Category: Friendly Faith


When The Big Dipper Dips

TO MY TRAVEL COMPANIONS:

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John Baptist is an outstanding New Testament figure – a prophet and herald (or fore-runner) of Jesus. He presided over a huge ‘revival’ among the Israeli people, baptizing crowds of them in the River Jordan, as a sign of their repentance. Remarkable, heady days which peaked with a visible manifestation of the Spirit (in the form of a dove) and an audible voice from heaven at Jesus’ baptism ! Check out the story in Matthew 3 or Luke 3.

And yet … Matthew 11 records a distasteful moment of uncertainty in the later life of  “The Big Dipper”.

Then, a prisoner of King Herod, John learns of the miraculous ministry of cousin Jesus – news which arouses significant questions in his mind … “Is He really the One I proclaimed Him to be – the Lamb of God, who takes away the world’s sin ?  Can this really be the long-anticipated Messiah of God?” I wonder if he may have reasoned: “If Jesus is the One I claimed him to be, then why does he leave me to languish in this prison ? Could he not do something about my predicament if he really is our Promised Deliverer ?” – perplexing trains of thought which haunted & taunted his mind.

Alexander B. Bruce, a 19th century Scottish theologian, surmises that John’s imprisonment may have lasted “long enough to develop a prison mood”, while Adam Clarke in his commentary suggests: “It is very probable that John now began, through the length of his confinement, to entertain doubts, which perplexed and harassed his mind; and he took the most reasonable way to get rid of them at once, viz. by applying to Christ himself.”

Whatever the case, in many ways I find it strangely re-assuring to find such a prominent biblical figure experiencing what looks suspiciously like a ‘crisis’ of faith.

We might say: “The Big Dipper Dips”. 

As a lesser mortal I am spurred on by reading how great giants of faith negotiated their disconcerting moments, finding strategies to overcome their challenges, and so moving them home-ward. The spiritual journey is certainly not a level path to glory – more like a rough, roller-coaster ride, with myriad ups and downs, twists and turns, thrills and spills (all-too-frequently in my case) and we can learn so much from those who have travelled before us.

Here’s John’s strategy: sending a delegation of his disciples to Jesus, the Baptist pours out his misgiving in earnest inquiry: “Are you really the expected Messiah, or should we be looking for someone else?” Expressing his doubt by turning directly to Christ, as the Baptist did, meant going to the Source for answers. In my own case, sadly I’ve often looked in the wrong places for the resolving of my inner conflicts, although I have in recent years, been inspired by the words of Bohemian-Austrian poet, Rainer Maria Rilke: “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live your way into the answer.”

Thankfully, I observe that Jesus did not send a thunder-bolt, striking John dead for his doubting, rather gently directed him to ponder His words and His works: “Go and tell John what you hear (my words) and see (my works): the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.”

We’re not informed of the effect this response had on John Baptist – sometimes the Scriptures are silent, and our speculations can only be subjective. However, for those of us who experience similar moments of painful uncertainty, doubtless we may find here a compelling reason to follow John’s example – i.e. to quickly and directly have recourse to the Author and Perfecter of faith. There we will discover how Jesus, through His Spirit, points us time and again to His Words (‘what you hear’) and His Works (‘what you see’) as credentials of His Messiah-ship, as infallible proof of His Lordship, as firm foundations for faith. Yes, in weighing His words and works carefully and prayerfully, it will be possible to experience fresh faith rising up inside, strengthening us to press on with the remainder of our turbulent journey.

We’ll eventually come to agree with Henri Nouwen when he proposes that, Even hard and painful times can be converted to occasions for learning, shaping influences – forming us into the persons we are and leading us to the Source of healing and salvation” and further resonate with the Psalmist as he sings his melody: “…we went through fire and water, but You brought us to a place of abundance.”

~~~~~~~

 

May God richly bless you

 

 

 

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Mainstay

Reading through the Psalms in the New English Bible of 1970, I came across this phrase: “The Lord: the mainstay of my life” – and though perhaps not a literal ‘translation’ the nautical imagery nevertheless conveys the truth that God is the Chief Support of human life – that apart from Him human beings tend to fall apart, become vulnerable in the storms of life, and are prone to instability & ultimate shipwreck – not glorious prospects.

A stay (on a sailing ship) is part of the standard rigging used to support or stabilize the mast, taking the form of a large strong rope or steel wire/rod extending from the upper end of each mast and running down towards the deck of the vessel. Wikipedia states: “The object … is to prevent the masts from falling down, but the stays also prevent springing, when the ship is pitching deep.” – that is, providing stability in an otherwise unstable environment. Here’s a visual of a typical ship’s ‘stay’:

In general usage, the Cambridge Dictionary defines mainstay as, “the most important part of something, providing support for everything else“, while the Collins Dictionary states: “if you describe something as the mainstay of a particular thing, you mean that it is the most basic part of it.

Therefore, we can infer that the NEB ‘translators’ wished to emphasize, and that Scripture intends us to understand, by this paraphrase: “The Lord: the mainstay of my life” precisely that the Lord is INTEGRAL to humanity – that He’s not an add-on – like some app. to be downloaded, according to our personal whims, in order to make life that bit easier. No, He is to life what hydrogen is to water, and what blood is to the body. He is essential to us being whole, human beings – and we were never designed for life apart from Him. To live our lives without such awareness results in diminishing us to living far below our potential, of being incapable of living human life to the full … so that like a car with spark-plugs removed we’re incapable of firing on all cylinders, and life becomes such a strain, rather than a joy.

Our ‘deadly disconnect’ from God has the most dire consequences: for ourselves, our families, our environment, our world – in fact everything is affected detrimentally. This is the reason why God worked proactively in Jesus to redeem the situation – when Jesus announced, “I have come in order that you might have life—life in all its fullness” He proclaimed the good news that through restored relationship with Him, disconnected and disorientated humanity may be restored to the original and live a fully human life.

Writing much later than the Psalms, St Paul in one of his letters wrote concerning Jesus Christ: “…Who is our life…” This revelation, of Christ as our LIFE – giving and sustaining us in life – is so revolutionary, and raises faith in Christ far beyond mere man-made religion, with its absurd practices, into an all-absorbing, full-time relationship with the Creator, as the very essence of human life, and without Whom we are considerably less than we were ever created for.

There’s an old hymn, which expresses this magnificently, albeit in language that may seem strange in the 21st century. It goes:

I need Thee ev’ry hour

Most gracious Lord

No tender voice like Thine

Can peace afford

~~~

Chorus: I need Thee, oh, I need Thee

Ev’ry hour I need Thee

Oh, bless me now, my Saviour

I come to Thee

~~~

I need Thee ev’ry hour

Stay Thou nearby

Temptations lose their pow’r

When Thou art nigh

~~~

I need Thee ev’ry hour

In joy or pain

Come quickly and abide

Or life is vain

~~~

I need Thee ev’ry hour

Most Holy One

Oh, make me Thine indeed

Thou blessed Son

~~~

Words by Annie S. Hawks, 1835–1918

“I need Thee, Oh I need Thee” – that’s the cry of an awakened human spirit, equivalent to the lung’s cry for air, or the parched tongue’s thirst for refreshment. In the cacophony of life it’s common, even as followers of Christ, to miss and ignore that cry, resulting in our impoverishment and a sense of spiritual lost-ness. Alternatively, starting each day with a recognition of our need, and asking that we may acknowledge our Mainstay throughout the day, in whatever appropriate way, will set us up for a more enriching, joy-filled life.

I hope you may benefit from this recommendation.

 

You’re Here

In honour of the wonderful Holy Spirit

 

You came…Father & Beloved Son,

Gift of heaven, bestowing.

Comfort to the comfortless

Helper in our helplessness.

Promised overflowing

~~~

You came…’mighty rushing wind’

Breath of heaven, refreshing.

Life into our lifelessness

Meaning to our senselessness

Covenanted blessing

~~~

You came…‘cloven tongues of fire’

Flame of heaven inspiring,

Passion in the passionless

Wholeness for our brokenness

Integrity acquiring

~~~

You came…’dunamis’ from on high

Power from heaven, energising.

Strength to cover weaknesses

Reliever of our great distress

Miracles realising

~~~

You’re here…oft grieved & still resisted

Gentle dove of heaven, You persisted.

Dwelling in this heart of mine

Living Wind, Fire Divine

Heaven’s Oil – anointed

A Trilogy

 

*****

CREATION

*****

Sublime fiat sovereignly ordains

galaxies to manifest from nought,

directed by invisible hand,

symphonically arranged.

Creative genius breathes

across emptiness, exhaling

myriad universes, appearing

in spectacular array

~~~

And here within full panorama

of brilliant cosmic design

arises, as if on centre stage

in spotlight, and heralded by

a fanfare of rich celestial melodies,

that tiny globe we claim as home,

richly  textured with the

intricate tapestries of life

~~~

Crowning glory – pinnacle,

Homo sapiens, bearing

image of the Maker,

And drawing forth

glowing pronouncement:

“Very Good” – no portent here

of approaching calamity

in original paradise

*****

FALL

*****

Yet storm clouds gather,

prince of darkness

uncoils his ruthless strategy

to sabotage creation’s bliss.

Seductive voice burns into heart

challenging: “Has God said ?”

contradicting: “You shall not die !”

~~~

Mesmerised, tantalised

wily tempter weaves

his beguiling charms

on innocent’s psyche.

desires overwhelming

new emotions stirring

reasonings controlling,

’til battered will succumbs

~~~

Relationship’s ruination

a wilful disobedience,

in hiding – shame-filled

finger-pointing accusation

shifting blame away from self

symptoms of guilt ridden-ness,

and profound shift  of nature

~~~

All creation groaning

beneath the weight

of homo sapiens’

dreadful, deadly fall

all waiting for the

promised restoration

*****

REDEMPTION

*****

Foreknown, that sorry plight

worlds affected by the fall,

master-plan unfolding restoration.

Oracle speaks prophetically,

of woman’s seed, of chosen race,

of royal line, of messianic hope

awakening anticipation of

brand new dispensation

~~~

And right on cue, fulness of time

only-begotten Son

arrives, as if on centre-stage

spotlighted, heralded by

same angelic choristers which

celebrated creation’s dawn

announcing with clear voices –

“To you a Saviour born”

~~~

Lion-Lamb, Second Man

tabernacles with humanity

God in flesh, through Virgin Birth

sharing woe, feeling pain –

life laid down, atonement made.

Bruising serpent’s head; binding man’s strong foe;

bursting prison gates; breaking captives free;

birthing glorious redemption.

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.