Reflections

Our help is in the name of the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.

A reflection on Psalm 124

1 If the LORD had not been on our side– let Israel say– 2 if the LORD had not been on our side when men attacked us, 3 when their anger flared against us, they would have swallowed us alive; 4 the flood would have engulfed us, the torrent would have swept over us, 5 the raging waters would have swept us away. 6 Praise be to the LORD, who has not let us be torn by their teeth. 7 We have escaped like a bird out of the fowler’s snare; the snare has been broken, and we have escaped. 8 Our help is in the name of the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.

Israel had much adversity and trouble. Mostly because of choosing roads to take that were damaging. Roads away from the good path that God had told them to walk down. We are not told here though what exactly is going on.

However, we are shown how the LORD God was on His people’s side, how He kept them from being ‘swallowed alive’ and how He stopped them being drowned by the ‘flood’ of those who were set against them. ‘Praise be to the LORD’ he says.

Here the psalmist talks about God’s rescue – that ‘our help is in the name of the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth’. It is God who is the helper of His people.

Sometimes we might think of God as distant and uninvolved. How can He allow such things to go on in this world, in our lives? – we may think or ask. The truth is that God has done something about our greatest enemies – sin, death, and Satan. The fowler’s snare (so to speak) of sin, and death and Satan have been broken, and there is escape…

God is not distant, unmoved and uninvolved… on the contrary He is our great Help. He sent Jesus to bring the help that we could never provide for ourselves. He made a way for our forgiveness, a way for eternal life in His presence and the defeat of the great enemy of our souls.

God has done all this in Jesus. In His death in our place. In His resurrection from the dead. In His Spirit that comes to dwell within in us, Who is the promise of our eternal life to come.

We can forget that God has rescued His people from the greatest traps, we must remember this, and that in all things:

Our help is in the name of the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.

Reflections

Two great truths that are often distorted in our world.

A reflection on Acts 17:24-31

24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. 27 God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. 28 `For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, `We are his offspring.’ 29 “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone– an image made by man’s design and skill. 30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.” 31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.”

There are two great truths that are often distorted in our world.

Firstly, that we are like God. We are his offspring. He has made us in His image, in His likeness, His word tells us. We are relational creatures, emotional, spiritual, eternal. God has made us like him.

We can get this wrong by thinking we have no value, that we are just the same as animals when in fact we are the high point of God’s creation, made to rule over it. Given authority to care for it. We are made to reflect something of the God of all glory, made to reflect His splendour and beauty. Yet we are marred and do not do this well – so often.

Secondly, we are not God. We are not the creator. We are the creation. If we put all that is created to one side and all that is not created on the other side – it is God alone on the one and us, together with all other things created on the other.

So, it makes sense that God does not need us – we add nothing to Him by worshipping Him and we take nothing away by refusing to worship Him.

So too, it makes sense that God – the Creator – the Almighty One who created us and sustains us can and does call us to repent. To change the way we have been thinking.

Giving our delight and joys to other things in a way that reveals they are our gods – this is wrong. Giving our worship and praise to created things or even the attitude of living life to try to give things to God to gain from Him – we must see the sin of this and turn from it.

So, let’s turn away from all that, and turn towards this God. Turn towards His completely free gift of forgiveness to us in Jesus.

Turn towards the love of the Creator in His Son, in His invitation in Jesus to come back into relationship with the One you were made for – where true life is found.

Reflections

The sin of Un-thankfulness.

A reflection on Romans 1:18-21
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of people who suppress the truth by their unrighteousness, because what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world his invisible attributes– his eternal power and divine nature– have been clearly seen, because they are understood through what has been made. So people are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not glorify him as God or give him thanks, but they became futile in their thoughts and their senseless hearts were darkened.”

I find this passage of Scripture so helpful in a world that constantly says “there is no God” – words spoken by the fool the Psalmist tells us (Psalm 14).

Here we are reminded that God has not left us without evidence of Himself. His invisible attributes, eternal power and divine nature are in fact ‘clearly seen’ in what He has made.

But something that I have especially found helpful from this passage is one of the many pictures it gives us on what sin is. When you ask a High School Scripture class what sin is or ask a group of people, a lot of time people will give a list of things that are sin: lying, murder, stealing, adultery etc.

These are sins yes – but there is a picture here that we don’t often think about in our world as a concrete example of sin and that is the sin of unthankfulness. The lack of thanksgiving to God seen not just in the denial of His existence but by the worship of everything else in His place and by the giving of thanks to everything else other than Him.

If you are wondering what God’s will for your life is: ‘what does God want me to do?’, ‘How does He want me to live?’

Well, His Word tells us: “Always rejoice, constantly pray, in everything give thanks. For this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

Under the category of ungodliness and unrighteousness are lives that do not stop to thank God, people who do not acknowledge the place that God’s Son King Jesus is to have in our lives. This is the great sin of unthankfulness.

The truth is, when we see the mercy and love of God for us in Jesus – when we stop and really take that in – we cannot grasp that truth and not be filled with thankfulness to God.

“Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.” (Psalm 118).

Reflections

Captivated by His glory

A reflection on Acts 7:55-60
“… Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.

What allows someone who is being stoned to death to cry out in prayer ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them’? What fills someone with such selfless focus and love for those who are bringing about their death?

Surely it is what Stephen knew to be true and what he saw. “Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God…’ He was given a vision of the glory of God.

I think something we learn from Stephen here is that this life is not everything, but the glory of God that awaits followers of Jesus allows us to show mercy to those who wrong us.

We can forgive and be gracious to others because through Stephen’s experience we are drawn into behold something of the glory of God also.

The glory of God, his wonder, his awe, his power, his love, his greatness, his beauty. We see Stephen’s response to this vision was one of joy and delight that allowed his concern not to be to save his physical life but to care for the spiritual lives of those attacking him.

He wanted them to come to experience the transformation that he had experienced through Jesus death and resurrection to forgive his sins and grant him everlasting life.

And, what is so cool is that we see his prayer answered. We are told a man named Saul is here giving approval to Stephen’s death. God answers Stephen’s prayer for the mercy of his killers in the most remarkable way.

Jesus will transform this Saul and send him “to open… eyes, so that [people] may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God… receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in [Jesus”].

When were caught up in God’s beauty and power we see things differently, as He sees them. When were captivated by His glory we live for His purposes and experience joy that goes beyond what we could imagine.

Reflections

‘…he who is humble and contrite in spirit’

A reflection on Isaiah 66:1-2
“This is what the LORD says: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. Where is the house you will build for me? Where will my resting place be? 2 Has not my hand made all these things, and so they came into being?” declares the LORD. “This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word.”

Doesn’t God value the things we so often do not value?
If you want to do well in our world it is often one’s pride in self and one’s importance that will get us ‘higher up the food chain’.
It is often the ability to assert ourselves and emphasize all our abilities and skills and importance that will impress others and get us the job or position of esteem. We don’t often value humility, contrition, let alone God’s word.

But here, that is exactly what God values: humility.
A true estimation of one’s self. Realising that we are created in the image of God but that He is the one it is all about – not us. Realising we only truly find ourselves – find who we were made to be –  in relationship to Him.

In fact, the greatest human example we have was the perfectly humble one – the incarnate Son of God who, “being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.

And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:6-8).

And it is this Jesus that his followers are told to have the same attitude as. He who had no sin, but chose to pay for ours.  We need to therefore be aware of our sin, humble before God – knowing He knows all our dark secrets, our most shameful missteps and still He says to us in Jesus:
come to Me.

Find forgiveness, find peace, find eternal life in Christ.
How can we not tremble at God’s word, the Almighty Creator who knows the depths of our wrongdoing and yet in Jesus He comes with love and mercy and offers us forgiveness and grace.

How can we not tremble at this God, and humbly worship Him, knowing His great love in Christ that covers all our sin? Come, come and enjoy His love both now and forever.

Reflections

I AM the True Vine… apart from Me you can do nothing.

A reflection on John 15:1-5 

Jesus said to his disciples: 1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. 5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.

You don’t have to be a gardener to know that branches separated from the vine – from the source of nourishment – the don’t last long. And all they are good for is to be picked up and thrown into the fire. Jesus (as He does often) makes an astounding claim here: I AM the True Vine.

 Jesus tells his disciples what he is telling all those who want to follow him: stay connected to me or wither. You will not flourish outside of relationship to me. ‘Remain in me’, abide, continue in me, just as a branch needs to remain connected to the vine or it will not produce its fruit so you need to remain connected to me.

Jesus disciples would face very soon after these words Jesus’ departure – his death and resurrection, but then after a little while with the Risen Jesus – he would leave them. And here is a reminder for them that trust in him, and reliance upon him and his power within them (through the Spirit he would give them) must be their focus.

God does ‘prune’ us, but it is so that we will ‘be even more fruitful’. God has not left us alone, but through his Spirit and his word we are able to stay connected to Jesus our King and so bear fruit in our lives that brings glory to our Father in heaven.

Don’t look within for fruit to grow, look to Jesus!

Reflections

In trouble… trust in God.

A reflection on John 14:1-6

1 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. 2 In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going.” 5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” 6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me.

Jesus’ disciples have much reason to feel troubled. He has just previously told them that one of them would betray him and the lead disciple (Simon Peter) has just promised to lay down his life for him but Jesus has corrected him to inform him that Peter will instead deny his master three times. The disciples not only here have great reason to have hearts that are troubled but soon they will have even more: Jesus, their leader will be crucified on the cross. In fact Jesus goes on to tell them: “I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.” (John 16:20)

What is the remedy for a troubled heart?…

‘Trust in God, trust also in Me’ Jesus says. It is trust in God.

For the one who has placed their trust in Jesus’ death for their sins, and so follows Jesus as King – there is every reason for trust in God. Because Jesus tells his followers here that he is going to prepare a place for us. An eternal dwelling! In the Father’s house!

But in our trouble we may ask ‘Lord… how can we know the way to this eternal home?’ And Jesus answers us and he did them… ‘I AM the WAY and the TRUTH and the LIFE’

Through Jesus alone you and I can have certain hope and eternal peace in our hearts because in trouble we can know that we will be in our Father’s house forever because of Him.

Reflections

How are you responding to Jesus?

A reflection on Matthew 21-23
The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Hosanna in the highest!”
… “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, `Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.'” (Matthew 21:9; 23:37-39)

There were so many different responses to Jesus. Amazement, praise, glory, anger, hatred and disbelief. I wonder how have you responded? And more importantly, how are you responding to Jesus today?

He claimed to be the Son of God. He claimed to be the One who could forgive sins, and free those enslaved, and bring eternal life to the dead.

It is not enough to answer that we like Jesus, or that we are fond of Him – if that is all – we may as well be indifferent or opposed. As C. S. Lewis so helpfully put it:

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God.

That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell.

You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher.

He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

How have you responded to Jesus? And more importantly, how are you responding to Jesus today? If He is King and God then He has earned your all, the whole shebang, your everything. How are you responding to Him…

Reflections

Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from Him.

A reflection on Psalm 62

1 My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him. 2 He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I shall never be shaken.
5
Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him. 6 He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I shall not be shaken. 7 My salvation and my honour depend on God; he is my mighty rock, my refuge 8 Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge. (Psalm 62:1-2; 5-8)

You can probably recall times of great tiredness… maybe a new born baby, maybe night shift work or a time of sleeplessness that left you… well.. very tired…

But there is a restlessness of soul also. It was St Augustine who said: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.”

Here the Psalmist says that he finds rest in God alone, his salvation comes from Him. Later he says ‘find rest, o my soul, in God alone’ – I love the interaction he has with his own soul. Find rest my soul! Find your rest in God!

The problem is that we look for rest and satisfaction in all the wrong places… in work, in money, in possessions, even in people but they can never give us what only God can – rest for our souls.

He gives us this rest in Jesus – who is our Eternal Rest. Those who put their souls hope in Him will find a Rock, a Fortress, a Refuge that will never fail them. A God who we can as the Psalmist says “pour out our hearts to”.

This God is One Whom His people can trust, and never be shaken. Suffering will come, hardships… yes… but even  death itself will only bring God’s people entry into His everlasting joy and rest.

Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from Him.

 

God's Love

I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

A reflection on Matthew 18:1-4
At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.’

In response to the disciples question ‘who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ Jesus as usual flips everything upside down and inside out. He takes a child and tells the disciples that unless that ‘turn and become like children’… they ‘will never enter the kingdom of heaven.’ Almost: Forget about whose the greatest! With attitudes like that you won’t even enter! In fact, let me tell you about greatness in the upside down, inside out kingdom – humility.

Humble yourself like this child! That is, realise your need, your lack, your dependence and forget your pride, knowledge and seeming control and power and realise as children that you are totally dependent, totally needy, and totally lost without God. God gives grace to the humble but He opposes the proud. Humble yourself or be opposed!

We live in a world that is opposite and upside down to this. We are taught to admire the successful and self-willed person, that we can do anything through our own power and determination. The truth of the Scriptures though is that we are weak, that we are in great need, that we have hearts, minds, and wills set against God and His reign over us.

Jesus teaches the disciples here what we all need to learn, and re-learn and then learn again… Humility. To realise that we need God. We are totally dependent upon Him. He holds our lives in His hands. Every breath we breathe is because He allows it and sustains us. And this incredibly powerful God sent His Son in loving mercy so that as children through faith in Jesus we can today be called children of God. Wow!