or learned about, they will be held responsible.” (Lev 5:1) or of wrong things done (5:2-4). In both cases the order of events is then made clear: “when anyone becomes aware that they are guilty in any of these matters, / they must confess in what way they have sinned. / As a penalty for the sin they have committed, they must bring to the Lord …. a sin offering; / and the priest shall make atonement for them for their sin.” (5:5,6) There the process is expanded: sin & guilt, awareness, confession, offering, atonement.
Clarity: “If anyone sins and does what is forbidden in any of the Lord 's commands, even though they do not know it , they are guilty and will be held responsible.” (Lev 5:17) This rather drives the nail in the coffin of the person who excuses themselves by saying that they did not know what they had been doing was wrong.
Application: So let's be quite clear. We may not be part of a community such as Israel and we may not have the various religious ceremonial laws to abide by, but the general principles are still valid:
i) Sin is wrongdoing before God, disobeying His design.
ii) Regardless of whether we are aware that it is sin or not, when we have disobeyed we are guilty and we will be held accountable by God.
iii) If we become aware that we have sinned, the path is specific: confession, repentance and atonement.
Of course for us the atonement comes not from having to make a sacrifice but simply believing in and relying upon the sacrifice of Jesus Christ of his own body on the cross for our sins.
The Problem: The problem that arises is that so often we just don't understand that certain things we say or do or don't do are wrong, and we thus assume we are all right. But God says we are not. We will still be held accountable for them, even if we are not aware of them at the present. What is also concerning is that so often these things hinder our relationship with the Lord.
A simple example of this is Peter's teaching to Christian men: “Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.” (1 Pet 3:7) i.e. men, if you don't treat your wives properly don't expect to get blessed; in fact expect your spiritual life to be limited. Sadly such men who mistreat their wives probably don't care about the quality of their spiritual lives, but it nevertheless goes to show your religiosity can be annulled by wrong selfish behaviour.
And So: Your first reaction to this second Part may be negative in that you feel we don't, as New Testament believers, need to focus on getting it right all the time, but the truth is that we can appear very spiritual and yet have big gaps in our righteousness which annuls the rest (read Isa 58:2,3). The truth of this is often witnessed at times of revival when God comes in sovereign power and it is the church that is first on their knees in tears of repentance for the things they had tolerated but which now appear before the gaze of the holy God. Let's not wait until then. Let's check these things out NOW and deal with them NOW.
The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 21. Guilt by Thought
Mt 5:28 I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
Deut 15:9 Be careful not to harbor this wicked thought : “The seventh year, the year for canceling debts, is near,” so that you do not show ill will toward the needy among your fellow Israelites and give them nothing. They may then appeal to the Lord against you, and you will be found guilty of sin.
Next: We move on now to consider the specific ways we can get it wrong. That sounds a rather negative future but if there are things that we inadvertently have come to accept as normal in our lives, things that are contrary to the will of God, they will limit our relationship with Him and hinder Him coming to us. When Isaiah declared, “In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord ; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the Lord will be revealed ,” (Isa 40:3-5), he was declaring in picture form the need in a time of dryness to make preparations for God to be able to come to prepared hearts. The language of straightening the way, making it level, and filling in holes, was common language used in preparation when a king and his retinue might be coming.
Direction: In this second Part we will start by observing what we think , because that is where belief is. But then thinking is linked with our physical bodies and that is about desire . But that also involves emotions , and they can so easily be out of kilter with God. These can also be stirred by sight , by what we let our eyes see and the thoughts, feelings and desires that follow. That is where these next six studies will go. But when we talk about ‘sight' or ‘seeing' it can also mean how we perceive or view aspects of life, but when we are thinking about how we fall short of God's intents for us, it can take us back to how we think or, to link analogies, how we can be blind to these things. And that is where the remaining studies will go. So that is our plan for the days immediately ahead. These things are not to load us with guilt but to give us goals to aim for.
The Starting Point - Unbelief: Sin starts in the mind. The apostle Paul said we were to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind .” (Rom 12:2) Speaking about our old life he said, “ You let the world… tell you how to live. You filled your lungs with polluted unbelief.” ( Eph 2:2,3 Message version) I like that version because it emphasizes that unbelief is a way of polluting our thinking, so let's ask some basic questions about who we believe we are? Do we truly believe we are / children of God, / totally and utterly saved by the finished work of Christ on the Cross, / and empowered by the indwelling Holy Spirit? If we have any hiccup over any one of these three bits, as I've divided them out, we have an unbelief problem. It was unbelief that meant those who called themselves Jews but failed to believe were cut off (Rom 11:20). It was unbelief that stopped Israel initially entering the Promised Land (Heb 3:19) and the writer to the Hebrews warns us against it for belief leads to disobedience (Heb 4:11) i.e. wrong thinking leads to wrong doing. As we said, it starts in the mind. Indeed the battle for your life is the battle for your mind.
Beyond the Outside: In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus emphasised that it didn't start with the outward behaviour but in the heart, in the mind. Adultery, he said, starts in the mind. We'll go on to look at desires more fully in a later study, but for now let's focus on the thought that guilt starts by wrong things happening between our ears – in our mind. Later on he said, “I tell you, do not worry about your life,” (Mt 6:25) and where do you worry? In your mind! Now worries in themselves are not sin, but they do in fact show there is a need, and you need help! This is why Paul taught, “Do not be anxious about anything, but 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) So the battle for your ongoing life to have peace, is a battle of the mind. Unbelief says, “I can handle it,” but the godly wise say, “I have a problem and I need God's help with it.”
Wrong Thinking: The battle in the Garden of Eden was a battle for Eve's mind and once she capitulated to Satan's wrong reasoning, she sinned and led Adam to sin. In our starter verses the verse from the Law in Deuteronomy reveals wrong thinking which, if we give way to it, says the Lord, means you will be “found guilty of sin.” (Deut 15:9) In that example the Lord warned Israel against devious and self-centred thinking in the way they followed the Law in respect of avoiding caring for the poor. Jesus criticized the Pharisees of his day because with crooked thinking they excused themselves from helping their parents by appearing spiritual (see Mt 15:3-9). When Jeremiah said, “The heart is deceitful above all things,” (Jer 17:9) the ‘Easy to Read' Bible version nails it with, “Nothing can hide its evil as well as the human mind .” The heart refers to the inner workings of the intellect and will, how we choose to think.
Making Excuses: When we're afraid of having to do or say something, it's in the mind that we start making excuses, seeking to justify our actions or lack of them. Jesus challenged the church at Thyatira that had obviously reasoned in their minds it was all right to tolerate Jezebel and go along with sexual immorality and eating idol-worshipping-tainted-food (Rev 2:20) and declared, “I am he who searches hearts and minds .” (Rev 2:23) That echoes the psalmist who wrote, “I'm an open book to you; even from a distance, you know what I'm thinking .” (Psa 139:2 Message version). God knows what goes on in our minds even if we hide it from others. Let's not kid ourselves – He knows. So let's deal with unbelief and build faith as we read His word, let's not get into devious thinking to avoid what we know is the right path. Failure and guilt start in the mind. Let's check ourselves out and make sure we're not letting that happen. Amen? Amen!
The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 22. Guilt by Desires
1 Pet 1:14 As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance.
Mk 4:19 the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.
Rom 8:5 Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires ; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires .
Recap: We are looking at specific ways we can get it wrong in life, not to bring guilt and condemnation but to set us free from the guilt that follows wrong. Sometimes, I believe, many of us have like a cloud of guilt hanging over us because we either struggle with a wrong ungodly desire or we think we are guilty about some desire.
Right and Wrong Desires: Desires are a combination of thought, emotion, and physical want. Let's consider, first of all, good desires . I have desires for my wife and as long as I don't impose them on her when she isn't ready for them, they are good and right desires. I have desires for food and drink, and as long as those don't become excessive and bring about either obesity or drunkenness (I rarely drink alcohol these days!), they are good and right desires. I have desires to serve the Lord and do His will, and as long as I submit to His will and don't do ‘my own thing', they are good and right desires. I have desires to write as He has inspired me, and as long as I look to Him as my resource, they are good and right desires.
But then, as have subtly been suggested above, there are desires that are not good. If I have sexual desires that I am unable to control, that would push me into watching online pornography (and I have never done that and never will – stay away from it lest it destroy you) or visiting a prostitute (ditto!), then I need to take steps to break the power of those desires. How? Stop feeding them. Pray. Maybe share your struggles with a mature Christian friend, a leader if possible, and get them to pray for you. Fill your mind with good things. Determine not to accept the philosophy of the modern world that sex outside marriage is OK, frequent sex is necessary. Paul knew otherwise (read 1 Cor 7 for Paul's wide spectrum of advice in this area). A word to the older men among us. I have observed in three different men in my past life what I can only call a moment of infatuation, a sudden focus on a beautiful woman. In two of them it nearly drove them to make foolish decisions that could have wrecked their marriages. I don't know what causes it, it is more than a midlife crisis, but if it is you, turn your back on it, walk away, fill your thoughts with your own partner, with other things in life.
Desires under control and in the right context are how God has made us. The right context for sex is within marriage despite what the harmful folly of the media in the West has been saying, undermining and destroying many. Yesterday we noted, by way of introducing things that go on in the mind, Jesus' warning that lustful thoughts are as bad as the act – not an excuse to proceed to the act! Whether it be food, drink or sex, there is within these ‘desires' a physical element which has to be mastered. It starts by asking why we have such a strong desire, and then goes on to how we master it, because if we don't, it will harm us and possibly others. We've seen how David's desire for Bathsheba opened up a whole train of wrong events.
But there are other desires, for example, the desire to achieve. This is what drives entrepreneurs to start up companies, provide work for others and provide good for the community. Good desires. But then the way we go about fulfilling that desire is all important. Doing it by unrighteous and ungodly means, involving bribery and corruption and self-centred effort, distorts the desire and opens the way for further wrongs to occur. The desire for money that becomes excessive (it was all right to start off the business) is what we call greed (defined as intense and selfish desire for something, especially wealth, power, or food.) and so often leads to injustice in business practices.
Possibly one of the most significant books coming out in 2020, I believe, is Morality by Jonathan Sacks. In it he documents in detail so many ways modern society is going wrong, things that so often start with wrong thinking. In an amazing chapter entitled ‘Markets without Morals', he cites the greed and folly that brought down companies such as Enron in 2001, the greed and folly that brought about the 2008 financial collapse which was only saved by government interventions to save the banks which they saw as central to modern survival. But he notes that even afterwards in the period of austerity, the banks continued to award bonus payments to their senior staff, while never exhibiting any sense of remorse guilt or shame for what they had allowed to happen causing untold anguish for millions. Greed – sin – guilt! Accountable to God! Elsewhere he documents, especially in America, the staggering gaps between the pay and bonuses of CEOs and their workforce. In the UK we have a scandal brewing of a sweatshop clothes manufacturing industry, appearing to work under virtual slavery conditions, paying less than basic wages to workers while the top people cream off millions. Greed, avarice, injustice – rampant desires out of control. Every one of us who is in business needs to check our hearts for we may have a heavy accounting to come.
And So? Good and bad desires. Good desires in context and under control, blessed of God. Bad desires out of proper context, unrestrained, sinful, harmful, guilty, accountable to God. Contentment in God is a good antidote to keep us on track. May we not be casual about these things, may we not excuse wrong desires and practices by saying, “Well, everybody does it.” That doesn't make it right and there will come an accounting before God if not in the sight of the world. Be careful.
The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 23. Guilt by Emotions
Mt 5:22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment.
Jas 4:2 You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God.
Moving On: We have just considered the problem with ‘desires' which may be good or bad, and desires involve emotions but there are some emotions that do not necessarily involve desire, such as anger. Now a simple dictionary definition of anger is ‘a strong feeling of annoyance, displeasure, or hostility', and some might add a motivational addition, ‘because of something wrong or bad'
Causes: Anger may be a spontaneous reaction to some action or event caused by others, or it may be a more long-term feeling that almost becomes an attitude. Anger may be legitimate (God gets angry over sin) or not legitimate.
Wrong Causes: If a child is slow to learn, your frustration or lack of patience with them may be seen in anger vented by you. That is wrong anger and, oh yes, needs repentance. Then there is another common cause of anger to do with children, that relatives experience. It involves gift giving and their responses to it. Now that is mostly just a case of appreciation and in a day when many children (in the West at least) have many toys, appreciation is so often lacking. That is our loss by over-indulging our children (often because we feel guilty that we are not keeping up with what others do. It's time Christians started leading the way to counter the consumerist mess). Essentially it is only polite to say thank-you for a gift but when someone, a child or adult, fails to give thanks (and we'll deal with in respect of God in a later study) it is simply a sign of their poor socialization and lack of teaching by their parents, and that a matter more for pity than of anger.
Probably unjust anger between parents and children is one of the most common forms of anger today, but more often than not, it is a sign of lack of self-control in the parent, maybe because they have failed to learn to gently discipline and teach their child from their earliest years, so now the child is wilful and disobedient. Anger in such situations becomes a tool to try and dominate the child's willfulness, and that does little to remedy the bad situation. Discipline in this situation, please note, is not so much about punishment as about correction and guidance into right attitudes and behaviour which, as we said earlier, needs to be addressed from the very earliest years.
Right Causes Wrongly Expressed: When there has been physical abuse (wife-beating say) or sexual abuse (of a parent or more commonly today, step-parent) the guilt, shame and fear that often build up in the abused can easily turn into long-term anger. God is angry over such behaviour. We might suggest that this is just one form of prevalent injustice and where injustice continues and is not addressed, it almost invariably results in anger by the oppressed.
In 2020 the classic case of this was in respect of a black American killed at the hands of the police (one by-standing policeman being coloured). This resulted in a wave of ‘protests' in both the USA and the UK and some other countries around the globe when anger was vented in a major way. This killing was wrong on at least four counts: i) it was the over-use of force that resulted in an unlawful death, ii) it appears to have been a clear case of racism (which is always wrong), iii) it was a follow-on from numerous other deaths of black men at the hands of white police, an ongoing thing that has thus far not been addressed, and iv) it happened in an environment that has been allowed to run for over three hundred years and where change has been incredibly slow to come.
But the anger that we saw being vented in this case, was more likely to be just a further instance of anger that is stacked up in modern society that has been stoked by ‘identity politics', a form of politics that has come into being in the last decade in the West where political people have sought to create a mindset of oppression of minority groups where inequality is sometimes prevalent and the powerful are seen as self-serving and unjust, or indeed that they permit injustice to prevail. (I have previously referred to abuses in the financial sector of modern western nations in the past twenty years). These injustices fuel anger but when this ‘identity politics' has grown in such measure it also sees a lash-back by those, often in the majority, who feel their concerns are lost in this political maneuvering.
We have thus seen in a number of Western nations, but predominantly the USA and the UK, a toxic divisiveness in society that is expressed as anger and outright hostility against those who are ‘not with us', over perceived truths, untruths, fake news, and injustices (real and imaginary). In the Covid-19 environment it is seen as hostility against government strictures that have been issued in order to control the virus. Christians have thus been drawn into these culture wars and I have heard ungodly and unrighteous expressions of this anger which has been allowed to permeate even the Christian culture. IT IS WRONG.
Countering these things: How do we deal with these things? Some Christians should involve themselves in politics if they feel they are so called. Above all else we should be purveyors of truth, love and goodness and we need to apply these things to all we see going on around us. We need to reject the vast majority of horror stories that come out, reject the conspiracy theories, refuse to join in chat-room assassinations, control our fingers on our cell phones and only communicate goodness. Yes, we should write to authorities complaining, but also expressing thanks and goodness. And above all, we should reject the fears, the tension, the angst that the enemy is using to destroy our nations in the present day, and seek the Lord, learning to commit all these things to Him in prayer and move according to the wisdom that He brings us.
Anger may be unrighteous if handled wrongly or if it springs from untruth. Anger over injustices should be channeled into prayer and righteous, godly responses. I believe this is a major area where Christians have been led in wrong-standing before the Lord. May we wake up and stop siding with any righteous cause that it being handled unrighteously and seek the Lord for a righteous response before He comes to bring even more disciplinary judgment on our nations. It is a time for repentance in this area.
The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 24. Guilt by Sight (1)
1 Jn 2:16 For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes , and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world .”
Recap: We continue to consider specific ways we can go wrong. We have just been considering desires, good and bad, which might fit John's description of how the godless unbelieving world lives – lust of the flesh, a life lived in response to physical desire for pleasure. We went on to consider other emotions that can, if not controlled, lead us into unrighteousness. But there is another specific aspect of desire that we need to consider as we move on, the desires that we allow ourselves to have because of what we see.
Biblical Examples: We already noted more than once the story of David & Bathsheba which starts out with the words, “From the roof he saw a woman washing,” (2 Sam 11:2) and because, “the woman was very beautiful,” he sent for her and that was the start of a train of sinful acts that had severe consequences. David saw, David appreciated, David wrongly desired, David sinned. Guilty! Now here's the thing, seeing in itself is not the sin, it's how you respond to your seeing.
In 1 Kings 21 is the story of Ahab and Naboth's vineyard. “The vineyard was in Jezreel, close to the palace of Ahab king of Samaria.” (v.1) Now the story doesn't say that Ahab saw the vineyard but that must surely be implied. Ahab wouldn't have wanted something that he hadn't seen. The fact that it was close to the palace would mean he had seen it and having seen it, he wanted it and when he wasn't able to purchase it, he sulked and when he sulked, his wife picked up on it and set things in motion for Naboth to be falsely accused and stoned to death. Bad response from Ahab, even worse from his wife. You might say Naboth was unwise not selling up to Ahab, knowing the sort of man he was, but the point is about how Ahab acted in it all, having started out by seeing something he wanted. Sin. Guilt.
Proverbs: In Proverbs we find in Prov 6 the warning, “My son, keep your father's command… keeping you from your neighbor's wife, from the smooth talk of a wayward woman. Do not lust in your heart after her beauty or let her captivate you with her eyes.” (v.20,24,25) It's actually all about not giving way to the beauty you see in another man's wife, the cause of so much modern-day adultery. In Prov 23:33 we read a strange verse: “Your eyes will see strange sights, and your mind will imagine confusing things,” which the Message version simply puts as, “Do you really prefer seeing double,” because it is in the context of over use of alcohol, but it is really a warning not to let alcohol mess with your judgment. How many wrong liaisons came about because alcohol removes inhibitions and suggests we see (as Eve did) a wrong outcome in a good light. But ‘seeing' comes up in other ways: “Don't jump to conclusions—there may be a perfectly good explanation for what you just saw .” (Prov 25:8) We may not understand what we've just seen and jump to a wrong conclusion. How we see ourselves is another example. Again in Proverbs, “the rich are wise in their own eyes ; one who is poor and discerning sees how deluded they are.” (Prov 28:11) Don't let family background, a good job, or affluence, kid you that you are right with God. Those are not the criteria He uses to assess us.
Today: ‘Happiness' is no longer today seen as a virtue, it is seen as a product of buying something, owning something, experiencing something. Modern advertising makes us focus on what we do not yet have and that makes us forget and fail to be appreciative of what we have already. In other words, it makes us discontented. As someone has said, the ‘consumer society, in short, encourages us to spend money we don't have, on products we don't need, for a happiness that won't last.' True? We live with dissatisfaction and that is fuelled by advertising, whether it is what we see in magazines, what we see at the cinema, or what we see on TV.
Covetousness: Another word for dissatisfaction that evokes desire for more is ‘covetousness'. Ex 20:16 might be summarised as “Don't yearn for anything you see others have”. Why should that be? Why did God say that? Murder is bad we'll all agree, so is stealing, but just wishing you had more, why is that so bad? Well the Internet describes covetousness as “ implying inordinate desire often for another's possessions.” Note that word ‘inordinate' which means excessive, unreasonable or disproportionate, i.e. too much! The vast majority of times this occurs, it comes from seeing what my friend has, family member has, person at work or college has.
And So? Do you see the importance of all this? It is not so much what we see but how we are able to respond to it. The sight or a beautiful woman or handsome man should not generate wrong desires in us. The sight of a top-of-the-range car should not evoke a yearning to have it. The sight of the ‘latest fashion' should not evoke in us a yearning to buy it, especially when we have a wardrobe full of clothes and there are poor people in the neighbourhood with nothing. Sight reveals attitudes and emotions, both of which can be wrong. It is a wonderful world God has given us to enjoy – but with restraint. Failure to exercise that restraint puts financial pressure on us and on those we love. A big area to be pondered seriously in this age of mass consumption. We have been warned in the 2008 financial crisis; we are now being warned in the 2020 Pandemic.
The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 25. Guilt by Sight (2)
Gen 3:6 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.
1 Sam 16:6 When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, ‘Surely the Lord 's anointed stands here before the Lord .'
Continuing: In the previous study we considered how ‘looking' can stir wrong emotions which in turn can lead to wrongdoing, desires that lead to passion that leads to sin. Now we are going to meditate on various other aspects of ‘looking' and how looking can lead us astray.
Seeing Personal Possibilities: We are familiar with what happened at the Fall: “When the Woman saw that the tree looked like good eating and realized what she would get out of it—she'd know everything! —she took and ate the fruit and then gave some to her husband, and he ate.” (Gen 3:6 Msg) ‘Saw' here means perception. She had already ‘looked' at the tree and now Satan's words added significance to what she saw. His words coloured what she thought about the tree. We can look at something in all innocence and then enemy can whisper into our minds wrong thoughts that play on our latent desires. James understood the sequence when he wrote, “each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” (Jas 1:14,14) I used the word ‘latent' about desires because often they are dormant or un-awakened and we don't realise they are there until we see something and Satan whispers illicit possibilities into our minds. If we listen, if we are enticed, the desire rises up, we struggle against it and then may give way and fall. Satan may come in the guise of a friend: “Hey, why don't you try this stuff, it will make you a new person,” or “Hey, you want to try this website. What the women are doing is bizarre.” Whispers that stir wonderings. You see – and are hooked. Don't let it happen and if it has already, confess it, repent, and ask Him to deliver you from it.
More Possibilities: There is a strange case of seeing possibilities that we find in respect of Elisha's servant, Gehazi. (read 2 Kings 5). Elisha has just brought about the healing of leprosy of the great army commander of Aram, Naaman, and now Naaman is really grateful and he offers Elisha a gift. He is well off and has much to give, but Elisha knows he was merely an instrument of God and the glory is God's and therefore declines the offer. But Gehazi his servant is standing there in the background and he has other thoughts. We aren't told what those thoughts were but it is pretty evident. He sees Naaman with his retinue and all the goods with which he had come to bribe the seer to get him to heal him, and he sees Naaman, because of Elisha, is going to take them all back home. What a waste! He follows Naaman and spins a tale – a lie. He takes two talents of silver and two sets of clothing from him and sneaks home with them. But Elisha knows and calls him to account.
What was happening here? Gehazi saw a situation from which he could profit. Naaman could afford it. Elisha didn't need it, so what's the harm? It involves lies and deceit; it is greed and covetousness. In business money changes hands, either as a grateful thanks or to pave the way. In some parts of the world it is normal and in some areas of business it is considered part of the deal, but the word for it is a bribe. In the Law of Moses there were laws about justice and integrity, one of which said, “Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds those who see and twists the words of the innocent.” (Ex 23:8) The context rather suggests a court situation but to bribe someone means ‘to dishonestly persuade (someone) to act in one's favour by a gift of money or other inducement.”
Why is it dishonest? Because it implies you are getting someone to do something which they would not otherwise do, and once you introduce that into business dealings integrity goes out the window, truth is compromised and you know if it was out in the open others would criticize such behaviour. It demeans both the giver and the taker. It comes about because someone ‘sees' an opportunity to make personal gain, just like Eve did, just like Gehazi did.
The Ongoing Fruits: We commented in an earlier study on two groups of people who have, in recent decades, displayed the worst excesses of this sort of thing, bankers and CEO's who have paid themselves excessive amounts of money in their greed, but there is a secondary spin-off – loss of trust in the watchers. We no longer trust these people and that ferments under the surface of society and is one of the current forces undermining democracy in the West. It is a loss of integrity caused by greed and avarice because men (and it is mostly men) have ‘seen' ways whereby they may profit excessively to the loss of others. I mentioned earlier, in the UK in this year, the scandal of sweatshop clothing manufacture has come to light and behind it we see those leading it taking massive amounts of money while the workers have less than a living wage. These are areas that the prophets revealed are subject to God's righteous anger. He will act. Beware. We may not be such people but in our everyday dealings with others can be ensure we are not those ‘ looking for the main advantage' that comes as loss to others.
The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 26. Guilt by Sight (3)
1 Sam 16:6 “When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, ‘Surely the Lord 's anointed stands here before the Lord .'”
Continuing: We are considering how ‘looking' can stir wrong responses which are either sin or can in turn lead to sin. In the previous study we saw how words from the enemy can colour what we see and stir up wrong responses. Today we are going to face a very common reaction, but it is one that arises because from the outset we have held a wrong attitude or understanding. We will start with an Old Testament example and then consider briefly two situations involving Jesus.
Samuel's Misjudgment: Samuel had been told by the Lord to go and anoint a new king who would eventually replace Saul (1 Sam 16:1). He is to go to the family of Jesse in Bethlehem. When he arrives he says he will bless Jesse's sons so the old man lines them up and so Samuel looks for the next king. “When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, ‘Surely the Lord 's anointed stands here before the Lord .'” (1 Sam 16:6) ‘Saw' here refers to visual sight. Samuel looked at this first son, a big, beefy looking guy, and Samuel thought to himself, I suspect, “Hmmm. Kings have to be big and tough. This must be the one,” BUT “the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Sam 16:7) His size and height suggested to Samuel that here could be a future king, big and powerful, but that isn't the criteria that God is looking for. Samuel should have remembered that when he had had to rebuke Saul earlier on, and had prophesied, “the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart.” (1 Sam 13:14) Zechariah prophesied, “Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,' says the Lord Almighty.” (Zech 4:6) When God takes and uses His servants it is by the power of His Spirit combined with the right heart of His man or woman.
The Disciples' Misjudgment (1): There was an occasion in Jerusalem when, “Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings.” (Mt 24:1) The words ‘saw' or ‘seeing aren't used here but it is clear that the disciples looked at the Temple buildings and were impressed. From the rather ordinary temple rebuilt by Zerubbabel some four hundred years earlier, Herod the Great had greatly expanded it into a magnificent structure. The disciples, country lads from the north mostly, were a bit overawed by the grandeur of the Temple buildings in the heart of Jerusalem. We can look at big institutions and their buildings and be impressed and be a bit over-awed, but they are merely the outward trappings of religion. In the UK there are beautiful old cathedrals, in the US mighty modern church structures and we assume greatness here, but the truth may be that that greatness was in the past (or even came about by wrong means) and now it is mere show – and Jesus doesn't do show! How easy it is to look and see history in front of us and be impressed, and we thus demean the simple work of the humble man or woman of God who is a heart-person energized by the Spirit who is real but who is touching the heart of God in their simple servanthood.
The Disciples' Misjudgment (2): Then there was the case of the blind man of Jn 9. “As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?' ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned,' said Jesus, ‘but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (Jn 9:1-3) Again the word ‘see' is not used here but it is obvious the disciples saw this blind man and jumped to their wrong conclusions. Rather like Job's comforters they used sickness or infirmity or being disabled to attribute sin. I mean, it's obvious isn't it, it must be sin that caused this! Well, in the long run, yes sin is what has marred God's creation and sickness is part of it, but that doesn't mean this sick person's sin has brought this on them. Jesus refused to accept that and refused to lay guilt here and, instead, turned the onus back on them basically, even though he did the healing. When we come like this, he says to us, so what are you going to do to help them then?
A Common Misjudgment: There is another instance where we look on a situation and get it wrong. Jesus taught about wrong assessment by pointing to a couple of well-known disasters and asked, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way?” (Lk 13:2) and “do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem ?” (v.4) His response? “I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” (v.5) We can look on catastrophes and assume sin was at the heart of it. Sometimes that may be true but never jump to conclusions. We simply live in a fallen world where things ‘just go wrong'.
And So? It is what we do with what we see, and very often that is determined by what our heart is like from the outset. If it is judgmental, we will look to blame. If we are insecure in God's love we will seek to assess by the ways of the world – size, power, intellect, appearance, upbringing, role, position, but none of these things count so much as a right heart in God's kingdom, a heart committed to God and reliant upon His Spirit. Let's not make ourselves guilty of misjudgment from wrong hearts.
The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 27. Guilt of Blindness - Introduction
Eph 1:17-19 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. 18 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, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe.
Continuing: We are considering areas of life where we can get it wrong, areas of our thinking and doing that perhaps of which we're not even aware and yet which leave us in an unresolved guilty state. I say unresolved, because they continue on and, probably without us realising it, they blight or limit our relationship with the Lord. We have recently been considering guilt by sight, with the way we respond to what we see, but as I have meditated on this, I realise there is the other side to the coin, guilt from not seeing , guilt that essentially comes from blindness, and that is expressed in the way we think .
Childhood Blindness: The more I have pondered this, the more I realise there are numerous areas where the children of God are blind. It is a blindness to do with awareness. I don't know if you've ever thought about this, but when you were a child, of how much were you aware of your parents problems and difficulties? Somethings are blatantly obvious such as when two adults row. But there may have been numerous trials and difficulties of which you were not aware, financial, to do with work, to do with relationships or health. My mother, when I was very small, suffered from a rare form of TB in her eyes which resulted in her having to have operations by the top eye surgeon in the country. I knew virtually nothing of this at the time.
Why was that? Well, one reason is that parents shield such things from their children but the bigger issue, I believe, is that as a child you are totally taken up with your own little world and just don't think about things about which you just have never learnt yet. Are children guilty of blindness, therefore? No, they are just immature. We don't expect them to have such knowledge or understanding, in fact we try to protect them from it. But they have to grow up and in the growing process they come to realise things about the world that they hadn't known or realised before and it sometimes comes as a bit of a shock. If we think back, we can probably all think of stages of growth of knowledge and understanding that changed us.
The Growing Christian: The same thing is true of the spiritual life. When we first came to Christ our knowledge was strictly limited. Hopefully we embarked on a life of learning and within that new school of learning came new knowledge and understanding and the way we started looking at life was radically changed. The writer to the Hebrews declared to his readers of that day, “though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God's word all over again.” (Heb 5:12) Step into the average church on a Sunday morning and what do you usually find? So often it is teaching the elementary truths all over again … and again …. and again. It seems so often that both leaders and congregations are happy with a little homily, a little study, a little comforting and building up, but I wonder how often the children of God leave the building feeling better equipped to face the intellectual and moral challenges that face every one of us today in the Western world? Are we actually aware of those intellectual and moral challenges? Do we understand them and have answers to them? If we cannot say a categorical ‘Yes!', then we are confessing our blindness to things of which we need to be aware as the children of God.
A Spiritual Goal: Consider again our starter verses: “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) Perhaps a paraphrase version will help it come alive if we've become too familiar with it. Paul prays that God will: “give you spiritual wisdom and the insight to know more of him: that you may receive that inner illumination of the spirit which will make you realise how great is the hope to which he is calling you— the magnificence and splendor of the inheritance promised to Christians—and how tremendous is the power available to us who believe in God.” (JBP version)
And Us? Do you see something here, the words, “the eyes of your heart may be enlightened,” or as the paraphrase has it, “that inner illumination of the spirit” ? The word ‘see' isn't here but isn't this what Paul is saying, “I want you to see with spiritual understanding so that you see the wonder of it all? Let's ask another ‘church question'. OK, let's put aside for the moment thoughts of deeper and wider understanding that equips you for the world, let's just accept the basic or simple truths of the Gospel, how often do you leave church almost dancing with the wonder of what you have just come to see? How often when you have your ‘quiet time' do you put down your Bible with a heart leaping with praise and worship at the wonder of what you have just seen? OK, be realistic, it may not happen every day, but does it happen quite often? If not we should be praying, “Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law,” (Psa 119:18) and if you're a bad sleeper, perhaps you might want to join that same psalmist who went on to say, “My eyes stay open through the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promises.” (Psa 119:148) Let's not be content with a daily routine that leaves us unmoved, let's pray that our eyes may be opened in a new way to see the Lord, see His salvation, see the Gospel, see the world He's given us, see the life He's given us, see the future He's promised us with such ‘wisdom and revelation' that our hearts are lifted and we want to dance with joy, shout with praise and bow down in worship. May it be so.
The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 28. Guilt of Blindness – to the Glory of God
Rom 1:19,20 what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 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.
Continuing: We are continuing to ponder on areas of life where we can get it wrong, areas of our thinking and doing that perhaps of which we're not even aware and yet which leave us in an unresolved guilty state. We have been considering guilt by sight, and now guilt from not seeing, guilt that essentially comes from blindness and that, we said, involves the way we think.
Blind to the World: We live in a material, consumerist day, we are taken up with buying things, going places, having new experiences and often so busy are we that we miss the wonder of the world around us. There are those who extol the virtue of cities (and yes there are good things) but again, so often we focus on grand buildings, culture of pleasure and so on, all things of human origin (by the grace of God), but even light pollution squeezes out the wonder of a starry sky. Is it little wonder that in the seats of government, which are usually in cities, they are full of the chatter of mankind and rarely give a thought to God – and that is their loss and the loss of our nations? Is it a sin to be oblivious to the wonder of this world? In that it means we fail to see the wonder of the Creator behind it and who made it, and thus fail to worship Him, yes.
Sources of Praise: The psalms of David are a real mixture but although there are often cries of anguish there is also the acknowledgement of the greatness of God. “ Many , Lord my God, are the wonders you have done, the things you planned for us. None can compare with you; were I to speak and tell of your deeds, they would be too many to declare.” (Psa 40:5) I don't know if the apostle John had this in mind when he wrote at the end of his Gospel, “ Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” (Jn 21:25) Do you see the similarity? Both these men were full of the wonder of God, David by God's acts on behalf of Israel, John by God's acts through Jesus. Perhaps you might not have seen it like this but Pau's pouring out of praise (for that is what it is) at the end of Rom 8 is also like this: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord,” (Rom 8:38,39) because it might be summed up as, “Wherever you go, whatever you experience in this world, you will find the love of the Lord, the wonder of His presence.” Do we see this I wonder?
Insight in Crisis: The book of Job can be hard going but within it there are gems that stand out like diamonds in the rock of life. Job speaks out of anguish but in chapter 26 he speaks of God's presence in the midst of death and destruction (v.6), His presence in natural weather phenomenon that he lists and then concludes, “And these are but the outer fringe of his works; how faint the whisper we hear of him! Who then can understand the thunder of his power?” (v.14) Later, in chapter 28, he speaks of the work of men underground, mining for precious gems or gold (v.6) and is making the point that we go to great efforts to find them (v.9-11) but then asks, “But where can wisdom be found? Where does understanding dwell?” (v.12) These precious things that are so difficult to find, how can we find them? Then he declares, “God understands the way to it and he alone knows where it dwells,” (v.23) and after he lists the signs of God's wonderful wisdom in Creation he concludes, “And he said to the human race, ‘The fear of the Lord – that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding.” (v.28) What a gem in the darkness! Having an awesome respect for God as we see the wonder of Him in Creation, in His acts in Israel, in His acts through His Son Jesus, this is wisdom.
More from David: Again and again the Psalms call to us: “Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory in the heavens.” (Psa 8:1) The king who used to be a shepherd boy who spent much of his time out in the hills where light pollution was absent, knew many nights when he would look up to an unpolluted sky and marvel at the sight. And of course that wonderful declaration, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” (Psa 19:1) Looking up at a clear starry sky puts everything into perspective, God's greatness and our smallness. If we fail to be moved by it we reveal the state of our hearts as Paul hinted at in our Rom 1 starter verses.
And So? Light pollution may limit your vision, whether it be literal pollution or pollution of the mind, so determine to change things. I am sure the Lord wouldn't mind of you slightly changed the Psa 119 quote we used previously and now make it, “Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your world” for they are there to be seen by those who have eyes to see, and when you do, you will find praise and worship rising up from within and you will know that you have touched reality. Start with the beauty of a flower, watch gardening programmes, nature programmes and let the light shine into you soul and spirit.
The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 29. Guilt of Blindness – to the wonder of History
Deut 1:5,6 Moses began to expound this law, saying: The Lord our God said to us at Horeb, ‘You have stayed long enough at this mountain.
Acts 7:2 he replied: ‘Brothers and fathers, listen to me! The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham while he was still in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Harran.
Continuing: Other ways in which we get it wrong, let ourselves down, fail to hold to the truth and be strong in Christ, fail to ‘see' correctly and thus think incorrectly. That's where we are now, and I suspect you may find this one surprising. I never enjoyed history when I was as school, learning lots of dates, about kings and queens of the past. That sort of history did little for me and I think it has changed in the way it is now taught. But then I became a Christian and started reading my Bible and it was quite a few years before I realised that I was reading history and it was absolutely essential that I not only read it but believed it. I want us in this study to consider what we think about history.
The Essential Nature of History: The whole of our salvation is based upon historical facts, the Bible is full of it. All we know of God in the Bible comes through historical events, things that happened long ago. For some, the fact that the last things recorded in the Bible happened nearly two thousand years ago comes as a problem to them, but the truth is that these things that happened changed history, changed how we view ourselves, changed our futures and the fact of it having been a long time back is irrelevant.
History Declared: The book of Deuteronomy is a record of Moses reminding Israel of their history while they camped on the Plains of Moab just before entering the Promised Land. That history was vital for them to remember because it came, not only as reminders of events that took place but, and just as importantly, what God had said to them about how they were to take the Land and then live in it. In Acts, in chapter 7, we find Stephen making a defence and it is entirely based on the history of Israel. He not only reminds them of the facts of their journey as a people, but also their failures as a people. It is history, maybe uncomfortable, but history.
Faith, Failure & Hope in History: The whole Bible is full of these three things and they are there to teach us, rebuke us, correct us and train us in righteousness, so that as servants of God we may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Tim 3:16,17). But we need to read and study more than individual verses, we need to catch the big picture (and I've done that previously in a series called ‘Big Picture meditations') so we see the Big Plan of God and recognize that we are part of that.
Reaching Further Afield: Now I am going to do something unusual. Usually I write for the whole congregation but now I want to suggest some things that will not be for everyone. I hope it will be for many, but it will not be for all. I am thinking about those of us who want to be equipped to be as fully prepared as possible to be able to answer the questions of their contemporaries. I am going to say something I never thought I would say: knowing your Bible is not enough.
Learning to see the reality of life: Over the years I have come to see something that may be put very simply: God's design works, ‘the world's' doesn't. All around us we see the unbelieving godless world pushing its ungodly, unrighteous agenda, and most of us aren't even aware of that. But here's the thing, when we look at how life in the West is being lived, we see it isn't working. Someone has written, “It is a remarkable paradox that, at the pinnacle of human material and technical achievement, we find ourselves anxiety-ridden, prone to depression, worried about how others see us, unsure of our friendships, driven to consume and with little or no community life." That is just one aspect of it. Family life for so many is in tatters. The younger generations are suffering from loneliness, depression and so on. The evidence is there; this is not just negative Christian thinking, this is how the world is not working and there are surveys, reports galore, to prove it. Some of us, at least, need to understand this, see how history has changed in the last hundred years. Yes, we can summarise it as a move away from God but if we are to talk knowledgeably to our non-Christians friends, we need to investigate this history and see its failure.
I read biographies and autobiographies as well as history today. What have they taught me? As human beings we have potential for greatness but every single one of us has what I call ‘feet of clay' something about us where we fall short. The doctrine of sin that the Bible speaks so much about is out there, visible and able to be seen so clearly. Don't let your friends mock you that it is an outdated idea. It is real and obvious and the reason we share with them.
And So? In so many ways history reveals the truth. First there is the history of the Bible that reveals the wonder of God and the failures of mankind and thus our need for salvation, and then how that salvation has come and the potential it has for transforming our lives. That is the Bible. But then there is the history of the world that confirms everything the Bible teaches – that mankind is blighted with Sin and needs a Saviour. The Bible in one hand and history in the other: we are unassailable!
But now we come to the heart of the matter, the ways we get life wrong. In this context we fail to appreciate the wonder of God's word and what it reveals through the history it recounts. We fail to appreciate the world in which we live, and by this we mean mankind. It's amazing potential for good and yet its terrible potential for evil. These things need to be put out there and displayed for they reinforce the truths of the Bible. And yet, as I have listened to sermons over the years, I am not sure that I have ever heard these truths of this study displayed.
We need spiritual and intellectual warriors who hold firmly to the truth so that they can display it to the world which desperately needs it at this time. Whether that is just the ordinary, simple Christian who says to his friend to neighbour as they are talking, “You know I have come to appreciate how the Bible sheds light on history to help us see our needs and what God has done for us,” or whether it be the preacher / teacher who equips his people to understand the days, like those men “from Issachar, men who understood the times and knew what Israel should do.” (1 Chron 12:32) We ‘understand the times' when we take note of and understand history. How many just don't care. God is looking for those who will care and will equip themselves and others. The more we ‘understand the times' the more we will pray. May it be so.
The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 30. Guilt of Blindness – to the wonder of Salvation
Psa 40:5 Many, Lord my God, are the wonders you have done, the things you planned for us. None can compare with you; were I to speak and tell of your deeds, they would be too many to declare.
Continuing: In the previous study I made a plea for those Christians who will grow in understanding of history – biblical and secular – in order to be better equipped to confront the world with its failure. Learning from the past, coming to understand the future, recognizing the evidence of the world getting it wrong, and balancing that against the design of God for mankind, all these things will better equip us to confront the world with the truth. These are all things about how we think and then what we do with what we think. Doing it without God and without prayer will, of course, be a hopeless task but put all that together then maybe, just maybe, there is hope. If we fail to do it, then all we are left with is a desperate hope that God comes in sovereign revival power. Indeed, if we do not rise to the occasion, then that is perhaps what He will do, but I have a feeling He would prefer to restore the Church to what His word speaks of it being, through renewal by His Spirit. But that should not mean we fail to learn, fail to think, fail to act.
Recharging our Salvation: In thinking about ways that we fall short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23) – for that is what these studies are really about – we find ourselves thinking on our state before God. The Message version puts that verse as, “we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us,” which is why we need God's salvation and why it is so wonderful. How long is it since you first came to Christ? The longer it is the more possible it is that we have come to take it for granted and if we do that, it has two effects: first it makes us less thankful and, second, it takes away from us the wonder of what could happen to our unsaved family, friends and neighbours. Taking it for granted anesthetizes us, puts us to sleep, it disarms us and stops us being a threat to the enemy, and it undermines us and makes us vulnerable to his deceptions and temptations. We need to recharge our salvation.
Steps for Change: If we are not living in the daily wonder of our salvation, not rejoicing daily in the wonder and thrill of it, we need to take steps to change that as follows:
1. Confess it to the Lord and ask Him to open your eyes afresh to the wonder of it (Eph 1:17-19).
2. Declare the basics of what God has done for you – drawn you to Himself by the working of His Holy Spirit, convicted you of your need by that same Spirit, sent Jesus to die on the Cross for you to redeem you, a forgiven, cleansed and adopted child of God, and given you His indwelling Holy Spirit to teach, guide and empower you, taking you day by day into all the good things He has for you (Eph 2:10)
3. Daily rejoice in those things.
4. Look for opportunities to share them.
Speaking it out: You know speaking out these truths – either declaring them in prayer as the basis for praise and worship, recounting and using them as a basis of a time of prayer and praise with other believers, or sharing them with those who don't know these things – impacts not only others, but also your own life and wellbeing. The Message version of part of Rom 10 puts it so well: “It's the word of faith that welcomes God to go to work and set things right for us. This is the core of our preaching. Say the welcoming word to God—“Jesus is my Master”—embracing, body and soul, God's work of doing in us what he did in raising Jesus from the dead. That's it. You're not “doing” anything; you're simply calling out to God, trusting him to do it for you. That's salvation. With your whole being you embrace God setting things right, and then you say it, right out loud : “God has set everything right between him and me!” How great is that! That ‘word of faith' was you speaking out to God, “I believe, please forgive me, please save me.” That opened the door for Him to come and for you to be reborn (Jn 3). And it happened and then as it impacted you, you spoke it out. Perhaps to a friend, “I've become a Christian!” and then as they ask you about it, you explain what you did and, even more importantly what He had done. That ‘speaking it out' confirmed it in you, released even more fresh impetus in you. Every time we share it – speak it out – it does that for us.
Recap: Look, what we're doing in this whole series is confronting ‘guilt'; times, situations, circumstances where, to put it most simply, we get it wrong. We're doing that for three reasons. First, because we believe He has led us down this particular path. Second, because we believe He wants us to face these ways we may be falling short (and hindering Him moving through us). Third, and most importantly, that we can take steps to remedy these shortcomings in order to “prepare the way of the Lord” As the Message versions puts it, “Prepare for God 's arrival! Make the road straight and smooth, a highway fit for our God. Fill in the valleys, level off the hills, smooth out the ruts, clear out the rocks. Then God 's bright glory will shine and everyone will see it.” (Isa 40:3-5) ‘Make straight' = declare again the truth so the Way is clear. ‘Fill in the valleys' = make up what is deficient in your knowledge, put into your life what is missing as an experience promised by Him. ‘Level off the hills' = clear away any obstacles to faith, wrong thinking, wrong behaviour.
And So: We've confronted in an earlier study our blindness to seeing the glory of the Lord. Perhaps these things above will help remedy that because when we have taken steps and prepared the way, “Then God's glory will shine.” We similarly confronted our need to see the context of history, how we fit in to God's big plan and now we've just confronted the possibility of the wonder of this salvation having grown stale and ordinary. Let's take the ‘Steps to Change' we suggested above as a way for preparing the way of the Lord.
The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 31. Guilt of Blindness – to the sin of the World (1)
Rom 3:23 (JBP) For there is no distinction to be made anywhere: everyone has sinned, everyone falls short of the beauty of God's plan.
Rom 3:23(TLB) Yes, all have sinned; all fall short of God's glorious ideal
Rom 3:23 (ESV/NKJV/NIV) all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God
Continuing: Starting out this second Part in study no.20, we started focusing of how wrong thinking can lead us into sin and how wrong looking can lead us into wrong desires to do wrong, but all the time, behind it all is the way we think. Indeed whenever we talk about belief or believing, we are talking about what we think. What goes on in our minds is critical to our lives. And so in the last four studies in particular we have been focusing on how we think about a variety of issues – the glory of God, the history involving God, and the wonder of the salvation revealed in that history, the basic beliefs that contribute to our faith.
Dangers: But if we think casually about these issues or even ignore them, that weakens our faith and as we said before, that anesthetizes us, puts us to sleep, it disarms us and stops us being a threat to the enemy, and it undermines us and makes us vulnerable to his deceptions and temptations. It is important then that we take hold of these things again and clarify them in our thinking. Indeed some of these things, if we have weak thinking about them, will actually undermine our very faith. No more is this true than in respect of what we think about Sin. Now I don't want this study to appear a heavy treatise on how bad we all are, but I do want us to see it is at the heart of so much of what we experience in our live in the twenty first century.
Focusing Sin: Now I have used just one starter verse today but have provided three versions of it to clarify the most common one that we use that says we have all sinned and which explains that as falling “short of the glory of God”. That is not an easy concept to grasp which is why I had added the others - falling short of the beauty of God's plan (i.e. failing to enter into the wonderful will of God) and falling short of God's glorious ideal. But each one has a commonality – falling short of something, failing to reach a possibility or goal. God designed mankind to be perfect but the fact that that included free will resulted in us using that free will to choose to go our own ways and not God's. Thus we all live according to the ‘design' we have in our own minds of how life should be lived, and that is always less than the way God has for us. No other philosophy or theology can explain our potential greatness and yet our potential awfulness. But this living less than God's way has very practical outworkings.
Outworkings of ‘Falling Short': This is seen in both mundane but real ways, and deep, complex and evil ways. I happened to be reading a devotional book the other day that spoke about personal struggles and how we often feel a need of approval, how we try to impress others to win that approval. We worry about who we are, we struggle with identity, we fill our lives with activities that we hope will boost our self-esteem. We struggle to cope with other people, some who are clearly better off than we are, some who are clearly cleverer, more handsome or more beautiful than we are, fitter and healthier than we are, more successful than we are. All of these are expressions of ‘self', the struggle that goes on inside me to make sense of who I am. They are struggles of people who ‘fall short'.
Big Sins: And this is not to mention the bigger sins of life that go on and which we hear of via the main media – killings, violence, abuses, rapes, thefts etc. etc. etc. and the list could go on and on and on – but most of those things don't impact most of us most of the time. We are believers who have rejected lifestyles than involve this sort of company, these more violent expression of self.
Godless Self: Whether it was the first group we described, of daily ways we ‘fall short', or the bigger sins committed by those who have abandoned all semblance of caring humanity, there is a further characteristic of all of us – the propensity to be godless. That simply means we live lives in the absence of God. We don't think about Him, we don't speak to Him, we don't focus our lives on Him, we don't seek out His ways in every circumstance. We try to gain self-esteem by self-effort. We go to keep-fit; we take classes, we seek to rise up the social and business ladders – all without Him. None of these things in themselves is wrong but it is the godless approach to life that is the wrong. Some of us will try to feel spiritual by ‘going to church', some by reading the Bible or devotional literature, but ultimately the question has to be asked, “do I seek first His kingdom, His rule, His way of doing things (righteousness), His will?” (Mt 6:33).
The Goal: These are the realities of life which, if we came to Christ, in some form or other brought us to our knees in repentance as we realised that we were helpless to change on our own, and thus hopeless as far as our future was concerned. Now we need to resurrect these simple truths in our understanding for they are the heart of any change we may hope to see in our desires for ourselves, our family, our friends, our community and our nation. Facing these truths is the start of change and if we have lost this realization we need to ask the Lord to open our eyes afresh to it. We'll consider it in the wider community in the next study.
The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 32. Guilt of Blindness – to the sin of the World (2)
Rom 3:23 (JBP) For there is no distinction to be made anywhere: everyone has sinned, everyone falls short of the beauty of God's plan.
Rom 3:23(TLB) Yes, all have sinned; all fall short of God's glorious ideal
Rom 3:23 (ESV/NKJV/NIV) all have sinned
Continuing: We continue to think on this thing about the Sin of the world. Yesterday we focused on how it affects us and is revealed in and through us individually. We used these three versions of Rom 3:23 to see how ‘sin' is all about falling short, of not reaching our potential because we fail to follow God's way, God's design, and instead we live according to our own ideas which always fall short of what we could be. More often than not they also bring a bunch of negative consequences.
The Corporate Dimension: Moving from the individual perspective we now consider the ways that sin in manifested in our societies in the West. I have mentioned before that I have been reading Jonathan Sacks' latest book, Morality , and as he has researched these things widely, may snatch some quotes from him about our modern societies in the West. He heads up four very negative changes that have been taking place in our societies and I would suggest they are all manifestations of Sin:
The first is the change in Politics where parties demonize one another in ways hardly ever seen before. Disagreement has been acrid and truth has been a casualty of a media-manipulated world. Dissension abounds.
The second was loss of happiness , where he highlights what an affluent yet unhappy world we have become. “In Britain, a 2018 report revealed that the number of people aged fifty and above who have received hospital treatment for drug abuse has more than quadrupled in a single decade.” But it's not only the UK, “rates of depression among American teenagers are also rapidly rising.” And there is much more. Unhappiness abounds.
The third was in the economics of inequality and we have noted before the enormous divisions in pay scales in business between the top and the bottom. Injustice abounds .
The fourth was the assault on free speech , one of the blatantly more horrifying manifestations of the work of the enemy in the modern world, where pressure groups, for their own agendas rubbish others through social media. Fear abounds.
Big Picture Failure: These are pictures of the big ways our modern societies driven by godless, self-centred, driven-thinking abounds, but it is a vicious circle. Documenting the pressures through shaming and damning people through social media, at one point Sacks, referring to cyber-bullying, refers to a young man who had been posting vicious, character-assassination posts and notes, “ When the interviewer began probing into his mindset, he revealed that he had been abused by his father as a child,” and the researcher noted, “it shows how zealotry is often fuelled by people working out their psychological wounds.” Sin evokes further sin.
I have often cited how, very simply, living outside God's boundaries creates positive harm: over-eating causes obesity which causes life-threating damage to the body; excessive use of alcohol causes drunkenness and accompanying social evils, and life-threatening harm to the body; use of recreational drugs often results in a loss of reality, growing depression, further reliance on drugs and life-threatening harm to the body; excessive focus on sex leads to growing (and it does grow) use of pornography and increased desire for further sexual expression without boundaries which eventually leads to a loss of meaning and identity as well as numerous unwanted side effects – unwanted pregnancies, abortions, diseases etc. The basic biblical teaching of a person “reaps what he sows” (Gal 6:7) is bang on target.
Whose Wisdom? The apostle James writes about two sorts of ‘wisdom' (Jas 3:13-18) but it is clear that the ‘wisdom' of the world that he is speak about is folly. Those who live according to God's wisdom he says, will live a, “good life, by deeds done in humility,” (v.13) lives that are “pure, then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.” (v.17) The ‘wisdom' of the world is seen in other outworkings: “bitter envy and selfish ambition,” from people who, “boast about it or deny the truth,” (v.14) and who reveal, “disorder and every evil practice.” (v.16) Such “wisdom”, he adds is “earthly, unspiritual, demonic.” (v.15) I think that last word is one that should be given prominence because I believe as we look at the fruits of these things in our communities we are seeing a breakdown, not only of family life which has been happening for the last few decades, but now a breakdown in communities and even within nations. Democracy is under major threat and so are our very ways of living.
Listen to the list of ‘sins' that the apostle Paul warns the Colossians against (Col 3:5-8): “sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed ….and filthy language,” as well as, “anger, rage, malice, slander.” Look at the lives of celebrities or leading politicians sometimes and pray for these people who exhibit these things. I separated out the latter four and suggest you watch for them the next time there is an election pending, and ask yourself about these people, “are these people righteous, are these the people I want to vote for?” and if you answer, ‘but both (all) parties are like that', then perhaps it is time to either stop voting, or for Christians not aligned to any present party need to be set up and supported, those who will commit themselves to speaking and doing only that which is good and righteous. Much more could be said.
And Us? The point is that this is the way of the world and you and I as children of God must flee from such things, recognising them for what they are. Pray your heart out for our communities in the Western world and, yes, recognise that there is much good, but while we tolerate these trends of godless, unrighteous, self-seeking attitudes in society we can only expect it to get worse and one of the ongoing stages in decline will involve open hostility to all things Christian. At the moment in some parts of the West, religion is acceptable and even used by politicians, but as the trends of decay continue, that will change. Repent and Pray.
The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 33. Guilt of Blindness – of Ungratefulness
Rom 1:21 although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him
Continuing: As we continue to ponder on the ways we humans fall short of what we could be, there is an element of modern life that stands out in this respect and it is that of taking for granted what we have and failing to be grateful for it. No doubt in 2020, people living through the Covid-19 Pandemic have become aware of how much they value, but have taken for granted, their freedom. The fact of the use of ‘lockdown' as an instrument for restraining the spread of the virus has, I suspect, awakened many to how much in the West we have the freedom to go out and about. The fact that we have cars and petrol and can drive miles is something few of us give a thought to. The parts of the not-so-well-off world, where such things for many are just dreams beyond their finances, never crosses our minds. Thus we take our cars and our affluence for granted. ‘Oh, but we have had to work hard for such things,' we might protest, but that only goes to show how we take for granted an economy with jobs.
(I think it is also pertinent to recognize how we take for granted those in authority, a thankfulness that is sadly today so often blunted by the character assassination politics that goes on. Yet authority is God-given and we are to respect it (Rom 13:1) and be thankful for those who struggle to care for the nation or State - especially as it has been seen in 2020, a testing time where many Christians I believe fell short of God's desires and rejected the calls of authorities to be careful – ‘in the name of freedom' yet failing to care for the vulnerable – a very real area of guilt).
Ungrateful: Paul focused our attention on this in particular regard to God Himself. One paraphrase verse brings our starter verse into sharp focus with, “They knew all the time that there is a God, yet they refused to acknowledge him as such, or to thank him for what he is or does.” (JBP version) Note the latter part of that verse – “or to thank him for what he is or does .” Spiritual blindness means modern man is locked into a vision of himself only in the world, and fails to see the wonder of the Almighty One who puts meaning into life, having brought it into being. Instead they prefer to hobble mentally backwards and forwards trying to prove the impossible, that you can get something from absolutely nothing, a concept that proves the utter folly of even the greatest of human minds who have not yet found that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” (Prov 1:7) AND that, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” (Psa 111:10) or as the ERV put those two verses, “Knowledge begins with fear and respect for the Lord , but stubborn fools hate wisdom and refuse to learn,” and “Wisdom begins with fear and respect for the Lord.” i.e. it all starts with the way we view God. Literally everything flows from that.
Easy to say: But it is so easy to quote all these verses, but ask yourself, how often are you consciously grateful to God? ‘I'm grateful for the world we live in,' you might respond, but I wonder how short-sighted are we about this world. I am utterly convinced that God is behind great inventions, great designs, great works of art or literature even, that He inspires such people and gives them ideas, non-Christian unbeliever though they may be. We can't prove it and so it is a matter of faith. Years ago I had a torn retina and had to have an emergency operation (although I didn't realise it was an emergency at the time) that lasted an hour and resulted in me having cataracts which they promptly removed. Suddenly, after fifty years of having to wear glasses my sight was brilliant. I only wear glasses for close up reading and sharpening the distance but for the first time in half a century I could see well without glasses. I didn't see all that coming and so it came when I suddenly found half my vision gone. Two thousand years ago Jesus would have healed my sight but today through modern surgery I see well. But where did all this skill and ability come from? I suggest it came from a God who is constantly working with us to improve this fallen world, to make it better. Our modern technology isn't an accident. It is the result of thousands of years of gradual increase in knowledge that flows through industry and economics and medicine, and who is behind it? God of course?
And So? Is your vision of this world blinded so you have a spiritual world and a material world and never the two meet? Spiritual is for Sundays; material is for the working week? If that's the God you (vaguely) worship, you need to think of Jesus turning water into wine, feeding crowds with a few loaves and fish, bringing sight to physical bodies and so on. This is God in HIS world, God working to bless mankind who He has given five senses with which to appreciate this material world. Is this an area where we need to make serious mental adjustments to our (un)belief.
Did you know? Did you know there have been lots of studies done on thankfulness? The modern market economy and its advertising, works on creating dissatisfaction and discontent, and therefore we live in a world of discontent, which comes out into the open in politics where the apparent goal of opposition parties is to make you unhappy about what the current government is achieving. They want you to be unhappy about them so you won't vote for them next time round. A world of discontent.
But did you know that people who express positive emotions like gratitude, happiness, hope and love, are more likely to live longer and be mentally healthier in old age. The extensive research proves it. Thankful people have more positive emotions generally. Happiness is best worked out in lasting relationships, so is that why so many people today are unhappy. God designed us to be aware and thus be grateful, He designed us to get the most happiness out of lasting relationships. The research proves it, so if we have allowed the enemy to dump us with negatives, it is time to change it, repent, and become a grateful person, become one who appreciates goods, services, experiences, as provisions from God, but doesn't make them the foundation of a happy, contented life. Knowing Him, being grateful, appreciating the wonder of the world He has given us, and working on long-term godly relationships. There is a different world awaiting you.
The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 34. Guilt of Blindness - to the Need of the World
Jn 3:16 God so loved the world that…..
Mt 11:5 The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.
Continuing: It is a strange thing that we live in a world with the best communications it has ever known and yet so often we remain oblivious to the plight of so much of it. Indifference – lack of interest, concern, or sympathy – so often is an un-Christlike characteristic that blights our lives. It is thus one of those ways we are seeking out that hinder our Christian lives in this twenty-first century. In the previous study I mentioned the self-rights-concern that was evidenced in many during the days of the Pandemic, a failure to be aware of the needs of the vulnerable.
The Caring of Jesus: Jesus, as he expressed his Father's love for the world, did not merely speak words, he reached out and touched people (often literally) and used the power of God to transform their lives, delivering them from sickness or infirmity. As we noted previously he was concerned for the physical world as well as the spiritual. Now before I say anything else let me declare again (as I hope all these series of meditations confirm) that my total belief is that the Gospel, coming to believe in Jesus as Saviour and Lord is THE most important thing we have to convey. But we must add that it must come with the love of God and that should also include interest, concern and sympathy for those around us.
Caring for others: This is part of the package that God has built into us, not merely for the welfare of the world but for our own wellbeing as well. A study carried out in the University of California, Berkeley, showed that the mortality rates of those who volunteered for two or more organisations reduced by 44 per cent. It further noted that in American teenagers, those who are giving, hopeful and socially effective are also happier, more active, involved and excited than their less engaged contemporaries. Even more, adults who gave social support to others experienced reduced anxiety over their own situation when under economic stress, those offering emotional support to others helped people forgive themselves for their own mistakes, and in elderly couples, those who did not provide support to others had higher rates of mortality.
Our Need: The truth is that when we become inward looking we experience such things as depression, loss of hope for the future and anxiety in the present, far more. The world is hurting because of its sin and therefore to minister to that, we need the following things:
- to understand Sin and its effects (as we saw in a previous study)
- to understand the wonder of our God who is there for this world (ditto)
- to know and experience the wonder of His salvation (ditto)
- to conclude this is what the world desperately needs.
Jesus came to convey the love of the Father to the world in the way he spoke and acted and then said, “whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing. “ (Jn 14:12) Have we become so caught up in our own little world and its inward looking struggles that we have lost perspective and forgotten that we are God's answer to this fallen, hurting and dysfunctional world?
A Parable: Mercy Ships is a Christian organisation that provides hospital ships that go around the world providing wonderful, free, life transforming surgery for thousands of people who have no access in their own countries to such facilities. The job of one crew member is to manage the gangplank or gangway onto the ship. He wrote, “I connect the big, white hospital ship to the people it serves. Every journey of transformation begins with me. Forty three steps up …. courageous steps of hope. They include physical pain and discomfort and usually emotional scars. I can feel their weight. Inside they receive free surgery. They are loved. Then – forty three steps down. I can feel the extra bounce in their steps, filled with excitement and anticipation of what is to come …. excitement for the new life that awaits them.”
That is a description of a physical experience and it is wonderful and I believe God is blessed by them. And it may be God might call you to something like that. But it crosses my mind that each of us could be like that gangway, providing access from a sin-sick world to encounter the living God. People come with their pain and scars and as we share our testimonies and the good news of Jesus and reach out to them in love, they are taken into the presence of the Holy One and are transformed. Then, just maybe, we may be part of the process that helps and encourages and equips them to go back into the world, transformed and transforming.
Facing Our Indifference: I recognise that sometimes, with the barrage of bad news from around the world we can become world-weary, or we see celebrities from time to time encouraging us to give money to charities, and we feel jaded as we think of their affluence that grossly exceeds ours. Yes, these are things that can leave us feeling indifferent to the needs of the world, left with a feeling of, “What can I do, I am only one, and anyway others have more money and talents than me, so why am I feeling guilty?” and so we retreat into the safety of our homes. And then Jesus comes, knocking on our front door saying, “Can I come in and eat with you”, and then in his company we feel his concerns. Then he reaches out and takes you hand and says, “Come with me, let me lead you into a new day where the gifts and talents I've put within you can be used with my help to bless others. Will you come with me?”
The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 35. Guilt of Blindness - to Jesus' Call
Mk 1:17 Come, follow me,” Jesus said
Ezek 22:30 ‘I looked for someone among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so that I would not have to destroy it, but I found no one.
Continuing: Failure, and consequently guilt, comes in many different ways, as we have been seeing already. Usually it starts in the mind and is soon expressed as actions. They may be one-off failures or they may be ongoing failure. So many times, I believe, we grow to tolerate the behaviour and fail to realise that it is something that falls short of God's desires for us, and is therefore, sin. Some things are just the way we view life, quite possibly because we have never been taught otherwise. The responsibility on leaders to teach the flock and turn them into an army is great. Failure to do that results in the subject we are tackling today – the failure to see ourselves as disciples.
Church of Disciples: The Church is made up of disciples. Every true Christian is a disciple of Jesus. The so called ‘'Great Commission' at the end of Matthew's Gospel spells it out: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, / baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, / and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Mt 28:19,20) I have divided that sentence in three parts.
i) Followers: First, we see Jesus instructing his disciples/apostles with him there to continue his mission after he leaves them. They are to make disciples out of all nations. In other words his goal is the entire world. He didn't come just for Jews but for the whole of the rest of the world as well, i.e. the Gentiles as well. But see the thrust – they are to make disciples from all nations, i.e. the whole world. Now the dictionary definitions of a disciple is in general terms, “ a follower or pupil of a teacher, leader, or philosopher.” Now the very nature of a disciple is that they follow someone else, someone who is leading the way before them, and they will thus copy them, learn from them, and become like them, and do what they do. That is at the heart of discipleship. Note the three things there – learn from them – become like them – do what they do.
ii) Distinct: Second, the call of Jesus in the Great Commission is to make those disciples distinguished from all others, different from all others, committed publicly to be these specific people, and they start it by being baptized. In the New Testament, baptism was by immersion under the water and that was to be a picture of what had happened and would happen to the disciple – they had died to self and the old life (and were buried), and they were raised from the dead to live new God-centred lives, God-empowered lives, God-directed lives, God-serving lives, world-blessing lives. That is how distinct they are to be.
iii) Taught: The content or detail of that distinctiveness is to be found in the teaching of Jesus, but that teaching wasn't just intellectual, it was practical, it was about how to live out these new lives, and how to serve God in this new walk with Him: “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Two parts to that: a body of teaching (that we find in the New Testament), and obedience to it. Thus disciples are committed to learning all that Jesus taught (do we make that a central focus of our lives?) and then doing all he taught (do we make that the joint central focus of our lives).
Outworking: But of course it isn't just following the ‘rules' of his teaching, because his teaching was all about a relationship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. So we relate to and honour and worship God the Father, we are seated alongside God the Son as he rules in the midst of his enemies, working to bring in the kingdom or rule of God until the time when he will complete that work and hand it back to the Father (1 Cor 15:24,25), and we receive power and are enabled and directed by God the Holy Spirit to live it out here on earth. Disciples relate to the Trinity, to the Godhead. This is our perspective for our lives and anything less than this, is missing the mark.
Inadequacies: If we see our lives as Christians as those who turn up on a Sunday morning, or whenever else the church meets, and simply imbibe the worship, the prayers and the preaching (and let's not mention ‘the Notices'!) – and that's all – we are falling seriously short of the will of God. The concept of church being ‘the body of Christ' is a concept of related people with different giftings who inter-relate with one another to do the works of Jesus (see Lk 4:18,19 & Mt 11:5) or as Paul puts it, “the works of service” (Eph 4:12) that he expects all believers to be doing as envisioned, equipped, and enabled by the ministries of v.11.
And So? Perhaps the easiest and most brief summary question would be, do I see myself (when I am being honest) as [GROUP ONE] a pure spectator who is required corporately to sing, give, listen, or individually to have a quiet time that involves brief prayer and Bible reading, OR [GROUP TWO] as a gifted member of an inter-relating gifted body who are together seeking to be disciples. In this second group, as Jesus said, we will be people who say we fit the category of “whoever believes in me,” who will respond to his teaching and leading and “will do the works I have been doing.” (Jn 14:12) If we're only in the first group, we have some repenting to do.
The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 36. Guilt of Blindness - of being Visionless
Prov 29:18 (KJV) Where there is no vision, the people perish
Prov 29:18 (NIV) Where there is no revelation, people cast off restraint
Continuing: In Study No.26, introducing the concept of guilt through blindness, we talked about how children tend to be focused on their own little world, often shielded by their parent, so they are not aware of the problems their family may be experiencing. But there is another expression of this childish way of seeing – or not seeing – and it is the concept that only gradually grows, of time, of the passing of time, of the length of time, and this takes on a significance when it comes to thinking about the future. Little children think little about the realities of growing up, the possibilities of what might be, the things needed to be done to prepare for the future. Career counselling tends not to be given until mid-teens. Little children have no real vision of the future, what might be coming, what they might be able to achieve in the future.
Future Uncertainties: Remember, this is all about ‘falling short' of God's plans. John Wimber used to teach on five-year church planning, but some people say we should never do this and refer to James' teaching: “Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that.” (Jas 4:13-15) Yet the truth is, that in normal living (pre-Pandemic experience) we do plan. We make dental appointments, say, for a week's time, or book a hotel or conference or holiday, weeks or months in advance. The 2020 Covid-19 Pandemic brought that sort of planning to an end during the period of lock-down. So these things may have a large degree of uncertainty about them, but can we not look into the future more specifically?
General Christian Vision: Vision is being able to see ahead, its possibilities, alert to God's calling and God's goals. It is perhaps, first of all, simply being able to see the basics of the way ahead when we come to Christ, things we've already considered in some measure – our salvation (daily living), sanctification (gradual changing), and glorification (future with God). We may not be able to see all the details of how that will work out for us as individuals, but as we read the New Testament, we can sense the big picture or the general direction.
Personal Vision: Vision may be limited by personal circumstances, we tend to think. A young mother says, “I'm too busy with raising my baby to be concerned for anything else,” and that may be true – for a while. An old person may say, “Surely you don't expect me at my time of life to be launching off in new ventures?” It depends on the ventures and the physical and mental state. Vision will also be linked to gifting, the specific abilities that God has given me, the individual. Vision can also be linked to personal burdens we find heavy on our heart, specific needs in the community perhaps, maybe things God has put on your heart. Vision is swamped or diluted by personal cares, personal worries, personal desires, the things that make us inward looking, because vision is all about looking outwards.
The Costs: Some of us fear this line of thinking and thus we fall short of what could be in God's economy. Let's not argue whether or not this is sin, but simply wonder, when we come face to face with the Lord, how will we answer if He asks, “Child did you use all I gave you, did you take every opportunity I put before you, did you heed my prompting to bless me and my world, or were you too taken up with your own selfish affairs?” I'm sorry, it's an uncomfortable question so let's put it in a more gentle form with two other questions: first, are you at peace before the Lord knowing you are doing the things He's called you to do, and, second, are you open for Him to put other things on your heart where he could bless you and use you?
Possibilities: I think I have probably spoken before of one of my favourite TV programmes, Grand Designs. It is about people who have had the vision to build a new big (and they tend to be big) house. The main commonalities of each programme are that each couple (it is mostly couples) get a piece of land and a vision of the sort of building they want, time stretches out, delays are often caused by the weather or other unforeseen circumstances, they run short of money, and nearly come to the end of themselves – and yet they persevere. However, at the end of the programme, there is a beautiful building and an incredible sense of achievement. How often do we have such a sense of achievement and if the answer is, “Never,” or “Rarely,” perhaps it is because we have never caught God's vision of what we could be achieving. Yes, it may cost time, effort, even finances, but the fruit at the end of it – or even during the process – is wonderful.
And So: Our starter verse, “Where there is no vision, the people perish,” implies that vision is God's tool to bring salvation, blessing, and order to His world. Do we have such vision, a sense of purpose and direction that means our lives are going somewhere to achieve something meaningful? Is this something we should be bringing to the Lord in prayer to fill in a gap in the road that prepares the way for Him to come in a new way to bless people you know – or perhaps don't know yet?
The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 37. The Failure to ‘Build' Church
Eph 4:11-13 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature , attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
Hesitation: I hesitated to write this penultimate study in this Part on ways we can fall short of God's will and thus limit our lives, for I have expressed my burden for the church in other series previously. Yes, only yesterday, almost as a sign to do it, I was talking with a friend who was sharing about a friend of hers in another church that she described as a fairly small, mostly aging congregation, who refused any talk of change. I could not help but think, ‘and unless the Lord comes in revival power that church will no longer be here in ten years' time'. Let's consider what is, and then what could be.
Characteristics of the Church: Let's not look at the institutional aspects of church that we know, that tend to rely on man's planning and effort, or of denominational church, that focuses on division and suspicion, and instead suggest some of the characteristics of the Church that the New Testament implies should be there. Very simply I suggest life, growth, and constant change, and then ask, am I blind to these three things?
Life: May I reiterate a vision of church I have used before of ‘church': “alive with the presence and power and revelation and activity of God by His Spirit, where God is truly honoured, where life and vitality, where fellowship and friendship, where power and authority, pour through the congregation, through this potentially wonderful ‘body of Christ', bringing constant life transformations, with conversions, deliverances and healings being a regular feature of their life, and the surrounding world is impacted and changed”
Another well-known church leader was heard to say recently, “the truth is that we have been deeply ineffectual as churches and denominations. There is very little evidence of the power of God among us and virtually no evidence of the transformation of society because of us.” That is difficult to deny. My emphasis there was on reliance on the Holy Spirit, allowing Him free reign to do what Jesus did and still wants to do as he works to bring in the kingdom. Be honest, is this description what you know of as church and if not, why not? Is it because we focus on other things? Is it because we are chained to the past and fear the possible future? Is it because we fear being out of control if He is in control? Perhaps a need to confess, to repent and to pray.
Growth: The writer to the Hebrews scolded his readers (Heb 5:11,12) for not having matured. The words of Jesus to his seven churches in Asia Minor included the words, “I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God,” (Rev 3:2) indicating that they had not gone on to fulfil God's purposes for them. The Eph 4 starter verses above, speak of growth and coming to maturity. The apostle Paul spoke of his expectation that we would grow in faith (2 Cor 10:15, 2 Thess 1:3), grow in life (Eph 4:16), grow in the knowledge of God (Col 1:10). The apostle Peter talked about his expectation that we would grow up in our salvation (1 Pet 2:2) and that we would grow “in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Pet 3:18).
Change: Growth implies change. Parents, understandably, get worried about their child's development sometimes, perhaps when it is slow learning to walk or talk. They expect change. In that famous ‘love chapter' 1 Cor 13, Paul writes, “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.” (v.11) He may have a future dimension in mind, but the principle still remains true for all time, children grow up, children change. As children of God (Jn 1:12,13, 1 Jn 3:1) some of us have the idea that that description is how we will always be – little children. Not so for there is yet another description we ought to understand.
Sons of God: Paul teaches we have been adopted as ‘sons' (Rom 8:15, Gal 4:5,6, Eph 1:5). Now in Old Testament times the son held a special place in the family. As he grew up, he watched his father, learned the family business from his father, started to work alongside the father and would eventually take on the business from the father. Growth brought understanding, activity, and responsibility. Our heavenly Father is in the kingdom-building business and has shared it with His Son Jesus who now shares it with us (Eph 2:6-10).
And Us: A verse we have considered many times in the past: “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) requires us to realise and recognise how Christ is ruling in the midst of his enemies (Psa 110:1,2, Heb 1:13, 10:13, Mt 22:44) AND that we are part of his ruling, we are with him in working to bring down these enemies (which include such things as unbelief, unrighteousness, ungodliness, anger, bitterness, hostility, wars, fighting, etc. etc. as well as the more obvious evils, such as slavery, still as prevalent today as in the past). This is what the teaching about the ‘body of Christ' in the New Testament is about, that starts with, “you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” (1 Cor 12:27) That is our calling to enter into life, to grow and to change and become ‘sons' who share in the Father's business as He calls, He empowers and He directs. Are we blind to the church- its present powerlessness, its potential, what it could be if we pray, confess, repent, pray, seek Him, make ourselves available to Him? Can we change?
The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 38. And So
Acts 12:11 Then Peter came to himself and said, ‘Now I know without a doubt that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me
Ezek 22:30 ‘I looked for someone among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so that I would not have to destroy it, but I found no one.
Reality or Dream? When the angel delivered Peter from prison, it took a while for Peter to realise that what was happening was real and not a dream. So often we can meander through life and it is more like a dream than a reality and because of that we can live with things in our lives about which, in the cold light of reality and if everyone else knew about them, we would feel ashamed. I am moved by the above word from Ezekiel because there was a situation that needed an intercessor but as God looked around, He found none. No one seemed aware of the need of the hour, no one caught God's heart for the day.
And So? As we come to the end of this series, my fear is that we will just treat these pages as ‘nice little studies' instead of being moved in heart by them. So can we recap where we've been to try an avoid that error.
In Part 1: In the first part (19 studies),
- we considered what Guilt was, how it is always guilt before God , how we step over boundaries that God has created, so it is always an issue with God .
- We went on to observe various misconceptions, about how we seek to offload guilt by offloading blame to others, or how we think short term pleasure can mean we ignore future consequences, about the error of assessing guilt in others, or being conned into feeling guilty by others when we are not guilty.
- But then we went on to consider dealing with guilt through repentance, and when we see guilt in others how we should deal with it gently, graciously and always looking for and hoping for the best outcome.
- We went on to observe how religiosity can fail to understand God's grace, seen in Jephthah and Eli, but went on to see how grace worked in Hezekiah and Manasseh.
- We concluded the first part with looking at the consequences that follow failure, God's discipline built into life that brings negative outcomes whenever we cross those God-set boundaries, outcomes that so often are brought through other people, and we concluded by seeing how that worked out in the wisest man in the world who went off the rails, Solomon.
To summarise: The reality of guilt, misconceptions of guilt, dealing with guilt, God's grace there to deal with guilt, and the consequences that follow when we fail to reach for that grace.
In Part 2: In this second Part,
- we started by recognising that guilt is still guilt even though we were unaware of doing wrong.
- Guilt can occur in the way we think, in our desires and our emotions.
- But then we opened up the whole concept of guilt through the ‘way we see': lust, wrong perceptions. wrong assessments.
- But then we saw the other side of the coin of ‘seeing', when we fail to see when we should, i.e. blindness, and we considered how we fail to appreciate the glory of God, the wonder of history, the wonder of our salvation, the sin of the world as individuals and corporately, of ungratefulness, of the needs of the world around us, of Jesus' call on our lives, of being too taken up with life to catch his vision, and of failing to see the potential of the church and what we could be doing to reach that potential.
To summarise: Guilt in mind, emotions and deeds, guilt in our responses to what we see, guilt by what we fail to see. As the Anglican Book of Prayer puts it, “ We have left undone those things which we ought to have done, And we have done those things which we ought not to have done.”
And So? How easy it is to get it wrong, but merely because it is easy to sin that should not mean we are casual about it. Accountability stands in the wings waiting to bring consequences but God has provided the blueprint for dealing with our guilt: confession, repentance, cleansing and forgiving through the blood of Christ. He doesn't want us caught up in guilt – immobilized, powerless by shame and inferiority in light of past failures, or the indifference or chiding of the world – He wants us delivered from it so we can walk with head held high as the redeemed, cleansed and restored children of God.
And More: We've got to stop somewhere and this feels the right place. We could have considered the guilt of leading another into error – see Gen 20:9 Abimelek and Abraham. We could have considered the guilt of negligence – see Deut 22:8, caring for others. We could have considered the massive subject of injustice – try Deut 24:15, but we'll leave those for you to work on. Many of us live with guilt from the past. Deal with it by confession and let Him cleanse you and restore you. Some of us suffer from the guilt of ongoing shame; do the same. Some of us are locked into wrong behaviours. Do the same, but also share it with a loyal friend or leader and let them deliver you in the power of His Spirit. Let's walk free together. Amen.