Victory

Sing a new song to the Lord, 
     for He has done wonderful deeds. 
His right hand has won a mighty victory; 
   His holy arm has shown his saving power! 
Shout to the Lord, all the earth; 
    break out in praise and sing for joy! 
Let the sea and everything in it shout His praise! 
    Let the earth and all living things join in. 
Let the rivers clap their hands in glee! 
    Let the hills sing out their songs of joy 
    before the Lord, 
for He is coming to judge the earth. 
    He will judge the world with justice, 
    and the nations with fairness.
‭‭Psalms‬ ‭98:1, 4, 7-9‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Another tremendous Psalm of joy and praise. Reading it, I get the impression that there has been a victory after a battle, and the Psalmist is giving God the credit, mentioning His “mighty deeds”, “mighty victory” and “saving power”. In those earlier days in Israel’s history, there was constant friction between the Jews and their neighbours. I suppose it hasn’t changed much today.

But I also get the impression that the Psalmist, probably reflecting national thought, expected this to be perhaps the first, or another, skirmish in what he hoped would be the process of God judging and passing sentence on the hapless neighbouring countries in that war-torn region on our planet. The Jews had an expectation that God would ultimately deal with the political situation in Palestine and fulfil His promise of driving out the nations that were populating their “promised land”.

We also have skirmishes in our lives. We have a “promised land” in the Kingdom of God, and although, as Christians, we are already populating it, we are still having problems with the  “neighbours”. Our sins encroach on our inheritance. The enemy, the devil, is doing his best to stop us settling into our new life in God. Secular society ostracises those who stray away from the herd, taking the moral high ground, adopting counter-cultural ways, challenging belief systems. But we look to God for salvation, for a new life free from sin and the devil and all things bad. We can thank God for the small victories in our pilgrimage through life. We can praise and worship the Lord Almighty, the God who graciously loves us, who supports us, who picks us up when we fall, and beckons us on to the new Jerusalem, just over the horizon of our consciousness. 

I’m overwhelmed by God’s grace this morning. As Christians we worship a God who is not a remote and distant deity, only interacting with His people on a whim, when He feels like it. We worship a God who so loved us that He actually came to this planet. God’s Son, Jesus, took on human flesh, and lived amongst us. He was part of a family. He worked for a living. He had such compassion on His fellow countrymen that He worked tirelessly amongst them, healing, teaching, loving. He felt the rejection of being counter-cultural, challenging the value systems and beliefs of His day. And He died for us, taking on our sins at Calvary. Through love He paid the ultimate price so that we could one day not only see the new Jerusalem in the distance, but one day live there with Him. What grace! What love! In this season of Advent, let us anew praise and worship the Lord “who has done wonderful deeds”.

The Real Greens

“But the godly will flourish like palm trees 
and grow strong like the cedars of Lebanon. 
For they are transplanted to the Lord’s own house. 
They flourish in the courts of our God. 
Even in old age they will still produce fruit; 
they will remain vital and green. 
They will declare, “The Lord is just! 
He is my rock! 
There is no evil in him!””
‭Psalms‬ ‭92:12-15‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Are there any palm trees and cedars amongst my readers today? Godly people, flourishing and strong? The Psalmist is comparing the life of a Godly person to the growth and stature of Middle Eastern trees that exemplify life as it should be – fully functioning as designed. And he goes on to say that the godly person flourishes, living a life as designed, in God’s presence. Because it is from Him that their life comes from. There are no spiritual deserts in God’s presence, stunting and even eliminating growth. In God’s presence there is an unlimited supply of all the nutrients needed to maintain life, as He designed it. 

But the Psalmist goes on to say that the flourishing taking place is not just for the early part of life – the vitality of the person continues until they take their last breath. Producing the fruit of a Godly life. Across the road from me there is a Rowan Tree. It has faithfully produced berries and green leaves for nearly fifty years from when it was first planted. But sadly, it’s days are numbered because a split has emerged in its trunk and the wood inside has started to rot. It is grimly hanging on but it is no longer as vital and green as it once was. Is that how we will end our days? Rotten and bitter inside, no more fruit, grimly hanging onto life? The Psalmist’s view of senior citizens in God’s presence is one of a different person. There may be a few wrinkles. They may be a bit stiffer and less able. But still living a fruitful life, doing God’s work in these godless days. Still with a twinkled eye. Still allowing God’s spiritual nutrients to flow through verdant and vital veins. 

And the oldies finish these verses with a timeless statement about God‘s justice, righteousness and dependability. Such sentiments are the fruit of a life that doesn’t end but transitions into God’s presence, continuing to produce fruit. Continuing in a green vitality. Continuing with God forever. The real Greens. God’s Greens.

Quakes

“God says, “At the time I have planned, 
I will bring justice against the wicked. 
When the earth quakes and its people live in turmoil, 
I am the one who keeps its foundations firm.”

Psalms‬ ‭75:2-3‬ ‭NLT‬‬

God speaks. And the Psalmist records what He says. And it’s good news. God says that regardless of what is going on in the world He is keeping “its foundations firm”. 

In Glasgow we are about to hold the UN Climate Change Conference, “COP26”. And Scotland will be full of people who sincerely believe that mankind is destroying the world through carbon emissions. Trashing the planet with the excessive use of fossil fuels, that release carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere. And they claim that otherwise avoidable climate change will result. But we have a situation where nations are reluctant to reverse the juggernauts of their economies today, thereby reducing the standard of living for their people, all for the sake of the world in a few decades time. So there will be much talk, press releases, claim and counter claim, and, if previous such conferences are anything to go by, little or insufficient progress made towards the goal of significantly reducing carbon dioxide emissions. And adding to the mix we have the climate change deniers who dispute the science being quoted in the first place.

But in this Psalm God is setting different priorities. First of all He has a plan. Regardless of all the planning mankind gets up to, God’s plan will prevail. It has to. After all He created the world in the first place. Secondly, He is more concerned about the morals of mankind than the nations are. At the appointed time, He is going to “bring justice against the wicked”. If I was a godless person on the planet today reading this Psalm, I think I would be getting worried and instead be wondering about my priorities in life. And thirdly, in a world experiencing earthquakes and social turmoil, instead of fretting around the edges, I should perhaps be getting close to the One who is holding all things together, keeping the “foundations firm”.

Imagine a world where everyone counted themselves among God’s People. I think the impact would have been such that the aims and goals of COP26 would have been realised a long time ago, in a world going God’s way rather than the way of the wicked. 

Justice

“Do you rulers indeed speak justly? Do you judge people with equity? No, in your heart you devise injustice, and your hands mete out violence on the earth.
Then people will say, ‘Surely the righteous still are rewarded; surely there is a God who judges the earth.’”

Psalms‬ ‭58:1-2, 11‬ ‭NIVUK‬‬

“Do you judge people with equity?” Surely a good question. A question just as relevant today as it was in David’s time, but with a difference. In 21st Century UK society I would like to think that the laws set out by our parliamentarians are judged upon by our various courts with total and complete honesty. Justice is administered with almost total transparency, and avenues are available for appealing decisions that might be perhaps a bit dubious. However, in David’s day judges had a reputation of being corrupt, accepting bribes, with no right of redress. It didn’t stop there – hundreds of years later Jesus spoke a parable about the “Unjust Judge” – you will find it in Luke 18:1-8. And throughout history, justice has been a rather hit and miss affair.

So to me the issue of justice is not about corruption within the UK legal systems, but about the way secular and godless principles are creeping into law through unjust parliamentarians. Historically, UK law has been established on Godly principles over many years and these have established a society that is strong and stable, a society that is, for the main, implicitly comfortable with the fairness of its laws. But sadly, in recent years, UK governments seem to have lost their moral compass, and have weakly given in to godless minority groups and passed laws at odds with God’s principles. And the consequences of such legislation has had an unsettling effect on society, with unintended consequences coming to the fore. Verse 2 of our Psalm today talks about “violence on the earth”, surely another description for a society without peace, at war with itself.

David ends his Psalm with the comforting thought that God is still on His throne and will judge righteously, rewarding His people, those who abide by His principles. Though we would like God to judge now, He patiently allows everyone the opportunity to respond to Him, and we too need to be patient, trusting Him to bring about righteousness in all the earth. So we pray. And keep praying. For our governments, for our parliamentarians, for our judges, for our communities, for our families. For those who seem set on anarchy with their lobbying and disruption. And with faith, wait for God to bring about His will and purposes. Will we have to wait long? It may be a lifetime. We may never see justice served in the way we would like or expect. But we can be assured of this one thing – God is still on His throne and will one day judge those who devise injustice in their hearts.

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.