A Revelatory Drive!

I was out driving the other day and a most striking thing happened. It actually happens a great deal, but for some reason, probably the Holy Spirit’s inspiration, the situation spoke to me rather powerfully.

I was driving through a non-dual-carriageway section of road through the beautiful forest that surrounds where I live. The sun was shining (doesn’t happen quite so much here as this other thing I’m going to describe) and, as usual when driving on my own, I had my music on full blast. (Some wonderful old 70’s classics if I remember correctly! You know, that whole Bubble-Gum music thing!) In other words, I was as happy as Larry and having a total blast; and because that rather long stretch of road has a 40 mile an hour speed limit I was driving – yes, you’ve guessed – at a sedate 40 miles an hour.

I then noticed that the gentleman driving the car behind me was not having the same great day that I was. In fact, from his waving arms and quite un-mistakeably less than polite gesticulations – all clearly visible in my rear view mirror – he was having an extremely bad one. And it was very clear why! He was angry because he was wanting to go faster than 40 miles an hour, but couldn’t because I wasn’t going faster than 40 miles an hour and because he couldn’t, for a few miles, get passed me. I was quite clearly the cause of some considerable disquiet in his life. But let’s just think about this a bit and ask some questions as to why I was driving at 40 miles an hour and causing someone such great distress.

Was I, for instance, driving at 40 miles an hour in order to be offensive? Well, no! I was driving at 40 miles an hour because that is the speed limit on that particular stretch of road, and because it is my understanding that God’s Word teaches that we should obey the governing authorities. Might it have been because I am a self-righteous person who just wants to show everyone how well I obey the law, and who wants to oppress anyone who doesn’t see things my way? Again, no! It was because that’s the speed limit on that stretch of road! So could it be that I am just a rather unpleasant individual who takes pleasure in upsetting people? Er…this is getting boring…no! It was just because I believe I should drive that section of road at 40 miles an hour irrespective of what others think of me for doing so or how it makes them feel.

It might also be worth asking whether it might be the case or not that I have got the speed limit wrong myself on that stretch of road, and that it might be 60 miles an hour and not 40 miles an hour. after all, should such be the case then one could, I suppose – but it would still be a stretch – say that this guy then at least had a point. Doing 40 in a 60 area for some distance when it’s difficult to overtake is, arguably, a bit annoying. But my answer here is simply this: Having lived in this area for over 50 years all told, I am pretty sure that I have repeatedly seen the signs that set the speed limit of that stretch of road at 40 miles an hour.  I could, of course, be wrong. (I could be wrong about absolutely anything!) My eyes may well be deceiving me. So if anyone thinks that might be the case, and has a beef with me for driving the road at 40 miles an hour instead of 60 miles an hour, then all I ask is that they show me the evidence. Just prove to me that I am wrong! Show me the sign that has the number 60 on it and not 40! I would then be more than happy to acknowledge that I have been getting it wrong all this time, being then free to drive that stretch of road at 60 miles an hour knowing that I am within the law in so doing.

So what it boils down to is this: I made someone extremely angry because my right-doing got in the way of their desire to do wrong. For absolutely no other reason than that I was doing the right thing, someone who had been doing the wrong thing (speeding), but who had been stopped in their tracks and forced to slow down and do the right thing because I was in now front of them, got angry with me and wasn’t holding back showing it. I wonder if you can see where I’m going with this!

I cannot tell you how many times Christians have gotten angry at me for no other reason than that I simply believe, teach, live and practise things that God’s Word seems to pretty clearly teach which, for whatever reason, they don’t happen to like. I have, for example, had Christians get angry with me again and again because I believe that wives should submit to their husbands – just as I believe that husbands should love their wives to the moon and back – and that women should not be in a leadership function in the church, or do teaching to the gathered body of saints. I have also had Christians get angry with me, again and again, because I believe, teach and practise that churches should be small, home-based and non-hierarchical. I have even had brothers and sisters in the Lord get angry with me, and on a good many occasions too, simply because I make clear that I believe all Christians should go purely by God’s Word and not in any way by extra-biblical man-made traditions which go against it.

But of course the very worst of the anger happens when one has, through whatever means, become a focal point of sin being revealed in believers lives. I have been slandered to the ends of the earth and back for trying to encourage believers with whom I have had to do to be honest about such sins in their lives as greed, immorality, resentment, slander, un-forgiveness, dishonesty, lying, hatred…and so the list could go on! When put like this it is easy to see how – just as with someone who wants to break the law regarding speeding, but who finds someone getting in their way – simply doing right can cause Christians who are doing wrong to get angry, just as the same right-living causes believers who are living wrong to be convicted of their sin. The anger and resentment is because they aren’t willing to come clean and simply put their hands up, be honest and repent.

And to any who do find themselves angered by what I teach (and not just me of course, it could be anyone), or what I practise, or even perhaps anything I have ever said to you personally, then I simply say this! Just show me the road sign that says the speed limit is 60 miles an hour and not 40 miles an hour, and I will change my driving accordingly. In other words, if you think I am wrong – and about absolutely anything too – then just show me that I’m wrong from scripture. Don’t get angry and skulk off into the shadows to do the whole bad-mouthing thing about me to others behind my back, or directly sound off at me in anger! Let’s talk! Let’s reason together, just like the Lord wants to do with us! Let’s open the Bible together and ask prayerfully, “What saith the scriptures?”

One last thing! Having established that I was driving at 40 miles an hour the other day simply because it’s what the law of the land says, and not because I wanted to upset the guy behind me, or because I want to do anything to upset or anger anyone, so too with what I believe, teach, live and practise. I can assure you that I have never wanted to upset anyone. Neither have I ever desired to make anything harder for anyone than need be. Yet I have been accused by other Christians of living how I live, and teaching what I teach, and saying what I say from every vile motive they seem to be able to think of. But of course the reality is that they are just angry and resentful because sin has been exposed in their lives to which they don’t want to admit. That guy in the car behind me the other day was having a veritable fit, and I have no doubt that he was calling me every unpleasant name under the sun. But not because I was doing anything wrong, but precisely because I was doing right. I had simply, though quite un-desiringly and inadvertently, become a stumbling block to him in his wrongdoing.

Christian, the next time you find yourself angry with someone and doing that whole “How dare they say that to me! They offended me!” thing, just ponder that the odds are that it is most probably evidence that you are being convicted by the Holy Spirit of something in your life which you don’t want to recognise and own up to. In your desire to avoid the message you just want to shoot the messenger. In order to deny and wriggle out of the sin that is being revealed in you, and in order to try to justify yourself in both your own eyes and eyes of others, you are seeking to discredit the person God is using to convict you. You can then tell yourself that you don’t have to listen to someone who is so discreditable and wrong.

Just remember though that the Pharisees did this to the Lord Jesus all the time!

 

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The Ezekiel Factor

“The Spirit then lifted me up and took me away, and I went in bitterness and in the anger of my spirit, with the strong hand of the LORD on me. And I came to the exiles who lived at Tel-Abib near the Kebar River. And I sat where they sat overwhelmed among them for  seven days.” (Ezekiel 3:14-15)

The intent of the above verses follows on very much from the previous post concerning Jesus’ view of Nicodemus and the uniqueness of each individual. Two vitally important things are inter-twined in them! The first is that Ezekiel had already received the heart of the Lord concerning the situation into which he was being sent in order to speak the Word of the Lord; but the second is that he also then had to embrace, feel and share the hearts of the people in those situations before uttering a word!

The Hebrew of the text conveys the idea of the silence of deep mourning, anguish and distress. In other words, it wasn’t enough for him to feel what the Lord was feeling concerning the people he was being sent to, he had to also feel what they were feeling in the situation, thus sharing in their pain and distress, before delivering the burden of the Lord to them. Hence the need for him to sit silently with them for seven days so that he could become properly identified with them, share their hearts, and feel their pain. This is what compassion is: to enter into the distress and anguish of those you are seeking to share the Lord with. It is to feel their pain, to vibrate in sympathy with the distress they are going through, only then bringing to bear any truth or wisdom such as they need to hear. It is what Paul means in 1 Corinthians when he says that believers should “weep with those who weep.”

This is yet another facet of a theme that anyone who knows me will know that I return to again and again: the biblical relationship between grace and truth, stated elsewhere by Paul in terms of the need to “speak the truth in love.”

We should never just dole out truth and advice left, right and centre, irrespective of how true and scriptural that truth might be, or how biblical, inspired and wise the advise. No! Not in a million years! We are to rather bring the Lord’s heart to bear on the hearts of whoever His burden through us is for. This means that, like Ezekiel, we must first actually receive His heart and mind concerning whatever the burden might be, but then become one with, and feel the pain of, those for whom the burden has been given. This is what intercession is, and what compassion actually looks like. It is to become one, and to vibrate in sympathy with, the pain of those to whom we are called.

Truth is obviously always objective, but what we are highlighting here is that so often we lack this subjective emotional element of actually feeling for people, of resonating in identification with their hurts, joys and fears. It is not mere sentimentality because what we are speaking of issues from, and will always apply, the objective truth of God’s Word. No! It is rather to become more and more like the God Who feels the pain of every man, woman and child whom He has created.

At the heart of everything God is, and has done, is incarnation. In the Lord Jesus He has incarnated Himself into every aspect of human life. And this He has done because not only is He the God of Truth, He is also the God of all Grace. And what this issues in is a principle that underlines everything concerning the manner of His dealings with us, and it is simply this: God beats the problem by becoming the problem! Think about it! What was the problem? Human beings! A fallen human race! So what did God do? He became a human being called Jesus! He beats the problem by becoming the problem! But of course it’s so much more than just that because what was the underlying problem that had made men, women and children a problem in the first place? Sin! Human beings are a problem because of their problem with sin! So what did the Lord do about that?

“God made Him who knew no sin to become sin, that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21. Emphasis mine.)

In our relationships with both unbelievers and our fellow Christians with whom we fellowship, incarnation is at the very heart of how we should live, and the kind of people we should be. Seeking to identify with those around that we might feel what they feel. That we might vibrate in sympathy with them, and sit where they sit, overwhelmed among them, in order to discern, and then meet, their needs.

“And I came to the exiles who lived at Tel-Abib near the Kebar River. And I sat where they sat overwhelmed among them for seven days.”

 

A Little Bit More on Aliens!

Many moons ago now, when I was a young man and dinosaurs ruled the world, I (of course) went to the cinema to see the (then) groundbreaking first Alien movie. It was, to my mind, both a masterpiece and complete revelation. However, what spoiled it somewhat was the fact that it was slightly out of focus, a fact I complained about at some volume at one point during the showing. (Yes, I know! But I was young!) How ridiculous, I mused, that a projectionist can’t focus his projector properly. But hey, no-one’s perfect all the time!

A few years later, whilst I was still young man but recently and gloriously married to Belinda, I quickly discovered that I had a little helper in the car. She helped me with all kinds of things…how fast I was going….when traffic lights were changing….when someone was crossing the road in front of me etc etc. And one of the things I couldn’t help but notice was that she would see what road signs said a few seconds before I did. This, I concluded, could only be down to one thing, so off I went to an opticians……only to find…..yes, you’ve guessed……that I needed glasses for distance viewing.

In the days that followed after getting my first pair I couldn’t believe how sharp, colourful and crystal clear everything was, and just how much fine detail I had been missing all that time. And then I remembered…..going to see Alien…..and complaining that the film wasn’t properly in focus. We have a word here in England that describes anyone functioning on significantly less than a full brain-load of grey matter….pillock! And yes, I felt a right pillock! It wasn’t that the film was out of focus and that the projectionist wasn’t doing his job properly, it was that my eyes were deficient and that I wasn’t seeing the screen properly.

You probably know where this is going now, and indeed it is! I have learned to be very careful to not jump to conclusions when I perceive something to be wrong, and not to make quick judgements until I am happy I have all the angles covered. I still get things wrong at times, of course, but the principle stands! But the main point I want to make here though is this:

I have spent a lifetime teaching things from God’s Word which no-one has ever actually been able to refute from that Word! I have been disagreed with and disavowed by lots of people on many occasions, but the things I teach that so upset folk have never been countered and shown to be error actually from scripture itself. Somebody once well said that it wasn’t the bits of the Bible they didn’t understand that troubled them, but precisely the bits they did. There are bits in the Bible that are obviously there, but which just don’t suit a great many Christians.

The next time you knee-jerk react against something you hear someone maintain to be biblical because it offends you, make sure you first establish whether it is actually biblical or not. Then still don’t react, but rather respond! There is every chance that it is not that something unbiblical is being said, but merely that you just don’t happen to like it and want to justify and excuse yourself! Or to put it another way, it’s not that the projector isn’t in focus, but rather that we need glasses!