Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Why does God keep punishing me?

I recently finished a book, Encounters with Jesus, by Timothy Keller.  He wrote about things I knew [sort of] but he articulated them in such a way that it gave me much greater understanding and hope.  One of the topics Keller touched on was God’s justice and our fear of continual punishment.

Keller easily deflated our perception that God continues to punish us.  He pointed out that all our sins, past present, future, great and small, were laid on Jesus on the cross.  There is not a single sin, anywhere in all time and/or creation, that was not dealt with – punished on the cross.  Not a single one!  The big question is, have you acknowledged this and received God’s incredible gift of salvation?  

Therefore, because of God’s perfect justice, it is impossible for God to continue to punish those of us who have acknowledged Christ’s sacrifice.  It would be unjust for God to punish us for something (sin, mistake, error, etc., deliberate or otherwise) that God has already punished Jesus for (including all our sins from this moment forward).  That would be to punish the same sin twice.  If God were to continue to punish us for a previously atoned for sin it would completely negate all of Christ’s sufferings. This is not possible!

We read the following in Colossians 1:22-23 NLT, "Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you [insert your name here] are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault.  But you must continue to believe this truth and stand firmly in it. Don’t drift away from the assurance you received when you heard the Good News."

But this truth does not necessarily answer your question, “Why does it feel like God is punishing me?”  Jesus himself answers this question, naming satan, the great accuser.  In Revelation 12:10 NIV we read, "Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Messiah. For the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down.”  In fact, Isaiah 50:8 NIV makes the following statement in this Messianic prophecy, "He who vindicates me is near. Who then will bring charges against me? Let us face each other! Who is my accuser? Let him confront me!”  Not only does God not repeatedly punish us for our sins over and over, our Saviour stands before God’s throne vindicating us!  How awesome is that!?

The original Hebrew term satan is a noun from a verb meaning primarily "to obstruct or oppose", as it is found in Numbers 22:22, 1 Samuel 29:4, Psalms 109:6. Ha-Satan is traditionally translated as "the accuser" or "the adversary”.

If the above is true, and the Accuser shows up, as he will from time-to-time, and when we are at our lowest points, perhaps in a valley (he likes to try and kick us while we’re down), we have the perfect example of how to respond: “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’” You can also simply say, “In Jesus name, go away!”  “Then the devil left him” (Matthew 4:11). 

If God is not punishing us, what about discipline?  God does discipline the ones He loves. In thinking on this we should consider: a. It is pointless to ‘discipline’ someone if they don’t know why they’re being disciplined. b. Discipline is a ‘corrective action’, it is there to provide a positive and beneficial outcome. c. God disciplines those He loves.  Whatever discipline God metes out - it will/must always be done in His divine and limitless love for us.

All this potentially leads to another question, “Why do bad things happen to me?”  This is a question for another time but meditate of this thought: What would life be like if ‘bad things’ never happened?  How would it affect your relationship with God?

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Meditating on Scripture - Doing the legwork

Bible Gateway provides 55 different iterations on the full English Bible.  Some would say, See, the Bible has been changed, it cant be trusted!  The big secret that these sceptics dont know is that Gods Word is alive with meaning.  Through the intervention of the Holy Spirit, God will use a specific passage of Scripture, to speak to the believers heart, in many ways and for many different reasons.  These individuals would not understand the passion the translators and interpreters have for conveying the true meaning of the words and the heart of God.  They strive to listen to Gods voice not their own.
Having recently been challenged to continually trust God in trying times, I have been focusing on verses of Scripture such as Psalm 46:10, which 42 of the 55 translations reads, Be still, and know that I am God.  Many versions italicize the word, am to give it emphasis. A friend from our Bible Study group challenged me to understand the Hebrew meaning of this verse, all Hebrew families knew this verse like the back of their hands, but what they knew was the meaning. In Hebrew, the text of be still means to drop everything! This lead me to the exercise of looking at this verse through all the different translations on Bible Gateway. The results are below.  As always, it is good to read Scripture in context.
Psalm 46:10 21st Century King James Version (KJ21)- Full verse.
"Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted on the earth."
Psalm 46:10 Amplified Bible (AMP)
Be still and know (recognize, understand) that I am God.
Psalm 46:10 Christian Standard Bible (CSB)
Stop your fighting, and know that I am God,
Psalm 46:10 Common English Bible (CEB)
Thats enough! Now know that I am God!
Psalm 46:11 Complete Jewish Bible (CJB)
11 (10) Desist, and learn that I am God,
Psalm 46:10 Contemporary English Version (CEV)
Our God says, Calm down, and learn that I am God!
Psalm 46:10 Easy-to-Read Version (ERV)
God says, Stop fighting and know that I am God!
Psalm 46:10 GODS WORD Translation (GW)
Let go of your concerns! Then you will know that I am God.
Psalm 46:10 International Standard Version (ISV)
Be in awe and know that I am God.
Psalm 46:10 Living Bible (TLB)
Stand silent! Know that I am God!
Psalm 46:10 The Message (MSG)
Step out of the traffic! Take a long, loving look at me, your High God, above politics, above everything.
Psalm 46:10 Names of God Bible (NOG)
Let go of your concerns! Then you will know that I am Elohim.
Psalm 46:10 New English Translation (NET Bible)
He says, Stop your striving and recognize that I am God!
Psalm 46:10 New Life Version (NLV)
Be quiet and know that I am God.
Tehillim 46:10 Orthodox Jewish Bible (OJB)
10 (11) Be still, and know that I am Elohim:
Psalm 46:10 The Voice (VOICE)
Be still, be calm, see, and understand I am the True God.
Psalm 46:10 Wycliffe Bible (WYC)
Give ye attention, and see ye, that I am God;
Psalm 46:10 Young's Literal Translation (YLT)

Desist, and know that I [am] God,

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Can you forever change the way you read Scripture?


I was just lent Encounters with Jesus by Timothy Keller.  In the introduction, he tells of a life transforming attitude to meditating on Scripture.  His class was challenged to spend meditating on a single verse for 30-minutes and to “Write down at least thirty things you see or learn from the verse.”  Ten minutes into the exercise Keller was finished (or so he thought) and bored.  He dutifully pushed on and kept looking.  To his surprise there was more.   Virtually the whole class found their most penetrating and personally helpful insights came in the last 15-minutes of the exercise, none from the first 10-minutes.

Last night I read the following from Psalm 64:5 and decided it would be good to apply the same effort: “Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in Him.” Fifteen words. I asked God for encouragement and insight.  For me, the exercise ended up taking 45-minutes and produced thirty-three thoughts, or revelations.  They are listed in the exact order I wrote them down.  Notice the progression.

“Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in Him.”  

1. Let – I must allow myself to do these things.

2. Let – Do not put up obstacles that would hinder my intent and desire.

3. All – Hold nothing back.  If I hold anything back I am making room for self rather than God.

4. Let all that I am – My complete being; body mind and soul.

5. All those things that are ‘fleshly’, i.e. worry, doubt, fear, etc. are an impediment to my ‘waiting patiently’.

6.   Let all that I am wait… - This should be my continual posture.

7. If I am to have the correct posture I must not allow ‘noise’, the voice of the devil or worldly distractions to interrupt my quiet.

8. Where am I to do this waiting? Before God!  I need to wait in His presence.

9. I must not do my waiting cowered in a corner or wrap myself in a ball, hoping that my troubles will simply disappear.

10. Before God – What a privileged position!

11.  Before God – I am making Him my refuge.

12. Let all that I am wait quietly before God – This reminds me of Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God.”

13. Waiting patiently before God means that I am looking to Him exclusively to bring about the desired outcome of whatever situation I find myself in – His will.

14. Waiting patiently infers that I am in no hurry.  Reminder to self: God’s timing is always perfect.

15. Waiting patiently is a deliberate denial of setting my own agenda.

16. For my hope is in Him – The reason for my ability to wait patiently.

17. My Hope – The thing that I look forward to.  Not a specific, self-dictated outcome, but a ‘God outcome’ – something greater and better than I could have hoped or imagined. See Ephesians 3:20

18. My hope is... – A statement of fact and confidence – not a ‘maybe’.

19. In Him – The place, the very heart of my confidence.  It is not to be found on the outside or anywhere else, only  inside, “in Him”.

20. Let all that I am – This is a prayer/petition in and of itself.  I am asking God to make this possible, to keep any distraction from this desired attitude at bay.

21. Quietly – A place of peace and solitude.

22. This verse should be my perpetual, submissive attitude before God; for my minute-by-minute needs, my daily needs and my lifelong needs.

23. This is a life transforming verse.  I am giving over my whole life to God, for His eternal purpose for my life – which is my hope.

24. My hope is in Him – This reminds me of Psalm 30:5 “but rejoicing comes in the morning.”

25. In Him – My joy, my purpose for being, my future is to be found nowhere else.

26. I need to be quiet in the presence of God.  Even as I write these thoughts, my mind is racing.  I need to learn to ‘Stop interrupting God.’

27. Is the good that God brings out of the struggles of the past few weeks specifically so that I may take this verse to heart?

28. My hope is in Him – Why? Because He loves me. Because He is faithful. Because He is gracious.

29. Although this verse is a ‘conversation with self’, it can be read as a promise.  God will give me patience, quietness, and hope.  It’s what He wants for me.

30. In Him – Certainty!

31. I am to live in a posture of hope.  It allows me to live in a world that seems to be falling apart, yet I am still stop and smell the roses, to take time to praise God for the beauty of His Creation – not letting worry steal my joy.

32. Sometimes we put up barriers between our head and our heart.  I can intellectually articulate all these ‘things’ [concepts and ideas], but am I willing to let them fully permeate my heart?

33. Psalm 62:5 does not give me permission to have a laissez faire attitude, ‘Don’t worry, God will take care of it.’ Rather, God is inviting us into a joint venture, a joint effort.  “My hope [my part] is in Him [His part]

May I encourage you to try this exercise for yourself?  Pick a verse...