God answers to God questions

Pity poor James Fallon. Fallon, a professor of human behaviour and psychiatry was studying the PET scans of killers when he made an alarming discovery. Professor Fallon had also been involved in a study into alzheimer’s at the time and his own brain had been scanned. To his horror he found that his PET scan was similar to those of psychopaths and murderers. What must have made things just a bit worse was the knowledge that he was also related to the alleged ax murderer Lizzie Borden and also to the first person hanged for matricide in the colonies – plus others who had committed murder.

Sometimes it’s hard to know what to do with who you are or who you have become and it can be complicated by unwanted associations past or present. Fortunately, for most of us life is not quite as complicated as it was for professor Fallon.

It was, however, complicated for Moses – complicated enough for him to have to wrestle seriously with God before he could countenance a call back to Egypt to lead the people out of their slavery. I don’t know what a PET scan of Moses’ brain would have revealed. One thing was certain, he had a criminal record in Egypt. Another thing was pretty much certain as well: he was pretty uncertain about any call from God. Apart from the murder that resulted from his botched attempt to establish himself as Israel’s deliverer, there was the whole issue of why anyone should accept his authority, his revelation.

No doubt those concerns drove most of his dialogue with God in Exodus 3 and 4. And it was the way that he flagged up those concerns that led him into a deeper revelation of God:

Moses said to God, ‘Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, “The God of your fathers has sent me to you,” and they ask me, “What is his name?” Then what shall I tell them?’ 14 God said to Moses, ‘I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: “I am has sent me to you.”’ (Exodus 3.13-14).

Moses had very good reasons to be concerned about a return to Egypt. And it was very understandable that he had questions about whether and how he would be received by his own people. The answer to his concern was a new revelation of God.

Sometimes we are faced with a “big ask”. Sometimes that “big ask” is from God. He doesn’t give us all the details of how He is going to work things out. What He gives us is a new revelation of Himself. Of course, it’s not a new revelation in the sense that Moses had a new revelation. “I AM” was a completely new move in God’s self-revelation to the world. However, the Holy Spirit is able to bring us a new revelation of God in the sense that He is able to open up aspects of God’s character and person that perhaps we hadn’t seen before. Those fesh insights are tailored to meet us where we’re at. God meets our God questions with a God answer.

The answer Moses received was that God was the God of today. He is I AM. A God who is present with us. The God of now. He was with Moses. He was with Israel. He was concerned about the here and now, not what had happened forty years previously.

Whatever the complexity we’re facing. Or the previous chequered experience. Or the ham fisted failure of yesterday, God is with us now. That is fact – whatever you think your spiritual PET scan is telling you.

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Adrenaline for the soul

Poirot, the legendary Belgian – not French, mind – detective is no longer. Well at least the David Suchet version is no longer. After something like twenty-five years, Suchet has played Agatha Christie’s fictional sleuth for the last time. Although giants of stage and screen like Peter Ustinov and Albert Finney had made impressive Poirots, Suchet has probably ensured that Poirot will for quite some time to come be associated with his version of the Belgian detective.

When he took on the role, Suchet decided to read all of Agatha Christie’s novels and short stories that centred around Poirot. He explained in an interview that he had written down ninety-three charcteristics of his character, and then sought meticulously to weave them into his performances. Hence the longevity of the series and the authenticity of Suchet’s performances.

There’s a scripture that says that those who follow Jesus must live as Jesus lived (1 John 2.6). Or walk as Jesus walked (King James Version). We are called to replicate the life of Jesus in our lives, our worlds. Can you imagine how authentically we would represent Jesus if we took the four gospels  and studied and applied them as painstakingly as David Suchet did with Agatha Christie’s Poirot stories?

That might sound like a good idea for a rainy day. A kind of spiritual leisure activity. Or even a project for the the spiritual amateur dramatics society, if such a society existed.

But it’s much more serious than that. In fact according to Hebrews 12, immersing ourselves in the life of Jesus is the key to running successfully the race of life:

Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honour, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he ploughed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls! (Hebrews 12.2-3 MSG)

Study how He did it. Go over that story again. Item by item. That long litany of hostility He ploughed through. Why? Because that’s what stops us from growing weary and losing heart (12.3 NIV). Or as the Message puts it, it shoots adrenaline into our souls.

The story of Jesus is where you find your inspiration. Your model. Your strength. I could be doing with a bit of that. I don’t know about you.

Shaped by the future

If you have ever heard of Cassandra, it’s quite possible that it is a result of having to study Latin or classical studies at school or you’ve seen Emila Fox take the role of the tragic figure in Troy.

Cassandra truly was a tragic figure in ancient mythology. Cassandra, the story goes, was given a supernatural gift: the ability to predict the future. She knew what was ahead. She knew that the Trojan Horse was an enemy ruse and said so.

However, along with her gift came a curse. The curse meant that though she could foretell the future, no-one would ever believe her!

Jeremiah was a biblical prophet who sometimes must have felt that he was destined never to be believed, even though he was an authentic prophet of God. Time after time he spoke the word of God to God’s people – from kings and priests to the masses – yet over and over again his words met with rejection. And over and over again, God called him to speak out.

It is easy to categorise Jeremiah as a prophet of judgment who was called to declare judgment on God’s people. That’s how I used to see this towering biblical figure. Until I read through Jeremiah a couple of summers ago. I read him with one question in mind “What can I learn from this great man about godly leadership?”

One aspect of his ministry that I had never appreciated before was that he was not only declaring what was ahead, he was attempting to prepare God’s people for what was ahead.

Jeremiah could see the future, and he was doggedly trying to impress that upon God’s people so that they would be ready for the shockwaves that were going to hit the nation. Perhaps one of the best known chapters in Jeremiah illustrates his purpose. Jeremiah 29 is all about going into exile and how the people are to respond to that new reality. And the famous words of verse 11 – “For I know the plans I have for you…” are reassurance that God will be with His people in a world that is totally alien to them and in circumstances that seem to undermine completely His faithfulness and their security.

Tragically, the people of Judah never did get it. They stumbled from one crisis to another.

Having a sense of what the future looks like and trying to prepare for it can often result in tension. People around you might not “get it”. Whether you’re building a life, a home, a business or a church, once you start to prepare for a different kind of future, you begin to change things. And once you begin to change things you might well create tension.

If you find yourself under pressure because you are trying to implement godly values, or you are trying to respond to what you believe God is saying about your future, and no-one seems to get it, you’re in good company. Like Jeremiah, let the future you see shape your today rather than letting your past or present shape your tomorrow.

 

Knowing your identity is not enough

A few years ago a friend of a friend was invited to be part of the security team at a university ball. He was a mature student. He had entered the theological college connected to the university to train for the ministry in his late forties.

The ball was the social highlight of the year. It was quite a prestigious event and its prestige was usually enhanced by performances from well known acts. This particular year, an internationally famous rock star had been invited to perform. I don’t feel at liberty to name him…just in case! Anyway, he arrived at the entrance to be greeted by my friend’s friend. He explained who he was. Unfortunately this forty-something security guard was not very in touch with popular culture and simply asked him to produce his ticket.

The rock star remonstrated that he was who he was. I don’t know if he said “Don’t you know who I am?” But it was clear that the security guard’s ignorance of pop culture ensured that he  didn’t know who he was! His identity, by itself was not able to gain him access to an event to which he had the right of access.

One of the great rediscoveries and emphases in recent years has been the power of our identity in Christ. This has been incredibly important as the church has sought to find a biblical route into holiness and living a victorious life. Beginning the journey from who we are in Christ rather than what we are doing for Christ is both spiritually helpful and totally biblical.

But it is only a starting point. Knowing your identity is not enough, in itself, to propel you into effectively living for Jesus.

In the book of Exodus we have an example of someone who discovered his identity and decided to take action. That action took him into a forty year stay in an alien environment. I am referring of course to Moses (Exodus 2.11-15)

It’s tempting to think that the Moses’ stay in Midian was just a tragic error and a forty year delay in God’s purpose. I don’t know if Moses felt that way about his abortive attempt to bring deliverance to Israel.

Consider, however, the fruits of those hidden years. Moses learnt to trust God in an unfamiliar environment. He learnt the power and responsibility of true family, something he had never really experienced because of the unusual surroundings of his birth. He learnt servanthood – he learnt to serve his father-in-law Jethro. The names of his sons reveal that he learnt to receive and appreciate the blessings of God and yet to recognise that he was a stranger in Midian (Ex. 18.2-4). And of course he received the stunning and crucial revelation of God as “I AM” (Exodus 3-4).

Knowing who you are is extremely important, even foundational, if you want to live the kind of Christian life set out in the pages of the New Testament. But it isn’t the whole story. And don’t be surprised if everything doesn’t work out exactly as you thought it would because you know who you are. God’s got some more things to show you. Some more important things to build into your life. And with them comes His incredible blessing over every aspect of your life.