A longing for justice…

Within your temple, O God, we meditate on your unfailing love. Like your name, O God, your praise reaches to the ends of the earth; your right hand is filled with righteousness. Mount Zion rejoices, the villages of Judah are glad because of your judgements. 

(Ps 48.9-11)

Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns.” The world is firmly established, it cannot be moved; he will judge the peoples with equity. Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let the sea resound, and all that is in it; let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them. Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy; they will sing before the Lord, for he comes, he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples in his truth.

(Ps 96.10-13)

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and for ever.

(Isa 9.6&7)

“The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever.”…”We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, the One who is and who was, because you have taken your great power and have begun to reign.”

(Rev 11.15&16)

The idea of rejoicing in judgement sounds rather peculiar as a subject for advent meditation, but many of the writings which anticipate the coming of Messiah, the promised redeemer of God’s people, attribute ultimate authority to him to judge – and it is clear that for those writers, this was sufficient cause to be joyful!

Where does their confidence come from? What is so attractive about this prospect? When we recall the narrative of Genesis, and the fact that humanity is made in the image of God, we begin to understand why as a species we have an inbuilt sense of justice and fair-dealing. We reflect – in a fractured and overshadowed way – the holy and just character of God, who cannot look upon evil and who embodies righteousness. Although we know that so much of the evil in the world arises from our own actions and attitudes, yet we continue to rebel against the resulting injustice and unfairness, insisting that things should be different. And God agrees….

This beautiful world, full of God’s creative genius and expressive of his glory and power, is suffering because of the ways that our sin has opened the door to evil, to powers of chaos, destruction and despair. The rules are being broken all the time, and everyone longs for it to be different. In the coming of Jesus, the Christ who would redeem his people, God undertook to destroy that power, to inflict a fatal wound upon the source of evil and break the bonds that enslave humanity to it.

The promise of Messiah, is the promise of the coming of one who is, firstly, fit to rule – because he is trustworthy, holy and true; and secondly, powerful enough to rule this world; to establish that order and justice which we all long for in our hearts. His reign, begun at Calvary, promises the restoration of right judgement and ordering of all things – for the blessing of not only God’s people, but the whole creation, which will in time be made new, revealed in all the glory that God designed for it.

We rejoice at the prospect of all things being restored and set to rights; we recognise that this must mean our own sinfulness has no place, and we dread being banished by the great and holy one whose rule we welcome. But, when we approach his throne, to praise his justice and righteousness, we hear words of welcome and love, because his judgement on us has already been carried – by Christ himself, the promised one, born of Mary at Bethlehem so long ago.

The promise of Christmas is indeed a source of joy to all those who have accepted the forgiveness and cleansing offered by Christ, and a source of hope to all who will yet hear and accept his offer; we have complete assurance of our place in his kingdom, where all shall be well, for evermore, to his glory and our blessing. Amen, Lord come soon and make it so!

 

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Storm….

Hope deferred makes the heart sick…

An anxious heart weighs a man down…

Each heart knows its own bitterness..

Even in laughter the heart may ache, and joy may end in grief.

A happy heart makes the face cheerful, but heartache crushes the spirit.

The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.

(Proverbs: 13.12, 12.25, 14.10, 14.13, 15.13, 18.10)

When I am afraid, I will trust in you. In God whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid. …Record my lament; list my tears on your scroll – are they not in your record?

(Ps 56.3,4,8)

…then Job replied: “If only my anguish could be weighed and all my misery be placed on the scales! it would surely outweigh the sand of the seas – no wonder my words have been impetuous….Oh, that I might have my request, that God would grant what I hope for, that God would be willing to crush me, to let loose his hand and cut me off! Then I would still have this consolation – my joy in unrelenting pain – that I had not denied the words of the Holy One..What strength do I have, that I should still hope? What prospects, that I should be patient?

(Job 6.1-3,8-10)

 

No one hears your voice when you scream in a storm;

No one sees your tears when you weep in a storm;

Just you, and the storm; wind and rain battering the body, relentlessly demanding your full attention in the moment. Be here, Be now, Be this uprising of the elements..just BE

Those blessed moments of release from impossible tension, when the physical demands absorb every ounce of attention and for a brief minute the agonising load which is crushing the spirit and tormenting the mind is forgotten..

Tonight, I gave thanks for the storm, as I stood on the hill fighting to keep my feet, with the rain driven in stinging, life affirming blows into my face. No one else would be out; no one to see my distress, or hear my cries..just me and the Lord who sent the storm to hide me and bring me out to walk with him in the darkness, under his wild skies.

I do not understand why I am in this pain; no doubt I am partly responsible for it..but Lord, I feel I have been carrying this burden for so long; years of doing what I thought was your will in this situation, and feeling ever more hopeless that there could be a better way. Have I been asking too much? Have I been  missing your ways…or is this really your perfect will for the rest of my time on earth?

Forgive my wild words, and remember that I am but dust, frail and feeble, and full of sin.  Remember your servant Job, Lord, and the psalmists and the prophets, who all brought their overflowing cups of woe to your feet, and poured them out there. Surely this is the only safe thing to do with my lament, the only safe place to pour out the truth of the bitterness in my heart?

At your feet, in your presence, where even through my cries and lamentation, I hear your voice saying words of tender love and know your close presence to comfort me. I want to come home tonight, to be rid of this burden. But I know that it is not time yet, there are things here that I know you would have me do..Where can I find strength to carry on, where find hope?

I am a frightened, lonely, and near-despairing child. Lord have mercy upon me..

You are the Lord of the universe; your love never fails, and all your will for me is good and right – I know this. But right now, I don’t understand.

What is the right thing for me to be doing? Go on as before? Or what….? O Lord, have mercy, have mercy upon me, a sinner; upon me, your daughter; upon this child for whom Christ died, and who longs only to live in a way that glorifies his name.. What does that look like for me today, what is my path in this darkness?

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned….

(Isa 9.2)

Let your light shine upon me…lead me in your truth…may the life you give me, be lived always and only to your glory…

Thank Offerings…..

Hear, O my people, and I will speak, O Israel, and I will testify against you: I am God, your God. I do not rebuke you for your sacrifices or your burnt offerings, which are ever before me. I have no need of a bull from your stall or of goats from your pens, for every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills. I know every bird in the mountains, and the creatures of the field are mine. If I were hungry I would not tell you, for the world is mine, and all that is in it. Do I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats? Sacrifice thank-offerings to God, fulfil your vows to the Most High, and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honour me.

(Ps 50.7-15)

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love endures for ever. Give thanks…to the One who remembered us in our low estate, His love endures for ever..and freed us from our enemies, His love endures for ever. Give thanks to the God of heaven. His love endures for ever.

(Ps 136.1,23,24,26)

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

(Phil 4.6&7)

I suspect few of us are familiar on a day to day basis with the sacrificial system outlined for the people of Israel, in the text known to us as the book of Leviticus, but I would commend it to you as worthy of attention – with a good bible guide to help you along! The whole pattern for worship and life for God’s people is laid out there, with the aim of enabling the nation to live under God’s loving care and authority, to thrive as their lives were rooted and guided by him, and also to be a visible witness to the nations around them, demonstrating the glory, love and supremacy of the Lord Almighty.

The sacrificial system in particular is of great interest to followers of Jesus, because it is this system which his death replaced – in a supreme once-for-all act to address the consequences of sin. So in Leviticus we learn about how different offerings are dealt with in particular ways, depending on whether they address the impact our sin has on God in his holiness, or the impact our sins have on others, and on ourselves – guilt and the long-lasting effects of living with unforgiven sin.

Under that system, one special group of sacrifices had nothing to do with sin at all, and everything to do with spontaneous praise of God by the worshipper, expressing gratitude and rejoicing in the fellowship which his people enjoyed with him. These are called the ‘fellowship’ or ‘peace’ offerings, and the particular offerings for thanksgiving fall under this heading. They reflect the delight which we have as God’s creatures when we are in a right relationship with him – because of his faithful love, and forgiveness towards us as we depend upon his mercy and acknowledge his sovereignty over us.

When God calls his people in Psalm 50 to sacrifice thank offerings, this is what he means – and how wonderful it is to see the consequences of that sacrifice. When we live thankfully with God, acknowledging our total need of him, he delights to hear and answer our prayers for deliverance. Not only this, but our response to that assistance is more thanksgiving from us, and honour given to God – we worship him, give him his rightful position in the world, when we are at his feet, exulting in his deeds and character, giving glory where it is due.

I do not need to feel happy to be thankful; my situation may be grim, may appear without hope, but I can still choose to honour God by giving him his rightful place – the source of my life, my salvation and my eternal home. I can still be in fellowship with this great and holy God, can know that he delights in me – not because of all I give him or achieve for him, but because he loves and has saved me. Here is surely a great source of peace, a place of rest and nourishment for my soul, as I feast on all his goodness and the blessings which come from being his redeemed and beloved child.

His love endures for ever….Alleluia, Praise the Lord!

Bland, boring and inoffensive…

Send forth your light and your truth, let them guide me; let them bring me to your holy mountain, to the place where you dwell. Then will I go to the altar of God, to God, my joy and my delight. I will praise you with the harp, O God, my God. Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God.

(Ps 43.3-5)

You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.

(Matt 5.13)

These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm – neither hot nor cold – I am about to spit you out of my mouth.

(Rev 3.14-16)

Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

(From: the Book of Common Prayer, the collect for the 25th Sunday after Trinity)

I am not by nature one of life’s optimists; not an entertainer, or source of endless jokes and funny anecdotes. Life to me seems a very earnest business, and while I love to laugh and be with people who are positive and funny, it would be wrong for me to aspire to be like them. I am, to put it very poetically, one of the darker shades in life’s tapestry!

Given that temperamental foundation, what does my Lord ask of me, as his witness and a channel of his love and messenger of the gospel to my community? I am to be as salt – that which brings savour, has a strong taste and cannot be ignored. I am to be noticeable, one whose life and message provoke thoughtful response. I am to be fruitful in works which glorify God, and bless others. He does not ask for a change in temperament, but he does look for a passionate, committed life, one which at every level reflects my dependence upon and delight in him; a life which speaks clearly of a close and loving relationship with the Lord Jesus.

I don’t know how my community would judge me on these things at present; but I fear that I am far more like the lukewarm, bland and nauseating church at Laodicea, who were condemned in such strong language by the faithful and true witness of Revelation. I am ashamed of my lack of passion, of the way in which I seem so often to fail in witnessing to the transforming and life-sustaining power of Christ.

Is this because I have never known it truly for myself? Surely, once a believer has come into that relationship with Christ they are for ever after going to be on fire for him? Actually, I believe that our lives as believers do ebb and flow, and that while we cannot but be ashamed of the times when we feel so utterly lacking in passion, yet we dare not condemn ourselves. The devil would love nothing more than to see saints write themselves off as a result of feelings; when the reality of our salvation and our hope is not our feelings about them, but the truth of God’s power and promises.

So in my shame and coldness of heart, I cling to and echo the prayer of the psalmist, begging that God will send his light and his truth in power, to guide me – by that truth which cannot change – back to his sanctuary, to the place of intimate fellowship with him; the place where I am filled with joy and passion again in praising him. And I echo the old words of the prayer book, asking God to stir up my soul, by his Spirit to reawaken my desire for him. It is his work, and he alone can accomplish it. I want to be so full of the beauty and wonder of the gospel that it spills out continually in all my conversations; I want to be so attuned to the Spirit within me that I can discern where God is working in other people’s lives and so align myself with that work; I long to be part of seeing his kingdom grow in this place…

Even the darkest shades in a tapestry have depths of colour and make a significant contribution to the beauty of the picture; let me be content to be a dark shade, but Lord, fill me with the intensity of colour and depth of passion that comes from a growing understanding of the wonder of your love for me.

Let every head bow…

The Lord is a God who avenges. O God who avenges, shine forth…How long, Lord, will the wicked, how long will the wicked be jubilant? They pour out arrogant words; all the evildoers are full of boasting. They crush your people, Lord; they oppress your inheritance. They slay the widow and the foreigner; they murder the fatherless. They say, ‘The Lord does not see; the God of Jacob takes no notice.’ Take notice, you senseless ones among the people; you fools, when will you become wise? Does he who fashioned the ear not hear; Does he who formed the eye not see? Does he who disciplines nations not punish? Does he who teaches mankind lack knowledge? The Lord knows all human plans; he knows that they are futile.

(Ps 94.2,3, 8-11)

There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God all have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.’….there is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.., And all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

(Rom 3.11&12, 22-24)

 

Then I saw a ‘new heaven and a new earth’, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling-place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death” or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’

(Rev 21.1-4)

All over the western world, at the eleventh hour, on the eleventh day, of the eleventh month, people will gather to remember…to remember what? Facts from history books about a conflict which is now virtually beyond living memory? Snatches of poetry, prose and music which conjure up something of the horror of that particular war? Or perhaps more recent struggles – The second World war, the Suez crisis, the Spanish civil war,the Falklands war, the Vietnam war, the Gulf war, the struggles in Northern Ireland, campaigns in Afghanistan; or perhaps those many eruptions of violence in the name of nationhood and justice which have blighted our planet beyond the immediate involvement of our nation but with equally devastating consequences – campaigns in Central and Latin America; violence and bloodshed after the partition of India and Pakistan, civil wars and decade long unrest and destruction all over the African continent; or the current agonies unfolding in Yemen, dragging on in Syria, in South Sudan, in the Congo, Chad and Nigeria…

Humanity has an appalling prediliction for taking up arms in order to settle accounts; and there is no nation which can claim to have always been on the side of justice, nor to have avoided unnecessary bloodshed and harm. Humanity is equally complicit, equally guilty of inhumanity to others. Down the years, people have claimed to have God on their side, to be fighting for truth, justice, freedom..but even if some of this might have been true, in reality, when humanity starts fighting, dreadful things are done, and as the bible puts it, all creation groans in anguish until it is to be delivered from the burden of sinfulness which it bears.

For me, Remembrance Sunday is a time to confess before God that we have all truly fallen short of his perfection; a time to stand and grieve at the price which humanity has paid and is paying for this sinfulness; and a time to worship and adore the God who has freely provided forgiveness, redemption, and the promise of eternal peace to all who will accept it.

Let us remember and weep, repenting of our own sinfulness which is part of the world’s plague, and praying urgently for the return of our Lord to wind up the sorry narrative of history, and usher in the glorious new beginnings which Revelation speaks of. Let us remember the sacrifice of Christ, for all who will accept him, and weep in joyful thankfulness that such mercy should be shown to us. Let us remember the promise, that one day, redeemed humanity will be citizens of one city, whose gates will never be shut, and into which the glory and honour of the nations will be brought – all that is good and true and beautiful in God’s people from across the globe. And with that vision, that hope, and that assurance, let us go from remembering to living; living with purpose; that purpose to share the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ with all who will receive it that they might share in the future which is without war, without grief, without death…

Making marks in eternity..

I will extol the Lord at all times; his praise will always be on my lips. I will glory in the Lord, let the afflicted hear and rejoice. Glorify the Lord with me; let us exalt his name together.

(Ps 34.1-3)

We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. May your unfailing love be with us, Lord, even as we put our hope in you.

(Ps 33.20-22)

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armour of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground….

(Eph 5.10-13)

In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.

(1 Pet 1. 6&7)

It is easy to forget that our lives as followers of Jesus are acted out before a great audience of spiritual beings, and yet the bible makes it plain that this is the case – think of Job, and of how God calls Satan to witness the faithfulness and true quality of that much tried saint. Paul also, in writing to the believers in Ephesus, points out that they operate in spiritual realms, not just the physical; so that their enemies while appearing in human form, or in the guise of the troubles of the world, are actually spiritual.

This invisible reality is enormously relevant for our attitudes to our daily lives, so often seemingly mundane, with petty troubles, and common challenges to overcome, and nothing very significant going on. The truth is that every day brings us fresh opportunities to make choices which will glorify our God, causing the angels to rejoice in the power of Christ in a person’s life to transform them completely. We may not see or hear the joy, but that doesn’t mean that it is less real!

As we grow in faith and understanding, our lives will come to reflect the pattern of Christ-likeness which is God’s ideal for his children, but we will also increasingly be out of step with the spiritual tone of the world, which is still so much in thrall to evil. Our growth in faith may not even be evident to us, as we feel increasingly that we are struggling with many trials arising from our choices and our beliefs. In reality, the spiritual reality which we do not see, that very consciousness of struggle is a sure sign of growing faith – if we did not so ardently long for holiness, we would not react so strongly against all those things which would drag us down. It is therefore possible for a faithful saint to look back over many years of following Jesus, and fear that they have made little progress, when in reality, their continuing struggles to choose purity, honesty, faithfulness and integrity are a sign that they have never been closer to him. It is the very precious reality of our faith which makes the fight against sin most bitter and prolonged.

Since this is true, we can encourage one another with the fact that every time we make a decision for Christ in the midst of the trial – choosing to think, speak and act according to his pattern – we are making our own mark in eternity, our own contribution to the great structure of worship and praise to the Saviour which is the work of the church. It is indeed all by his grace and indwelling spirit that we are able to do these things, and so all the glory goes to him when his followers prove his strength and faithfulness.

Although we may feel that our trials are secret, ashamed that we continue to face the same troubles over and over, yet we may rejoice that in the eternal story, our part is valued, and our own small experiences of his enabling will be significant. It is all worthwhile, nothing is wasted! All will be to our blessing, and to his glory: Amen, so let it be!

Bursting with praise!

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.

(Ps 19.1-3)

God saw all that he had made, and it was very good..

(Gen 1.31)

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

(Rom 1.20)

Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns.” The world is firmly established, it cannot be moved; he will judge the peoples with equity. Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let the sea resound, and all that is in it; let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them. Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy;

(Ps 96.10-13)

As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: it will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.

(Isa 55.10-12)

This autumn has been a fitful, boisterous and wet one in my part of the world, with few settled days to enjoy the changing colours of the trees, and a great deal of strong winds and heavy rain. The gales largely stripped the trees of their leaves before the colours had ripened into gold and bronze, and the dark, rainy days have muted the opulent colours of russet bracken and purple brown heather so that they are barely noticeable. But when the sun has made it through the storms, we have rejoiced indeed in the transient glory which is an autumnal palette, and our spirits have been refreshed and nourished by the riches all around.

On such days, I call to mind the wonderful poetry of the psalms and prophets as they speak of how all creation rejoices in the creator and continually praises him whose handiwork they are. It is good for us to join in that song of praise; to put aside all requests and fears; to look away from the brokenness to the beauty, and to allow these things to give our souls ease.

Yes, all these things are transient; but their song is none the less powerful for that. The coming darkness of winter days, the knowledge that trees will soon be bare, and all nature withdraw into herself to wait and prepare for the sure-awakening spring, these things are part of the rich song of worship which accepts the ways God has woven into the world. As a created being, one who knows from whom her identity and worth come, I can also surrender to that providence, and trust the good God who has decreed all that shall be part of my life.

Because I have Christ, I am in tune with creation’s song; I know to whom I owe thanks for all that I see and receive. His purposes for the world and all within it inform my praise, I know that while this world delights me, it is only a taste of the inexpressible joy which awaits…One day, I shall awake in the new earth, in the realm for which I was made, where all sadness and mourning shall have fled away, and where I will walk forever in unshadowed companionship with not only all those who call Christ Lord, but with my Lord himself. All this, I know now, as surely as I know that he will keep me safe until that day. This is reason enough to lift my voice with the trees of the field and the hills around, to glorify the Lord of heaven and lose myself in worship.

Heaven above is softer blue,
Earth around is sweeter green;
Something lives in every hue
Christless eyes have never seen:
Birds with gladder songs o’erflow,
Flow’rs with deeper beauties shine,
Since I know, as now I know,
I am His, and He is mine.

(GW Robinson 1838-1877)