Light and Care

“Send me Your light and Your faithful care, let them lead me; let them bring me to Your holy mountain, to the place where You dwell. Then I will go to the altar of God, to God, my joy and my delight. I will praise You with the lyre, O God, my God.” Psalms‬ ‭43:3-4‬ ‭NIVUK‬‬

Have you ever been somewhere where there are no street lamps, even close by? No cities lighting the sky in the distance? Not a glimmer of light anywhere? With a clear sky overnight the visual presentation of celestial bodies is breathtaking – there are just so many of them. But if the stars are obscured by clouds it can be a scary place, because literally you cannot see your hand in front of your face. Spiritual darkness is a bit like that too. With a view of the spiritual Heavens, God is visible and tangible. Blessing us with His presence. Communicating Spirit to spirit. But when obscured by the clouds of our rebellion and sins, God isn’t visible to us anymore, and our prayers bounce off the cloud’s underbelly, falling back to our lips answered.

The Psalmist prayed that God would lead him through His light, dispensing His faithful care in the process, revealing through the spiritual gloom His presence and His home. The Psalmist knew that once there He would find joy, delight and a place of praise. It doesn’t get better than that!

Today, O Lord, I pray that through the light of Your Word, with a thankful heart because of Your faithful care, I would find You dwelling in my heart where I can praise and worship You. Amen.

Red Lines

“Vindicate me, my God, and plead my cause against an unfaithful nation. Rescue me from those who are deceitful and wicked.” Psalms‬ ‭43:1‬ ‭NIVUK‬‬

What is my cause? What am I so deeply committed to that I am prepared to defend it no matter the cost? Some principle that has a red line, across which I cannot cross and which I believe the society around me shouldn’t cross either? Or a stand I am taking in the work place against dubious practices?  In the business realm, dodgy practices abound with the hope that a quick buck can be made, or that the taxman won’t find out. In the world of relationships marriage has been redefined. Even the God-created male and female genders have been replaced by many more. In our Western societies there is an “anything goes” mentality. “If it feels good then just do it” is applied across all demographics and age groups. But such is the language of a society that has lost its moral compass. And our political rulers, smitten by their liberal and secular ideals, nibble at the boundaries of our Christian legal and moral legacy by introducing legislation that erodes the principles God’s people adhere to.  Surely the “unfaithful nation“ in which the Psalmist lived is as true today, if not worse, than it was in his lifetime.

So what do we do? Ignore the “deceitful and wicked” practices that are occurring around us, as so many do? Or do we take a stand against them, asking God to vindicate us in the process. Realising that such a stand will potentially have a cost – remembering that John the Baptist was imprisoned and eventually beheaded because he took a stand against his local ruler’s immoral behaviour.

So I ask myself today – what is my cause? What principle or principles do I have that I consider sacrosanct? Holy Scriptures provide me with many “red lines” that I wouldn’t dream of crossing, and would hope that my society wouldn’t either. So I pray for God to protect His laws and precepts and show me how He wants me to be His voice upholding His principles. Remembering that my God-given mission is to be “salt and light” in my community.

Life the Jesus Way

“Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Saviour and my God. My soul is downcast within me; therefore I will remember you..” Psalms‬ ‭42:5-6‬a ‭NIVUK‬‬

Have you ever been “downcast”? In a place where your view of life is monochrome in a technicolour world? Where the negative and difficult issues of life are weighing heavily in your thoughts? Where even depression is affecting your mental health? The Psalmist who wrote these verses was himself not in a good place, with a downcast and disturbed soul. But he knew from his own experience of God that he needed to grab hold of three words – “remember”, “hope” and “praise”. The Psalmist had a personal relationship with God and through the experience of years of walking closely with Him he knew that by the application of these three words he would regain his mental stability and restore colour to his black and white world. Notice it is ok to be “downcast”. Life is like that. We can find ourselves in such a place frequently in life. I know a dear lady who even when recently given bad medical news, was able to remember, hope in and praise her wonderful Friend, altering her perspective for the future. She had found the key to living a life where circumstances were not going to affect her soul, no matter how bad the issues were.

There will be those who will say that I don’t know how bad their situation is. They will blame their upbringing, their mental health, their families and so on. They will say that not even God can lift them out of their circumstances. But there are Christians in North Korea, imprisoned, beaten, and tortured, but who can remain active in their faith, remembering, hoping in and praising their Saviour and their God. There is a lovely Christian man, Nick Vujicic, whose strap line has been, “I’ve no arms and legs – what’s your problem?” We all live in our own life bubbles, experiencing our own issues, facing into our own worlds, dealing with our own downcast souls. And God has provided all the resources we need through Jesus, who said, “I have come that [you] may have life, and have it to the full.” ‭‭John‬ ‭10:10‬b ‭NIVUK‬‬. I saw a bumper sticker today, “One Life, Live It”. Let’s live the life God has given us the Jesus way, full of God-memories, full of God-hope, and full of God-praise.

The House of God

“These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go to the house of God under the protection of the Mighty One with shouts of joy and praise among the festive throng.” Psalms‬ ‭42:4‬ ‭NIVUK‬‬

But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Phil 13b-14 NIVUK

One thing that has happened during the pandemic is that many churches have experienced a drop in attendance. Bluntly, people who faithfully went to church every Sunday don’t go anymore. Their commitment has failed to survive the hassles of lockdowns, and a transition to services being live-streamed or held using Zoom. But what about their commitment to God and His people? There will always be things trying to get in the way of our God-worship, and difficulties will often expose what is in people’s hearts.

The Apostle Paul suffered greatly in his missionary journeys – many of his challenges are listed in 2 Corinthians 11 – but nothing ever stopped him from doing what he knew God had asked him to do. So he pressed on to fulfil his mission in life. We may not be high profile missionaries like Paul, or evangelists like Billy Graham, but we too have a mission in life and responsibilities to God and His people. And so in this continuing pandemic season, there is perhaps an opportunity for a reset, for forgetting the difficulties of the past 18 months or so. Those anxieties, griefs, and worries, the lockdowns, that have blighted our lives. Instead we must reach out to God for a fresh infilling of His Spirit and remember that today is the first day of the rest of our lives. We cannot change the past but we can ensure that our future is aligned to God’s will and purposes.

Panting

“As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for You, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?” Psalms‬ ‭42:1-2‬ ‭NIVUK‬‬

I must confess that I have never seen a deer panting for water. Having said that I must also confess that I have never been physically thirsty to that extent either. But I have been in a place where I have been spiritually thirsty. A place where God seems far away, where circumstances have been overwhelming, where prayers are seemingly unheard and ineffective. A place where I have cried out to God for His grace and mercy. But I can also say that in time God has appeared to me with a solution to my distress. To my spiritual loneliness. To my thirsty soul.

Where are these spiritual deserts? They could be anywhere. In the middle of the night while tossing and turning in sleepless anguish. In a hospital bed fighting sickness or enduring pain. Reflecting on the news or some piece of information just received. During a conversation with workmates. Even in a church service. Whenever possible, during those dry times, I take a walk and ask God to speak to me, humbly trusting that He is there and able to pour out those streams of living water into my thirsty soul. And eventually He always turns up with words and thoughts full of love and reassurance. Just because my feelings tell me that He isn’t open for business that day doesn’t mean that this is a fact. It just means I need to search diligently for that spiritual oasis in the middle of the desert. Because there I will find God. It means that in the process of the searching I must clear out the blockages that are stopping me from seeing Him. Those proudful thoughts and attitudes. Those unconfessed sins. And then I must continue to search for God, believing in faith the verse that says, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (‭‭Jeremiah‬ ‭29:13‬ ‭NIVUK‬‬). I will find God. He will pour out the spiritual water that I need in my time of thirst. And I will respond in a hymn of praise and thankfulness, refreshed once again.

The Great Assembly

I have not kept the good news of Your justice hidden in my heart; I have talked about Your faithfulness and saving power. I have told everyone in the great assembly of Your unfailing love and faithfulness.

‭‭Psalms‬ ‭40:10‬ ‭NLT‬‬

David, the Psalmist behind Psalm 40, never hid his relationship with his loving Heavenly Father from the people around him. He always communicated things about God – His justice, faithfulness, saving power, unfailing love – to those around him in the “great assembly”, as we can see from this verse. These were things about God that he had experienced through a life spent close to God. That is not to say he was perfect and never sinned (Bathsheba?) or made mistakes but his heart was after God all his life. And so, David told people around him all the things he knew about God. He was a natural evangelist.

As a Christian I have a story to tell. Through the things God has done for me, my faith in Him has grown. I have experienced His grace and mercy, His love and kindness, His faithfulness even when I haven’t been faithful. He has put a hope for the future in my heart so real and pressing that it is bursting out to inform others.

But this “great assembly”. Is it the church we attend? It could be, but God’s heart is for the lost. Luke records this verse in his Gospel, “I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who do not need to repent” – Luke 15:7. C.S Lewis said, “The salvation of a single soul is more important than the production or preservation of all the epics and tragedies in the world“. So the “great assembly” consists of our friends, family, and community, not just the church we attend. We may not be Billy Grahams, speaking to thousands in one rally after another. But I am, as the quotation from J.T.Hiles says, “a beggar telling another beggar where to find bread“. 

So, like David, we must take every opportunity to tell others the “good news” about God. May we never be guilty of keeping it to ourselves.

God’s DNA

“I take joy in doing Your will, my God, for Your instructions are written on my heart.” Psalms‬ ‭40:8‬ ‭NLT‬‬

How is it that people seem to intuitively know when they do wrong? Even when there are no obvious rules, laws or regulations for them to break. The key could be in the verse we read today from Psalm 40. In the Genesis creation story we are told that man was made in God’s image (Genesis 1:26). Our God is a righteous God, the Creator of a universe that is founded on what is right, a moral universe within which mankind fits like a hand in a glove. That is, if the glove he chooses to fit his hand into is the one God designed. Unfortunately, in today’s Western society there are many people who make a living by manufacturing different gloves for people who have violated the basics of God’s moral design. Gloves for unfortunate and misguided people who are debilitated by their feelings of guilt and who, instead of going to their Creator, instead find a false god in the form of a psychiatrist or counsellor with the hope that they can help them appease their guilty conscience in a way that avoids bringing God into the remedy.

Am I generalising too much? Am I being too harsh about the psychiatric profession? Possibly, or even probably. But what I do know is that God’s moral DNA is inbuilt. It forms a part of us. It leads and guides us through and by our consciences in the way God has designed for us. David, the Psalmist, realised its importance when he wrote about God’s genetic instructions being written into our hearts, into our psyche. And, as the verse today says, by following His instructions, we will experience a joy not possible to achieve by godless methods.

The remedy for a guilty conscience is through repentance and turning to God. And when we are close to God with a conscience washed clean through Jesus’ blood, we will be hand in glove with the Creator who designed us. Experiencing His joy, love and peace. Set free to do His will.

God’s Master Plan

“O Lord my God, you have performed many wonders for us. Your plans for us are too numerous to list. You have no equal. If I tried to recite all Your wonderful deeds, I would never come to the end of them.” Psalms‬ ‭40:5‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Any attempt to unpick and drill down into this verse can only end up in becoming lost in the depths of our Creator God, full of grateful praise and worship. The bottom line is that God’s wonders, plans and deeds are uncountable because there are so many of them. For example, just take the environment in which we live. The number of conditions that combine to enable life as we know it on this planet are uncountable. And it was God’s plan to create a world where His plans could be developed. And look at the complexities of human life – how could two cells coming together in a mother’s womb ever develop into a human being capable of so much? It beggars belief that so many people believe the lie that our world and all its contents happened by chance. As the verse above points out, our Creator God has performed many wonders and deeds in implementing His plans.

But there is a wonder, a plan, a deed, that is far above anything else God has done for the human race. We find in the Genesis account that God created men and women in His image. And He wanted to have a relationship with them based on love and friendship. But things went horribly wrong with man’s response to God, as we can find in the early accounts of the Israelite nation. God wasn’t going to give up on His creation, though, and He devised a master plan to reconcile mankind back to Him. His love for us was so intense that he wasn’t going to let us continue in living a life less than how He designed it to be. A life without the ultimate richness of being a friend of God. We can read about God’s master plan through the words of Jesus in John 3. This is the Message version. “This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again.” That was God’s plan. To put the world back into the place He had designed it to be. He wasn’t going to give up on His creation and He never will. Through Jesus, God’s Master Plan, everyone person living on this planet can find out about God’s wonders, plans and deeds. If they want to. The choice is theirs. The choice is yours.

Mud and Clay

“I waited patiently for the Lord to help me, and he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along. He has given me a new song to sing, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see what he has done and be amazed. They will put their trust in the Lord.” Psalms‬ ‭40:1-3‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Imagine the scene. You have wandered over some fields and come to a bank, down which you accidentally slip. You find yourself stuck in a bog, mud up to your knees and you are starting to sink further. Your cries for help are unheeded because of the remoteness of the place and very quickly the enormity of your predicament floods over you leaving an acute feeling of fear and despair. So you cry out to God for help, waiting with patience for Him to answer, full of assurance that He will do just that. And then, out of nowhere, a rope falls in front of you. You grab it and find a stranger at the other end who manages to pull you out, back up the bank, to a place of firm ground. God hears your cries and prayers for help and sends someone to rescue you.

Imagine the scene. After several days of heavy rain, the local river has burst its banks and your house is being flooded. The ground floor is now under water but you have managed to get onto the roof. You look anxiously around at the water-filled devastation, watching trees, rubbish, even cars, float past. Despair and fear increase. There is no-one to help. But God hears your prayers and sends a rescue helicopter, that quickly lifts you to a place of safety where you can wait for the flood waters to recede.

Imagine the scene. You realise that you are heading for a lost eternity because of your many sins. You are filled with fear and despair. Your situation appears to be hopeless because you realise you can’t save yourself. You cry out to God for help. But God has a plan. He loves you so much that He sends His Son, Jesus, to rescue you. But it’s a costly exercise – to rescue you Jesus has to become a sacrifice for your sins. There is no other way. And through His death on a cross, Jesus takes upon Himself all your sins, leaving you without guilt and shame, in right standing before God and able to say with confidence that your future with God in Heaven is secure. You have found a place of security. Solid ground on which to stand. Paul wrote in his Roman epistle, “When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners.” (‭‭Romans‬ ‭5:6‬ ‭NLT‬‬)

Three scenarios. Two of physical danger, one of spiritual danger. But all three a potential “pit of despair”. But after rescue what do you feel? Elation? Relief? Most probably an overwhelming feeling of gratitude to God for His rescue. A song you have never sung before comes from deep within you, as you sing grateful praises to God. A song that tells of God’s amazing works. A song that brings others into a trusting relationship with God too.

Far-fetched scenarios that don’t apply in real life today? God may, or may not, rescue us from all occasions of physical danger. It wouldn’t be danger if He always did. But we can have an assurance that God will always rescue a repentant sinner from spending eternity in that place Jesus called hell. How do I know? The Son of God, Jesus, told me. “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.” ‭‭John‬ ‭3:16-17‬ ‭NLT‬‬.

A Tale of Two Kingdoms

“I said to myself, “I will watch what I do and not sin in what I say. I will hold my tongue when the ungodly are around me.” But as I stood there in silence— not even speaking of good things— the turmoil within me grew worse. The more I thought about it, the hotter I got, igniting a fire of words:” Psalms‬ ‭39:1-3‬ ‭NLT‬‬

The Psalmist is in worldly company. This Godly man is in a quandary – the worldly talk going on around him is distressing and sinful. It probably contains language and humour he disagrees with, and alludes to practices he abhors. So he keeps silent. And becomes seriously upset internally – turmoil is the word he uses to describe his feelings. And eventually he is unable to hold within himself the feelings of frustration, and he blows up, blasting his companions with a torrent of words. Sound familiar? It’s a place where I have been during my work-a-day life. Conversations take place in the office that I find degrading and upsetting. Gossip, smutty jokes, character assassination, foul language, sexual innuendo. It’s all there and as a Christian it’s a place where I don’t want to be. But I have to be there because it’s a place where I earn the money I need for life.

But there is a different meaning in these verses. We see from later in the Psalm that the Psalmist is perhaps quiet before the “ungodly” because of his sins. And in the Psalm he goes on to reflect on the temporary nature of life, his sins, his hope in God, being disciplined by God and finally pleading with God for his prayers to be heard.

But whatever interpretation we choose, the message is clear. The dichotomy between the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of the world is stark. We can’t have a foot in each kingdom. Jesus was clear about this in His teaching during what we call the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 6:24 Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and be enslaved to money.” Once settled in the Promised Land, Joshua delivered a rousing message to the Israelites which was recorded in Joshua 24:15, “But if you refuse to serve the Lord, then choose today whom you will serve. Would you prefer the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates? Or will it be the gods of the Amorites in whose land you now live? But as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord.” The choice he laid before his countrymen was the same choice we have before us today. Whom will we serve? As for me I can say without hesitation – I and my family will serve the Lord.