One of the greatest tragedies of the modern Church age is a widespread belief that all the glitz and glamour of our lights, big screen TVs, cameras and smoke machines actually enhances the worship of our Lord, rather than distracts from it, and distracts from Him. There is a belief that hype, comfort and a feeding of the body will make the spirit within us more in love with Jesus. No one needs to admit to it to see this, because the evidence of it is flooding the Church at the moment. More and more, Churches believe they are actually serving Him by spending massive amounts of money on those things that ARE NOT NEEDED. Let me say it again in case you missed it. MOST OF THOSE THINGS THAT ARE USED BY THE CHURCH NOW ARE NOT NEEDED AT ALL. What saves men? What sustains and encourages their worship? What reveals Christ to them? What if, tomorrow morning, all those things the Church now uses in order to 'enhance' the worship and following of Christ, DISAPPEAR because they are lost from the Church? The Bible says that riches are fleeting, so one day all of the things above may go. The Bible says to expect persecution in this life. So what happens if those things are taken away by men that hate Christ? Is Christ still enough for His people? Is the Spirit still enough for His people to ignite their hearts and open their eyes? If Christ and the Spirit are enough, why do we buy luxury things on mass and believe that we do a spiritual service for the worship of God?
How deceived we've become! How little we know of our own weak nature and that fallen part of us that enjoys becoming distracted from Christ! If we worship because of the feeding of the natural body, and the excitement of our senses, how short will our following of Jesus be! When Jesus ceased to feed the multitude with what they really wanted- a feeding of their natural hunger, how few remained! When famine comes, what shall remain of our gatherings and of our places of worship when those desires aren't met! When persecution breaks out, how much will our pretty buildings help our souls in that day! Do we know for sure what our hearts are trusting in? Do we know what we've fallen in love with? What will come of our adoration of men and their personalities! When we are faced with poverty, where will the false teachers run? Where will turn to get those things we treasure so highly? When we are faced with lack, where will the prosperity doctrines go? On what foundation shall the piles of merchandise leave us? What value is really in those things we hold in such high esteem? Do we realise that a worship that involves Jesus, plus our idea of what worship should look like and how it should be conducted is IDOLATRY?
In the Old Testament, rather than give His people an image of Himself, our Lord gave them the sound of His voice. This was done for a very specific reason, and if we miss this lesson, we endanger ourselves greatly. He did it so that we wouldn't begin to IMAGE HIM in a way that was LIKE US AND OUR NATURAL DESIRES. God knew just how apt HIS PEOPLE were to begin imagining that God was like themselves and like the natural things around them. God also knew that the most important thing for His people was to HEAR HIS VOICE:
Duet 4v10 Remember the day you stood before the Lord your God at Horeb, when he said to me, “Assemble the people before me to hear my words so that they may learn to revere me as long as they live in the land and may teach them to their children.”
v12...You heard the sound of words but saw no form; there was only a voice.
v15 You saw no form of any kind the day the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the fire. Therefore watch yourselves very carefully, 16 so that you do not become corrupt and make for yourselves an idol, an image of any shape..
Even on the mountain in the New Testament, just before the cross, when Jesus was on top of the mountain, God spoke to James and Peter and said, "THIS IS MY SON WHOM I LOVE, HEAR HIM." God wanted them to focus on hearing Him, and hearing His voice. For this we need to train our ears to hear that voice, not to hear the noise of natural things and natural phenomena! God speaks THROUGH MEN. God uses men BY HIS SPIRIT. God speaks in a still small voice. He doesn't speak in the blaring wind to raise our emotions, neither does He reside in the earthquake to move us, He doesn't use the whirlwind to overcome all our senses and to disturb our minds from peace, and he doesn't use the fire of sight to hype up His awesome presence. And if you doubt any of that, JUST ASK ELIJAH (1 Kings 19v11-13), who God spoke to in a STILL, SMALL VOICE. This was to teach us that God speaks to us in the secret place of our hearts, and that He is jealous for our full and undivided attention.
The great tragedy of our modern day is that most of the Church now believes that we must now build great and pretty buildings and adopt many loves of the world's methods in order to worship Christ and be effective ambassadors for Him. Despite all the evidence to the contrary in His Word, we still believe, whether we admit it or not, that God needs OUR HELP, and OUR WISDOM to build HIS CHURCH, even when He said, NOT BY MIGHT, NOR BY POWER, BUT BY MY SPIRIT SAITH THE LORD. The bricks are His Word, the cement is the Holy Spirit, the workmen have their instructions from the words of His mouth, and all our fed and sustained by His presence with them. All else is adding where no addition is needed. In the Old Testament, God used a temple and a tabernacle to give evidence of His presence with His people. In the New Testament however, God never built such a thing, not even one temple! Rather, Christ made His people His temple, and dwelt within them. This was to show us that the glory of Christ, His voice and His presence is a matter of the spiritual, not the earthly. In the worship of Himself, God pointed to what truly mattered, and made a point of ignoring what didn't. Will we do the same?
Friday, 12 July 2013
Saturday, 6 July 2013
v5: 'If we have found favour in your eyes," they said, "let this land be given to your servants as our possession. Do not make us cross the Jordan."
v19: We will not receive any inheritance with them on the other side of the Jordan, because our inheritance has come to us on the east side of the Jordan.
v20: Then Moses said to them, "If you will do this- if you will arm yourselves before the LORD for battle, and if all of you will go armed over the Jordan before the LORD until he has driven his enemies out before him- then when the land is subdued before the LORD, you may return and be free from your obligation to the LORD and to Israel. And this land will be your possession before the LORD.
The chapter of the Bible that this verse comes from is simply extraordinary. It is one of the only times in the Word of God (that I can think of anyway), that we see that it is actually ALLOWED by God to not enter the fullness and perfection of what He has for our lives (in terms of worship, service and how we live), and it still be ok with Him and it still be ok for us. For you see, it is possible to live so CLOSE to the fullness of what God has for us, and yet still not live according to it, that we miss the full fruit of that place. Before I go on though, let me give some context to what was going on in this passage, before I spell out exactly what it reveals.
At the start of their journey, God had miraculously brought Israel out of Egypt, and into a wilderness journey, destination- the Promised Land. Through many trials and failings on Israel's part, God finally brought them to the Land. However, the couldn't enter in because of their fear and their unbelief, God wouldn't allow it. Fast-forward 40 years, and the whole adult generation of Israel that refused to enter the Promised Land had died off, and the younger generation now faced the same decision. Most of Israel wanted to, this time, be obedient, and enter the land, however, two tribes didn't. The Reubenites and Gadites (v1), because of their large herds and flocks (how hard it is for the rich man to enter in to the fullness of the Promised Land!), didn't want to go over the Jordan into the Promised Land, but wanted to stay and live on the other side of it, because it seemed most suitable to all their possessions, and to the wellbeing of those things! On one side of the Jordan was God's perfect will for the Israelites, and on the other side was his ALLOWED will, which the Reubenites and Gadites negotiated for because of what they could keep in terms of this world and their possessions! How tragic!
Make no mistake about it though, what these two tribes sought to do in this regard was extremely close to fully rejecting God. And Moses upbraided them for it, firstly by reciting the fact that Israel had basically done the same thing in the past already, and suffered for it (v8-13), and then going on to say what he thought of what they wanted to do:
v14-15: "And here you are, a brood of sinners, standing in the place of your fathers and making the LORD even more angry with Israel. If you turn away from following him, he will again leave all this people in the desert, and you will be the cause of their destructions."
There was an important difference however, in what these two tribes wanted to do in terms of obedience. They didn't want to reject God, or turn away from Him, but it's clear that they did value their lives and their possessions in such a way that revealed where their heart was really at (selfish, and self-centred). It revealed that they wanted to live as close to the world and its desires as they could, without actually having it turn into a disobedience and turning away from God. What made it acceptable to God (in the main), was that they were still willing to 'fight the good fight of faith', that is, they told Moses that because God wanted all of Israel to fight for the Promised Land, they would contribute all of their adult men to fighting alongside Israel. Once the fighting and conquering of the land had been completed, they would then return to the other side of the Jordan, where their wives and children would be waiting for them. As Christians, no matter what side of the Jordan we decide to live on, if we always want to go on with God, we will always have to fight spiritual battles by the grace and power of the Lord. There is no getting around that. However, while Israel had to fight battle after battle in the Promised Land (in order to keep conquering its territories), we never here of other battles the other two tribes faced after that. And this does make sense, after all, if we choose to live closer to the word, and to value what it values (more than we should, then its obvious that there will be less persecution we face, and the world will hate us less than those that are living smack bang in the centre of the Promised Land, and the perfect will of God for our lives. We will also be less of a threat to the enemy, and so it is highly likely that he will leave us alone a lot more than those that are actually standing up for the Kingdom of God.
And so, we as Christians often always face the same dilemma that Israel and its tribes did- which side of the Jordan shall we live on? Shall we lay down our lives wholly for God, or shall we live as close to the world as possible; valuing what it values much more than we should? Shall we determine, as much as we can, what we think is best for us and our lives and so negotiate with God for that very thing? Or shall we have faith to believe that the Land God has promised for us is exceedingly abundantly above all that we could ask or imagine? And shall we desire a mostly battle-less life because of our spiritual compromise and our love to keep our own lives and to keep the love of the world, or shall we 'fight the good fight of faith,' and the many battles that entails, in order to claim all the fruit of the life of grace that Jesus has already purchased for us, and told us that we have been given? (just like the Israelites were told by God that the Land they were about to fight for had already been given to them!). The Promised Land is a land that holds so much bounty spiritually, and so much care practically, that no other land compares, no matter the seeming beneficial 'trade-offs', which are really just superficial and a tragic coming 'so-close' to what God really wanted for His people.
Yes, the Gadites and Reubenites gained what they wanted in the end, but did they really? After all was said and done, I wonder whether, at some time or another in their lives, each one of those men, women and children looked over the Jordan into Canaan and remembered all that Moses had spoken about in regards to the greatness and glory of the promise that God had given, and I wonder whether they all realised what they had really traded it all away for. They had decided to not share in the greatness or the victory of their God, and to give up what Moses himself had pleaded God for, even until the very end of his days (Duet 3v23). They never enjoyed those things that God enjoyed, never were fully committed to God's passion, and so never again experienced the triumphs and glories God had in store for them. And yet, at any time they could've made the decision to leave and join God's people in that land! I wonder how many ever did..
But this is really a great encouragement and opportunity for all of us. Today, we can decide to take advantage of this Land of Promise that has already been given to us, and lay our lives down for His sake. In doing so, we gain them back in the most fruitful and blessed way possible. This doesn't mean we won't have battles or that we won't be persecuted, and it doesn't mean life will suddenly become easy. It also doesn't mean we won't still be sinners saved by grace! Even the Apostle Paul called himself the chief of sinners at the time that God was using him so mightily! So we won't become perfected just yet! But it does mean that God's grace will be with us, and that He will direct our lives, our worship and our service for Him. God will make sure that our lives now, will count as much as possible for the life to come, and it will mean that we'll always have purposeful and productive lives in and for Christ's sake! It will also mean that we will know Christ and the power of His resurrection, and that we will be changed by Him in the exact way He always purposed.
Wednesday, 3 July 2013
"And Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho. And The Lord showed him all the land, Gilead as far as Dan, all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea, the Negeb, and the Plain, that is, the valley of Jericho the city of palm trees, as far as Zoar. And The Lord said to him, "This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, 'I will give it to your descendants.' I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not go over there." (Deuteronomy 34:1-4 RSV)
Rarely will you ever hear preachers talk about Moses as someone who waited, then finally received the promise of God. Now yes, in the earthly sense, Moses did not receive the promise, for he did not get to go into the promised land that he had suffered, waited and wandered so long (40 years!) in the desert to receive. But lets consider this for a moment. What do you think both he, and we ourselves would've rather received at that moment; the promised land on earth, or the promised land of heaven? The answer is obviously easy, being heaven, as that great spiritual land is the full and perfect embodiment of every upright joy, satisfaction and pleasure that exists, and that is in God. So in that moment, while Moses had to die to the promise (in a sense), in dying to it, He gained the perfection of that promise- heaven, the greatest promised land of all. This means a couple of things for us, which are quite encouraging.
Firstly, God shows us that in order to fully believe and continue to hold on to the promise He gives us, we must not only keep the promise visually before us as a way to hold on to hope, but at the same time we must die to it, which means that we must recognise the fact that we don't have it just yet, and that we may have to go without it for a while. This is extremely hard, because it means we have to deny ourselves in the sense that, while we hold on to the desire in order to hope, we must at the same time deny the fulfilment of that desire for ourselves in the present. Again, this often can be agonisingly difficult, and none of us are perfect here. In fact in these times, when we're called to die to ourselves, it seems that God shows us just how weak we are, just how insufficient in ourselves, and just how sinful we are in order to humble us, and to get us to rely on spiritual things, rather than earthly things, and until we realise that His grace really is sufficient for us. Nevertheless, the Lord is patient and merciful with us, who sympathises with us, and keeps His grace with us until we 'get it' enough to hang on in there through such painful and heartbreaking times. No doubt Moses had to keep a full vision of the promise with him through many years of leading a people of God who often complained, turned back to Egypt in their hearts, often tested God, and tested the grace Moses himself had been given by even coming against their own leader. Moses therefore faced many experiences of hardship and types of dying to himself along his journey towards the promise:
Heb 11v24 By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. 25 He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. 26 He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward.
Moses was able to (by the power of God) accept disgrace, reject position and prominence (wow!) and accept being mistreated rather than enjoy the pleasures of sin because he always held the vision of the promise land before him. This wasn't always easy for him to though, and he obviously sinned big time when, instead of telling the rock to produce water for the people like God had commanded, he struck the rock twice (the rock being a type of Christ!) so that water would come out. But overall, Moses continued to follow Christ, and at the last received the greatest promised land of all.
Secondly, we must understand why the promised land was so amazing. Yes, there were some pretty special physical things about that land that Israel got to enjoy, but these in themselves could not satisfy if Christ had not been Israel's God, and in fact would've led them away from Christ. Instead of blessing, that land would've brought barbs to their eyes and thorns in their sides (Numbers 33v55). God knew this full well. He knew absolutely that if He had taken a people into the promised land that weren't really interested in believing in Him, and really wanted the world instead (as the previous generation of Israelites had wanted), then the promised land would've lost any and all of its significance, and really wouldn't have been the gift God intended for them. Yes, it's true, God does intend to take care of us, and it may be true that He wants to bless us with practical and physical things (after all- how many have houses? wives? husbands? jobs? how many work at what they love and have a passion for? how many have children? big families? Churches? fellowships? etc), and the promise he gives us may entail some or all of these things, however, they can only be a blessing to us, in the truest sense, if, in receiving them, we have already received Christ and His will for us in our lives beforehand. Thus, whether he knew it or not (no doubt he knew it though!), Moses, before he received the heavenly promised land, had already received so much of the riches of that land already. The true riches Christ values are those spiritual ones, and Moses had received a whole lot of them because of everything he had gone through. He was known as the most humble man on the planet! (Numbers 12v3). And goodness knows he had to become such a man in dealing with the often proud and selfish Israelites! He was non-violent, leaving behind the violence of his youth (when he thought such violence would advance God's cause). He was gentle, patient, faithful and persevering (and the only evidence you need for this is to read the entire history of his time with Israel!). Yes, the value of the ultimate fulfilment of the promise he received cannot be measured in value, but would Mose have been fit to receive it if he had been entirely earthly? Not in term of worthiness (by grace we have been saved), but in terms of whether Moses would've even wanted the promise of heaven if he had been too in love with the things of earth? Yes, there may be great practical and physical things to enjoy about the promise that God has given us, but we must realise that all the goodness of these things hinge on whether God has been able to fit us for them according to how He furnishes us and our lives with His Holy Spirit. Just like God went to great pains to design and furnish the tabernacle and the temple of God, so He does with us now, for we are the temple of God. When we are fully furnished, we'll be able to receive the promise of the Holy Spirit and all that God brings with Him!
Monday, 1 July 2013
Often in waiting for the promise of God, it seems as though we'll never see it. Years can go by, and untold suffering in that time, and it still seem as though what God once told us will be given to us, will never be given, and will never come true. We usually come to feel this way not only because of the long time period that goes by, which makes it seem like God is uncaring and unable, but also because it seems as though according to our understanding, the promise could never be fulfilled because in some subtle secret manner, we really do believe that we'll need to do something to make God's promise happen (like Sarah in the Bible did). What we must keep in mind though, is that whenever God gives his most special gifts and his most special promises, He usually always has His people wait for it, and wait for it for quite a long time, usually for many years (this obviously also means that He allows us to suffer long for it as well, not to earn it, but to be prepared to receive it in the right manner).
There are many examples of this in the Bible. Samuel's mother cried out to God in desperation after years of having no son and thus much barrenness and mocking from her husband's other wife in the meantime because of it (those that have, be careful not to belittle those that don't have, you just make their suffering worse! and you also tempt yourself to pride). Elisabeth and Zechariah were childless all their lives, and were well past the age of bearing when the age came to Zechariah in the temple and delivered the news and promise of a son that Elisabeth was to have. And it was so unbelievable to Zechariah because of his age, that he didn't believe God would bless him in this way. Mary too at this time was told by God's angel that she would bare a son, and her excitement at what this meant for her was no less immense and important, evidenced by the song she sung in Luke 1 verse 46-55. Some of the most striking parts include her mentioning that God, with that news, had taken away her hunger by fulfilling her desire to have a child (v53), and also taken away her humiliation (v48 + v52). Abraham and Sarah were another example, where they had waited so many years, that Sarah finally came to distrust God and not believe the promise, even telling the Angel of God (some believe the Lord Himself) that this could not happen because of her and her husband's age. They had waited for so many years, that Sarah didn't think it was in the realm of possibility, even for the Lord! It was 25 years before God's promise came true, and in that time both of them had doubted God, and Sarah had even taken things into her own hands in getting herself a son by the name of Ishmael. God was still faithful though, and Isaac was given to them in His timing.
Though there was much time, and no doubt much suffering in waiting for the above promises, those that waited, benefitted mightily in the end. Not only did they benefit themselves, but God wrought some of His most profound and special works through these given promises (works that He still speaks through today!). Isaac, as the given promise, was given an incredibly close relationship with God, the Lord Himself appearing to Him and speaking with him. He became part of way God revealed Himself to mankind (through his story), and God identified Himself with Isaac specifically when He revealed Himself to men as saying that He was the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Ex 3v6). God blessed Isaac in a specific way himself, leading him to his wife, blessing him with prosperity and also breaking him so that he could walk closely and humbly with God and know Him in a very special and spiritually intimate manner. Samuel's mother got to see her son (whose name means 'the Lord hears') become one of the greatest and most important prophets and judges that Israel had ever seen. Samuel anointed Kings, mustered Israel's army for battle, judged Israel (settled disputes and brought wisdom and wise decisions for the people), and heard from God for His people. Elisabeth received John the Baptist as promised, and so saw a man who heralded to Israel the introduction of the King of Kings on earth, and brought a message of coming grace and also of the justice and judgment of God. This was a man who Jesus Himself said that no man born of woman was greater than John the Baptist! Who could weigh the value of such a promise! Of any of these promises! Needless to say, the greatest promise and the greatest gift was Jesus Himself. He is the King of Kings, the Saviour and the true Judge. He was the ultimate promise that mankind received, and also shows that at the heart of any great promise, Jesus, first and foremostly, wants to give Himself to us, and be at the heart of any goodness those promises hold for us.
No reasons are given as to why God made these people weight so long for the promises they received, and the promises they were given. God, it seems, never gives absolute answers as to why sometimes such long periods and long times of suffering are given for His special promises, that is something we'll have to wait till we get to heaven to fully understand. However, we 'know in part' why He does this. One, He does it to show that His most special providences and works are performed by Him alone, and do not come about because of the strength or glory of man (which is really no strength or glory at all anyway). We quickly come to see this because of one simple fact; we are all, like Paul, the chief of sinners. We often fail, we often sin, we often get it wrong and miss the way, we often lose heart and lack faith, but through it all God doesn't give up on us, and is extremely merciful and patient with us. The New Testament says that we have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the excellency of the power is of Him, and not of us. No one in the past, or alive today, could say that anything extraordinary that God did through the promises they were given was because of what they did, who they were, or what they achieved, it was all because of God's goodness and all because of His grace. God uses the time of waiting to continually break down our pride and make us more and more humble.This will mean that we'll be able to remain close in our practical relationship with Him, and so that we won't fall in pride (the Apostle Paul was given a 'thorn in the flesh' to keep Him humble because of the great revelations he was given) when the great promise is given to us. It will also mean that when the promise comes, we will give it back to him in the sense that we will submit to Him using it for His purposes and His glory. Before she received the promise, Hannah, the soon to be mother of Samuel, told God that if He would give her a son, she would give it back to Him when he was fully grown, to serve the Lord for the rest of His days! There are many other reasons why the Lord has us wait, but many of them are only revealed when we are given the promise itself. In all things however, God does what He does in this manner to show us that His ways are not our ways, and our thoughts not His thoughts- He doesn't do things according to a human way, but his way alone, and that will mean that all the glory will go to Him! No flesh should glory in His presence, and this is especially important when great promises are eventually received.