Monthly Archives: June 2012
… and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you. Gen 12:3b
When Abram (later Abraham) was told by God that he was “blessed to be blessing”, Abram was one of the few people with whom God had had such a close and personal encounter. In fact, throughout the Old Testament only a few prophets, priests and Kings encountered God in such a personal and immediate way.
We learn from Romans that it was Abraham’s faith, enabled by the Spirit of God, that enabled him to be that blessing and become the “father of many nations” but most importantly, a crucial and fundamental link in the coming of the Messiah – Jesus.
What people like Abraham, Moses, David and Samuel indicate is what the divine power of God is capable of when unleashed in His people. At Pentecost that power of the presence of God was poured out on the whole church – not just a selected few. All God’s children have his presence and therefore this amazing potential.
I say “potential” because so often we live like OT people who only knew of the presence of God vicariously through a prophet, priest of king. Too often we live outside that presence of God.
My constant challenge to myself and my fellow believers is to live in the power of the presence of God. Church history has many examples, past and contemporary: From the saints tortured under Nero, to missionaries who forsook and still forsake all, to serve God and many, many more who faithfully serve God wherever He has placed them.
So my question is simple but profound: Do you live in the power of the presence of God’s Spirit in your life? Can your neighbors see in your words and deeds that you serve the King of all creation? Is your life advancing God’s name? That is a daily challenge. Living the challenge is true joy!
The couple I wrote about in yesterday’s post were always holding hands – especially in church. It was a great encouragement to younger married couples that people in their 80s could sit in church holding hands like young lovers.
Once, while visiting them, I mentioned that they were such an encouragement to the couples in the congregation with their example. To which the wife replied with a laugh, “I hold his hand to stop him from fiddling!”
I don’t think that was completely true. They were an amazingly devoted couple.
Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”
In a previous vocation I had the privilege of officiating at the funerals of many older saints. Quite a few of these had gone through wartime experiences in Europe or Indonesia. They had been through the worst that humanity can inflict upon their brothers and sisters.
A Psalm that was often requested at their funerals was Psalm 91. It encapsulates both the horror of war and the beauty of God’s grace. These people were able to declare in life and in death, “The Lord is my refuge.” They had the confidence, in a bombing raid or in a Japanese prisoner of war camp, that nothing could remove them from their place in the eternal family of God. Incidentally, it was this solid expression of faith that was lived by the Moravians in the face of danger that impressed and impacted John Wesley so deeply a few centuries earlier.
One story I remember clearly: on a visit to an elderly white-haired saint, I noticed a small grubby book, in an otherwise immaculate bookcase. I commented on its incongruity. This elderly man, while holding his wife’s hand, told me its story. This was the Bible he kept in a tropical Japanese prison camp. His wife and children were in a separate camp. He kept it closely wherever he went.It was his constant companion. He would have been severely punished, even killed, if he had been found with it. The worst moments were snap inspections. So when an inspection was called he quickly scratched a hole in the dirt and stood on the book. It was a precious memento that had pride of place in his bookcase. It was a reminder of God’s centrality in his and his family’s life. And he added with a wink, “I could always say I stood firmly on the Word of God.”
May we also dwell in the Most High by “standing” firmly on the Word of God.
Yesterday I posted one of Newton’s hymns which was not Amazing Grace. I couldn’t help
myself. Here is another. What I love about his words/poetry is the intersection of Biblical truth with life’s experience. This hymn also has echoes of Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. The words may be quaint with their archaic usage but the truth and meaning ring clear. Thanks once again to cyberhymnal.org.
By faith in Christ I walk with God,
With Heav’n, my journey’s end, in view;
Supported by His staff and rod,
My road is safe and pleasant too.
I travel through a desert wide
Where many round me blindly stray;
But He vouchsafes to be my Guide,
And will not let me miss my way.
Though snares and dangers throng my path,
And earth and hell my course withstand;
I triumph over all by faith,
Guarded by His almighty hand.
The wilderness affords no food,
But God for my support prepares;
Provides me every needful good,
And frees my soul from wants and cares.
With Him sweet converse I maintain,
Great as He is I dare be free;
I tell Him all my grief and pain,
And He reveals His love to me.
Some cordial from His Word He brings,
Whene’er my feeble spirit faints;
At once my soul revives and sings,
And yields no more to sad complaints.
I pity all that worldlings talk
Of pleasures that will quickly end;
Be this my choice, O Lord, to walk
With Thee, my Guide, my Guard, my Friend.
The trouble with writing a great hymn like Amazing Grace is that the poet’s other hymns are forgotten. John Newton wrote many hymns; a number with his friend William Cowper (The Olney Hymns). However if you peruse Newton’s hymns you find many challenging and encouraging words. A good place to search for them is at Cyberhymnal.org.
The following hymn is a wonderful encouragement to hold to the promises of God when circumstances tempt us to look elsewhere.
Begone unbelief, my Savior is near,
And for my relief will surely appear:
By prayer let me wrestle, and He wilt perform,
With Christ in the vessel, I smile at the storm.
Though dark be my way, since He is my Guide,
’Tis mine to obey, ’tis His to provide;
Though cisterns be broken, and creatures all fail,
The Word He has spoken shall surely prevail.
His love in time past forbids me to think
He’ll leave me at last in trouble to sink;
Each sweet Ebenezer I have in review,
Confirms His good pleasure to help me quite through.
Determined to save, He watched o’er my path,
When Satan’s blind slave, I sported with death;
And can He have taught me to trust in His Name,
And thus far have brought me, to put me to shame?
Why should I complain of want or distress,
Temptation or pain? He told me no less:
The heirs of salvation, I know from His Word,
Through much tribulation must follow their Lord.
How bitter that cup, no heart can conceive,
Which He drank quite up, that sinners might live!
His way was much rougher, and darker than mine;
Did Jesus thus suffer, and shall I repine?
Since all that I meet shall work for my good,
The bitter is sweet, the medicine is food;
Though painful at present, wilt cease before long,
And then, O! how pleasant, the conqueror’s song!
From: ENDURING PERSECUTION FOR CHRIST by John Calvin
“Therefore, on seeing how the Church of God is trampled upon in the present day by proud worldlings, how one barks and another bites, how they torture, how they plot against her, how she is assailed incessantly by mad dogs and savage beasts, let it remind us that the same thing was done in all the olden time. It is true God sometimes gives her a truce and time of refreshment, and hence in the Psalm above quoted it is said, “He cutteth the cords of the wicked”; and in another passage (Psalm cxxv., 3), “He breaks their staff, lest the good should fall away, by being too hardly pressed.” But still it has pleased Him that His Church should always have to battle so long as she is in this world, her repose being treasured up on high in the heavens. (Heb. iii., 9.)
Meanwhile, the issue of her afflictions has always been fortunate. At all events, God has caused that tho she has been prest by many calamities, she has never been completely crusht; as it is said (Psalm vii., 15), “The wicked with all their efforts have not succeeded in that at which they aimed.” St. Paul glories in the fact, and shows that this is the course which God in mercy always takes. He says (I Cor. iv., 12) that we endure tribulations, but we are not in agony; we are impoverished, but not left destitute; we are persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but we perish not; bearing everywhere in our body the mortification of the Lord Jesus, in order that His life may be manifested in our mortal bodies. Such being, as we see, the issue which God has at all times given to the persecutions of His Church, we ought to take courage, knowing that our forefathers, who were frail men like ourselves, always had the victory over their enemies by remaining firm in endurance.”
(2011-03-24). The World’s Great Sermons, Volume 01 Basil to Calvin (Kindle Locations 1881-1893). . Kindle Edition.
Yesterday I wrote a poem (Mirror, Mirror) which reflected on an old theme – Narcissism. Many young (and not so young) people are hooked on acceptance via social media. It gives their lives electricity and meaning. From the first thing in the morning to the last thing at night, cell phones and computers are checked for messages – for affirmation. In fact, for many, the phones keep beeping the messages throughout the night.
Part of this process involves what I call (and excuse the crassness) – “tartification”. Girls especially, post images which portray an oversexualised image of themselves. I don’t just find the images disturbing but also the thinking that leads to the presentation of that image. Many of these images scream, “This is how I think you (in Social-media-land) want me to look. And I want you to believe that I fit that image.”
How do we counter this? Our challenge as parents, teachers and pastors is to encourage our young people to see that true beauty is what God sees – the heart with its attitudes and values. True beauty stems from loving our neighbour – not from being obsessed with ones self. Furthermore, the heart is reflected in the way we present ourselves.
Proverbs 27:19 tells us “As water reflects the face, so one’s life reflects the heart.”
We need to challenge ourselves and our young people to realise that our “online” image like the water in Proverbs 27 reflects us. So what does it reflect in each of our lives? What does our online persona say about us and therefore, about our heart?
As adults we need to be careful about putting undue emphasis on outward appearance but rather, we should be eager to praise the beautiful glimpses of the heart that young people may give us. We need to be models in our online lives, just as in our day to day lives, of what a healthy Christian life looks like.
I am always encouraged by Paul’s challenge: Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. Phil 4:8&9