I've been thinking a lot, recently, about the choices with which we are faced each and every day. It seems to me that, as followers of the Lord Jesus, we are constantly faced with choices that are important as we live in a greatly changing world. Values have changed, morals have changed and society itself has changed. In the midst of all of that we have a leader who does not change. That fact does not make Him old fashioned but it does mean, for His followers, that His leadership, example and values are as relevant today as when He walked this Earth.
Some years ago we were on holiday and had gone to a local church where the pastor, whilst preaching on the subject of God's timing, mentioned that he and his wife were often 'last minute' people because his wife could never make her mind up what to wear and that often involved her trying on one outfit and then changing it at the last minute. It often took her a long time to choose what to wear. it had to be right for the right occasion.
He used a phrase that has stuck with me ever since. He said, in his view, that she had 'two wardrobes full of nothing to wear.' I think he realised, having said that in public, he may have been skating on thin ice because he ended the story with the remark that she always looked nice whatever she wore and her choice, that morning, was particularly nice. On the other hand of course he could just have been a very wise man.
Perhaps, to some extent, we are all a little bit like that. We, generally, want to look good don't we? Come on, be honest, how many of us take something out of the wardrobe and then put it back because it's not quite right or another outfit would look that much better or appropriate. Of course that will be the ladies not the men (oops perhaps I should have left that out.....too late) We may not have two wardrobes full of clothes from which can choose the right outfit but many of us will take time to know what to wear for which occasion.
That set me thinking. The Bible is quite clear on what we should wear. Granted, it's not exactly what clothes we should wear or a dress code for church attendance. It's something much more important than the issue of wearing the right clothes for the right occasion. It's all to do with the issue, a gar more important issue, of what does and what does not please God.
The Bible is quite straightforward in what we should wear in terms of what we should take off and what we should put on. One of my favourite expressions in the
Bible (in the older versions) is that the Holy Spirit put on Gideon. That's powerful. Anyway, we are clearly told, for example, that we need to put off (take off) the old self and that we should put on the new self. It even describes for us the detail of the old and describes for us the new. That's to be found in Colossians chapter three and verses five to seventeen. There's another list in Ephesians chapter four and verses twenty two to thirty two.
If we really do want to dress in a way that pleases God we will do what we are told to do. We are to put off (take off) the old nature and to put on the new nature. The new nature, often referred to as the new self, represents the 'clothes' that God has provided and in which He loves to see us. Such outfits are pleasing to Him. The old nature or the old self represents the 'clothes' that God does not like to see us wear simply because they are not pleasing to His eyes
When we make our choice of what to wear (we are back in the everyday world of the clothes we wear to go out) we we take the clothes we are not going to wear and hang them back up in the wardrobe and then take another outfit from the wardrobe and put that on. Concerning the things (back to the spiritual realm) that the Bible tells us to put off (take off) it's time well spent if we take a look at the two scripture passages above to see if we can recognise anything that we keep putting on that's not pleasing to God. If there's anything that we do recognise it's a good idea (even a God idea) to make a conscious decision to throw them away rather than hang them back up again to be worn at some other time.
That way, in due time, we will be faced with less of a choice of what to wear and, hopefully, what's left will be the things that the Bible tells us we are to put on and are pleasing to God. Now these a thought.
Ephesians 4:22-24 Put off your old nature which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful lusts and be renewed in the spirit of your minds and put on the new nature created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
One of the early words spoken to me from God was in Psalm 32. 'Be not like a horse or a mule without understanding which must be curbed with bit and bridle' Well, on this particular occasion, it was not so much that I felt like a horse or a mule; it was more that I felt like a dinosaur!!! All I had gone to the supermarket for was some bread. I know it sounds so simple (that's why I am relating to the dinosaur) and I know it should have been simple but, as I stood and looked at all the many shelves full of different types of bread, it did not seem so simple at all.
There was sliced and unsliced bread. There was brown white or best of both; thin, medium, thick or even extra thick. I could have bread with crust or without crust. I saw seeded bread, unseeded, single seed or multi-seeded. Oh no, there was more still to come; granary, wholemeal, roughage and high roughage. I could have either wrapped or unwrapped plus the choice of about four different bakeries.
All I had come for was some bread. The question was, "which one had I come for?" I began to wonder why I had not paid more attention to what type of bread we usually bought. As hard as I tried I could not think of what our usual bread looked like in the bread basket. It would have been much more straightforward and far less overwhelming if I could have.
That set me thinking. Each day we are faced with choices that we have to make. From the rising of the sun to it's going down we are faced with situations, decisions and choices. The world in which we live offers such a wide variety of alternatives of products intended to satisfy our deepest needs, philosophies that intend to satisfy our deepest desires and programmes that are designed to ensure our wellbeing and health. On the surface such things are attractive and could well be helpful but which, if any, are the right choice?
The Bible makes it quite clear that, as the people of God, choices are important to us on a different level. In fact, in Deuteronomy 30:15-20 we are faced with choices that are categorised as either 'life and good or death and bad'
Such choices are, obviously, in a different league to which bread should I buy. They are choices that affect our journey of life as we live, as we were called, by faith. For example we live in a world that is constantly changing in many ways. In the realm of morality we have seen great change. The choice we face is whether to go with the changing world or to stay with the unchanging Christ who is the pioneer and the perfecter of our faith. You might say that the right choice is simple (and it is) but, for some, the attraction may be very strong.
Life would be much more simple if God made all the choices for us. But He doesn't. He gives the guidance but we are to make the choice. That makes the issue of making the right choices very important (read Isaiah 7:15). So, how do we make the right choices that will helpus to live our lives that please our Heavenly Father?
There are five steps revealed in scripture that are helpful. First, the word of God is a light unto our feet and a lamp unto our path (Psalm 119:105). Second, the Holy Spirit is our personal guide whose responsibility it is to guide us into all truth (John 16:13). Third, we need to respond and obey (especially when the choice revealed to us in not the choice we would have made). Fourth, we are to ask, in prayer, for the promised spirit of wisdom and revelation to affirm the choice (Ephesians 1:16-19). Fifth, we have faith to know that the issue of making the right choices carries with it the promised reward of life, length of days, fulfilment and satisfaction.
What form do such choices take for the people of God? There is the choice between good and evil or life and death. There is the choice between God and idols (Joshua 24: 15-28). There is the choice between obedience and disobedience (1Samuel 15:1-35) and the choice between wisdom and folly (Proverbs 8:1-21). Don't be fooled or taken in by the seemingly attractiveness of what the world offers but listen to the voice within that says,"This is the way. Walk in it" (Isaiah 30:21). The promises of God are Yea and Amen. They are eternal promises. Even today, if we are tempted to turn to the right or to the left we will hear that same voice. If we hear it and heed it then the issue of the right choice will become far less complicated and much more straightforward. Now there's a thought.
Hebrews 11:24-26 By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter; choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt for he looked to the reward
I absolutely love driving. It is something that I have enjoyed for many years. My work, as an area manager, in the steel industry involved a lot of travel over a large area. My average mileage was in excess of 40,000 miles each year and there was a great deal of freedom away from an office desk as well as a lot of responsibility in keeping appointments; all of which I enjoyed.
During that time on the roads I saw plenty of collisions between other vehicles. Some of those collisions were minor bumps and scrapes but others were major incidents. Some, I suppose, happened through complacency or carelessness and some must have happened through sheer recklessness of one driver or another; even both. But I cannot imagine that any one of them were caused deliberately through sheer intent. Why would anyone set out to do such a thing on purpose?
That set me thinking. When Jesus died on the cross at Calvary it was not just an accident that caused him to hang there and die. It was not something that happened as a consequence of carelessness in any form. It did not happen to him because of his preaching, his claims or his unpopularity. His death was not an accident from which God managed to salvage some good. When Jesus hung on the cross it was the fulfilment of all that He had come to earth to achieve. No one sent Jesus to the cross. He went to the cross. No one took the life of Jesus. He willingly gave his life. What took place at Calvary was destined to happen in full accord with the will of God. It was the aim of his sinless life. It was a deliberate collision between good and evil. It was with deliberate intent.
God set a deliberate collision course with sin even from before the foundation of the world. The result of this collision was profound. Jesus died as the lamb of God that was slain from before time began. What a collision that was, between good and evil, the day that Jesus willingly died for our sakes. It was so great that the whole earth was covered in darkness and shaken by an earthquake. Rocks were split asunder tombs were opened and those incredible curtains of the Temple were torn in two from top to bottom (Matthew 27:45-54).
Any collision involves a cost. In the case of vehicle collision there is the cost of any repairs to the vehicles involved. There is the cost of an ambulance that might be called to the scene, or the fire service or the police service. There is the cost of hospitalisation and treatment to any or all of the injured persons in the accident. There certainly was a cost involved in the collision that God brought about that day at Calvary.
It cost God a lot to send his Son to die; in fact Isaiah prophesied that it pleased God to bruise him. It cost Jesus his life. That's why, with grateful hearts, we can say thank you to God for what it cost him and to Jesus that he took our place in redeeming sacrifice. We would never have survived such a collision on our own. The price of our redemption has been paid for us. The cost of it is beyond our imagination. The wonder of it is that it was no accident. It was deliberate.
There is always a consequence to any collision. In a vehicle accident someone may have points put on their driving license. They may be fined. They may even be banned from driving for a period of time. Such consequences are a penalty. It indicates guiltiness.
The consequences of the deliberate collision between God and sin are quite incredible. There is no penalty attached to us at all. In fact there is the benefit that God's enemy no longer has dominion over us because Jesus, our Saviour, has taken the penalty upon himself. Wow, what a Saviour!!!
When the centurion, and those that were with him around the cross, experienced the earthquake and saw what was taking place when Jesus died they were filled with awe and the centurion confessed, "Truly, this was the Son of God." (Matthew 27:54) The apostle Paul was, later, to realise that the son of God loved him and gave himself for him. (Galatians 2:20) In fact the truth is that God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever would believe in his love for them would have eternal life (John 3:16) but what a revelation that was for Paul when he saw that love for the whosoever became personal for him.
How blessed we are when we comprehend the truth. God intended this collision. It was his deliberate plan. The consequence? The destruction of the hold of sin and death. Surely that is enough to fill us with that same sense of awe that those around the cross experienced. May we, may I, never lose the wonder of the cross. Now there's a thought.
Galatians 2:26 I have been crucified with Christ. It's no longer I that live but Christ living in me. The life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.
It happened quite a few years ago but it was so dramatic that I, along with many people, still recall it and remember it vividly when asked about it. It was a European cup final and, to all intents and purposes, the team I supported was going to lose. The other team was winning 2-1 and any hope of a recovery and victory was fading fast. Nothing was going right. My team was seemingly doing everything alright but there was no sign of the two goals we needed to score to win the trophy.
Time was running out fast and hope of a victory was fading even faster when a big cheer went up from the supporters. Another player was warming up on the touch line and on he came as a substitute for another player who had not been able to do what he was supposed to do to win the game.
The substitute took the place of the one who was taken off and, to the absolute amazement and appreciation of the supporters, went on to score the two goals that were needed for an unexpected and unlikely victory. Even better; the second goal came in the dying seconds of the game. The substitute had won the game. The trophy and the glory of such a victory was ours; it was shared with the manager, the rest of the team and those who had supported them through it all.
Although no one thought it at the time the manager knew exactly what he was doing as he had waited for just the right time to make the substitution. That's the strange thing about time isn't it? We had scored the first goal and, when we were winning, time seemed to go very slowly as the other team gradually became stronger and scored the two goals they thought would secure them the victory. When we were losing and the end of the game was approaching time seemed to go very quickly and hope was fading fast of a victory.
That story set me thinking. It makes me appreciate how Jesus took my place as my substitute. At Calvary He took my place in redeeming sacrifice. It was me that deserved to die but it was Jesus that died in my place. It was my sin that deserved the due punishment but it was He who stepped in, at the right time, to take my sin, shame and punishment upon himself. The just died for the unjust. God sent Jesus to die in our place so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21) What a substitution!! What an exchange!! What glory!!
Just one of the incredible things about God is His sense of time. It's totally different from our concept of time. The Bible clearly tells us that it was when the hour had fully come that He sent his only begotten Son to atone for our sins. In other words He came on and took our place, as our substitute, just at the right time. There are those who may ask the question, "Why not sooner?" The answer is that God knew the right time.
Just one of the incredible things about Jesus is that, in view of who He is, He was willing to die in our place. The aim of the footballer we spoke of earlier was simple. He had the prospect of some form of glory before him if he could achieve that purpose for which he was sent on to the field. But it was different for Jesus.
The Word who was with God, and who was God, became flesh and dwelt among us full of grace and truth but, in fact, His immediate aim was not his own glory. It was suffering, of such an intensity that we will never fully fathom, purely for our sake and for the sake of the glory of his Father's name. The truth in which we can all share and in which we can equally rejoice is that He endured the suffering and accomplished the victory. That was the glory that was set before him.
This is the time of the year to appreciate fully God's plan to substitute you. You may be thinking that time is running out and you have yet to secure the victory in some area of your life? It might be sorrow or regret. It might be affliction or oppression. It might even be some habit that always rears its head when you thought you already had the victory. You feel as though nothing's changed, it will never change, the clock is ticking and time is running out.
If that is so remember this. God sent Jesus to be your substitute; to do what you cannot do. The wonder of that is that He has overcome the world, and that through his overcoming, you are more than a conqueror. Now we can share in the glory of that victory just as everyone shared in the glory of that football victory years ago. The substitute won the reward but we all share the trophy. Now there's a thought.
Isaiah 53:4-6 surely He has borne our grief and carried our sorrows yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities. Upon him was the chastisement that made us whole and, with his stripes, we are healed.