From Joe Pilling
St Oswald’s Askrigg
Sermon on Lectionary Readings
Morning Prayer 4 February 2018 Second Sunday before Lent
Proverbs 8:1, 22-31
We could organise a small and harmless competition at the end of this morning’s service to see which of us heard the first fourteen verses of John’s gospel most often in December. I heard it at two carol services and on Christmas Day in London and at one carol service in Hawes – four readings in all. I am sure that someone here can beat that comfortably but, whether you can or not, you may share my initial astonishment that the drawers-up of the lectionary have it appearing again as soon as the first Sunday of February.
The other readings and the psalm with which it is linked in this service help to explain the mystery. The collect also sheds some light on its re-appearance. We are not expected to revisit John the Baptist or the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem so soon after Christmas. The passage, of course, has some claim to say more in a short space than any other fourteen verses in the Bible so there is no shortage of other themes to draw out.
I spent years listening to sermons that had three points, never less than three and never more than three. It seems to have become less fashionable in recent years. In keeping with new habits I plan to make just two points this morning but it doesn’t mean that I will only speak for two-thirds of the usual time, whatever that might be.
When I first read the collect, the psalm and the readings I saw only one point, in a word creation. The collect refers to God creating the heavens and the earth. The psalm captures the exuberance of creation. In the Authorised Version verse 26 reads “…there is that leviathan whom thou hast made to play therein.” We have “which you have made for the sport of it.” The meaning is not identical but both have a sense of fun, of creation for pleasure and not simply for functionality.
The passage from Proverbs mentions the mountains, the hills, the earth, the soil, the sky, the sea. The Colossians passage takes us back to the natural world, all things in heaven and on earth, but beyond that to what we might misleadingly call human institutions: “thrones or dominions or rulers or powers”.
The psalm spells out how we should react to God’s creation. We should sing, praise and rejoice. There are times and places where we might understand people forgetting how to respond but surely not here in Wensleydale. Over the centuries here, the people God created have handled the natural world he created to give us more reason rather than less to sing, praise and rejoice.
In a verse that isn’t normally picked up in Christmas sermons the gospel says “All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being”. That is the bridge between my first point about creation and my second point this morning. All three readings, but particularly the epistle and the gospel, say something about Christ which we recognise but is not all that often central to our understanding of him.
Proverbs 8, including the ten verses that were read to us, is to do with an entity other the Lord God who was present before the beginning of the creation of the world. One commentary I consulted described the entity as Ms Wisdom. Wisdom, also described as understanding, is clearly female and was beside God in creation like a master worker, rejoicing and, not least, delighting in the human race.
The other readings don’t go so far as to say explicitly that the writer of Proverbs was half way to understanding the existence of Christ as the Son of God. Those readings do echo the language and thinking of Proverbs 8 which is no doubt why we have them all together in this service. God the Father was not alone in creation.
Proverbs says “The Lord created me at the beginning of his work”. Paul describes Christ as the firstborn of all creation and as the beginning. The first six words of John’s gospel are “In the beginning was the Word” and our passage ends with absolute clarity: “…the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”
As the first Christian leaders thought through and prayed about all they knew of Christ’s birth, death and resurrection in the light of their Scriptures - what we call the Old Testament - they reached the conclusions that we have so powerfully and movingly set out for us in Colossians and John. I have heard many attempts to flatter someone in speeches or in conversation. The language of Colossians is well beyond flattery. It doesn’t have the feel of exaggeration in an attempt to please.
It is extravagant, whole-hearted, awesome. Christ is the firstborn of all creation and also the firstborn from the dead. In him all visible and invisible things in heaven and earth were created. In him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell. Christ is before all things and in him all things hold together. Christ is the head of the body, the church.
Both Colossians and John could properly be described as poetic and have been. They are certainly powerfully expressed. I have quoted from Colossians and here is John. “All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.” “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” The message in both cases is heavily reinforced by repeating it in parallel ways. But the main point to get hold of is that, however well expressed, we are hearing the literal truth.
How are we to square this picture of Jesus with the rather different picture that we hear more often: “Jesus, friend of little children”, “What a friend we have in Jesus”, “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild”? If there is a tendency to dwell more on Christ’s life on earth, on his teaching, on his friendships, on the miracles, it is understandable. His life on earth was hardly commonplace but it is easier to approach than his place within the Trinity and his role in creation.
The glorious answer to this conundrum is that it isn’t a conundrum at all. Unless both pictures are true and not in contradiction with one another our faith is vain, as Paul says about another aspect of what we believe. We shouldn’t shy away from this extravagant picture of Christ before Bethlehem. The more we dwell on it and the better we understand it the more we understand what was happening in his life on earth, his death and his resurrection. Jesus Christ as man and Jesus Christ as God are not in conflict. That they are both true is the whole point. Nor is it the case that this centre of our faith is something for the heart rather than for the brain. Many of us may come to it first through our feelings but it bears thinking about just as much as feeling about.
Towards the end of both passages there is a reference to the purpose of Christ being born as a man amongst us. In Colossians we are told “through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross”. John tells us that “to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God”.
Christ’s position before his birth in Bethlehem is as indispensable a part of these glorious truths as all that happened in Israel 2000 years ago. We can begin to understand them and make them our own because, as Paul says, “Christ is the image of the invisible God.”
I was hoping with the advent of digital technology, that the days of me experiencing interference on my radio would be gone; sadly not. I can still experience the frustration of knowing someone out there is trying to communicate with me, but the background crackle and hiss can often make this difficult to understand. It can be like that when trying to listen to God.
The reading from Samuel reminds us all that God knows us by name, that he will not force himself upon us, that he desires a relationship and that there is nothing wrong with his ‘transmitting’ equipment. The problem is always with our receivers. Some of the challenges in receiving and hearing God’s voice is that many don’t even know, or cannot believe that he is even trying to. There may be a lack of interest in that possibility, or the reality that it is our own behaviour that is causing the problem. Our ‘receivers’ are all too often tuned to a different channel – we’re following our own desires and ignoring the voice of the creator speaking into our lives.
All of these factors were playing out in the nation of Israel at the time of Samuel’s encounter in the temple. The nation had degenerated socially, morally, politically and spiritually. Even the priests, set to uphold the values of God, were corrupt and taking advantage of the people and Eli’s sons were part of the problem. It is into this situation that God raises Samuel to make a difference, and so, He speaks his name. Learning how to hear the voice and heart of God is the solution to a thousand and one problems we may face, but even more than that; it’s the key to discovering who we truly are, discovering our destiny and fulfilling the incredible God given potential that is locked within us.
On three occasions that night, God calls to Samuel, and, because we’re told that Samuel did not yet know the Lord, he thinks it is Eli calling him. The fact that it takes three times for Eli to realise what is happening may be down to his own ‘spiritual antenna’ being tainted by his behaviour and what he is surrounding his life with. Wrong thoughts and attitudes and behaviour, create noisy interference. It is to his credit, however, that he finally understands and is instrumental in leading Samuel to his first encounter with God. The situation needed explaining and the boy needed to be led towards the reality of God. This is a very important message for all of us with children, grand-children, god-children.
We have a critical responsibility to them to do the same. I have no time for the argument that proposes, ‘if they want to find out, then they will do it for themselves’. To what other area of life do we apply this approach? If we consider something is important for our children, we ensure we let them know about it and lead them into it. I truly believe, that knowing God and encountering him for ourselves is the most significant discovery anyone of us can ever make in our lifetime. It is far too important to be ever left to chance. God calls Samuel by name, because He wants Samuel to understand that He knows him personally and to help Samuel to get to know the sound of His voice. This encounter changes Samuel’s life and the life of the nation.
We live in a culture were so many want to be heard but sadly, have so little to say. Consequently, we are losing our ability and willingness to really listen .. especially to God. The tragedy is, that it is only ever by listening to Him that we will ever have anything of consequence to contribute. Be prepared though, for God will speak comfort into our lives but He will also speak conviction and it is often what we want to hear least that we need to hear the most. So … when was the last time you heard God speak to you? When was the last time you gave him the slightest opportunity to do so? It may take time and practice, but I encourage you to find a quiet place and the mental space to speak the words of Samuel and await a response: ‘Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.’
With the Lord’s blessing
For many of us the Christmas season is a period of travel. We, or family members may undergo a journey to be able to spend time with one another, and watching our family arrive for delayed festivities on the 27th, I was reminded of just how much ‘stuff’ often accompanies mum and dad and two small children on just such a trip! We make decisions about what to bring but equally, of what to leave behind and the consequences of getting that wrong can have significant ramifications. I speak from experience !
The events that Matthew details are those of a very significant journey; the journey of the Magi, or wise men as they are popularly known. They too had to make decisions on what to take with them and what to leave behind, both before their adventure began and, crucially, during it. But their journey has significance beyond their immediate circumstances, for it is a journey that we are all invited to make.
The birth of Jesus brought three distinct reactions when it took place, and it still does today.
The Magi were Persian priests / scientists who were noted for their study of the skies. What they saw in the sky has been discussed across the centuries and still is, but they saw something which for them, signalled the need to make an important journey. This was a decision that could not have been taken lightly. It would be a journey that would take many months and lead them across dangerous terrain and situations, yet they set off to search for a King and in doing so they follow a Biblical pattern of revelation that had taken place countless times before them, and, has been repeated countless times since; God reveals knowledge about himself, a journey (physical or spiritual) begins, and at the end, there is greater understanding. It’s a sequence played out in the lives of Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Gideon, David, Solomon, Daniel, Jonah, the Disciples, St Paul etc, countless billions since and is still happening today.
So, what can we learn from this familiar story? 1) That Jesus is for everyone and frequently sought out by the most unlikely of people. Yet, for all those who do search, He makes himself known and He is found. 2) That the Magi made sacrifices to discover the truth and that they left behind a great deal to make the journey. What I wonder, might we be being called to leave behind in our search? What areas in our lives do we need to discard or move away from as we search to discover more and more of Jesus?
As part of their journey an Angel of the Lord appeared and instructed them to avoid meeting with Herod again, and so, they return home by a different path. When we meet Jesus, he always takes us in a new direction as we are called to leave behind those things in our lives which bring distraction, confusion, deception and danger to our physical and spiritual well-being.
God wants us to discover Jesus. Some reading this may never have taken that step – God calls you to that adventure. Why delay? To those who already know Jesus as a living reality in your lives, He is always calling us into a deeper and more powerful understanding and knowledge of who He is. Start afresh.
The Magi brought precious gifts that symbolised the importance and significance of Jesus in their lives. Today, we are invited to do the same; the thing that is most precious to Jesus is our heart, our longing, our trust, our faith. He wants our whole heart in order that he might make our heart whole.
Wise men sought Jesus … wise people still do.
Happy New Year to you all
I remember the dismay I felt as a child, as the days in December moved ever closer to the 25th, being instructed by my mother to “Sort out my bedroom”. This was for her, an annual declaration of war, against clutter and general disorder. In our home, as in millions of others, Christmas was different, so it needed to look different, and we needed to make room for it to be different. Out went the old and unused items and toys, to be given away to local charities, to make room for the new. Change was anticipated and so preparations were made to make room for that change. I always found this such a challenge as I was convinced, that one day that certain ‘thing’ will most certainly be needed and should, therefore, quite sensibly, be retain. My wife Sarah, my children and my friends will tell you that this is still deeply ingrained in my psyche. A quick look behind the garage door will confirm this!
But the reality and the necessity of clearing out the old to make way for the new was valid then and it is valid now; just as it was valid for those hearing the words of ‘John the Baptist’. His cry, however, was directed to a spiritual ‘de-tox’ and inner preparation rather than to any contemporary physical ‘downsizing’ or ‘clutter cleansing’.
John spoke of a ‘baptism of repentance’, a symbolic washing of a person’s life to announce their preparedness for the arrival of the much-anticipated Messiah. Jews were familiar with baptism, but this was always for Gentiles, (non-Jews), who wanted to accept the Jewish faith. To see it as being a relevant process for themselves to engage in is quite remarkable, as it centred around confession. Confession to themselves of the reality of their need for God, confession to any people they had hurt along the way, and fundamentally, confession to God himself. The first step of truly experiencing the power and love of God in our lives is acknowledging our very real need of him. Everyone needs forgiveness and the pivotal moment of freedom and release in your life and mine, is accepting that gift from Jesus. Removing the worn and damaged obstacles in our lives to create space for God himself to do something wonderfully new and exciting.
Yet despite the level of self-disclosure required, Mark’s gospel account informs us that the response to John’s message and appeal was literally, massive!
I wonder why? Perhaps it was because the timing was right. The people had been waiting for an authentic word from God for 500 years and now they were hearing it. Perhaps it was because his message was confronting them with a decision that they knew in their deepest heart that they needed to make; or perhaps it was because John and his message were authentic. He didn’t just ‘talk the talk’ but he ‘walked the walk’ as well. His life symbolised everything he was saying to them. His actions became such a part of him that his name was accompanied by a description that characterised his behaviour. ‘Baptiser’. What a challenge to us all. How, I wonder, might the world characterise my behaviour, or yours? Does it point to God? Does it lead others to Jesus?
In a contemporary world that is so suspicious and cautious of commitment to anything other than self, John reminds us that there is something else, someone else, greater to look to and to build our lives upon. John’s life continually directed others to one greater than himself and encouraged them to experience so much more than they were doing.
Are you ready for that?
If you have never taken that step, I wonder what is holding you back?
Dare you miss out on everything that God is promising you?
With the Lord’s blessing.
Our reading speaks of a hope, a promise, a future and a new heart. A new heart from mankind to God; given not under obligation or duress but because they want to. Why? Because God is a generous God bringing forgiveness, love, peace, freedom and hope.
Advent is primarily a season of hope where we look to the future with expectation and anticipation. Remembering and celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ into our world and looking forward to his return. In a world where we are so used to having things exactly when we want them, it’s also good to remember and experience that there can be joy in the waiting. But what are we waiting for I wonder?
Perhaps it’s counting off how many sleeps are left until the 25th, or waiting for the greeting card from family or friend to hear their news, or waiting for that longed-for gift, or for family to arrive – for better or for worse(!) – or maybe it’s waiting for the feasting that is to come. In amongst all the business and frantic activity there is perhaps an expression of the basic human desire to know love, be loved and share love. God’s nature is to love, and his desire is that mankind might know and experience that love.
Things and people will always disappoint – even with the best will in the world we will at some point let someone down – but God never does and never will and His promise has been revealed in the presence of Jesus Christ, made man.
In all the rush, we stand the risk of missing out on the blessing of Advent and the giving of God’s perfect gift. I wonder what you consider would be the best gift you could receive? What might it look like? How long might it last? The best gift we can ever give ourselves is spending time with God this advent, and the best gift we could give God? … have you ever even thought about that before? … would be creating the opportunity for him to spend time with us. Spend time in his presence. Be still, listen, read some scripture, read some study notes, watch a podcast, (I can suggest some good ones), listen to some worship music … whatever works for you, but spend some designated time with the God who made you, loves you and longs for you to know him better.
I read the other day that if we arrive at the 25th having had enough of Christmas, then we will not have experienced advent as we should have.
May you know his peace and his presence in these days that lead to the celebration of his birth.
With the Lord’s blessing
As a nation we’ve had our fair share of powerful, dominant and excessive Kings imposing their power and will over us, but their excesses have for the most part been curtailed and controlled through law since the signing of the Magna Carta by King John in 1215.
In these modern times we have for the most part lost our understanding of what it means to be a subject of the crown; to be ruled, controlled, even owned by someone else. The Kings word was law and what he said, was what was done. You were ruled by his system, ruled by his justice, ruled by his opinion. His law was life and death; so: if you wanted to live and survive in their kingdom, you needed to know the law.
We see the reality of that situation today with the plight of Laura Plummer, languishing in a small Egyptian prison cell with 25 others because she didn’t realise the pain killers she was carrying were a banned drug in that country. The authority’s response has been short and to the point. Not knowing the law is not an excuse for breaking it.
Our readings today support an essential Scriptural truth: that Jesus Christ is King.
Scripture is loaded with declarations to that effect. God’s authority is complete and absolute.
The psalmist writes that God has established His rule of justice and righteousness, it cannot be changed, His throne and right to rule was established long ago and will last for all eternity. That’s a long time. God’s law is not a law of restriction but of freedom. It’s a rule of blessing, justice, grace, mercy, power and authority and Jesus is the King. Perhaps we should all ensure that we know just what it is and what it isn’t as there are some very strange ideas about the nature of God in our modern world. We have a responsibility to ourselves and to others that we should.
As we approach Advent and the Christmas celebrations that follow we will be reminded once again of how the Jews were waiting for a King to establish peace and justice.
The Magi travelled a great distance to find the King. As Jesus began his ministry he said the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. Our Gospel reading reminds us that Jesus will stand in judgement over the nations and all people as King. Jesus said to Pilate that ‘you’re right to call me King’ and Pilate wrote that Jesus was ‘King of the Jews’.
Having a King is to accept that we’re not King and that we don’t do life on our terms anymore. This requires trust and has caused problems in the past and so kingdoms of the world have gone out of fashion because so many of them have violated people’s freedom in establishing their own power and authority. But the kingship of Jesus is unlike any other.
He was born in a manger not a palace. He wore a crown of thorns not of gold. He renounced wealth and earthly status but was lifted high … on a cross. As a King He has a kingdom, but this kingdom has no boundaries. As a King He does not force his rule over our lives and minds and will, but invites us to accept it.
This acceptance has implications upon the way we live our lives that must go way beyond what we might or might not do with our Sunday mornings once a week. In our gospel Jesus reminds us that this is a lifestyle that we are called into; a lifestyle that affects everything we do, think and say.
Celebrities are often awarded the keys of the freedom of a town or a city as a sign of respect to them, but Jesus gives us keys of a whole kingdom. Keys of freedom from sin, self-centred-ness, guilt, shame and death itself. Paul reminds us that they are keys of power, wisdom, revelation, authority and hope. All this is ours because it is His. With a decision made to follow Jesus, we are more than subjects of a King. We are heirs of that kingdom but heirs who are called to serve because Jesus first served us.
Jesus is King. The essential question is: how much does He rule in our lives?
I enjoy reading. Have you ever read a book where the more you read the more you want to read? The Bible can be like that, but many don’t even begin it because they think it’s too hard to start; but for those who do it never fails to reveal exciting truth about themselves, about God and about what happens when we get to know Him.
One of the exciting things about the Bible are the prophecies held within it. One trusted academic source estimates some 1,239 prophecies exist in the Old Testament and over 578 in the New. The precise number may vary because some scholars subdivide a prophecy into different sections, but the one thing agreed upon is that the only prophecies that remain to be fulfilled (speculated to be between 7 and 14) relate to those surrounding the return of Jesus Christ. Now I’m not a statistician, but I would say that there’s a pattern emerging!
St Paul in his letters repeats the call to the early church to be ready. It’s a call which still resounds strongly today. Get ready because history is going somewhere. Jesus will return; we don’t know when, but we are told it will be sudden and take many by surprise but for those in relationship with Jesus there is nothing to be afraid of because they are children of the ‘light’ and of the ‘day’ with a future that is safe and secured. But knowing Jesus is so much more than an eternal life insurance policy. It’s about living and knowing life in all its fullness now.
Every person I have ever met who has given their life to Jesus says they just don’t know how they ever lived before their heart was opened to the reality of God in their lives; but a decision needs to be made and God honours the trust placed in that decision.
Even when that decision has been made, Paul warns against us sleeping and encourages us to remain alert and in control. How might we help one another in this? The answer is in the last verse with the call to action to constantly encourage one another and to build one another up in the faith and in our relationship with Jesus. We have a responsibility to ourselves and to one another to ensure that we discover all that Jesus has for us that we might live our lives in the freedom and fullness that Jesus promises for us. There are so many different ways we can do that these days with recordings of the Bible for our smart phones, podcasts, video teaching on You-Tube, study guides etc etc.
Let’s encourage one another in the faith, but remember to do that effectively we need to stay alert ourselves and to grow daily in our knowledge and understanding of all that God has planned for us.
With the Lord’s Blessing
It’s been a busy week – All Hallows Eve (Halloween) All Hallows Day & of course, All Saints Day. I wonder what pictures come to your mind with the word Saint? Halo’s? Shining faces? Statues? Very spiritual dead people? How many do you know of? We might begin to think now about patron saints of nations or churches who were frequently tortured and put to death in the most dreadful ways imaginable. Of the four churches dedicated to Saints in the Benefice, it is St Margaret of Antioch in Hawes who certainly suffered more than most; but what or who is a Saint?
The Bible answers this question for us. A saint is the opposite of a sinner. With our modern sensitivities we don’t care much for terms such as ‘sinner’ but the truth is that it is used to describe a state of condition and in the new testament there are over 300 references to unbelievers being known as ‘sinners’ and over 200 references to believers being called ‘saints’. The apostle Paul in his letters to the various churches frequently begins by affirming this condition with the statement: ‘To the Saints in …’ Ephesus, Philippi, Colosse etc.
Our readings today make for a wonderful combination of truth. Revelation tells us that knowing God is not a passive activity but one in which we must make a conscious decision over. John’s letter informs us that this decision results in a new identity and Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel, lets us know of some of the qualities we acquire as part of this new identity. Let’s look deeper into what this identity is and how we might gain it.
The imagery in the book of Revelation is very vivid with statements of washing robes clean in blood but what does this mean? In our modern western culture, blood is usually associated with death but to the Jews, blood was strongly associated with life. For the Jew, new life (after sin) came only by the offering of a sacrifice, the shedding of innocent blood, usually a lamb. White robes were associated with purity and victory and it took a great deal of time and effort to make them so, but here the robes are cleansed by washing them in the ‘blood of the Lamb’ – surely a bizarre contradiction, but the lamb referred to here, is Jesus; and notice something very important: Jesus has made redemption possible, but we have a part to play in our own salvation, for ‘they’ chose to wash their robes. They made a decision.
So how do we make this transition? Simply by placing our trust in who Jesus is and all He has done for us. By seeking forgiveness from the way in which we have separated ourselves from God by our sin and desiring a change in our circumstance and in our future. By asking Jesus to come into our lives and make a difference. We do it in faith and by God’s gift of grace, but it is a decision we must make. John tells us that we then become ‘children of God’ and Jesus speaks of the faithful as having the ‘kingdom of heaven’, being ‘blessed’, ‘comforted’ and, amongst many other things, receivers of ‘mercy’. If you have asked Jesus for forgiveness and invited him into your heart … good news … you are a saint. Not will be .. you are. Now, because you’re human you will still mess up and fall short of God’s desires for you, but this will not change your new identity - you will still be a saint, but from a biblical perspective, a saint who sins is still very different from being a sinner.
Over the last few weeks as the world has prepared for celebrating Halloween, the churches and schools within the benefice have been focussing on how the Pumpkin may be used as a positive symbol for all Jesus can do in our lives. The Pumpkin lantern can be a wonderful picture of that transition in status and identity, for God lifts us up, takes us in and washes us clean. He creates a new smiling face in us and then brings us to life by putting his light inside of us, so we can shine out for others. As a saint in Christ Jesus, may you know and celebrate your identity each and every day!
With the Lord’s blessing
Jesus speaks of the importance of giving to God that which is His, Paul gives testimony to the beauty and the power of lives that are changed by being given to God and the prophet Isaiah tells us of how God takes all things and uses them for good, for that is His nature. So, let’s take a look at that nature.
Isaiah is writing some 700 years before Jesus is born and - take this in … some 200 years before a Persian king named Cyrus would defeat the might of the Babylonian Empire and be responsible for the liberation of the Jewish people from 70 years of captivity. It is perhaps, next to the prophecies of the birth and life of Jesus, the most amazing declaration of an event that is yet to be, that exists in the Old Testament. God declares the name of a pagan King whose gt, gt, gt, gt grandfather hasn’t been born yet, to bring His people to liberty from a captivity that hasn’t yet taken place – astonishing … and yet, it all took place just like Isaiah declared it would.
God plans all things for good & uses all things for good to bring glory to His name. There is a scriptural pattern of operation at work here: God declares and then God does it.
God describes this pagan King as ‘anointed’ - a sign of authority being given over for a purpose.
God gives him a new name: ‘I surname you’ – He gives Cyrus a title, an honour
God gives him a purpose and a mission and ensures that he is equipped for it.
God blesses him with gifts –treasures and riches and strength
Why? Because; ‘I am the Lord, I am the Lord and there is no other, apart from me there is no God.’
Consider the parallel here with those who have put their faith in Jesus. God calls us and gives us a new title and a new identity – here are but a few: child of God, forgiven, saved, salt, light, appointed, fruitful, wise, protected, significant, accepted etc, etc
God has anointed us with His Holy Spirit: 2 Cor 1,v21, 1 John 2,v27 – we have authority in spiritual realms – it’s up to us to know it and then to use it as God intends us to.
God gives us a purpose and a mission – to bless the world and through the gifts of His Holy Spirit available to us all, we have the means to fulfil it – for we are powerful in Him.
God blesses us with treasure and riches – we have abundant life in Him now and always for that is His nature.
I recently came across these words by Priscilla Shirer which describe further the nature of our God and I include them for you to ponder and for you to enjoy. ‘Who’s your Daddy?’
With God’s Blessing
‘Who’s your Daddy?’
‘He is the first and the last, The beginning and the end
The keeper of Creation and the creator of all
The architect of the Universe and the manager of all time
He always was, always is and always will be
Unmoved, unchanged, undefeated and never undone
He was bruised but brought healing, pierced but healed pain
Persecuted but brought freedom, dead but brought life
Risen to bring power and reigns to bring peace
The world cannot understand Him, armies can’t defeat Him
Schools can’t explain Him and leaders can’t ignore Him
Herod couldn’t kill Him, Nero couldn’t crush Him
He is life, He is Love, He is everlasting and He is the Lord
He is goodness and kindness and faithfulness and He is God
He is Holy and righteous and powerful and pure
His ways are right, His word eternal, His will unchanging
and His mind is on us
He is our Saviour, our guide, our peace, our joy, our comfort, our Lord
And He rules our lives
I serve Him because: His bond is love, His yoke is easy,
His burden is light and His goal for us is abundant life
I follow Him because: He is the wisdom of the wise,
the power of the powerful,
The ancient of days, the ruler of rulers, leader of all leaders and His goal is a relationship with me,
He’ll never leave you, never forsake you,
never mislead you and never forget you,
He’ll never overlook you and never cancel your appointment in His appointment book
When you fall He’ll lift you up, when you fail He’ll forgive you
When you’re weak He’s strong, when you’re lost He’s your way,
When you’re afraid He’s your courage, when you stumble He will steady you
When you’re hurt He’s going to heal you,
when you’re broken He will mend you
When you’re blind He will lead you,
When you’re hungry He will feed you
When you face trial He is with you,
When you face persecution He shields you,
when you face problems, He will comfort you
When you face loss, He will provide for you
and when we face death He will take us home to be with Him
He is everything for everybody, everywhere, every time in every way
He is your God – He is your Daddy’
‘I am the Lord and there is no other, apart from me there is no God.’
If there is a theme that might join our two readings together it might be said to be this: Develop an attitude of Gratitude.
Moses is reminding the people that they should be a people full of thanksgiving and gratitude and Jesus speaks of the importance of recognising the blessings we have and of living a life of gratitude and contentment. Being grateful is a characteristic we like to see in others and certainly to develop in our children, isn’t it? But there is something deeper and greater taking place here that goes beyond ‘good manners’. Thankful, grateful people have a different perspective on life. The Bible tells us to: ‘Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing and give thanks in all circumstances. For this is the will of Christ Jesus for you’ 1 Thes. 5:16-18
Why? Because when we do, our lives have a different focus – a different perspective – when we ‘frontload’ our lives with God things appear differently. Have you ever noticed the fact that we rarely need any help or practice in being grumpy? We do however, need to be ever mindful about being thankful.
I love it when scientific research finally catches up with what the Bible has been saying for thousands of years; for example: I was recently reading an article on some research that had revealed that an ‘attitude of gratitude’ generates better physical and mental health, develops relationships, reduces anger and aggression and helps you sleep better. Wonderful, if a little late in discovery. How great it is to know that God loves us and cares for us so much that these truths were laid down so long ago. They also help to create what might be called a ‘genuine church’ – a Happy, Praying and Thankful church.
Even amongst the turbulent and uncertain world we live in at the moment, we still have a great deal to be thankful for – when we thank God for all He has given us, we feel better, God receives praise and the enemy hates it. There is nothing the enemy despises more than a happy, thankful rejoicing Christian, so let’s help to shut him up and praise God more and more regularly.
The Christian Pastor and writer John Ortberg puts it like this: ‘Gratitude is more than making sure that God knows how much trouble He’s gone to for us – it’s so much more than that. It’s the gift God gives us that enables us to be blessed by all His other gifts. Without gratitude our lives degenerate into envy, dissatisfaction and complaints – taking what we have and always wanting more.’
Our lives will always have times of challenge, difficulty and sadness; times when life’s shadow will fall across our path, but here’s a truth; when you look to the sun, the shadow is always behind you but when you turn your back to the sun the shadow is always there in front of you – covering every step you take. I encourage you then, to look towards God’s Son with thanksgiving and to keep the shadows of life behind you. Let us free ourselves up, live the lives God intended us to and be known as a people of gratitude – Praising God, trusting Him and serving those around us. For when we look to God we will always see things differently.
Rev Dave Clark
Vicar of the Benefice of Upper Wensleydale