Monthly Archives: September 2021

On feeling very, very small…

[God] spreads out the northern skies over empty space; he suspends the earth over nothing. He wraps up the waters in his clouds, yet the clouds do not burst under their weight. He covers the face of the full moon, spreading his clouds over it. He marks out the horizon on the face of the waters for a boundary between light and darkness. The pillars of the heavens quake…By his breath the skies became fair;… and these are but the outer fringe of his works; how faint the whisper we hear of him! Who then can understand the thunder of his power?

(Job 26.7-14)

O Lord, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord. You hem me in – behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain…How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand.

(Ps 139.1-6,17&18) 

Can you spot the boat in the picture? It is almost invisible, lost in the sheer expanse of the horizon as the sea opens beyond the mouth of the loch. Every wise sailor knows that they must go carefully into open waters, the forces arrayed against them are huge and must be reckoned with. How then do we – as tiny craft upon a great ocean of life in this world – venture with confidence?

Many years ago, a dear saint in my congregation gave me a little card, a bookmark and remembrance which I still have, bearing the words, “My boat is small, your sea so vast: Dear Lord protect me.” We do well to be lost in admiration and worship as we consider the scale of God’s creative powers as displayed in our world and the unimagineable reaches of space beyond. We do well to feel how very small and insignificant we are on this little green planet, lost among billions of other human beings, present for a tiny moment in time and then lost to sight and memory, leaving no trace of our passing.

This sense of our transience and irrelevance is one of the things that God uses to call people to seek him – since the eternal likeness to himself which is implanted in every person cries out against it. Somewhere deep within, we believe that we matter, that we have purpose and value, and yet…behold how great the ocean, how unmoved by humanity are the mountains and the great winds. 

This is one of the many blessings we receive in the gospel, as we join God’s covenant family and share in his promises and purposes in the world. We discover that while our sense of inadequacy and smallness remain, we now know that God the creator and sustainer of all things knows and cares intimately for us. We have been brought into a personal, loving relationship with the one who keeps the stars in their courses, who sees and rules the great beasts of the deep and who holds our planet in its life-supporting place in the universe. How marvellous to realise that although we are as dust on the ground, yet we belong to the awesome, holy and good God who made all things. Our frailty no longer defines our future – He does. Our past sins, and present failings no longer define our future – He does. Our tiny efforts to please him, to labour for his glory and the building of the kingdom do not define our future – He does. 

My friends, as we today consider how small we are, how easily lost within the vastness of creation and humanity, let us rejoice that we are never lost to the God who made us, who saved us in love to live for and with him. Let that knowledge bring peace and freedom to venture out with courage into the smooth or turbulent waters that lie ahead, trusting the great navigator to keep us just where we should be, right under his eye and in his hand.

Pray for your enemies….

Why, O Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? In his arrogance the wicked man hunts down the weak, who are caught in the schemes he devises…In his pride the wicked does not seek the Lord; in all his thoughts there is no room for God.. He says to himself, “God has forgotten; he covers his face and never sees.”… But you, O God, do see trouble and grief; you consider it to take it in hand.

(Ps 10.1,2,4,11&14)

You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ but I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others?…Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

(Matt 5.43-48)

As it is written: “there is no one righteous, not even one; there is no-one who understands, no-one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless….There is no fear of God before their eyes.” Now we know that whatever the law says, it says…so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no-one will be declared righteous in his sight.. But now a righteousness from God.. has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

(Rom 5.10,11,18-24)

Two years ago, I was privileged to visit New York and to stand beside the two great holes in the heart of that city which mark the foundations of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre. Sombre, dignified, heart-breaking.. the sound of the ever-falling water and the sight of name after name, after name inscribed on the surrounding walls combine to stir up powerful emotions.

What do we do in the face of such devastating – for so many people, life-shattering – events?

We rightly lament for and with those who are directly affected, and we commit to their welfare over the long haul which will lie ahead for them – practical, emotional support and courage to walk with them even though we cannot enter into or carry the pain for them. We commend them to the God who loves them and who longs to bring comfort and hope back into their lives, and ultimately to bring them home to himself.

We seek to discipline our own reactions, and to reflect God’s truth in our words and attitudes. While we may – with the psalmists and prophets – cry out in lament and wrestle with God’s providence, yet we also hold fast to the truth of his justice and holiness. We proclaim a God who cares about injustice and evil, and who has not abandoned the world he made to its own self-destruction. The sacrificial death of the perfect Son of God – the payment for evil for all who will believe – was the sign of just how much God DOES care about us, the people fashioned in his likeness.

We also remember and acknowledge with trembling, that before a holy God, no one is righteous. The basic sin of rebellion against God, as God, lies behind the actions of every human being who ever lived – apart from Jesus – and the need of every human being is to be transformed from rebel to beloved child. The astonishing thing about God’s offer of salvation, is that anyone may accept it and find forgiveness. Ultimately, this is what we are to pray for all those whom we may be tempted to view as our enemies – that they may come to saving faith in Jesus and be forgiven. Yes, forgiven, even as we trust to be forgiven, and for the same reason – the blood of Christ which was poured out for the cleansing of sinners.

Please, do not misunderstand me. This in no way reduces or dismisses the scale of their offences, nor the pain, destruction and long-term consequences of their actions. But it does mean that we commit the whole business of eternal justice and judgement into the hands of God, who alone is able to do right in such circumstances. When we pray for our enemies to be saved, we are loving them as Christ loved us, seeing the desperate condition in which we languished, and showing mercy.

Father God, who loved this world so much that you sent you Son to die for us so that we might know you again and be whole, we pray for those who might be called our enemies today. Deliver us from the bitterness of unforgiving hearts, and make us tender like Jesus, to love those who have not loved us.

For those who, through culture, poverty, trauma and radicalisation, have come to believe so passionately in their own creed that they will, in turn, inflict unimagineable suffering upon others – Father God, we pray that the love of your Son might come with healing and cleansing power and they might find peace.

For those who, in pursuit of wealth and power, have come to feel nothing for the suffering of the poor and marginalised, exploited and abused by the wealth-creating system – Father God, we pray that the love of your Son might break through and break their hearts to show compassion and to use their power for good.

For us all, Father God, may we see afresh our desperate state when we choose to live without you. May we never regard anyone as beyond your grace – since you have shown it even to such as we know ourselves to be. Your grace is truly amazing, and it is the power that we need to see at work in our world today. May each of your children be a grace-bearer and mercy-giver, a speaker of truth and the good news of forgiveness in Jesus, so that we might see your kingdom come and your will being done in our world as it is in heaven. 

What gets my ‘thumbs up’?…

Praise be to you, O Lord; teach me your decrees. with my lips I recount all the laws that come from your mouth. I rejoice in following your statues as one rejoices in great riches. I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways. I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word.

(Ps 119.12-16)

Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; someone else and not your own lips….As water reflects the face, so one’s life reflects the heart….The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but people are tested by their praise.

(Pr 27. 2,19&21)

These people come near to me with their mouth and honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me…

(Isa 29.13)

..store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also….No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

(Matt 6.19-21,24)

We know – because we are continually being told – that the great internet companies succeed in part through their ability to gather information about us, their customers. This enables them to target what we see every time we engage with our social media – stimulating our desires and generating (as they hope) more spending to keep the great money machine ticking over. By diligent monitoring of our habits, viewing activities, previous purchasing and ‘likes’, they build up a picture of what we are like, of our preferences, even our likely political opinions. I sometimes wonder what it would be like to see the ‘profile’ created for me by these companies, would I recognise myself? Would I see anything that would suggest that I am – as Christ instructed me – laying up treasures for myself in heaven?

It is relatively easy, when in the company of other believers, to say the ‘right’ things and give an impression of devotion and commitment to Jesus, but the Lord sees my heart and knows just how far those verbal affirmations go in telling the truth about me… He knows what really makes me glad, or sad. He sees when I am bored of being holy and instead choose self-indulgence, laziness and conformity to the society around me. Who am I trying to fool when I make the right noises, but live a lie? Shame on me, if I am trying to fool my fellow believers – surely it were better that I admit my struggles to remain faithful, and ask for the help of my sisters and brothers in Christ?

The choices I make, in doing and spending, in speaking and remaining silent, all add up to a clear picture about what really motivates me in daily living. As a new creature in Jesus, forgiven and transformed by the indwelling of his Spirit, the potential to be driven by love for my Lord and a desire for his glory is already in me. Do I choose to harness that potential, to ask for his help in setting my heart on heavenly treasures? Sometimes I do, and sometimes, I don’t have to ask! Just occasionally, I am blessed by the realisation that Christ is indeed at work in me, and the desires of my heart – the things that I value and praise – are the things of God, of eternal value, the glory of the Saviour himself. Thank God for such occasions in your life, for the encouragement they give to your perseverance and the testimony to his power at work in you.

The transformation of our characters into the likeness of Jesus doesn’t lead to a bland, half-lived life. Rather we enter into a fuller life, because our passions are now godly and can be expressed strongly and safely, they are all under his command and direction. We learn to love justice as he does – so we can be rightly angered by injustice, oppression and exploitation. We learn to see his power in creation, to realise the privilege of sharing in stewardship of this great gift, and so we can be passionate about looking after our planet, its ecosystems, and all the people whom God loves so much that Jesus died for them. We know the value of each human life, so we can be passionately interested in our neighbours, in what is good for them and our wider communities – we learn to love as God loves, appreciating each individual in all their unique glory. We see the devastating effects of sin, throughout creation, and so we long passionately to share the good news of Jesus and the defeat of evil which he achieved.

Our Father in heaven, stir up in our hearts all those desires for heavenly treasure which you have imparted to us. May we burn more steadily and more brightly for you, so that it is clear for all to see just where our hearts are. We pray this for the glory of Jesus our Lord, and for your work in the world. Amen