Archive for April, 2017


Counting …

Counting on people and things is a reality of life. We find so many occasions when needing to rely on someone or something. Perhaps it’s counting on a plumber to fix that leaking cistern, or relying on the car to start in order to get the children to school each morning. It is comforting to know there are those we can count on, especially in times of crisis. Alternatively, as I’ve found from experience, owning an unreliable vehicle can be most stressful indeed.

Sadly we’ve all been let down by someone or something when we were desperately counting on their dependability. We could perhaps tell our horror stories, especially in the sphere of relationships, in which our trust was badly shaken, and necessitated a long, painful process to bring about recovery. It is regrettable, alas, that some never do reach that place, and instead descend into depths of self-pity, resentment and depression.

Psalm 130:6 states: “My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning

I’ve been reading through the Psalms in a French Translation, and love this rendition of that verse: “Mon âme compte sur le Seigneur, plus que les gardes ne comptent sur le matin, que les gardes ne comptent sur le matin“. Using the verb “compter”, literally meaning “to count”, it conveys the Psalmist’s strong sense of trust, and of expectation. He’s indicating how he is counting on the Lord to show up, in the same way that watchmen (or security guards) count on the morning to make its appearance. However dark the night, a new day will dawn – they simply need to keep watching and waiting.

This thought-provoking poem by Ann Lewin brings home to me something of the Psalmist’s heart:

Disclosure

Prayer is like watching for the Kingfisher.
All you can do is be where he is likely to appear, and … wait.
Often, nothing much happens;
There is space, silence and expectancy.
No visible sign, only the knowledge that he’s been there and may come again.
Seeing or not seeing cease to matter,
You have been prepared.
But sometimes, when you’ve almost stopped expecting it,
A flash of brightness gives encouragement

Of course, the Lord is never dictated to by human constraints. His followers really have to come to terms with the truth that He dwells in eternal ‘now’, as another psalm puts it, “A thousand years in Your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night.”

This idea is taken up by Saint Peter in relation to the second coming of Christ when he writes: “… you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ He promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.”

He continues: “… do not forget this one thing, dear friends: with the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. Instead He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

Here’s the rub – although standing outside time, God does interact with us within time, and does indeed have His own time-frame. So we read, for example, concerning the incarnation of Jesus: “… when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son …”

When we fail to recognize divine time-scale we’re liable to fall victim of impatience, frustration and disillusionment – not exactly evidences of ‘counting on the Lord’ but rather of peevish immaturity, and which, unless dealt with, can bring about a grumpy disconnect from God.

I recall such moments in my own journey. In South Yorkshire we sometimes hear the phrase “he/she’s got a monk on” describing someone in a bad mood. I must confess to occasions when I certainly “had a monk on” with God, and gave him the silent treatment ! Words from a song by Keith Green strongly come to mind: “It’s so hard to see, when my eyes are on me”. Thankfully, I was not smitten down, and live to tell the tale – hopefully a wiser and more patient person as a consequence !

I think Psalm 130 encourages an attitude both of trust and expectancy. Instead of getting into sulk mode when we don’t understand, or when things don’t go our way, we are to “count on the Lord” – the One who is utterly trustworthy, who keeps His promises. May we discover that the Lord of time, ultimately controls our times, as surely as day follows night and so, as Eugene Peterson points out, “Waiting in prayer is a disciplined refusal to act before God acts.”

 

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Beside The Driver

When I bought tickets for a tour along the Ecclesbourne Valley Railway (EVR) in Derbyshire earlier this year, I had no great expectations. What I did know was that I’d paid a reduced rate – which always makes a Yorkshire-man happy !

Arriving at Duffield Station shortly before 1pm could not be described as an overwhelming start to the excursion, however the diesel train, built in the 1950s, was ready waiting to take us on the 8.5 miles of track into Wirksworth …

The outward journey was not exceptionally exciting, although it held some picturesque moments along the valley. A couple of level-crossings provided a quaint, and rather fascinating ‘ritual’, at which the ‘guard’ jumped off the train, opened the gates, flagged us through, closed them behind us & then jumped back aboard … coming from Doncaster, with its modern, automated crossings I found this most amusing:

After a couple of hours exploring the small market town of Wirksworth; enjoying delicious mushroom soup at the Country Kitchen; purchasing toys for the grandchildren and railway memorabilia for us, we were ready for the return journey – but not before sampling the brew in the charming Pullman Buffet Car, a converted carriage situated at Wirksworth station.

Now, I’ve never ridden in the driver’s cab of a diesel train – until this occasion, that is.

Having befriended the driver before the outward journey, by chatting to him and asking him questions about his work (e.g. how long he’d been employed with EVR) I was thrilled when, for the return trip, he invited me up front to sit with him and chat, as we trundled back to Duffield at a speed never exceeding 25mph .

His plus-12 years experience was obvious. He clearly controlled this powerful engine (capable of speeds of 70mph), and its passengers were completely safe in hands. He was extremely relaxed and did seem pleased to have me around. Happy to talk of his work, he explained the controls and gadgets in his cab, described various maintenance developments along the rail, and was totally unfazed in answering my dumbest questions … (what does this do, what does that do, what’s this for ?)

On reflection the experience is deeply analogic of my daily journey beside a far more experienced Driver, and has prompted some searching questions, such as: “Why don’t I trust Him as easily I did that diesel-train driver ?” and “Why do I find talking with Him far more difficult, and even irksome at times ?”.

I’m truly thankful that He never grows weary of my dullness, my profound ignorance, my frequent questionings – and is actually pleased to have me alongside Him.

HONOURING THE NAME

Sharing the notes of my ‘sermon’ from Palm Sunday … April 9th 2017

Remember the Burning Bush where Moses is commissioned to visit his people. They were enslaved in Egypt under a tyrannical regime and Moses ‘task’: to lead them into freedom, and into a Promised Land. Moses asks: “Who shall I tell them has sent me”, and God replies: “… tell them I AM has sent you … for this is MY NAME”. “I AM” translates the original Hebrew: “YHWH” – often pronounced as YaHWeH. So, what’s in a name ? Well, in Scripture name indicates the WHOLE PERSON: identity, individuality, personality, character, authority and reputation – and also PRESENCE.

In reading through the Psalms in March I was impressed by the many references to the NAME and made a point of underlining the verses concerned. When I started thinking/praying about this sermon I sensed a ‘nudge’ to re-visit those underlined verses, and decided to write them out in full, which I was then able to analyze … here are a few of my discoveries:

– At least 96 references to the NAME – one third of these (some 32) are either exhortations to, or exclamations of, praise to the NAME – a significant number of these have strong musical connotations – (singing, playing instruments & dancing).

– A number of ‘adjectives’ are used to describe the NAME – e.g. MAJESTIC, HOLY, GOOD, GLORIOUS, GREAT, AWESOME, EXALTED.

– One stand out reference – (86:11) – is a frequent prayer of mine: “Give me an undivided heart that I may fear (or reverence) Your NAME” –  hence, the sermon title, expressing my desire to encourage a stronger commitment to HONOURING the NAME.

– Many of these verses indicate HOW we may indeed honour the NAME – e.g. by LOVING, TRUSTING, DECLARING, PRAISING, CALLING ON the NAME.

Now this is Palm Sunday when the Christian world commemorates Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on a young donkey. A ‘prophetic’ event described in all four Gospels. Importantly, each writer records the words of the crowd (mainly Jesus’ followers) as they accompany Him into the city: “Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord” (Luke amends slightly to “Blessed is the King who comes in the Name of the Lord). These words, drawn out of Psalm 118:26, a Messianic Psalm, strongly affirm Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah (or, the Christ).

Further ‘revelation’ is given as Jesus prays on the eve of His crucifixion – a deeply moving and significant prayer, found only in John’s gospel, where a couple of His petitions under-score the importance of the NAME. Listen with your heart as Jesus prays: “HOLY FATHER, protect them by the power of Your Name – THE NAME YOU HAVE GIVEN ME … while I was with them I protected them and kept them safe by THE NAME YOU GAVE ME” – (John 17:11b-12a). Of course, Jesus was fully aware of the significance of the NAME, and of His own Name. “JESUS” literally means “YHWH SAVES” – and the implication of Jesus’ prayer, recorded by John, ought to banish any doubt concerning His true identity and mission.

ABU’S STORY: I met Abu on a plane at Tripoli airport, which was flying our team out to Ghana, but taking on extra passengers in Libya. Abu sat in the vacant seat beside me, and we quickly engaged in conversation. He noticed a book I was reading – ‘Knowing God’ by J I Packer – and asked if I was a pastor. He shared an experience of a vivid dream, in which an assailant attempted to strangle him. As a ‘nominal’ Muslim, with a Muslim father, he called on Allah and recited verses from the Koran all to no avail – as the grip around his neck tightened.

Then he recalled the faith of his ‘Christian’ mother in Accra, and desperately shouted out: “Jesus”. The assailant’s grip instantly released, and Abu woke from the dream with the realization of an incredible power in the name of Jesus, that he’d never known or believed. Prompted by this dream, he gave up his job in Libya, and was returning to Ghana, where he hoped to find a pastor who would explain how he could become a follower of Jesus.

For the next few hours I had the joyful privilege of sharing the Good News of Jesus with this hungry young man. He absorbed the Scriptures which I shared, and some 30,000+ feet above the African Continent, Abu committed his life to Jesus Christ through a prayer of repentance and faith, coming into a wonderful sense of assurance of forgiveness and of peace with God.

I’m sure you will agree this is a remarkable story. I share it because it illustrates the saving power of Jesus’ Name, and in the deep conviction that Jesus, who humbled Himself and surrendered to the humiliation of crucifixion has been exalted to the highest place, and given “the NAME that is above every name, that at the NAME of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

So, as we live through the events of this Holy Week may we be blessed with a renewed desire to honour the NAME.