Dream

Misery awaits those who ignore the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ

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Read: James 5

You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. (James 5:8)

Reflect:

[This post is going to be a bit different from my usual meditation on the Bible. Bear with me, please!]

This morning, I woke from a terrible dream.

I dreamed that I was in a giant, colourful store with large glass windows all across the front, a store with everything necessary for life.

A woman was there, and when a man came furtively into the store, she pointed him out to me. “He comes here often,” she said. “Watch him.” She called out to the other people who worked in the store and they came to speak to the man, gathering at the front of the store.

But the man snuck off to another room, grabbed an immense painting, gilt-framed, a portrait of a family, and tried to take it. He would not listen to the others as they crowded around him, trying to speak. In the end he left the painting and slipped way out the door.

The woman spoke again to me: “If only he would listen! Everything in this store is available for free, if only people will receive it as a gift. Nothing here can be stolen, yet he always tries to steal, when he could have all this for free.”

She gestured around the store, and I saw that it was filled with food and clothes and all things that are needed for a good and pleasant life.

Next, I looked out the large glass windows that made up the front and side of the store. Outside, all was black and grey, stark and sombre. A black bitumen road lay in front of the store, coming right up to the window panes.

At first, I thought there was some sort of procession going past, but then I saw that no one was moving. Rather the road itself, beneath them, was moving, carrying them along as if it were a conveyor belt.

On the moving road, people stood and sat and even lay down, still and static as if in a tableau. No one made any attempt to leave or get off. Everyone was in shades of black and grey, there was no colour in them. It was as if I was watching a black and white movie panning from right to left, but there was no white, no lightness anywhere. Somehow I knew that some were Mormon, some Muslim, some of no recognised religion at all.

On the faces of the people were expressions of such misery and agony that I could barely look at them. I saw two men on the ground, lying as if dying or dead, but no one stooped to help them.

I turned to the right and my attention was caught by another man, outside the store but out of place because he was colourful and cheerful. He was green all over, and he looked like a living tree.

This man saw me looking at him, opened the door of the store and came over to me. He leaned over, looked me straight in the eyes and asked me, “Would you like me to explain what this means?”

All at once, I needed no explanation. I stared back aghast at this Man of Life and, through sobs, I spoke: “I will be so sad, so very sad, when my father dies. Then there will be no more hope for his escape.”

And then I woke, shuddering.

This morning Jeff preached on Revelation 8-10, including the seven trumpets of Revelation 8:6-9:21. The woe of which the trumpets warn is one and the same with my dream (Genesis 41:25).

crux:

Misery awaits those who ignore the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Read: James 5

Remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins. (James 5:20)

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

You are full of compassion and mercy. Please have compassion on my father and extend mercy to him. Please grant him repentance and faith.

You are the Judge, standing at the door. Please do not judge my father until you have first justified him and granted him your forgiveness and your righteousness.

Please help me to speak to my father today. May my words always give you glory.

Amen.

 

Helper

Be a helper to the poor – this could, so easily, be me

Read: Deuteronomy 24

Do not take advantage of a hired worker who is poor and needy, whether that worker is a fellow Israelite or a foreigner residing in one of your towns. Pay them their wages each day before sunset, because they are poor and are counting on it. Otherwise they may cry out to the LORD against you, and you will be guilty of sin. (Deuteronomy 24:14-15)

Reflect:

I’ve been thinking a lot today about poverty, the reasons people might be poor and the inherent disadvantages of being poor. There are many things that can happen that are outside of our control, yet which can cause a cascading slide into poverty. James described the unpredictable withering of wealth in his letter to Christians (James 1:10-11), “the rich will fade away even while they go about their business.”

Once you are poor, you are extremely vulnerable. If you can’t afford to buy a decent car, you are at the mercy of dishonest salespeople and risk buying a ‘lemon’ because that’s all you can afford; then you spend more on repairs than those who can afford a good car in the first place. If you don’t have money to fill your car’s tank, you might not be able to make it to a job interview on time, or you might have to pay extra for groceries because you can’t travel to the reasonably-priced stores. Your health will suffer because you can’t afford nutritious, fresh food; you have to work long hours in low-paying jobs so there’s no time nor energy left for exercise and fresh air. Poverty is often an intergenerational problem. It’s no baby’s choice to be born to poor parents, yet those whose parents live in poverty are, themselves, at elevated risk of living in poverty as adults.

For all these reasons, it is vital for Christians to do what they can to alleviate poverty and the potential causes of poverty. This is part of loving our neighbours. We need to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with our God, as Micah 6:8 says.

crux:

Be a helper to the poor – this could, so easily, be me.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

Thank you for the material wealth you have given to me. Please help me to never take it for granted but to be wise and generous, just, merciful and humble in its use.

Please open my eyes with compassion for the people around me who struggle with poverty and all its pitfalls today. May I be helpful to them and not a hindrance; may I act for their advantage rather than my own, and for their benefit rather than their detriment.

Amen.

Purity

God calls his people to purity so they won’t fall into paganism

Read: Deuteronomy 7

Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, for they will turn your children away from following me to serving other gods, and the LORD’s anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you. (Deuteronomy 7:3-4)

Reflect:

At the end of his first sermon (chapter 4), Moses reintroduced the people of Israel to their God in a homily related to the first commandment. Now, after listing the core laws (chapter 5) and explaining the responsibility set upon parents to instruct their children in the law (chapter 6), Moses returns to the first commandment: “You shall have no other gods.” He explains the implications for living in such a way to fulfil this command.

Moses gives instructions for entering the promised land, where God will drive out the nations before them. The people are to show no mercy (5:2) nor look on the people with pity (5:16). Instead, they are to destroy the people of these pagan nations. Why? If Israel does not destroy the current occupants of the promised land, they will be led astray by them, led into idolatry by them. Then the LORD will punish Israel, just as he is punishing these seven nations now. The LORD says his people must stay separate from the people they dispossess.

Today, God is not calling his people to dispossess other nations. Rather, he calls us to go and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19). But we are still to remain separate in some ways so we do not become ensnared by the trickery of false gods and the lies of idol worshippers. For this reason, it is still only appropriate for Christians to marry fellow Christians (1 Corinthians 7:39, 2 Corinthians 6:14).

crux:

God calls his people to purity so they won’t fall into paganism.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

You are holy, holy, holy. You despise sin and detest wickedness. All such things shall come under your righteous judgement, including me and my sins. Please forgive me; do not destroy me. Thank you for your Son who paid for my sins.

Please help me to be holy as you are holy. Help me to know what I must cut out of my life and cast away. Please help me to see clearly what needs to change, whether it be the way I spend my days or my character, habits and choices.

Please mould me in the shape of Christ my Saviour and keep me from conforming to the patterns of this world. Please keep me pure and holy, washed by the blood of the Lamb.

Amen.

Sorting

God will judge people on their response to his Son, their faithfulness with his gifts and their love for others

Read: Matthew 25

“But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.
“Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’
“But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.'” (Matthew 25:10-12)

Reflect:

This chapter has three parables that Jesus told to warn people that they would be judged by God at a certain time for their deeds on earth. Judgement is not a popular idea today, or, I imagine, in Jesus’ day. No one likes to be told that their present way of life doesn’t measure up to someone else’s standard. But Jesus told at least three parables warning of coming judgement, so I need to take notice.

In the first parable, the virgin brides are judged on whether they are ready to receive their groom.

In the second, the servants are judged on the way they managed their master’s money in his absence; on whether they were faithful or not with the tasks that he gave them.

In the third parable, the people are judged on how they responded to Jesus in his “distressing disguise” (as Mother Teresa described it); how they responded to the sick, poor, hungry, thirsty, needy, imprisoned.

crux:

God will judge people on their response to his Son, their faithfulness with his gifts and their love for their neighbours.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

You are the Good Judge, the Just and Fair Judge, the Righteous Judge.

You have the right to judge because you are our Creator and King.
You have the right to judge because you are Righteous and True.
You have the right to judge because you are Steadfast and Sure.
You have the right to judge because you are Love and Light.
You have the right to judge because you are God, the only God.

Please grant me mercy LORD, for I am a sinner, guilty before you, in need of the forgiveness won by your Son for me.

Please enable me to keep watch; to stand firm in faith and be ready to receive Jesus Christ when he returns to claim his kingdom. Please help me to be faithful with the gifts you have given me through your Spirit; please help me to use them wisely and generously to equip your saints for the good works you prepared. Please help me to care for my neighbours, especially my family and my church.

Amen.

Teacher

I want to be a teacher who opens the door of the kingdom to others

Read: Matthew 23

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.” (Matthew 23:13)

Reflect:

As a teachers, I can imagine few greater professional criticisms than this one.

It’s like saying to a literacy educator, “You make it harder and more confusing for your students. You don’t read yourself, and you take books away from people trying to learn to read.” This criticism sounds extreme when translated to a modern parallel in this way. But that is the sort of complaint Jesus made against those who were meant to be teaching God’s Law.

Jesus told the Pharisees they were blocking the way to God’s kingdom when they should have been showing the way and leading the way. They weren’t just bad teachers, they were anti-teachers.

Alas! Jesus said their end will be desperate: “Look. Your house is left to you deflate.” (23:38) All their hypocrisy would leave the house of God, the temple in Jerusalem, empty and deserted; a wasteland rather than a place of worship.

In contrast, I see Jesus, the perfect Rabbi, who led his disciples faithfully and humbly. How his heart must have ached to see such anti-teachers as these influencing God’s people.

crux:

I want to be a teacher who opens the door of the kingdom to others.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

Your Son Jesus was the greatest teacher who ever lived. Your Scriptures are the greatest revelation that has ever been given. Your Spirit is the greatest guide who ever led the way.

May I follow in Christ’s steps. May I be a teacher who opens doors, not shuts them. Please use my teaching at work to reduce recidivism. Please use my training to help people to gain the skills to work to support their own needs and those of their families. Please use my teaching to help men keep in contact in a positive way with the families from whom they are separated.

But LORD, I want so much more than that for my students. May they learn how to read and then choose to read your Word. May your Scriptures be plain before them so they know the glory of your grace for them in Jesus Christ. May they read their way to meeting you and entering your kingdom by the blood of your Son.

Thank you for your love to the “least of these”, LORD. Please bless them with an open door to become citizens of your kingdom by your mercy. Please grant them a future with you.

Amen.

Acknowledge

I go to the Scriptures to learn to acknowledge God

Read: Matthew 9

On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:12-13)

For I desire mercy, not sacrifice,
and acknowledgement of God rather than burnt offerings. (Hosea 6:6)

Reflect:

The Pharisees did not understand why Jesus had come. He was going about as a rabbi, calling people to be his disciples with the words, “Follow me” (9:9). Yet this Jesus was not selective, not discriminating in his choice of disciples as other rabbis must have been. Jesus called Matthew, a tax collector – a greedy Roman collaborator, the Pharisees probably thought – to follow him. The crowds who heard Jesus preach and saw him heal were filled with awe (9:7). If Jesus was setting himself up as a Rabbi among rabbis, why was he choosing a tax collector to be his disciple, then eating with Matthew’s notorious, deplorable associates?

The answer lay in Jesus’ mission. Jesus was there to help, so he met with those needing his help.

In response to the criticism of the Pharisees, Jesus quoted Hosea, who prophesied to an unrepentant people, to show that God values mercy (help for the helpless) above religious artifice. But Jesus’ rebuke was even more pointed than the obvious point that the Pharisees were unmerciful and unrepentant and in need of his help. He told the Pharisees to go and study this passage from Hosea.

If the Pharisees had gone to the writings of Hosea, they would learn that the passage called God’s people to acknowledge him:

“Let us acknowledge the LORD;
Let us press on to acknowledge him.
As surely as the sun rises,
he will appear;
he will come to us like the winter rains.” (Hosea 6:3)

The LORD had appeared, he had come to them: like winter rain for a parched land, like a doctor to the desperately ill, like a rabbi to the untaught rabble. The LORD had come to offer mercy and the Pharisees were too self-righteous, too enmeshed in their interpretation of the Law to acknowledge the God who fulfilled that Law.

crux:

I go to the Scriptures to learn to acknowledge God.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

I acknowledge you. You are God. Father, Son and Spirit. You are the LORD, the I AM, Yahweh.

I acknowledge Jesus Christ. I accept he exists and admit he is true.

I also acknowledge that I am a sinner in need of Jesus to justify me.

Thank you that Jesus called Matthew to be his disciple. Thank you for calling me to be Jesus’ disciple also.

May I follow Jesus as I read, reflect on and respond to the words Matthew wrote about his rabbi. May I learn, as Matthew learned, to acknowledge my God, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, my Saviour.

May I, like Matthew, open my house with hospitality so that others may come and meet Jesus and learn to acknowledge him as God.

Amen.

See

Seeing Jesus is seeing the very face of God

Read: John 12

Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” (John 12:20-21)

“The one who looks at me is seeing the one who sent me.” (John 12:45)

Reflect:

After the miraculous sign of bringing Lazarus back from death to life, even foreign worshipers had heard of Jesus and wanted to see him for themselves. I wonder how many of these curious travellers became believers when they saw Jesus. How many realised that what Jesus was saying was true: that in seeing Jesus, they were seeing the LORD God himself, incarnate!

When I remember back to the occasion of my conversion to Christianity, I recognise the Spirit working in many ways over many years to bring me to that point. I also recognise that it was one single moment in time that changed my life forever, because (by the Spirit) I saw Jesus Christ clearly and realised – finally – that God had sent him to die for my sins and to save me.

It was in joyful celebration of this faith that 15 years ago we named our firstborn son Joshua, which means “God saves.”

Crux:

Seeing Jesus is seeing the very face of God.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

Thank you for opening my eyes to see Jesus clearly so I might see you fully revealed. Thank you for bringing Lazarus back to life and for bringing me to eternal life. Thank you for showing your glory to these Greeks and for showing your glory to me.

Thank you for my son Joshua. May you reveal yourself clearly and fully to him, granting him mercy to know you, love you, and find eternal life in you. May you strengthen his faith when it is weak and weaken his pride when it is strong. May he give glory to you rather than seeking it for himself. May he appreciated your mercy to him and seek to extend your mercy to others. May he proclaim your one way of salvation and your free offer of salvation, showing Jesus to all those whose eyes you open to see your Son in his glory.

Amen.