Extraordinary Times

We live in extraordinary times. In all my adult life, I don’t think I have known so much political instability. We seem to be living in a decade of division and disunity. Years of “yah-boo” politics have disenfranchised an increasingly disenchanted Joe Public. Months of mayhem have dominated our news. Journalists ghoulishly pick over the bones of politicians’ one-line interviews, analysing who said what, why and when. Panels of so-called experts pontificate and argue, achieving nothing. The currency markets bounce up and down, seemingly in need of financial diazepam to dampen the fiscal anxieties and worries. Sometimes living in a croft in a far-away, self-sufficient place seems a very attractive proposition!

Bible narratives, particularly in the Old Testament, described many occasions where God’s people suffered greatly from the excesses of the civilisations of their times. But as they discovered, lifting our eyes off of the tumult of today into the face of God immediately brings a different viewpoint. One of peace and security. Scriptures such as the LORD is my fortress, protecting me from danger” (Psalm 27:1), and “the nations of the world are worth nothing to him. In his eyes they count for less than nothing—mere emptiness and froth” (Isaiah 40:17), join many others in describing what God thinks of it all.

In times of stress we must remember where our Source and Security is. Remember the chorus of the old hymn? 

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.

Let’s meditate on what the Scriptures say about the Kingdom of God, dimming out the chaotic excesses of the kingdom of this world and looking on from a position of security, “hidden in His sanctuary” (Psalm 27:5).

The Lone Tree

It was time for harvesting the timber. A forest of coniferous trees, planted a few decades before. Gone are the days of men in check shirts and jeans, wielding an axe with strength and precision. These days amazing machines grab, cut, remove branches and stack the trunks, prior to shipping them off to be used for wood pulp at local paper mills, or whatever.

The fir trees disappeared over a few days, leaving a new vista of scrub and stumps. But the lumberjacks, or whatever they are called these days, had left a deciduous tree on its own, standing tall in the middle of devastation. Its trunk was thin, twisted, spindly, warped, even anaemic, deeply affected by the coniferous thuggery that had crowded out its normal growth patterns. No branches, just a burst of growth at the top, where it managed to find its own supply of life-giving sunlight. I don’t know how it got there. Perhaps a seed carried by the wind. Or deposited by an animal. But it found itself in an environment foreign to what suits it best. And in spite of the obstacles, it survived and flourished as best it could. It could have given up, beaten by the difficulties, but it continued to fight its way regardless of its circumstances.

We go through life, shaped and moulded by our experiences. Sometimes our natural growth patterns prevail. At other times we get stunted by the environment in which we find ourselves. But we have a choice – we either fight our way through, overcoming whatever circumstances life throws at us, or we give up and settle for second best. Easily said I know, but Paul has given us an example in Philippians 1, where he used his incarceration in a Roman prison to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with the palace guard. And by so doing, he has encouraged many Christians through the ages since. He could have wallowed in self-pity, riven by depression, but instead he fought his way through the injustice of his imprisonment to spread the message of the Son of God.

I don’t know what will happen to the tree now. It’s probably confused, but once Spring arrives, I’m sure it will shout a burst of thanks and start sprouting the greenery at the top, and perhaps even a shoot or two from its trunk. Nothing to hold it back now. An overcomer.

January 2019

It’s now early January. But a couple of days before Christmas, I remember a particular cold and frosty morning with clear skies. A Sunday morning. There was no wind, very little traffic, quietness and peacefulness reigned as the sky started to lighten in the East and birds started to wake up. A raucous bleat from the village goats (the local pub has a menagerie of chickens, ducks, geese and several goats) broke the silence, but then stopped. Plumes of steam rose up vertically from central heating flues, lifting and spreading under the street lamps, creating ghostly wraiths emphasising the stillness of the morning, bringing a sense of mystery. But in all the peace and stillness of that morning, I felt a sense of anticipation, as though someone had hit the pause button. Like a suspended chord of music, or a semicolon in a sentence, that morning was awaiting the next stanza, the next verse. On that morning, I was meditating again, but with a new freshness, on the fact that the Creator of the Universe loves me and all mankind so much that He left Heaven and came as a human baby, born out of wedlock to a teenage Jewish girl, in humble circumstances, into the bottom end of society; an inauspicious start, but one that developed into a miraculous ministry culminating in His horrible death at Calvary. His message and life invites everyone to come to Him for the forgiveness of their sins so that they can enjoy eternal life with God Himself. What a wonderful Saviour! What a wonderful future! What a wonderful invitation!

And the bright morning star, Venus, was shining a welcome, as it has done for countless millennia. The stability of the natural world reminds me of the message that God brings, that He has world events well under control. Yes, looking at the political and economic fragility of our times, it may be hard to see social stability, if any in fact exists at all, but God is there. He cares enough to have sent His own Son to declare a different order, the Kingdom of God, which overlays and infuses our society with a future and a hope. And God will allow nothing to happen that threatens His order, His Kingdom. And in this post-Christmas period, I still feel a sense of anticipation because the Babe in the manger is still with us, touching us through His Spirit, bringing a message of hope and security to a lost world. Our world is full of suspended chords and semicolons, leading into the next stanza of life. We don’t know what the future holds, but we do know that Jesus will be there with us. Thank You Lord!