Thankful Hearts

“Make thankfulness your sacrifice to God, and keep the vows you made to the Most High. Then call on Me when you are in trouble, and I will rescue you, and you will give Me glory.” 

But giving thanks is a sacrifice that truly honours Me. If you keep to My path, I will reveal to you the salvation of God.””

‭‭Psalms‬ ‭50:14-15, 23‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Psalm 50 starts with the picture of God sitting in judgement over His people. I love the poetic language, for example, in the words of verse 1, where God summons everyone “from where the sun rises to where it sets”. That is, everywhere in the world. And here is God, surrounded by fire and storms, coming to be the Judge on Mount Zion. He lays out the problem. It’s not about the sacrifices His people bring. It’s not about the value placed on animals used in sacrifices, the bulls or the goats. He points out that everything belongs to Him anyway; after all, all life wherever it is belongs to Him. So He doesn’t need anything His people can supply. No. God was pointing out that the promises made to Him by His people must be backed up by thankful hearts. Hearts that truly honour Him by keeping to His teaching with the right attitudes. And the benefits are plain to see; a relationship where God’s protection and salvation are echoed by His people’s expressions of giving glory to Him.

I always feel sorry for those people who do not believe in a Creator God. Who believe that the world happened to be what it is by chance. Those people who appreciate the beauty of a sunset over the Isle of Jura, in the West of Scotland. Who look at the stunning colours displayed by flowers such as the poppy. Who look at the perfection of a new born baby. And in their gaze they acknowledge the wonder but have no one to thank for it. And those of us who do believe in a Creator God, we have to be careful that we don’t become too familiar with what God has done, failing to offer Him the thanks He deserves for His countless wonders, His countless blessings. Instead we can fall into the same trap as the people we read about in the Psalm, people who were going through a religious ritual, without having thankful hearts turned towards Him.

So how is our relationship with God? Do we try and do things for Him to gain His favour? Do we worship our denominational liturgy instead of the Person the liturgy points to? Do we sit in a Sunday pew allowing our minds to wander to what we are going to eat for lunch or what we are going to do after church? Do we rush our way through our morning prayer time, reciting our prayers by rote without touching the Person we are praying to? Or do we kneel before our wonderful Creator God, offering Him a sacrifice of our thankful hearts, acknowledging all that he has done for us, honouring the Person who loves us so much? Worth a thought? 

Jesus Calling our Name?

“They trust in their wealth and boast of great riches. Yet they cannot redeem themselves from death by paying a ransom to God. Redemption does not come so easily, for no one can ever pay enough to live forever and never see the grave.
But as for me, God will redeem my life. He will snatch me from the power of the grave.”
Psalms‬ ‭49:6-9, 15‬ ‭NLT‬‬

The Psalmist was obviously having a bad day. He looked around his community, perhaps his nation, and observed that there were a lot of rich people, who arrogantly lived a life of luxury. But he pointed out that there was one thing that their money could not buy and that was eternal life. He said, correctly, that they couldn’t take their wealth with them to the grave and beyond. They could not, as one of today’s verses points out, pay God a ransom to keep them alive forever.

In the world today there is a growing business in cryopreservation, where rich people or their families pay large sums to enable their bodies, or the bodies of their loved ones, to be preserved in liquid nitrogen in the hope that advances in medical science would one day enable them to be resurrected from their frozen state and brought back to life in a Lazarus-like resuscitation. An added twist sees some just having their brains frozen, perhaps in the hope of adding their intelligence to a robotic entity. But all with a faith that one day they will suddenly find themselves lying on a slab, waking up in a new age. It begs the question, would I really want to wake up in this sin-ridden, war-striven, disease-ravaged world? Will mankind ever get its act together to save this world and assure a future for Planet Earth? And all by effectively cocking a snoop at God by saying we can achieve what is needed without His help?

But I can’t help thinking how stupid the cryopreservationists are. God Himself has given everyone the opportunity to live forever through His Son Jesus. And it won’t cost them a penny. Rich or poor, we can embrace a hope for the future purely by accepting that God is who He says He is, the Creator of everything. That He loved mankind so much that He sent His Son Jesus to die for us at Calvary, offering the breathtaking exchange of our sins for His righteousness. And the Psalmist records his personal assurance that God has redeemed him from death, from the power of the grave, such was His faith in his relationship with his Father God.

And the Psalm ends with the following, “So don’t be dismayed when the wicked grow rich and their homes become ever more splendid. For when they die, they take nothing with them. Their wealth will not follow them into the grave. In this life they consider themselves fortunate and are applauded for their success. But they will die like all before them and never again see the light of day.” Psalms‬ ‭49:16-19‬ ‭NLT‬‬

I don’t know about you, but I would much rather put my faith in the Creator of Everything, than in the hope that one day someone will wake me up from a frozen state. After all, why would they want to anyway?

The story of Jesus and His friend Lazarus is interesting. Lazarus dies and is buried and has languished, wrapped in his grave clothes, for four days before Jesus came to see his tomb. And we have the amazing spectacle set out in John 11, of Jesus commanding that the stone sealing the mouth of the tomb is rolled away. We then read in verses 43 and 44, “Then Jesus shouted, “Lazarus, come out!” And the dead man came out, his hands and feet bound in grave clothes, his face wrapped in a head cloth. Jesus told them, “Unwrap him and let him go!”” These few words can never adequately describe the drama that unfolded before the observers. Gob-smacked would be too tame a phrase to describe it. Here was a man physically dead and starting to rot in the heat of that climate, and yet the power of God working through His Son Jesus was able to resurrect him from his dead state. Lazarus died and the next thing he knew was Jesus calling his name. Now I don’t believe for a minute that God has special favourites. He treats His children equally. As some have said, the ground is level at the foot of the Cross. So I sometimes wonder, after we die, will the next thing we hear be Jesus calling our name, waking us up to a glorious future with Him forever?

Helicopters

The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit. John 3:8 NIV

Behind the trees this morning I heard the sound of a helicopter. First in the distance a popping noise and then, as it got closer, a swishing sound . It then appeared through a gap in the trees. So I looked it up on the “Flightradar24” App (if you are interested in flying then this is a great app to get and it’s free!) and was told that it was an “Airbus Helicopters AS355” but no information about where it had come from or where it was going was available. Of course, it must have started somewhere, and there will be a time when it has to land, if only to refuel. But the relevant data about its origin and destination was missing. 

The helicopter could be seen and heard but I couldn’t tell where it had come from or where it was going. In today’s Scripture, Jesus uses the analogy of wind. It can be heard but we don’t know where it came from or where it is going. It’s the same with our natural lives, we don’t plan either our origin or destination. That is, of course, unless we embrace the teaching of Jesus in John 3. But it is “sad but true” (to quote the title of the Metallica song) that most people seem unconcerned about their destination in life. They obviously cannot do much about their origins, but they can take steps to ensure the right destination.

In His discussion with Nicodemus, the Jewish leader who crept into Jesus’ presence after dark, Jesus explained the need for a spiritual birth. He said, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’” (John 3:5-7). So by being born again, we can determine our spiritual origins, and this starts us on the right journey through life. But how can we be sure that we are on our way to the right destination? We have a choice. We can either spend eternity with the devil and his demons in hell, or we can spend eternity with God and His angels in Heaven. A wrong choice and a right choice. A wrong destination and a right destination. And we can make the right choice by believing in Jesus, God’s only Son, to forgive us for our sins. On a cross at a place called Calvary He took upon Himself all our sins and gave us in exchange His righteousness. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:21. And by being righteous in God’s sight we are assured of a future with Him in eternity.

So as Christians, we have an origin and a destination, and the spiritual App equivalent of Flightradar24 will record our journey between them. Not more “N/A” against the points of origin and destination. We have been born again through the Spirit of God, and assured a future in Heaven through our salvation. Our flight plan has been recorded in God’s Book of Life.

If you are unsure of where you are going and want to know more, please message me. It could be the most important decision you have ever made.

Memories of Zion

“Great is the Lord, and most worthy of praise, in the city of our God, His holy mountain.
Walk about Zion, go round her, count her towers, consider well her ramparts, view her citadels, that you may tell of them to the next generation.”

Psalms‬ ‭48:1, 12-13‬ ‭NIVUK‬‬

Many years we used to sing the song derived from the first two verses of Psalm 48, and written by Steve McEwan in 1985. It’s one of my favourites still, over 30 years later. The contemporary Christian music genre is full of good songs, from worship powerhouses such as Bethel and Hillsongs, but also from individuals hearing from God and writing down what they receive through the Spirit. In it all, though, there is something significant about singing Scripture. It has already been “God-breathed” through Godly men and women, many centuries ago, and has stood the test of time in one of the most important written works mankind has ever had the privilege to hold, The Holy Bible.

Psalm 48, though, enthuses over Zion, the city of God. But what is all this about this place called Zion? It initially appeared in the Bible as a fortified part of Jerusalem, to which was added the Temple area, but became extended in scope to eventually mean a figurative description of the people of Israel, the Jews. And then in the New Testament it took on a spiritual significance as God’s spiritual kingdom. Today the word “Zionist” has become synonymous with the Jewish nation, and sadly has become a derogatory term for Jews adopted by anti-Semites everywhere. A situation which is not really surprising because the enemy of God’s people, Satan, does not like to think that there is a physical and spiritual domain belonging to God in this world, which he claims for himself. And so he whips up anti-Jewish feelings among other nations and peoples everywhere.

However, the Psalmist ends his Psalm with the instruction to “walk about Zion”. Imagine if someone had said to you that they want you to walk around, say, Edinburgh Castle or Westminster Abbey, observing and recording the layout, with all its artefacts and architectural features, making notes so that you can share everything that you have seen with your children, your next generation? It could be quite a project, I think you will agree. But what about doing the same with our spiritual Zion? Where God lives? That would be a project that will take a lifetime and more, because no matter how hard we try, and how much time we can devote, we will never plumb the depths of God and His Kingdom. We will never find the limits of His domain. But we can share the glimpses of His home that the Holy Spirit reveals to us. Sharing a physical picture of an earthly edifice is only of limited value to the next generation, but sharing a spiritual picture of God’s Kingdom, particularly through our own experiences of His grace and love, will save their lives.

So today, join me in “walking around Zion”. I find my “Zion” in the pages and verses of Scripture. In the highways and byways of my local prayer walks in Dean Woods. In the company of God’s people. But where do you find your “Zion”? The amazing fact about God’s Kingdom is that it is everywhere. No matter where we are, where we live, who we are with, even when using technology such as WhatsApp or Zoom, we will find God and His presence. If we look for Him.

Praises

“Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy.
Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King, sing praises. For God is the King of all the earth; sing to Him a psalm of praise.”

Psalms‬ ‭47:1, 6-7‬ ‭NIVUK‬‬

Imagine a whole nation clapping its hands! And shouting joyful shouts! All to our wonderful God, our Creator. But in our secular society, clapping and shouting is retained for sporting events or concerts, temporal activities that provide a brief time of pleasure, soon to be replaced by the more humdrum activities of everyday life. In our church we are sometimes encouraged to offer up a clap offering to the Lord, or make a vocal contribution in praise. But a whole nation…?

The Psalmist goes on to encourage his readers to sing praises to God. And he provides a reason – God is King over all the earth. Praising God produces a peculiar effect within us, because it lifts us out of ourselves into Heavenly places with Him. I recently heard a quote saying, “Praise is the spark plug of faith”, and that is true because you cannot praise God if He isn’t who He says He is, doing the things He says He does. And in the praising process our faith grows and something changes within our spirits.

Saying that God is King over all the earth is disputed by most people. They ask questions such as, “How could a loving God allow that accident to happen?”, or “Why does God allow such evil people to flourish?” And many more similar questions. But in our sin-soaked world, where mankind seems set on self destruction in so many ways, there is still a King behind the scenes. A loving King who breaks His heart over the rebellion of mankind, a righteous King who has to allow man to make choices, no matter how devastating they can be. A faithful King who continues to supply all we need for human life. And a redeeming King who sent His Son to die for us at a place called Calvary, where He took on the sins of the world, past present and future.

So as His people what else can we do other than praise Him? Other than shout our praises to a wonderful God, the King over all the earth. In the quiet of my early morning prayer walks in Dean Woods I sometime shout out the name of Jesus, listening to the echo from the created world around me. Listening to the trees and plants joining with me in a time of praise. I’m not alone in singing my psalm of praise to my wonderful God.

So will you, my reader, join with me today, clapping your hands, shouting and singing your praises to God? If you have never done so before, give it a try. And feel the lift in your spirit as you connect with our wonderful creator God.

I’m a Tree

Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on His law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither – whatever they do prospers. Psalm 1:1-3 NIVUK

Have you ever attended or watched a military parade, particularly of those nations who favour the “goose-step” mode of marching? Hand picked men and women march flawlessly, totally synchronised in their steps. Their polished boots, identical uniforms, marchers all in line, make an impressive spectacle. To someone like me, never good at keeping in step with anything, such a sight I can only watch in amazement. But the Psalmist, right at the start of the first Psalm of the Book of Psalms, straight away declares a counter-cultural way of life. One in which personal blessings can be found only by avoiding the temptation to march in step with the society around us. You see, most of the Western world system in this age is anti-God. Our society and culture is becoming increasingly secular and adopting the Psalmist’s description of being “sinners and mockers”, and keeping in step with such a way of life, doing the same things, thinking the same thoughts, neglecting God and His ways, leads to destruction, as the Psalmist writes in the last verse of this Psalm.

The Psalmist encourages us spend our time in God’s presence, reading His Scriptures, hearing His voice, aligning our thoughts to His thoughts, whenever we have the opportunity. And by doing so we will be “blessed”. God’s blessings are priceless, and they lead to a prosperous and healthy life. The psalmist uses the analogy of the blessed person being like a tree planted next to a stream of water. In his society, desert regions and parched land with stunted tree growth would have been common. But the fortunate tree planted next to a stream never failed to provide all that a tree should – imagine the fruit in season – possibly figs or something similar. The blessed person also produces fruit in the seasons that God has for him or her. Fruit appropriate for God’s Kingdom.

What is this fruit? In the early days of the Charismatic Renewal I once heard a message in a Christian Conference from an international speaker warning against the dangers of being caught up in the excitement of what God was doing in His church, but failing to produce the fruit of a renewed life in God. What is this fruit? What is the spiritual equivalent of a fat, juicy fig? We read about the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” But there is also the fruit of fulfilling Jesus’ command in Matthew 28, of making disciples. So we can see that today’s equivalent of meditating on the Law of the Lord will involve personal renewal, a personal orientation towards the Kingdom of God in a way of life appropriate to being a spiritual tree next to His streams of living water.

This year the Elim Movement in the UK is encouraging people and congregations to do a spiritual reset, where they evaluate their lives to see if they are growing fruit or just a few leaves. But we don’t have to be an Elim member to re-evaluate our spiritual lives, checking out how we measure up against God’s demands. In my morning prayer walk today I observed a dead tree, no longer producing fruit as it decayed to join the detritus on the forest floor, helping fungi to grow as it did so. Around it is a thicket of saplings, growing tall and strong. And I said to God in my prayers that I don’t want to be a dead tree amongst such evidence of God’s grace.

Lord, Please help me always to have my roots deeply embedded in the life-giving streams of Your Spirit, this day and forever. Amen.

Be Still

“Come and see what the Lord has done, the desolations He has brought on the earth. He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth. He breaks the bow and shatters the spear; He burns the shields with fire. He says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.’” Psalms‬ ‭46:8-10‬ ‭NIVUK‬‬

“Be still and know that I am God” is one of those Scripture verses much quoted by Christians in times of stressful activity. But in its Scriptural context it has associations with wars and weapons of destruction, within an environment where God is dealing with the warring tendencies of people, replacing them with an acknowledgement of His status as God of all nations everywhere. Of course the Psalmist was writing in an age of armed strife between the Israelites and the surrounding nations, but wars didn’t end then and are still taking place today. So perhaps this was a prophetic message for the apocalyptic times we read about in Biblical books such as Ezekiel, Isaiah and Revelation. When the world as we know it will end and be replaced by a “new Heaven and a new earth”, as the Apostle John wrote about in Revelation 21, or when the last days prophesy in Isaiah 2:1-4 comes to pass.

But whatever the circumstances, to be still in God’s presence is an important part of our devotions, our personal time spent with God. I don’t know if you are like me, and through activity want to “fix” things in our families or in the communities of faith of which we are a part. Well, God sometimes encourages us to be still in His presence. Allowing Him to do what is necessary to bring about His will and purposes in the lives of the people around us.

“Being still” perhaps involves a time of worship, reading a passage of Scripture, sitting or kneeling in prayer, allowing His Spirit to wash over us. And enabling us to exalt Him in our time of solitude, seeing Him lifted up and given His proper place as Lord of all we are. How many times have I done that and found that whatever I wanted to “fix” had somehow been resolved by God Himself, and in a much better way than I would have achieved? Being still in God’s presence helps us see God for who He really is – the high and exalted One, the Lord over all the earth.

The River

“There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day.” Psalms‬ ‭46:4-5‬ ‭NIVUK‬‬

Psalm 46 continues in the “God is our refuge” theme, and with verses 4-5 we can build a picture of an impregnable city where God lives and where a river of His grace and mercy sustains the joyful occupants. And the allusion to the “break of day” implies a continuing infallibility in His protection.

But where does God live in our lives? Do we live in an impregnable spiritual fortress, our own spiritual “city of God”, impervious to the cut and thrust of human life here on Planet Earth? Or do we grow faint with worry when the enemy appears on the horizon, our walls crumbling at his first attack? Or even get anxious when reading a news story? As Christians we live in a continuum of two kingdoms – the kingdom of the world and the Kingdom of God. But because of our physical presence on Planet Earth, we are susceptible to enemy action, our satanic opponent always looking for a chink in the walls of our God-sustained fortresses. However, we would do well to remember that God’s kingdom contains all the resources we need to sustain us in our earthly existence.‬‬

But what about this river? This resource in God’s kingdom that contains an unlimited supply of everything we spiritually need? Do we allow it to flow elsewhere while choosing to live in a desert of our own making? Our wonderful Heavenly Father knows what His children need and He puts on our tables the richest of foods, the most refreshing of drinks. So sad that many choose rather to go out and find their own food and drink, putting up with products and experiences that never satisfy. Jesus said in John 4, referring to the water drawn from a well, “…Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” That’s the water I want to drink.

The Refuge

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.” Psalms‬ ‭46:1-3‬ ‭NIVUK‬‬

These three verses have been a tremendous comfort and support for many people over the years. They are often quoted in times of stress. They are the go-to verses read and uttered by God’s people when facing into some calamity or other. Look at the words the Psalmist uses; “Refuge”, “Strength”, “Help”, “Fear” and the very descriptive picture of an apocalyptic scene as our planet’s infrastructure collapses. Look at the contrast between the security of being in God, and the potentially disastrous state of being away from Him.

The contrast is between two kingdoms – the spiritual and the physical. Two worlds that we can access but so often we ignore the one and only dwell in the other. Of course this is perfectly understandable because we are physical beings with our feet firmly located on the home where we were born – Planet Earth. And we therefore try and look at everything around us through physical eyes and discount the spiritual world because we can’t see it. But it is there nevertheless, as many people over the ages will testify. How else do God’s people sustain themselves when tortured, imprisoned, and ill treated, all because of their faith in a God who one day will welcome them into His Kingdom, His world?

The wonderful and amazing thing is that we have an opportunity to be present in both worlds. Now. At this very moment. We can draw on the resources of God’s spiritual Kingdom to help and support us in our earthly world. God is inviting us to be part of His Kingdom, not just when we are facing into a calamitous situation, but all the time. And the access door is open this very moment – through God’s Son Jesus. Message me if you want to know more.

Although we start our life in the natural environment around us we will transition one day into a totally different spiritual environment, which itself consists of two worlds – God’s world, and another place where He is not present. Far better to enjoy the benefits of being a part of both God’s spiritual world and the physical world where we live while we have the choice. Because one day that choice will be removed from us.

The picture of an impregnable place in God that not only protects us from all dangers, but also resources us and strengthens us to face into impossible situations seems too good to be true. But it’s too good not to be true. Join me there today.

Noble Themes

“My heart is stirred by a noble theme as I recite my verses for the king; my tongue is the pen of a skilful writer.” Psalms‬ ‭45:1‬ ‭NIVUK‬‬

This is, I think, a beautiful verse, in its construction, in its descriptive poetry. The Psalmist seemed to be in a lofty place in the company of the “great and the good”; perhaps a palace or somewhere similar. He used words like “noble”, “king”, “skilful”. This was not the vocabulary or company of the peasantry of his day. But I wonder what his “noble theme” was. He was obviously engaged in the recitation of a passage of literature or poetry before a king, probably his king. Perhaps stories from Israel’s past, recorded as part of the historical legacy of the Jews. Or perhaps some writings from another of the ancient peoples living in the Middle East at that time. Or even some poetry he himself had written – quite likely because he obviously was an accomplished wordsmith. But in the reading the reciter found himself inspired as he got caught up in the content of the words. We can only wonder and guess at the content of his “noble theme”.

To Christians here on Planet Earth, our “noble themes” have to do with God. There is no other thought or word that could contain a lofty enough concept to adopt the descriptor “noble”. The only true noble king is our King, God Himself. We recite our verses to Him through our songs, through the Psalms, through our prayers. And we cannot but experience a stirring through His Spirit as we spend time before Him, reciting our verses. And through the stirring, men have found themselves on the mission field, training for the “ministry”, or inspired once again to reach out through a ministry of helps, to the fellow and less fortunate members of the societies and communities in which we live.

So let me ask the question – do you have a “noble theme”? Is there some thought or idea lying dormant in the recesses of your mind, something that perhaps you filed away long ago, but is still waiting for an opportunity to emerge into the daylight of 2021? Something that needs the dust and cobwebs brushed off and represented before the King, so that it is ready to be transformed from a thought to a deed, from something written to something verbalised? We need “noble themes” to proliferate in these dark Covid days. How about yours? How about mine?