Category: Friendly Faith


Carrying

70 years is a vast amount of time … if you’re aged 70 or above I honour and congratulate you.

For 70 years God’s ancient people endured ignominious captivity in Babylon, before being permitted to return to their homeland. Many of those who returned were born in captivity, had never seen ‘the land of promise’, and were entirely dependent on childhood stories, which fired their imagination and longing for the ‘home’ they’d never known.

Psalm 126 is a short piece describing the emotions of that return from captivity, the adversity faced on arrival, and the hope brought to them by prophetic input.

Here we may discover something of our own journey towards God … often experienced in three repeating stages/cycles:-

 1 – HAPPINESS – described in vs 1-3 – A Dreaming

Whenever God works to bring about release to captives there is a sense of joy. Sometimes it seems too good to be true, almost like we’re in a dream world. For many, the initial experience of saving grace, of forgiveness, of sheer relief, of peace within our heart leaves us pinching ourselves to check it’s real and we’re not sleeping. Very often it can be the recognition by others, of what God has done, that brings it home to us. They say, “the Lord has done great things for them” and we respond, “Oh yes, the Lord has done great things for us, and we rejoice”

 2 – HARDSHIP – described in 4-6 – A Drudgery

The euphoria of ‘deliverance’ is more often than not tempered by discovering the true state of things (our hearts, our circumstances, for example) and may produce severe anxiety over the future.  Lyrics of a ‘Verve’ song are quite pertinent:  “It’s a BITTER-SWEET symphony, this life”.

The returning captives found:

  • Uncultivated Land – hard, dry and barren
  • Unpromising Conditions – unseasonable weather and a wilderness environment
  • Unwelcoming Neighbours – who were not exactly pleased to see their return

NONE of this was conducive for sowing seeds. There was the strong likelihood of crop failure – and a farmer’s precious seed (which is his future) all being wasted. He sowed with tears, with apprehension, with uncertainty … BUT

https://i1.wp.com/www.rutahsa.com/sheaves.jpg

3 – HARVEST – described in 6 – A Doubtless

The contrasting ‘moods’ of previous verses take another twist on this winding journey in our final verse, with the ‘prophetic’ use of a powerful word: “DOUBTLESS” – the original Hebrew text suggests this word which is beautifully picked up by the translators of our Authorized Version. What fresh hope this word births – what new confidence it inspires – what a firm foundation for faith it offers – what outstanding encouragement – “DOUBTLESS”.

How descriptive of our journey

As people of God, ours is a faith journey within a community of faith – facing our hardships with perseverance, while trusting the Living Word and the Spirit of God, we work hard, we sow our seeds, we weep over the hardness of our own hearts, and of others, we commit ourselves to God, casting ourselves on His unfailing love. As the “DOUBTLESS” kicks in, we may grow in the certainty that our ‘toil’ is not in vain, and  that we will reach the moment of HARVEST. Having carried seeds, we will carry sheaves, too.

The fruit will be gathered in because of the favour of God, as clearly expressed in another Hebrew Psalm: “You care for the land and water it; you enrich it abundantly. The streams of God are filled with water to provide the people with grain, for so you have ordained it. You drench its furrows and level its ridges; you soften it with showers and bless its crops.  You crown the year with your bounty, and your carts overflow with abundance. The grasslands of the wilderness overflow; the hills are clothed with gladness. The meadows are covered with flocks and the valleys are mantled with grain; they shout for joy and sing. ” Psalm 65:9-13

What remarkable evidence of God’s providential care for the natural creation – watering, enriching, filling, drenching, leveling, softening, blessing and crowning. This being so, how much more does He care for us, described as His new creation in Christ.

REMEMBER THIS: God has not brought you out of captivity in order to fail, but in order to bless you and cause you to increase – DOUBTLESS.

So doubt less.

~~~~~

FOOTNOTE: These are notes of a ‘sermon’ I preached at King’s Baptist Church, Cleethorpes – on Sunday 28th January 2018

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Affirmation & Aspiration

As we call ‘time’ on yet another calendar year and welcome in 2018

I share some lyrics of a song I wrote a couple of years ago,

reflecting the title – Affirmation & Aspiration –

(the tune is for an audience of One)

They’re offered along with a heartfelt prayer

that the coming year will be fragrant with divine favour upon your life

~~~~~~~

You are my Source

You are my Centre

You are my Home

Where I belong

Refrain:

Lord, may I know You

So may I grow like You

That I may make You known

Wherever I go

You are my Rock

You are my Refuge

You are my Fortress

Where I am strong

 

 

 

 

 

 

When The Big Dipper Dips

TO MY TRAVEL COMPANIONS:

~~~~

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

 

 

 

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