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Every morning I lay out the pieces of my life on Your altar and watch for fire to descend” – the Message Bible paraphrase of Psalm 5:3 is a remarkable aid to personal devotion …

1. It speaks of CONSECRATION – ‘I lay out the pieces of my life on your altar …’

We’re drawn into the mysterious imagery of Jewish Tabernacle worship, laid down in early books of the Bible, where we meet with the daily ritual of the burnt offering. Numerous passages in the Book of Leviticus specifically contain regulations concerning this strange procedure.

But as we pass forward into our New Covenant context we discover the Book of Hebrews replete with spiritual counterparts of those OT rituals. Hebrews 13:10, for example, teaches that we have an altar – an unapologetic reference to the Cross of Christ, where the ultimate sacrifice was made for us, once and for all – when the spotless Lamb of God, of His own volition, laid down His life as our ‘substitute’.

By identification in faith we become participants at an inner, spiritual altar. We embrace the Cross as ours, discerning ourselves as crucified with Him, and experiencing resurrection into new life. All this is enacted during the course of baptismal initiation – and subsequently worked out in the rest of our earthly pilgrimage.

Continuing in Hebrews 13:15, 16 we note this practical outworking as we’re encouraged: through JESUS, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise – the fruit of lips that confess His Name. AND do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased”. This points not to a vague pie-in-the-sky, esoteric spirituality, but one deeply grounded in human community – in the earthy reality of serving others.

2. It speaks of CONSUMMATION – ‘watch for fire to descend’

Fire is one of many symbols used to denote activity of the Holy Spirit (Who is God Himself – a ‘consuming fire’). Often a heaven-sent fire entirely consumed those daily sacrifices, by way of divine response, or affirmation. To illustrate, a rather fascinating passage reads: Aaron lifted up his hands toward the people and blessed them, and he came down from offering the sin offering and the burnt offering and the peace offerings. And Moses and Aaron went into the tent of meeting, and when they came out they blessed the people, and the glory of the LORD appeared to all the people. Fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed the burnt offering and the pieces of fat on the altar, and when all the people saw it, they shouted for joy and fell face-down.”Leviticus 9:22-24. Fire is both a purifying and an energizing element. In our walk and work as followers of Christ we definitely need both – purity and energy.

3. It speaks of CONSISTENCY – ‘every morning’

I cannot speak too highly of the need for regular, consistent attention to personal devotion – it’s got to become a habit – ingrained into our lifestyle.

Delving once again into that bygone age, we observe the careful instructions given regarding altar maintenance within the Tabernacle routine. Leviticus captures this: “These are the regulations for the burnt offering: The burnt offering is to remain on the altar hearth throughout the night, till morning, and THE FIRE MUST BE KEPT BURNING ON THE ALTAR. The priest shall then put on his linen clothes, with linen undergarments next to his body, and shall remove the ashes of the burnt offering that the fire has consumed on the altar and place them beside the altar. Then he is to take off these clothes and put on others, and carry the ashes outside the camp to a place that is ceremonially clean. THE FIRE ON THE ALTAR MUST BE KEPT BURNING; IT MUST NOT GO OUT. Every morning the priest is to add firewood and arrange the burnt offering on the fire and burn the fat of the fellowship offerings on it. THE FIRE MUST BE KEPT BURNING ON THE ALTAR CONTINUOUSLY; IT MUST NOT GO OUT.” – Leviticus 6:9-13 – note the emphases …

So, there’s a daily obligation (‘every morning’) to:

remove the ashes – speaking of yesterday’s offering which will not suffice for today. Here’s a reminder to deal with the ashes of our past, otherwise they will certainly hinder our present day offering. We should never permit the despair of our failures or the elation of our achievements to clog up our inner altar, but rather cultivate appropriate contrition and humility.
add the firewood – for me, adding wood speaks of re-fuelling through meditating on the Cross (our firewood). “Put ‘t wood in ‘t ‘oil” is a wonderful linguistic expression originating in the north of England. It actually means ‘close the door’ – but how necessary it is to add the wood of the Cross to the empty spaces in our heart, providing material for the fire of God, the Holy Spirit – note how the Spirit and the Cross of Christ are intimately connected.
arrange the offering – rather than a slap-dash, hit and miss approach, this clearly advocates a thorough and thoughtful process in which we carefully and unhurriedly lay out the various pieces of our life – placing each fragment on the altar at His disposal. Interestingly, another designation of this sacrifice was the whole burnt offering – in which nothing is held back.

I believe this powerful imagery is uppermost in St Paul’s mind when exhorting Christians in Rome: “offer your bodies (what is visible & material) as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship”Romans 12:1. The thought is taken up in the Anglican post-Eucharist prayer: Almighty God, we thank you for feeding us with the body and blood of your Son Jesus Christ. Through Him we offer You our souls and bodies to be a living sacrifice. Send us out in the power of your Spirit to live and work to Your praise and glory”. Further, it is a theme of so many of the church’s great hymns, one example of which follows this image …

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O Thou Who camest from above,
The pure celestial fire to impart,
Kindle a flame of sacred love
On the mean altar of my heart.

There let it for Thy glory burn
With inextinguishable blaze,
And trembling to its source return,
In humble prayer and fervent praise.

Jesus, confirm my heart’s desire
To work and speak and think for Thee;
Still let me guard the holy fire,
And still stir up Thy gift in me.

Ready for all Thy perfect will,
My acts of faith and love repeat,
Till death Thy endless mercies seal,
And make the sacrifice complete.

Charles Wesley (1707-1788)

Prayer For My Heart

More than a decade ago I came across this prayer, attributed to pastor Jack Hayford, the founder of Church on the Way, Van Nuys, Los Angeles – it’s reproduced here in full, with permission from Jack Hayford Ministries:

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“Lord God, Creator of all, Maker of my heart … I bring it to You this morning.
My heart … which at various times has been lifted in praise to You, rejoices over Your goodness and giving to me.
My heart … which also sometimes cowers in fear before people and problems—when I forget You are bigger than them all—has been stained by meditations unworthy of a child made in Your image. It has been lifted up in pride over attainments accomplished by Your hand alone.
And, Lord, my heart is often hardened as well. I bring my heart to You this day for softening…
… like a child’s, softened to forgive quickly, easily, without judgment, prejudice, bitterness, or resentment;
… like a field, softened to receive seeds of Your truth, that the fruit of Your Holy Spirit might be produced through my life;
… like clay, softened, that I might be shaped today more completely into the person You want me to become.
Forgive my hardness of heart when it results from my own disobedience, neglect, or outright resistance to Your ways.
Deliver me, lest my heart shrink by reason of this dryness and hardening. Flow the rivers of Your life over my heart, and bring it to renewal, O Lord.
And where my heart is hardened simply by the heat of duty, the weariness of work, the attack of enemies, the slings and arrows of the inconsiderate or crude … at those points, give me a vision of Your heart today, Lord. For although I have wounded Your love by my failures, You have never hardened Your heart against me.
So, dear God, let my heart be softened today in the same way as Yours, toward any who have done to me as I have to You. Deliver me from all temptation to smallness or hardness of heart, and fill my life today with Your will and Your Word.
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my strength and my redeemer (Psalm 19:14).
Through Christ, our Lord, Amen”

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Jesus invites me to ‘learn the unforced rhythms of grace’ – (Matthew 11:29 in the Message Bible) – hence I’m calling this a ‘rhythm’ rather than a ‘rule’ of life. I’m eagerly seeking to respond to three ‘sounds’ re-iterated in my heart while on Retreat in early 2015.

1) The Cross – a song entitled ‘Now we remain’ challenged me to linger meditatively over Jesus’ Crucifixion. It has the refrain: “We hold the death of the Lord deep in our heart. Living, now we remain with Jesus the Christ”

2) Holiness – scripture speaking in corporate prayers: (Lev. 20:26) “You are to be holy to Me because I, the LORD, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own”, and further in private devotions: (1 Pet 1:15,16) “But just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘be holy, because I am holy’”

3) Prayer – scripture speaking in private devotions: (1 Peter 4:7 – NEB) “ … lead an ordered and sober life given to prayer …”

~~~

Considering these ‘sounds’ I will try to blend certain essentials into my lifestyle:

A. Maintaining steady focus on the Cross

the fountain-head of God’s favour. If I do not stand in grace I will not stand at all

B. Experiencing infilling of the Spirit

welcoming His lordship/leadership over each segment of life.

C. Devoting quality time to Scripture

by reading, study and meditation

D. Learning/practising various ‘forms’ of prayer

in a life that truly prays

E. Leaving off cerebral analysis

entrusting all to God – not leaning on my own understanding

F. Acknowledging God’s Presence at all times and in all places

remembering that all of life is a sacrament

G. Developing routines (not ruts) to ensure wise use of time

disciplined without being enslaved by legalism

H. Taking regular walks

for exercise and reflection (a means of enjoying God’s creation & friendship)

I. Cultivating stillness 

avoiding rush, distrusting my own sense of urgency, being quiet in order to listen and discern, not hurrying to speak or respond

J. Making space for wonder and mystery

inviting the unexpected, the spontaneous and pattern-breaking adventures

K. Meeting people respectfully, compassionately, peacefully and cheerfully

‘hidden but not in hiding’

L. Engaging with a spiritual companion/director

for accountability, advice and encouragement

~~~~~~~~

For these 12 ‘disciples’ to sound out rhythmically

I’m praying a pertinent prayer of St Francis:

Lord of life,

Help me to live each day quietly, easily

To lean on Your strength trustfully, restfully

To wait for the unfolding of Your Will patiently, serenely

To meet others peacefully, joyously

To face each day confidently, courageously.

AMEN

Counsel to a Council

Toxic fumes – party spirit fills the air

Suspicion, aggression, division – they’re all there

Treating one another with disdain

Kindergarten trends, Westminster terrain

~~~

There goes the blue-eyed, mafia-like mob

ruthlessly manipulated by Councillor Rob,

facing Councillor Mike’s dishevelled crew

(those red flag-flyers through and through)

~~~

Discordant seeds abundantly sown

springing up to harvest when full grown.

Anger, acrimony, prejudice prevail

Be not surprised when social fabrics fail

~~~

Divided communities never, ever stand,

breeding grounds for an extremist hand.

Voice of moderation must be heard

Will any recognise ‘prophetic’ word

~~~

“You’re not here party interest to seek

but Higher Will, common good, raise the weak.

Go, serve a generation: that’s your goal !

Bringing folk together, making whole”

~~~

faithful wounds

Written to express my personal dismay at the partisan politicization

of Brigg Town Council, which recently took a dramatic turn

No Tergiversation !

EXPLANATION
Reading Roy Jenkin’s biography of Winston Churchill
I discovered (for me) this new word which captivated my attention.
 Derived from the Latintergiversārī’ it’s two words joined up,
tergum = back + versari = to turn.
It’s pronounced ‘ter-jiver-sation’ and used in two distinct ways:
1:  The act of evading any clear course of action or speech, of being deliberately ambiguous.
2:  The act of abandoning something or someone, of changing sides; desertion; betrayal.
~~~~~
SCENE ONE:

Disillusionment: bringing calls for change

Promises undelivered, agendas re-arranged

Intended ambiguity, nothing given away

Everyone kept guessing as politicians play

Not so the One, with Whom I’m called to go

Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No’

Truth in inner parts, what He’s seeking for

Like Nathaniel, guile-less at the core

SCENE TWO:

Disagreement ! Time to jump this boat

No sense of loyalty – sticks in one’s throat

Reneging, and leaving a trail of broken-ness

Call it ‘moving on’ ? Desertion, I assess

Not so the One, I’m called to imitate

Hand to the plough, furrow laser-straight

No turning back, face set like stone

Destination death – my sin to atone

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SCENE THREE:

I have decided to follow Jesus

I have decided to follow Jesus

I have decided to follow Jesus

No turning back, no turning back

~~~~~

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