Walking in the dark, not lighting fires

In honour of the longest night here are the verses that speak about the darkness and what to do in the night. Essentially there are two ways to respond to the dark. Trust in the one who holds us in the dark, or lighting our own fires.  They are verses I come back to at each point when the way seems dark – and therefore I have come back to them repeatedly along life’s way.

 

Isaiah 50
Who among you fears the LORD
and obeys the word of his servant?
Let the one who walks in the dark,
who has no light,
trust in the name of the LORD
and rely on their God.
But now, all you who light fires
and provide yourselves with flaming torches,
go, walk in the light of your fires
and of the torches you have set ablaze.
This is what you shall receive from my hand:
You will lie down in torment.

If you read this blog regularly, you will know life is not exactly easy at the moment.  This was the Psalm I read in the midst of that this morning; this is the light Yahweh provides in dark places:

Psalm 20

 

May the Lord answer you in the day of trouble!
May the name of the God of Jacob protect you!
May he send you help from the sanctuary
and give you support from Zion!
May he remember all your offerings
and regard with favour your burnt sacrifices! Selah
May he grant you your heart’s desire
and fulfil all your plans!
May we shout for joy over your salvation,
and in the name of our God set up our banners!
May the LORD fulfil all your petitions!
Now I know that the LORD saves his anointed;
he will answer him from his holy heaven
with the saving might of his right hand.
Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.
They collapse and fall,
but we rise and stand upright.
O Lord, save the king!
May he answer us when we call.

Now, it is possible to take this Psalm in entirely the wrong way, if I think that the “you” at the start is “me”.  It isn’t.  The prayer is on the lips of a faithful Israelite, speaking on behalf of the nation.  The “you” he is referring to is “his (the LORD’s) annointed”.  It is a prayer for God to give his annointed King the desires of his heart, to make his plans come to fruition, and to answer all his prayers.

So, how, you may wonder is that good news for me, that some ancient Israelite king was prayed for thousands of years ago?

The answer to that, of course, is very seasonal.   We celebrate the birth of the Son of David at Christmas.  And the good news is that this King is forever.

And his plans and his desires and his prayers are for us. For our salvation. That is fundamentally good news. It does not depend on me. My plans and desires often end up me centred, and are certianly finite and limited by my tiredness and sinfulness. His are always others centred. He is the eternally giving King.

When we know that he is our King, then we can trust him.  For God rolls up his sleeves and goes into action with his mighty right hand. Some might trust in horses and chariots (money and houses), but those who remember God’s mighty acts know that God’s right hand drowned horses and chariots in the Red Sea. He is the One who is in control. So it is in His name we must trust. In Yahweh, the God who is, the God who will be who he will be, the God who comes down to rescue his people.  The final prayer is that the King will answer us in the day we call. The Psalm begins with the day of trouble, and finishes on the day we call, and so encourages us to call to our King in the day of trouble.

It may look like night. It may look black, and it may be bleak. Circumstances now, as they have in the past cause me to despair at times. But God is still God. He is still bigger than anything we face, and Jesus is still King, and he still lives to intercede for me.  When my intercessions fail, then I have one who stands before the throne of God above, who ever lives and pleads for me.

That is what gives me comfort at this point. That Jesus lived and died, a real flesh and blood existence and that he did it for me, and for you.   The darkness is real, and it hurts, but Jesus is more real, and there is a light, that we will one day see in all its fulness when the rising sun dawns on that final glorious day.

.

Theory of hope – when that is all you have but it is not enough

 

Life right now seems like every step is one that takes us back, though to be honest I am not sure it is even backwards but just stuck in mud right where we are and getting deeper.  If it was backwards I might at least find myself in a place of seeing God’s hand at work and have a sense of that hope in a tangible way.

I thought we were being faithful, I still do, in Mark doing a PhD. Anyone who knows him well, knows that this is the path for him. He loves studying, that when he writes about God and His word he is a great writer, he has a way of making God’s word clear and real. And he longs to do that, to help others get to grips with God. So when we sought the counsel of others all the conversations we had  said that a PhD was the next step.

But to be honest right now it feels as if God opened the gate and we faithfully and trustingly followed and went through and He is sitting on the wall whistling and laughing at us like sheep who thought the grass would be greener on the other side. We haven’t walked this road for fame or wealth, but genuinely seeking to follow God in our lives.

We have tried to be reasonable stewards of what we have, of the gifts and resources we have to fund this journey.  We have been blessed with friends and family giving generously, we have tried to not keep it all to ourselves and to give too. We’ve sought to rent our house out as a means of income but have spent the past six months on the phone to the estate agent as each month the tenants have got a month behind but had always had ‘a reason’. We have tried to extend grace and even had an option ready to extend this month if things were still on going only to discover that they are now two months behind and not responding to letters or calls. On the advice of the estate agent we have had to give two months notice to our tenants. Not something we would have wanted to do at Christmas to another young family. But as things stand we are behind with two months rent with the potential of being 4 months out and we have chosen not to rent in March so that we can spend some weekends working on the house for a new lease we hope in April.

We have tried to be faithful wise stewards and trust God for provision but right now it feels like He is oblivious to the time and season He has placed us. I read His word and it speaks of patience, of trust in times of trials. Trials for ones faith I can understand His word speaking to but no one is persecuting us for our faith. We are simply trying to make ends meet in the time and season He has placed us that require bills to be paid. Its not wrong for gas and electric companies to charge us, landlords to pay rent to,dentists are allowed to charge for the work they do, we are not self sufficent food wise so we need to pay for our food, the boys need shoes (everything else they get is hand me downs!) It feels as if there is any persecution it is from Him. Sorry to anyone who feels that is harsh, even sinful, but right now He is sitting there having a laugh at us. I know my Bible enough to say that is not true. I know from my Bible that His word says He is faithful, that He is trustworthy, that He provides. I know from others, I know from our own story that He does but today He is having a laugh and so there is no tangible hope and theoritical hope is not enough. Just as our eldest knows and takes great delight in singing the ‘tidy up song’ it does not necessarily turn into practical reality and the toys once again end up in our wardrobe for a period of time.

On Sunday we will walk to church and as we enter we will walk through an old old graveyard into a church that has been there since the 11th Century and we will take our place alongside others and I will lean in on all those clouds of witness. Those gone before us and those beside us and let their words and prayers carry me because I do know that that theoritical hope is not just theory, it is real, it is true, He is faithful. I just cannot see or feel it today and neither can my marriage or my boys because I am bone weary and shout and get cross and take out my anger on them because someone told me it was wrong to get cross at God. But  He is bigger than my boys and so He is going to have to take my anger and my thoughts because enough is enough. I want my boys, big and small to know I love them and they cannot know that when I am this scared, this frightened. But even in it all that boy who knows the tidy up song word perfectly  fell asleep telling me that Jesus died on the cross for my sin and his faith in that in whatever way he grasps it gives me the courage to say to God, enough is enough, ‘help my unbelief, quit the laughing, join us where we are and lift us up as family this Advent as we wait not for a babe in a manger but for the One who was and is and is to come.Image

Advent Hymns III

This is definitely moving into Christmas Carol territory, but it counts for Advent too as it looks forward to the 2nd coming of Jesus. It almost strays into Victorian sentimentality, but the first half of the 4th verse really struck me when I first sang it, about 10 years now, at a particularly “weary” season of life, and I think it is a hymn that offers out hope for all those who feel that their “forms are bending low”. The third verse paints the picture beautifully of our troubled and broken world, crushed by the woes of sin and strife, and we are all too aware of those as we look at the news.

As we think of the woes of our world it is worth remembering that this is the world Jesus came into. Think of the scandal of Mary’s pregnancy. Think of Joseph’s confusion. Of no room for Mary to have the baby. Think of the terror of Bethlehem as the soldiers arrive. This was the moment when redemption arrived.  Our God becomes a baby, enters history, and lives with us in all this, that “all this” might be utterly renewed.

It came upon the midnight clear,
That glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth,
To touch their harps of gold;
“Peace on the earth, good will to men,
From Heaven’s all gracious King.”
The world in solemn stillness lay,
To hear the angels sing.

Still through the cloven skies they come
With peaceful wings unfurled,
And still their heavenly music floats
O’er all the weary world;
Above its sad and lowly plains,
They bend on hovering wing,
And ever over its Babel sounds
The blessèd angels sing.

Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long;
Beneath the angel strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;
And man, at war with man, hears not
The love-song which they bring;
O hush the noise, ye men of strife
And hear the angels sing.

And ye, beneath life’s crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow,
Look now! for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing.
O rest beside the weary road,
And hear the angels sing!

For lo! the days are hastening on,
By prophet-bards foretold,
When with the ever circling years
Comes round the age of gold;
When peace shall over all the earth
Its ancient splendors fling,
And the whole world send back the song
Which now the angels sing.

Advent Hymn No. 2

Slightly more punctually this week, here is the classic advent hymn by Charles Wesley – with a couple of less well known verses.
I think this is actually quite a sobering hymn, so worth pondering and thinking about what our attitude is to Jesus’ return, and what actions should result in our lives.  Possibly there is another post in that to be written…

Lo! He comes with clouds descending,
Once for favored sinners slain;
Thousand thousand saints attending,
Swell the triumph of His train:
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
God appears on earth to reign.

Every eye shall now behold Him
Robed in dreadful majesty;
Those who set at naught and sold Him,
Pierced and nailed Him to the tree,
Deeply wailing, deeply wailing, deeply wailing,
Shall the true Messiah see.

Every island, sea, and mountain,
Heav’n and earth, shall flee away;
All who hate Him must, confounded,
Hear the trump proclaim the day:
Come to judgment! Come to judgment! Come to judgment!
Come to judgment! Come away!

Now redemption, long expected,
See in solemn pomp appear;
All His saints, by man rejected,
Now shall meet Him in the air:
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
See the day of God appear!

Answer Thine own bride and Spirit,
Hasten, Lord, the general doom!
The new Heav’n and earth t’inherit,
Take Thy pining exiles home:
All creation, all creation, all creation,
Travails! groans! and bids Thee come!

The dear tokens of His passion
Still His dazzling body bears;
Cause of endless exultation
To His ransomed worshippers;
With what rapture, with what rapture, with what rapture
Gaze we on those glorious scars!

Yea, Amen! let all adore Thee,
High on Thine eternal throne;
Savior, take the power and glory,
Claim the kingdom for Thine own;
O come quickly! O come quickly! O come quickly!
Everlasting God, come down!

Clay Pots?

Sometimes a single chapter of the OT can change our perspective quite drastically, and give us new insight into what a NT writer might be thinking.  Here is Jeremiah 18:1-6:Pottery-wheel-large

 This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD:“Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him. Then the word of the LORD came to me. He said, “Can I not do with you, house of Israel, as this potter does?”declares the LORD. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, house of Israel.

I wonder what you might expect to come next?  A statement of judgement. Perhaps further comment on the all encompassing sovereignty of God and his right to do as he wants with his clay?

Read on to Jeremiah 18:7-10:

If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned. And if at another time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, and if it does evil in my sight and does not obey me, then I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it.

It appears that this example of a potter and his clay is meant to encourage God’s people to action.  If you read the rest of Jeremiah the tragedy is that their hearts are so hard they will not turn and receive the good God desires for them, but forsaken the living water for broken cisterns that cannot hold water, exchanging God’s glory for idols.  And yet in the midst of this is this strange incident in the potter’s house.

It seems that the master potter is feeling intently at the clay in his hands; as he shapes it on the wheel it is apparent that the pot is going badly wrong. The clay has faults, impurities. The pot is not going to work.  But he knows, that if he can just find the right place in the clay he can rework it, he can bring a beautiful pot out of the mess that it looks like right now.

So with his people, God is searching for repentance. If he finds signs of true repentance then the pot which is his people can be salvaged. The tragedy is that despite having a God who is so merciful that the slightest hint of repentance will cause him to change his mind and relent from the disaster he had threatened the people still go on in rebellion.

That isn’t what we often think of when we hear language about God as the potter and people as his clay.  But maybe we should have it in mind when we read other passages where the potter and clay are talked about.  I wonder if this background is in Paul’s mind when he writes about the potter and his clay in Romans 9.  I wonder if he has the state of the people in Jeremiah’s time in his mind, as he thinks about his people at his time. The potter can do what he likes with the clay.

But know this. Whatever else we might say is true of God from Romans 9, this much is certain. The potter is always looking for opportunity to make something out of his clay. Always seeking repentance so that he can show mercy. Because to the one to whom he shows mercy he will indeed show mercy.   This is the most fundamental truth about God.  He is full of grace and truth (as John would say). Loyal love and faithfulness (as Yahweh put it to Moses).

This God has no dark side. He is, it is true, not exactly safe. He will not tolerate sin, and for his own reasons, and (eventually) our ultimate good, allows many strange and difficult things in our lives. But he is good, and there is always more mercy in Christ than sin in us. (I think that’s a paraphrase from a Puritan – maybe Richard Sibbes?)  God is, as the Anglican prayer of Humble Access puts it “the same Lord whose nature is always to have mercy”…

Moving from Ordinary Time to Advent

Its been a while since I have written a family update. I have sat down a few times to start writing but each time I sit down at the computer the blank screen wins the battle and I walk away again. Ordinary time very much felt like ordinary time with little to write about and even less to read about. Time and energy is absorbed by two little boys, meals, laundry, duplo, sleepless nights, drs appointments, hoovering, reading, changing nappies, preschool, meals, laundry….. Even now in the season of Advent words seem to be on strike. Its been hard to see God at work, even harder to make the effort to look and see what He is doing. Being thankful for the little things has taken any final energy and is quickly run over by worn out selfishness, self doubt and the reality that my heart is no different to that of my three year old. Though I have learnt how to white wash and make accpetable my reactions at least to the outside world if not to my immediate family. Ordinary time has felt empty and insignificant, no sign of the gospel joy I am supposed to have. Its been like wading through mud, one step at a time going nowhere fast, if anywhere at all.

This week saw the start of Advent. We have laid ordinary time aside and the house is being decorated. The old old story of good news is told and retold and retold. Glitter and glue are found in all sorts of places giving the whole house a shimmery glow. Time and energy is still absorbed by two little boys, meals, laundry, duplo, drs appointments, hoovering, reading, changing nappies, preschool, meals, laundry…..but there is something else. Each time I hoover the floor and it sparkles back at me gold, silver, red and green I am reminded of the joy of a small boy sitting at the table making decorations to celebrate Jesus, ‘the one who is taking His time to take us all to God’s house because He only has two hands and so can only take us 2 at a time and who is the only true light of the world as He is the only light with legs and candles cannot walk around and fill the world with light.’ This Advent I am reading God’s word but I am also soaking in my 3 year old’s understanding and excitement of Jesus and letting him teach me about Advent and waiting for the Kingdom come.

And for anyone west of us who celebrates St Nicholas’ Day he may be late, as he has been invited to join us for a pancake breakfast in the morning.

Advent Hymns – O come O come

The intention was to put this up on Sunday, but it got slightly delayed. I had a clever introduction planned, but haven’t quite had the mental clarity to form it.  Instead I’ll say that to ponder more about Emmanuel read Isaiah 7 and 8 and notice where Emmanuel/”God with us” comes in the text.  Then read Matthew 1-2 and notice the trouble that the coming of Emmanuel brings.    The Christmas story isn’t particularly “nice” – it involves a country under foreign occupation, a young lady pregnant, a family fleeing for their lives and an enraged ruler lashing out at his population – not much seems to have changed since then…

The hymn refers to lots of OT images about the coming anointed King – and 2 of the verses allude to Isaiah 11. At that first Christmas that chapter moved closer to fulfillment, and this is what we are “waiting” for – “waiting” as active workers though, not mere spectators.

11 There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of lJesse,
and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.
2 And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him,
the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and might,
the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
3 And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.
He shall not judge by owhat his eyes see,
or decide disputes by what his ears hear,
4 but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
5 Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist,
and faithfulness the belt of his loins.
6 The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat,
and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together;
and a little child shall lead them.
7 The cow and the bear shall graze;
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra,
and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den.
9 They shall not hurt or destroy
in all vmy holy mountain;
for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.
10 In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples—of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious.

And here is the prayer for that day…

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.

Refrain

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Wisdom from on high,
Who orderest all things mightily;
To us the path of knowledge show,
And teach us in her ways to go.

Refrain

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them victory over the grave.

Refrain

O come, Thou Day-spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.

Refrain

O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.

Refrain

O come, O come, great Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes on Sinai’s height
In ancient times once gave the law
In cloud and majesty and awe.

Refrain

O come, Thou Root of Jesse’s tree,
An ensign of Thy people be;
Before Thee rulers silent fall;
All peoples on Thy mercy call.

Refrain

O come, Desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Bid Thou our sad divisions cease,
And be Thyself our King of Peace.

Refrain