Category Archives: Sovereignty

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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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!

It all looks a bit bleak…

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 him, in all his thoughts there is no room for God…His victims are crushed, they collapse; they fall under his strength. He says to himself, “God has forgotten, he covers his face and never sees.”

(Ps 10.1,2,4,10&11)

When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?

(Ps 11.3)

Help, Lord, for the godly are no more; the faithful have vanished from among men. Everyone lies to his neighbour; their flattering lips speak with deception.

(Ps 12.1&2)

Furthermore, since they did not think it worth while to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done…They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless.

(Rom 1.28-31)

The Lord reigns for ever; he has established his throne for judgement. He will judge the world in righteousness; he will govern the peoples with justice. The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.

(Ps 9.7-9)

The Lord foils the plans of the nations; he thwarts the purposes of the peoples. But the plans of the Lord stand firm for ever, the purposes of his heart through all generations.

(Ps 33.1)

The Lord reigns, let the nations tremble; he sits enthroned between the cherubim, let the earth shake. Great is the Lord in Zion; he is exalted over all the nations. Let them praise your great and awesome name – he is holy.

 (Ps 99.1-3)

It is good to allow the words of the bible to remind us that humanity has never been any purer at heart, any nobler in intent, than it is today; to see that the basic problems we face are not new, and that God is not somehow caught out by the situation in which we find ourselves today. Paul in his letter to the Roman church uses language which is completely up to date, and we recognise in the words of the psalms the very things which trouble our societies today.

It is an ugly, bleak and depressing picture. We see so much oppression, exploitation, suffering and injustice. The world’s populations are on the move fleeing from war, famine, slavery, and it always seems the poorest and weakest who suffer most, never those who are in positions of power and influence, making these things happen.

We cry with the psalmist, “How long?”, looking for God to act in judgement. And then we remember that we too are sinners: greedy, lazy, self-centred and quarrelsome. We too deserve judgement at the hands of a holy and righteous God. In his inscrutable purposes, the time for God to bring all things to an end has not yet come, he has not finished gathering in people who worship him from all the nations, and so the world goes on. And we must also believe that in his wisdom, he is permitting suffering and injustice to continue – for ends which we may never understand.

What we can know from the bible is that God does see and care about the wickedness and suffering of the world; and that his church are called to be part of his plan for addressing injustice and pain. When I feel grieved for those who are in trouble, what do I do about it? Prayer is absolutely necessary, but are there not other things? I can support campaign and action groups on poverty issues, debt cancellation, justice and reparation, support and counselling for the traumatised and displaced. There are many ways in which followers of Jesus can and should be part of his plan for hearing and acting on the cries of the poor and weak.

That doesn’t take away the struggle we have in watching wickedness prosper, and yet believing in a God who is loving and just. We must again look to the bible for our guidance in holding these things together in faith and confidence. The psalmists repeatedly affirm the greatness of God, the glory of God, his supremacy and pre-eminence. In the face of extreme suffering, the verdict of scripture is that God is, that he is good, and that no one will ever be able to accuse him of injustice when he brings all this broken and fractured world to its end.

I need to work hard at this, finding it all too easy to fall into despair, and to doubt that God will really answer my prayers – and those of so many – for him to act on behalf of the suffering and oppressed, and to judge the wicked. May I learn to focus ever more on what God says about himself in his word, and in the face of the bleakest scenarios, to share the confidence of the psalmists, worshipping and exalting their great and glorious God.

 

 

When did you last weep?

The words of Nehemiah..while I was in the citadel of Susa, Hanani, one of my brothers, came from Judah with some other men, and I questioned them about the Jewish remnant,.. and also about Jerusalem. They said to me, “Those who… are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.” When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven..

(Nehemiah 1.1-4)

Since my people are crushed, I am crushed; I mourn and horror grips me. Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then is there no healing for the wound of my people? Oh that my head were a spring of water and my eyes a fountain of tears!

(Jeremiah 8.21- 9.1)

Restore us again, O God our Saviour, and put away your displeasure towards us. Will you be angry with us forever? Will you prolong your anger through all generations? Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you? Show us your unfailing love, O Lord, and grant us your salvation. I will listen to what God the Lord will say; he promises peace to his people, his saints – but let them not return to folly. Surely his salvation is near those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land. Love and faithfulness meet together, righteousness and peace kiss each other. Faithfulness springs forth from the earth, and righteousness looks down from heaven. The Lord will indeed give what is good, and our land will yield its harvest. Rightousness goes before him and prepares the way for his steps.

(Ps 85.4-13)

I don’t know if you think of lamentation as a form of worship, but I do. When the psalmists and prophets come before God with the desperate “How long, O Lord?!”, they are worshipping the almighty God,  placing him in the position of ultimate authority, and recognising his sovereign power and will at work behind all that happened in the world around them. Their example gives us confidence to follow them in bringing to the throne of God all the things that trouble us in the world, not least the parlous state of the Church of Christ in many parts of the west.

We, like Nehemiah, should be moved to mourn as we consider the state of our part of the worldwide church – a body discredited, mocked, marginalised, torn within by division, polluted by heresy and undermined by chronic lack of confidence in the power of the revealed word of God to transform lives. Truly, our walls are torn down and our gates destroyed as if by fire, we should hang our heads in shame and horror and cry to God for mercy.

In reality, we are perhaps so used to the state of things that we have not allowed ourselves to feel, let alone express these emotions. But surely, if we take time to let God show us these realities, we ought to catch something of his grief for the condition of his people – and then our lamentation might, like Nehemiah’s, become a prayer for action, for change, and a plea for God to intervene and to use even such fragile instruments as ourselves in that mission of restoration.

We are a sinful people; the church is made up of those who have realised how broken they are, and how much they depend upon God’s mercy. So when we cry for God to intervene to restore his people, we are not claiming that we have earned or deserved his favour, but rather are reminding him – and ourselves – of our dependence upon his grace and unmerited favour. God’s glory is revealed not in the efforts of christians to build the church, but in the power which God displays in lives which he transforms, in the faithfulness which he grants to frail humankind, in the unity which he grants to fractured congregations and creates as he draws people to himself from all nations. It is for the loss of his glory that we weep when we consider our churches today; and for the restoration of his glory that we pray when we cry “How long, O Lord?”.

In our lamentations, may we not lose hope, but rather be encouraged, like Nehemiah, to ask God to use us in his plans for restoration. May we return with the psalmists to the great faithfulness which God has shown to his fickle people, trusting that the promises will yet be fulfilled, and our land will indeed yield its harvest – to his glory and for our blessing!

It’s not about the music….

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.

(Romans 12.1&2)

Ascribe to the Lord, all you families of nations, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; bring an offering and come before him. Worship the Lord in the splendour of his holiness. Tremble before him, all the earth!

(1 Chron 16.28-30)

But the Lord said to Samuel,..”The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.

(1 Sam.16.7)

Jesus declared,…”a time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth.”

(Jn 4.23&24)

Worship….what does it look like in my life, to really ‘worship’? I believe that to worship anything is to give honour, to defer and make that object the grounds and goal of all one’s decision-making. It is to express humble adoration, to elevate the adored object and rejoice in being in a position to serve, to dedicate all that is best in myself, to the glorifying and blessing of that which I worship. A worshipper delights to be with others who share the same faith, but is also delighted to have solitary time to contemplate and dwell with the beloved.

The worshipper who is a follower of Jesus Christ, one who is – by faith in the redeeming power of his death – privileged to enter freely into the presence of Almighty God and to call him ‘Father’; that person has the joy of giving their adoration, service and  commitment to one who is utterly worthy. We need have no doubts about our God, our King, He is splendid in his holiness; glorious in his purity; faithful in his justice; and awesome in his grace.

Is the worship – the elevation of, the service to, the humble commitment and dedication of all that I am – of this God to be expressed only when I sing? Surely not! Music may form a very small part of my worship of God – for some people it may be more significant than others – but it cannot and must not be the only way in which we think of this word. My God sees my heart, sees my thoughts, and knows my secret desires and failings. This God is not taken in by the public face I may put on at church on a Sunday, not fooled by enthusiastic singing, or particularly delighted by ecstatic emotional experiences which can arise just as readily at a concert of secular music as in a church service of praise!

He sees my heart, weighs my motives, discerns my private rebellions and those things which I refuse to surrender to his will and purpose. It is here that my true worship begins, in the willed abandonment of any claims to self-government, in deliberate aligning of my own thinking to his law and his truth. True worship, stems from the prostration of my spirit at the cross and results in a life which – in every aspect – is at his command.

I am only too well aware of the extent to which I fall short of this true worship. And I am thankful for this awareness, because it keeps me from the dangers of pride or boasting, or of judging others. I am completely dependent on his loving forgiveness, and daily grace for the small measure of obedience and worship which I am able to render. Praise him for his fathomless mercy and love towards his wayward children, whom he is tenderly leading home!

 

Worshipping God faithfully requires that I remember that I am not my own, but His; bought with a price and for a purpose. My body, intellect, emotions and will are gifts, and I am accountable to God for the use I make of them. True worship requires that I steward these resources according to His will and for His glory – pursuing holiness, selflessness, a proper appreciation of all His gifts. I must continually be asking – why am I doing this, does it glorify God, build up His church, proclaim His love and mercy?

Joyful, faithful, humble stewardship – this is my worship.

Hiding in plain view?

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil..The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” Jesus answered, “It is written:’Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'” Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,”he said,”throw yourself down. For it is written:”He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.” Jesus answered him, “It is also written:   ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'”

(Matthew 4.1-7)

So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.

(1 Corinthians 10.12-14)

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

(James 4.7)

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the command to die to self, about the supreme example which Jesus set for us as we follow him and God transforms us into Christ-likeness. And almost immediately, I was plunged into a turmoil, a maelstrom of emotion and trouble which threatened to overwhelm me as I struggled to cling to Christ,to discern truth and solid ground on which to stand. In God’s goodness, he provided me not only with praying friends, and sufficient self-restraint not to act or speak out of my agony, but also a clear insight into the source of my troubles..

I am a target, as are all believers, for the hostile and insidious activities of that enemy who was defeated on the cross but who nonetheless remains at large – a mystery of God’s sovereignty for which we must trust him. There is a devil, and his whole powers, such as they remain, are devoted to undermining the church, the body of Christ in the world, by all and every means possible. It behoves us, as those desiring to live for Christ, to be aware of this enemy – not in an obsessive way, but alert to the possibilities of his presence.

Our culture has largely dismissed this agent of evil, and if we are not careful, we forget and fail to recognise him at work – which makes us vulnerable to his tricks. He is a master deceiver, so adroit at clothing himself in selected truths and borrowed garments that we entirely fail to unmask him, and think we are meeting a friend, a trusted adviser who has our good at heart.

We see from the temptations of Jesus, that the devil is a master at using our natural desires and needs in order to undermine our trust in and dependence on God. Of course Jesus was hungry, and he had every ‘right’ as the Son of God, to transform the barren rocks into food. But Jesus discerned that this was not the time, and resisted, trusting God to meet his hunger instead. The devil quoted scripture to Jesus, persuading him that it could only be right to prove God’s care for him – again, Jesus resisted, taking scripture on his own side as vindication.

My particular weaknesses, needs, deep hurts or anxieties which I carry through life, are my points of greatest vulnerability to these attacks by my great enemy. And if I cannot recognise his hand at work, oppressing me; or discern his tones within the voice which is counselling me to put my own needs first, because “of course that is what my loving Father would want…”,it is all too clear how easily we can be led into dangerous thoughts and actions which result in the havoc in which the devil delights.

It is surely fitting that in the Lord’s prayer, we are taught to ask to be delivered from temptation, from the hands of the evil one! But we are also assured by God’s word that in every place of temptation, there will be a way out, the possibility of obedience to God is always there, no matter how loudly our feelings may be screaming at us to follow another direction.

Thanks be to God, for his kindness in revealing the source of my troubles, for unveiling the enemy, and thanks be to Christ, in whom I have the victory. I may be a wounded soldier, but I am still on the winning side, and my captain is always ready to respond to my call for his help!

Spelling it out..

When I am afraid, I will trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can mortal man do to me?………..Record my lament; list my tears on your scroll – are they not in your record? I am under vows to you, O God; I will present my thank-offerings to you. For you have delivered me from death and my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before God in the light of life.

(Psalm 56. 3,4,8,12&13)

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me, for in you my soul takes refuge. I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed. I cry out to God most high, to God, who fulfills his purpose for me. He sends from heaven and saves me…God sends his love and his faithfulness…My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast; I will sing and make music….I will praise you, O Lord, among the nations; I will sing of you among the peoples. For great is your love, reaching to the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies. Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; let your glory be over all the earth.

(Psalm 57.2,3,7-10)

Turn to God, look up from your clenched hands, look up through your tears;

Reach out in faith, confess your lack of resources, that you might receive from him.

Understand that even in this trial, you are in his care, in his love, in his heart;

Submit willingly to the trial, and seek to lean hard and learn of him in it, and

Then make your sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, to God most high…

 

I have been freshly convicted recently about the way in which so often my praise of God is purely thankful – not that this is inappropriate, we ought indeed to be filled with gratitude for all that we have and are receiving, and will receive! But the response of mature faith to the revelation of God – in creation and most especially in his word and in Christ the incarnate word – should also be adoration..

By this I mean that I need to move on from thanking God for his gifts, to worshiping and praising him for simply who he is.

I have fond memories of attending a weekly prayer meeting while a student, where the first 15 or 20 minutes of prayer were purely adoration and thanksgiving, celebrating God’s character and all his goodness. It was an excellent discipline, focusing our minds on God, lifting our eyes from our own preoccupations to the eternal realities, and keeping the “shopping list” of intercessory prayer in its rightful place.. But even the great prayer warriors assembled in that room often found it easier to express gratitude than simply to praise!

It is this ability to adore, to be enchanted by the holiness, power, wisdom and love of God which is most powerful in supporting me in the darkest times. These are unchanging realities, unaffected by my feelings, by the things which are oppressing me. I may feel I have little to be thankful for – although this is rarely true…But I can ALWAYS celebrate the goodness of God, rejoice in his utter purity and the perfect loving communion which exists within the trinity. He has spoken, and his promises must be kept, because his nature and character demand that he keep his word. Therefore, I can trust him.

When I feel that the particular purposes of God being worked out in my life through my current trials are obscure and improbable, that I can hardly bear to endure, I can contemplate the incredible love and commitment which planned my redemption in Christ. Such passionate engagement on my behalf by eternal God is not to be wasted! If he has said that he is working for my good, then he can be trusted, and all the weight of my grief, confusion and despair can properly be cast on him.

Let us learn to contemplate and rejoice in the God who has made us his own, let’s learn to spell out for ourselves what we know….

He is Abba(father); He is Beautiful; He is Compassionate; He is Defender: He is Enthroned: He is Faithful…

I leave you to continue the list for yourself… God bless us and give us clearer vision that we might glorify him!