What is it?

The somewhat cryptic title of this blog post reflects what the Israelites said when they saw God’s provision of manna for them in the desert for the first time (Exodus 16).  Manna sounds very similar to the question: “what is it?” in Hebrew, and seems to suggest that the Israelites hadn’t seen this strange substance before.

I was re-reading a chapter on Exodus 16 in Walter Moberley’s excellent “Old Testament Theology”, and was struck by a few quotes which I thought I’d put up here, as I found them perceptively encouraging about the nature of the Christian life:

“The striking thing about YHWH’s provision is that Israel has no idea what to make of it.” (80)
“In this depiction the heavenly bread is resistant to one of the most basic of human urges: to save up and to hoard. It is part of YHWH’s new way, into which Israel is being inducted, in which familiar categories of understanding and yardsticks of behaviour are replaced. YHWH’s principle is that Israel’s bread must each day be provided anew and collected anew. The implicit sense is of a need to appropriate the divine gift always in the present, in the here and now.” (82)
“To summarise: The manna, a divine provision, can be seen to function as a symbolic concretisation of divine grace. It testingly challenges Israel to learn to live from an unfamiliar resource; it nourishes the Israelites irrespective of their varying abilities; it resists being accommodated to conventional human desires; it is designed to enable Israel to develop a particular rhythm of life, encompassing both the working week and rest on the Sabbath. In all these ways the manna inducts Israel into the divine pattern for life.” (84)

These quotes all summed up the sense I’ve had recently that God’s provision for us comes in ways so different from what I would plan, and in a way that seems designed to force me to trust him, and cope with new and unexpected patterns.

I’ve seen a couple of times recently how much my firstborn son hates routine to be changed, and the way in which unexpected events throw him completely (sometimes even good unexpected). It is easy to  see his overreaction, but the reality is that I am exactly the same with God about life.  I hate the unexepected.  I hate plans to be changed or overthrown.  When I was single I thought I liked things to be spontaneous – the reality is that I like things to be spontaneous as long as I have spontaneously planned them in my head.  I don’t like someone else’s spontaneity forced on me.

These quotes about the manna are a reminder of how freeing God’s daily grace is, and yet how scary that freedom is.  I have to surrender my desire for control of my life, and submit to God’s rythmn.  The Israelites had a hard job accepting that the manna would last 2 days on a Friday, and yet it did.  They had a hard job accepting that Monday’s manna would not last until Tuesday, and sure enough it didn’t.  God provides enough for each day – and enough for a day of rest, and he provides on a day by day basis.  Which I imagine is why Jesus tells us not to worry about tomorrow, but to trust God one day at a time.

As John Piper puts it (Today’s mercies for Today’s troubles – in one of his devotional books):

God’s mercies are new every morning because each day only has enough mercy in it for that day. This is why we tend to despair when we think that we may have to bear tomorrow’s load on today’s resources. God wants us to know: We won’t. Today’s mercies are for today’s troubles. Tomorrow’s mercies are for tomorrow’s troubles.

The manna in the wilderness was given one day at a time. There was no storing up. That is the way we must depend on God’s mercy. You do not receive today the strength to bear tomorrow’s burdens. You are given mercies today for today’s troubles. Tomorrow the mercies will be new. “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:9).

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Creation praising God

Continuing from a previous post I’ve come across another couple of good quotes from Marsden’s biography of Edwards which provide good food for thought and fuel for praise.  The first is Marsden’s reflection:

Edwards believed that he could develop a  unified account of all knowledge, but it could not be discovered by experience and reason alone.  God might speak in all of nature and in all of life, but the only place where one could find  the key to unlock the whole system was in Scripture.  All knowledge must begin there. Scripture was not just a source of information, but the necessary guide to a radical life changing perspective.  As every New England child was taught: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7).  The starting point for unravelling the mysteries of the universe must be the shattering revelation of one’s total inadequacy and a recognition of God’s love in Jesus Christ. One who was so changed could then experience how all creation was one harmonious hymn of praise to the glories of the creator and the mercies of Christ.  Without the grace that gave sinful and rebellious people ears to hear, they would never  hear the sublime  Christ-like choruses or see how the particular notes of reality all fit together.

I love that in the Regent library where I studied for 3 years other similar bible verses were written in beautiful calligraphy so that they could not be missed each day as you walked in – a beautiful reminder that all wisdom comes from God, and begins with humble dependance on Him.

The second is an Edwards quote, introduced by Marsden:

Edwards was captivated by the idea that God’s purpose in creating the universe is to bring harmonious communications  among minds, or spiritual beings, and  every detail of physical creation points to that loving reality, epitomized in Christ.  In this enthralling framework he continued his meditation:

“When we are delighted with flowery meadows and gentle breezes of wind, we may consider that we only see the emanations of the sweet benevolence of Jesus Christ; when we behold the fragrant rose and lily, we see his love and purity. So the green trees and fields, and singing of birds, are the emanations of his infinite joy and benignity; the easiness and naturalness of trees and vines [are] shadows of his infinite beauty and loveliness; the crystal rivers and mumuring streams have the footsteps of his sweet grace and beauty… That beauteous light with which the world is filled in a clear day is a lively shadow of his spotless holiness and happiness, and delight in communicating himself.”

I love the ideas here, even if it needs reading a few times to catch the thread.  Essentially Edwards is celebrating the way in which God delights to share his goodness with us in the natural world.  All the good things we have in this life are because God loves to share his life with us.  God is holy and happy – and loves to share his goodness and grace with us.  The world was made, according to Edwards, for God to display his glory.  The reason that isn’t self centred of God is because the way God’s glory is displayed is by him sharing his life and goodness with us, his creatures.  The creation of the world is the overflow of the love that the Triune God has enjoyed for all eternity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit, one God united in love, overflow in love to create a world to share that love with others.  God delights to show that love to us, and  draw us in to him – and the beauty we see all around us is one great reminder of that reality.

 

How does God think of us?

Life has been distinctly crazy in the last week, and before that I was away having a concentrated week of study, so there has been little time for “extras” like blogging.  However, I have been trying to read a bit while waiting for son no. 1 to go to sleep – and in this time period I’ve sought to read something for my own spiritual refreshment (rather than yet another iteration of the, according to one recent study, 40 different types of suggestion for the interpretation of Exodus 4:24-26), and my current choice is this book:

The Divine Conspiracy, Paperback book http://www.hive.co.uk/book/the-divine-conspiracy-rediscovering-our-hidden-life-in-god/5689279/

The quote that sets the scene for the one I want to post is this:

“Jesus’ good news about the kingdom can be an effective guide for our lives only if we share his view of the world in which we live. To his eyes this is a God-bathed and God-permeated world.  It is a world filled with a glorious reality, where every component is within the range of God’s knowledge and control – though he obviously permits some of it, for good reasons, to be for a while otherwise than as he wishes it.  It is a world that is inconceivably beautiful and good because of God and because God is always in it.  It is a world in which God is continually at play and over which he constantly rejoices.” (p71)

 

“Central to the understanding and proclamation of the Christian gospel today, as in Jesus’ day, is a re-visioning of what God’s own life is like and how the physical cosmos fits into it. It is a great an important task to come to terms with what we really think when we think of God.  Most hindrances to the faith of Christ actually lie, I believe, in this part of our mind and souls.  If he cannot help us at all with understanding God’s life, he cannot help us at all to that salvation/life that is by faith.  But of course he can and he does.

We should first of all think that God leads a very interesting life, and that he is full of joy.  Undoubtably he is the most joyous being in the universe.  The abundance of his love and generosity is inseperable from his infinite joy. All of the good and beautiful things from which we occasionally drink tiny droplets of soul-exhilerating joy, God continuously experiences in all their breath and depth and richness.” (p72)

He continues along similar lines for a page or so, emphasising his point.  He adds these words:

“Now, Jesus himself was and is a joyous, creative person.  He does not allow us to continue thinking of our Father who fills and overflows space as a morose and miserable monarch, a frustrated and petty parent, or a policeman on the prowl.” (p73)

And then he adds the words that blew me away on first reading the book, and which still reach down into my soul.  Words that I need to dwell on and let sink into, and penetrate the core of my being.  Words that have the capacity to heal and restore.  Words that we need to speak to those who need them:

“So we must understand that God does not ‘love’ us without liking us – through gritted teeth – as ‘Christian’ love is sometimes thought to do.  Rather, out of the eternal freshness of his perpetually self renewed being, the heavenly Father cherishes the earth and each individual human being on it.  The fondness, the endearment, the unstintingly affectionate regard of God toward all his creatures is the natural overflow of what he is to the core – which we vainly try to capture with our tired but indispensable old word love.” (p74 – emphasis original)

I read those words as I pondered my sleeping and about to be sleeping children, and in my love for them I see a feeble reflection of our Father’s love for us.  The way I love the curiosity and freshness of the world through my 5 year old’s eyes as he sees a shiny red tractor outside a supermarket and just wants to climb on it, walk round it, examine each detail and wonder what it is doing there.   The way I love the cheeky grin as my 2.5 year old wants to be turned upside down and tickled again (and again) with ever new hysterical laughter…  The way I love the smile on my daughters face as she follows those brothers of hers.

That love I have for each child in their individual particularity is a pale reflection of the love our Father has for each one of us.  That is something indeed to rejoice in, and indeed something to motivate our love for those around us – other people who God feels this way for.  So perhaps today is a day to come back to God in imitation of son no. 2 in our house – with arms outstretched and the word “hug”.  Or may be it’s a day for asking those questions, for coming to our Father who is love and is a safe place for those questions.  Or perhaps we just need to smile in the assurance that we are indeed truly, totally and utterly loved by the creator of the universe with a never giving up, never stopping, always and forever love (to quote from the Jesus Story Book Bible).  Maybe Paul’s prayer is a good place to end:

Ephesians 3:14-19

14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Confessions V

This one is from book Vi1

Accept the sacrifice of my confessions
offered by the hand of my tongue
which You have formed and stirred up to confess your nameHeal all my bones and let them say Lord who is like You?
He who is making confession to You is not instructing You of that which is happening within him
The closed heart does not shut out Your eye,
and Your hand is not kept away by the hardness of humanity,
but You melt that when You wish, either in mercy or in punishment
and there is none who can hide from Your heat

Let my soul praise You that it may love You
and confess to Your mercies that it may praise You
Your entire creation never ceases to praise You and is never silent
So from weariness our soul rises towards You
With You is restored strength and true courage.

Even at 5.30 with two out of three children wide awake…

Books III

This time I want to put up books I have found helpful over the last 10-12 years or so.  My first set was books from the formative years when I was between 16 and 26, and I want to first explain why I divided these lists at the age of 26.  The main reason for this is that I this was a particularly significant age in my life.  Following university I had worked for 3 years as an actuarial assistant (actuarial work, no exams), done a year on a course in understanding and teaching the bible and then worked for a year as a lay assistant in a church on the Essex/London border.  That year marked the boundary in several key ways.

By the end of that year as a lay assistant I had decided that it was not the right time to go into “full time” paid Christian ministry, and after applying for lots of different jobs and getting nowhere I was rather disappointedly heading back to Guildford.  One week at the church I grew up, and had attended before the move to London confirmed that I wanted to move churches, away from parents, and towards somewhere smaller.  I drew up a list of churches to visit, and the crucial visit was to one just round the corner from my parents, Guildford Park.  I knew of it, I knew that one of the town centre churches that I tried out had sent a team to restart it a few years before, and so I thought that I ought to try out the nearest gospel believing, bible preaching church.

I was very impressed.  A good solid sermon and an invite to lunch.  The inability to get out of the door without being engaged in conversation by the pastor (and several church members), the warmth, the singing of good quality hymns and songs. The remarkable range of age, family background and nationality in such a small group (around 70 or so on a Sunday morning).  I fairly quickly made it my home, and after a year or so to wrap my head around the concept of membership (a new thing as my previous churches were all Anglican), became a member.  That first term I went the pastor was preaching through 1 Samuel on a Sunday evening, and had reached David’s life.  I was in a state of some confusion, doing a “temporary” job in the civil service, looking for other jobs, not really wanting to be in Guildford and not knowing what the next step should be.  David’s life in 1 Samuel on the run from Saul and escaping from Philistines with its confusion and absence of direct divine intervention was actually the perfect reassurance about God’s sovereignty and hidden purposes that I needed at that point.

I was also impressed by how quickly I was drawn into the life of the church.  I was quickly on the rota for setting out chairs, and also preaching once a term or so.  On a Thursday evening on  a fortnightly basis I went to the church prayer meeting – often somewhat reluctantly, but always ending up glad I had gone, sensing that the Lord had been with us as we prayed.  The relation of all this to books is the simple observation that a switch occurred in my Christian life. Previously I had been a faithful attender and participant in church life, but it was never my main fuel for the Christian life – that had always been books, but at this point, in this new departure church became my main fuel.  Books were still vital – just slightly less so, and in a healthier context of real life relationships.

 Joshua – 2 Kings (commentaries on each, published by cfp) – Dale Ralph Davies

Don’t judge a book by its cover, these are not the most excitingly presented, but if you only read 1 commentary on these books then I think these are the ones to read – they explain and show the implications of the text really well.  I know too, that they were an important resource for the Samuel sermon series – providing many good illustrations for our pastor to use – definitely good material for preachers to plunder!  (Side note: if you are a preacher plundering I think it’s fine to use other people’s illustrations as long as you don’t start claiming experiences you never had…)

Wild at Heart – John Eldredge

This is probably one of the more controversial of the well known books on here.  I know I’m supposed to hate it.  I’ve never been hunting, shooting or fishing.  My only hiking has been done in the UK, where I know I’m not going to meet any predator I can’t squash with my walking boots.  I’m not into sports, with the possible exception of watching England collapse in the latest Test humiliation.   However, I did read the book and love its challenge.  I loved the thoughts it provoked, and the way it made me look at some critical events and relationships in my life and  evaluate the impact others had on me, and I had on others.  I know I’m not a “typical” man (whatever that is), and that is fine – but I didn’t actually think Eldridge was telling me I had to be – the outdoors, physical, fighting language all seemed to work really well for me as metaphor.  Maybe I read the books in a “spiritualising” way, but I didn’t find myself objecting in the way that many people I know do to these books.

Reframing Paul – Mark Strom

This is a really good read on reading Paul in the cultural background of the Roman Empire, with some thought provoking chapters of practical application at the end about how to create grace-filled conversation in our churches.  Well worth the hard thinking required at points.

Fruit that Last – Tim Hawkins

The best “how to book” ever!  I don’t usually like reading “how to” books, but this (and its sequel – Leaders that Last) is a really good book to read if you are wondering what the next step for your youth group might be.  The author is a youth pastor in Australia (so I was suspicious from an early stage) and writes from a long experience of youth work – he places himself in the “parent” age group as he writes.  Part of the reason I loved it was his insistence that the ultimate mission and vision for youth work is found in the Bible – to glorify God and make disciples, rather than the mission and vision being things we need to dream up, or seek special revelation on.  Another aspect I loved was that he has a chapter on different stages of youth ministry which emphasises how all age groups are needed in youth ministry – it isn’t the preserve of the young.  I think this is good in general terms because it nails the lie that youth ministry is a stepping stone to bigger (adult) things in the church.  It was also a really good reinforcement for my own role in Guilford Crusaders at the time.  When I went back to Guildford I determined to get fully involved in Crusaders, and placed Friday night small group (Keenites) at the heart of my priorities.  As I did this I realised that my lack of “coolness” was actually not a barrier to effective ministry – I realised I could be myself, and through my unique personality reach particular lads and bring a particular contribution to the group.

Eat this Book – Eugene Peterson.

Try not to take this literally.  A great book, where Eugene Peterson gets excited about the Bible.  Worth reading and pondering.  Probably my favourite book in his “spirituality” series, although Christ Plays in 10,000 places is also good too.

Long Wandering Prayer – David Hansen

I loved this book, I read it when I was looking for something a bit different about prayer, having found it on sale in Exeter Wesley Owen’s discount book room on the way down to Cornwall.   In the book he is essentially encouraging people to take long walks with God as a way of praying for a long time – I like this, as I’ve essentially done something similar for a number of years, taking time to walk and pray as a I walk.  Hansen’s really good point is that in this process we shouldn’t worry about the times our thoughts wander, but instead bring those wandering thoughts to God too.  I’d recommend this as a good read to refresh your prayer life.

Glory Days- Julian Hardyman and Heaven is not my home – Paul Marshall. 

I loved both these books as really refreshing reminders of the importance of all of life to God’s mission.  The Christian life, and Christian mission are about so much more than just evangelism, important though that is.  There is real significance and importance to the whole of life.  Julian Hardyman’s book is a great place to start on this theme – it is short, but packed with helpful teaching and refreshing insight into how all of life matters and has meaning in God’s mission.

The Mission of God – Chris Wright. 

This is a big book – and one which sets the ideas of the above two books on a solid biblical foundation.  I read it when I broke my foot one Whitsun Camp, and it was probably worth breaking my foot to get the uninterrupted reading time it deserves.  I would say this was well worth the time it takes to read it.  Wright seeks to read the whole bible as the product of God’s mission, and telling the story of God’s mission to redeem his world – a mission that encompasses evangelism, working for justice, creation care and all of our lives as image bearers in God’s world.  One quote that sums up his perspective is this:

“Mission is not ours; mission is God’s. Certainly, the mission of God is the prior reality out of which flows any mission that we get involved in. Or, as has been nicely put, it is not so much the case that God has a mission for his church in the world but that God has a church for his mission in the world. Mission was not made for the church; the church was made for mission—God’s mission.”

It is also worth it just for the time he takes on establishing the Old Testament basis of this – if you think that the God of the Old Testament is somehow different to the God we see in Jesus, somehow more primitive, more bloodthirsty and less loving you should read some Wright to get this idea destroyed.

If you want a concise summary of Chris Wright’s understanding, as well as really helpful discussions of tough questions Christians struggle with then “The God I don’t understand” is a really good book to begin with (discusses suffering, atonement, the brutal wars of the OT and the new creation).  Also really good is his trilogy on Knowing Father, Son and Holy Spirit through the OT (the original is Knowing  Jesus through the OT) – and his BST commentary on Ezekiel is great too.  I not only love the content of what Wright  writes, but I love the way he writes too – rooted in Scripture, gracious towards others, and clear and positive about what he thinks.  His work on OT ethics (which he was a pioneer in) is really important too, and it helped to inform groups like the Jubilee Centre in Cambridge.

Confessions – Augustine

I read this first inspired by a Sunday summer evening series on the Psalms which also had a meditation drawn from the confessions on the service sheet.  I re-read it as part of one of my courses at Regent.  It is well worth reading to get an insight into the mind of one of the greatest thinkers who ever lived.  It should be engaged critically – Augustine was brilliant, but also with several massive blind spots – and both his brilliance and blind spots have stayed with the church ever since.  His blind spots however are not the same as the blind spots of our age, while his brilliance can bear down on our blind spots and correct them.  The first 9 chapters are autobiography and then he switches into more general meditations, including some fascinating thoughts sparked by Genesis 1.  It is well worth having a go at reading some of the classics – and Augustine is so foundational to both Catholic and Reformed Protestant thinking (he’s one of the most frequent – non-biblical authors – quoted by Calvin) that it is really useful to start to understand where so many ideas come from.

Also short and worth reading for any involved in teaching/preaching is On Christian Teaching, which is a kind of 5th century preaching handbook. Worth playing “spot the difference” between this and our “how-to” books on preaching – one of the main differences being that he lays the ground work for the context of our exegesis and hermeneutics for preaching in the commandments to love God and neighbour rather more thoroughly than we would.  The other is that difficult sections in the Bible seem to be a challenge to his ingenuity rather than problems for his faith – which can sometimes be a good thing, and other times just lead to some rather bizarre exegesis…

Jonathan Edwards – George Marsden

I had to read this for an excellent course at Regent on The Pastor in Christian History, and I loved it.  I’d read Murray’s biography of Edwards previously which I’d enjoyed and I’ve read lots of John Piper, and had finally got round to reading his mini biography of Edwards combined with Edwards on “The End for which God created the world” one sunny morning outside Blenz Coffee shop down near Save-On-Foods (a remarkably empty supermarket by UK standards!) on UBC campus watching the towers growing around me.  Marsden’s biography is fantastic at putting Edwards in his wider context, and at being “critical” in the right sense of asking questions of what Edwards was doing and how, although still broadly sympathetic to Edwards wider agenda.  It is really fascinating in our “post-modern” (whatever that label might actually mean) context to see how Edwards tried to integrate everything at the start of the “modern” era – even where he didn’t really succeed it’s still worth seeing how he tried and the lessons we can learn.

I want to close this with an extensive quote from Chris Wright (again) – from the final chapter of his big book – and again it sums up something else I love about Wright – the integration of hard study and personal application – something that really, really needs to be integrated more in the lives of our churches (rant for another blog post sometime… )

  • We ask, ‘Where does God fit into the story of my life?’ when the real question is where does my little life fit into this great story of God’s mission.

  • We want to be driven by a purpose that has been tailored just right for our own individual lives, when we should be seeing the purpose of all life, including our own, wrapped up in the great mission of God for the whole of creation.

  • We talk about ‘applying the Bible to our lives’. What would it mean to apply our lives to the Bible instead, assuming the Bible to be the reality — the real story — to which we are called to conform ourselves?

  • We wrestle with ‘making the gospel relevant to the world’. But in this story, God is about the business of transforming the world to fit the shape of the gospel.

  • We argue about what can legitimately be included in the mission that God expects from the church, when we should ask what kind of church God wants for the whole range of his mission.

  • I may wonder what kind of mission God has for me, when I should be asking what kind of me God wants for his mission.

Point 2 and point 3 above strike me as so fundamental, and so utterly radically perspective changing.  So read the Bible.  If you are not convinced by the above quotes read Isaiah 40-55.  Over and over again. Read it.  Read it until you get the point.  God is God, and there is no other. God is God and he will act to save. Some highlights:

Isaiah 40

18 With whom, then, will you compare God?
To what image will you liken him?
19 As for an idol, a metalworker casts it,
and a goldsmith overlays it with gold
and fashions silver chains for it.
20 A person too poor to present such an offering
selects wood that will not rot;
they look for a skilled worker
to set up an idol that will not topple.

21 Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood since the earth was founded?
22 He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth,
and its people are like grasshoppers.
He stretches out the heavens like a canopy,
and spreads them out like a tent to live in.
23 He brings princes to naught
and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing.
24 No sooner are they planted,
no sooner are they sown,
no sooner do they take root in the ground,
than he blows on them and they wither,
and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff.

25 ‘To whom will you compare me?
Or who is my equal?’ says the Holy One.
26 Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens:
who created all these?
He who brings out the starry host one by one
and calls forth each of them by name.
Because of his great power and mighty strength,
not one of them is missing.

27 Why do you complain, Jacob?
Why do you say, Israel,
‘My way is hidden from the Lord;
my cause is disregarded by my God’?
28 Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
29 He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
30 Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
31 but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.

Isaiah 42

42 ‘Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen one in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
and he will bring justice to the nations.
He will not shout or cry out,
or raise his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out.
In faithfulness he will bring forth justice;
    he will not falter or be discouraged
till he establishes justice on earth.
In his teaching the islands will put their hope.’

Isaiah 43

43 But now, this is what the Lord says –
he who created you, Jacob,
he who formed you, Israel:
‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour;
I give Egypt for your ransom,
Cush and Seba in your stead.
Since you are precious and honoured in my sight,
and because I love you,
I will give people in exchange for you,
nations in exchange for your life.

I could quote more – but you get the idea – go, read!

These days most of the time I get for reading is taken up with reading for PhD, so it’s harder to list books I’d recommend – many I read now are rather technical, but I hope to do a final post in this series listing books I’ve discovered in my academic studies that are helpful, either in whole or in part for the more general reader.

No accidents…

We’re reading the Silver Chair at the moment and we got to a great quote at that end of this chapter which goes like this – the children have finally followed the signs Aslan gave Jill at the start and are now under the ruined city and explaining to the enchanted Prince Rillian why they did so:

“And we saw the words UNDER ME.”

The Knight laughed even more heartily than before.

“You were the more deceived,” he said. “Those words meant nothing to your purpose. Had you but asked my Lady, she could have given you better counsel. For those words are all that is left of a longer script, which in ancient times, as she well remembers, expressed this verse:

Though under Earth and throneless now I be,

Yet, while I lived, all Earth was under me.

From which it is plain that some great king of the ancient giants who lies buried there caused this boast to be cut in the stone over his sepulchre; though the breaking up of some stones, and the carrying away of others for new buildings, and the filling up of the cuts with rubble has left only two words that can still be read. Is it not the merriest jest in the world that you should have thought they were written to you?”

This was like cold water down the back to Scrubb and Jill; for it seemed to them very likely that the words had nothing to do with their quest at all, and that they had been taken in by a mere accident.

“Don’t you mind,” said Puddleglum. “There are no accidents. Our guide is Aslan. and he was there when the giant king caused the letters to be cut, and he knew already all things that would come of them; including this.”

I love this quote, and I’ll leave you to think of the multiple situations it could apply to…

Great expectations

It’s always encouraging when people are prepared to take responsibility for their actions, and apologise when they have made mistakes, especially when those mistakes hurt others, perhaps especially when it is on an organisational level.  It seems like something a few public organisations in the UK could learn to do.

I think I came across an article about a good apology today.  But as I know next to nothing about the people and issues involved I won’t be any more specific.  It seemed that the group in question had promised more (or at least given the impression of promising more) than the Bible did about how much change people could expect in their lives.  They promised not only support to live a life resisting the pull of temptation to a particular sin, but also that the temptation to a particular sin could be removed altogether.

It seems to me that  we cannot necessarily expect such removal this side of eternity.   It is true we are new creatures, part of God’s new creation.  It is true that our old self is dead. It is true that we should expect substantial progress in our battle with sin.

But. We live in a fallen world. We are fallen people, with sinful, disordered habits. We have a vicious enemy who delights to stir up any remnant of sin in those who profess faith in Christ. We always live life as those in a battle against “sin, the world and the devil” – and the challenge is to remain a faithful soldier to the end of our lives.

One danger is to say “I’ll never be perfect, so why bother trying?”  The other danger is to expect too much.  To promise what the Bible does not. To say that we can acheive perfection, or achieve freedom from a particular type of temptation.  The massive danger in expecting too much is disillusionment and hurt.

The subtler problem with promising freedom from particular temptations in this life is that it places the hope in the wrong place. The hope becomes a better life now. The hope becomes sorting out my problems, and Jesus becomes a means to this end.

Jesus, however, is not a means to an end.  Or better the only end to which Jesus is the means is Himself.  This quote from Larry Crabb in the introduction of Inside Out is one I love – go and read the book – and I think if you google it you might well be able to read the introduction for free!

Orthodox Bible preachers are rarely lured into proclaiming a prosperity gospel, but still they appeal to that same desire for relief from groaning. They tell us more knowledge, more commitment, more giving, more prayer — some combination of Christian disciplines — will eliminate our need to struggle with deeply felt realities. Yet there is no escape from an aching soul, only denial of it. The promise of one day being with Jesus in a perfect world is the Christians only hope for complete relief. Until then we either groan or pretend we don’t.
I’ll finish the post with a extract from a poem by John Piper – which sums up the great reversal to come when Jesus returns and renews all things (the poem is called “Glorified” – worth reading the whole thing)
The blind can see a bird on wing,
The dumb can lift his voice and sing.
The diabetic eats at will,
The coronary runs uphill.
The lame can walk, the deaf can hear,
The cancer-ridden bone is clear.
Arthritic joints are lithe and free,
And every pain has ceased to be.
And every sorrow deep within,
And every trace of lingering sin
Is gone. And all that’s left is joy,
And endless ages to employ
The mind and heart to understand
And love the sovereign Lord who planned
That it should take eternity
To lavish all his grace on me.
O God of wonder, God of might,
Grant us some elevated sight,
Of endless days. And let us see
The joy of what is yet to be.