Moses: Man of God

I have been challenged to write something each day for Lent. For perhaps obvious reasons I’ve chosen Moses, and my intention is to cover something about Moses and his interactions with God every day over the next 40 or so days. Apart from anything else, the desert location of most of these interactions makes it seem like a good theme for Lent.

But in order to understand those interactions in detail there are a few things to think about first in terms of context and background, so in my pre lent post I’ll put this introduction up. The account of Moses begins for us in the book of Exodus, in which Moses plays a major role. It doesn’t take much reading of books about Exodus, at any level, before you find a difference of opinion about Moses.

For some Moses is the hero of the book – at popular level this tends to mean he is used as an example of good leadership that we are to follow. In scholarly works it means that the man Moses is the founder of the Israelite nation and religion. By contrast others declare that the only hero of the biblical story is God, and that Moses is merely a tool in God’s hands.

The reality, I think, lies somewhere between these two extremes. Yes God is the ultimate hero of the biblical story – but that still leaves a lot of room for human initiative and human character to play their part. Moses is not simply a tool, he is a person who is, we shall see, taken up into the divine decision making process, and whose intercession leads him to glimpse the heart of a gloriously gracious God.

As we look at the way in which Moses interacts with God we shall think first about what that interaction leads us to discover about God – and then about the implications of that for our own interaction with God. I hope that we will see afresh the glorious grace and mercy of our God of steadfast love – and glimpse anew the mystery of a God who shows us that grace and mercy in ever new and surprising ways.

As we begin that journey there are three important things to remember about how this book is written, three dimensions of reading the biblical story. First it is theology – that is to say it tells us about God and what he is up to in the world. Second it is history – that is to say it tells us about things that actually happened in real space-time (although, as the third dimension reveals, not always in the same way that we would tell of such events). Third it is story – it is told to us in an interesting and gripping way, not in the manner of a text book to teach about events, but in the manner of a novelist who wants us to see the world through different eyes. How these things interact is not always easy or straightforward – but is important to keep all three dimensions of the text as we read.

My final thing to point out as someone who has studied these things at an academic level is that I won’t (normally) be using footnotes – if you want to know where I got which bit of my ideas then ask – but these posts will be a mixture of ideas gleaned from elsewhere (and I’ll try to point you in the right direction to find out more at appropriate points) and my own interpretations.

Now to think about where the next post should begin…

 

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Return of The King

The now traditional blog posting of a sermon – this one unusually for me was a topical sermon, on Jesus’ return.  (You can listen here, if you want to hear me struggling to keep my voice in the midst of a cold! http://leightonbaptists.org.uk/media-links/current-teaching/ )

This morning we will be looking at the big picture of Jesus’ return. I don’t know how you feel or think about Jesus’ return.  In a church like this, where we come from many different Christian backgrounds, and in a world like this, where every sort of teaching is available at the click of a button on-line I guess we may well have very different views on some aspects of this topic.

For some of us this variety of opinions and teachings on Jesus’ return may make it feel like a scary or confusing sort of topic, but what I want to show today is that for the Christian it is ultimate source of re-assurance, it is our motivation for our lives of worship and our hope as we face our own death or the death of loved ones – and I know that for many of us that has resonances over the last little while.  So let’s pray.

Pray

The great 19th century social reformer, who worked tirelessely to end the cruel practices of child labour, Lord Shaftesbury said towards the end of his life: “I do not think that in the last forty years I have lived one conscious hour that was not influenced by the thought of our Lord’s return”

And what I want to say this morning it that it is not simply that we live with the thought of our Lord’s return as an isolated event, detached from any context, but that we live with the knowledge that Jesus will return, and that this return will be to complete God’s rescue plan to transform his broken world into a new heavens and new earth where will be with Jesus forever.

This cannot stay at the level of thought only.  We need to be actively waiting for this.  The Christian life is described very often in the Bible as waiting: waiting for Jesus to return:

“Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.” (1 Corinthians 1:7 TNIV)

“But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ,” (Philippians 3:20 TNIV)

“so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.” (Hebrews 9:28 TNIV)

It is this awareness that Jesus is coming back which will help us live now in the midst of unresolved questions and tensions that life now throws up.  In a world that is messed up, in the midst of lives that are broken we need the end of the story so that we know that whatever life may look now, one day everything will be put right.  It doesn’t stop the hurt and the pain now – we are encouraged to bring that to God, but it does mean that we know that it is not forever.

So the message today can be summarised in one sentence: Jesus is coming back to make everything new, we don’t know when, so wait in eager hope.

We’ll deal with each part of that sentence in turn

Jesus is coming back to make everything new

This return is to complete God’s story and so make all things new.

Remember how God’s story starts: He created a good world, and we were made to live in God’s good world – indeed we were made to be rulers of God’s good world, cultivating it and take care of it, making sure that it ran properly.

We messed up – we rejected God – Adam and Eve ate the fruit, and we live in a world that is now in bondage to sin and decay – the sin and decay that we bring.  The sin that puts my comfort, my security and my desires above obedience to God, above the well being of others, and above the well being of this world.

That sin ruins us, it makes us self-centred and self-defining, instead of God defined and God centred.  That is the story of Genesis 1-11.  That is the story told in those tragic tales of Cain and Abel – brother on brother violence, of Lamech and his wives – of brutality and violence – of the world of Noah’s flood, of the drunkness afterwards, and of the pride and arrogance of the builders of Babel.  We think we can rule the world, but every time it ends in violence and oppression, in bloodshed and separation.  Open a history book if you want the proof.

And so God begins his work of renewal.  He calls one man to become a nation, indeed the father of nations, and calls him to show what it looks like to live a life of righteousness, to be a blessing to those around and to bless others.  God doesn’t call people out from the world, he sends a man into the world to be a blessing to the nations.

And so Abraham is called, and becomes the father of a great nation – and Israel are rescued out of slavery to Pharaoh and given a land of their own.  God’s people, rescued for a new life in God’s land – to give a real flesh and blood demonstration of God’s ways and values.  They are supposed to live in such a way that people look at them and comment on how great their God must be.

But of course it doesn’t work out like that – Israel sin just as Adam did.  They think they can improve on God’s plan and pattern, just like Adam did. They choose sin repeatedly and their story goes from bad to worse.  Right at the start of the sin pattern God promises that there will be a day of final punishment on sin – but in the meantime he is patient with them.

He has to send them into exile – they can’t stay in his land, any more than Adam could stay in the garden – while they live like the people they replaced in the land.  God is just.

And yet God does not give up on his people.  God does not stop being a compassionate and forgiving God – their history does not stop with the exile – a remnant return, with the promise of a glorious future ahead, and with hints that this future will reach beyond Israel to the rest of the world.

600 years or so after the anti-climatic return from exile Jesus comes – he is born, lives and dies. Not only does he die he is raised to life again, and then he ascends to heaven as the risen Lord of all.  And, as we saw last week he sends the Spirit to live in us now, starting the process of changing us to be like him.

But the promise is made that he will return.  He will not give up on his world.  Salvation is not removal from this world.  Jesus’ return brings God’s kingdom to earth, it makes it a reality.  It is the answer to the Lord’s prayer.  Jesus returns to make everything new.

And we can divide that ‘everything’ into us, and into the world.  First of all us: Thessalonians is written to one of the churches that Paul’s team established on their missionary journeys.  The concern that many had in this church was that they had been taught that Jesus would return, and that he would come unexpectedly and potentially soon, and they were worried that those who died would miss out on being with Jesus.

But Paul writes to reassure them that those who have died will not miss out on Jesus’ return.  The hope for them, and for us, for believers who have died is that Jesus is coming back, and we will all be with the Lord for ever.  Notice how believers who have died are described – they have ‘fallen asleep’ in the Lord.

The church throughout the centuries has generally understood this to mean that believers who die before Jesus returns are with him in some kind of conscious, but non-body existence enjoying his presence and refreshment – before he returns and they are raised together with us, as Paul outlines here.  It may also be that we can think of believers dying, and at death simply coming straight to that last day, to the final resurrection – that for all of us, the day of our death is the day of being resurrected – and that again could fit into what Paul says here – and whichever of those is right, believers who have died are safe in the Lord, and they will be raised and united with the coming Christ, and second those who are still alive are raised to meet the coming Lord.

We are waiting for the coming Jesus who will raise us so that we will be with him forever, and who will transform us, so that we will be like him – just a couple of verses to reinforce that point:

“But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.”

(Philippians 3:20–21 TNIV)

“Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.”

(1 John 3:2–3 TNIV)

And then Jesus returns to make this world new

This described in two ways in the bible – Romans 8 talks about creation being liberated from bondage to decay, while 2 Peter 3 seems to talk about the world being burned up, and totally replaced.  A closer look at 2 Peter suggests that while the heavens are described as being burned up and dissolved that the earth is described as being laid bare.  So perhaps Peter is talking about a purging fire that destroys the ruin and mess of this world before the world is made new.  Perhaps an analogy with the resurrected bodies helps.  Just as we will have new, recognisable bodies, that are in continuity with our current ones, and yet utterly made new, so the new heavens and new earth will be recognisable from what we see now – and yet utterly made new.

That making new means that Jesus’ return is the day when sin will finally be punished.  It is the day when all oppression, injustice and pain will be gone.  And it is the day when all collude in that oppression, and when all who reject Jesus will face the consequences of their sins.  There are only two places for sin to be dealt – on the cross, by Jesus in our place, or in hell, excluded and shut out from God’s presence forever.  Jesus return is the day when God’s righteous and holy anger against sin will be seen – and when we will see truly what sin is and what it does.

On that day sin will be fully and justly dealt with.  Now we see partially and now we have a lot of questions about God’s justice and about hell – but on that day we will know that God has been utterly just and utterly fair, and that no-one will have an excuse.

That should make us cautious about pronouncing judgement on others now – we don’t know what the stories of other are.  We don’t know how God has dealt with them in their hearts.  We know our stories and we are accountable to God for our actions and ways.  And one day we will see and understand how God’s judgement works, and that it is just and fair.

And when sin has been judged and destroyed then God’s kingdom will be established on the renewed and transformed earth.

We don’t know when Jesus will return.

Back to our reading in 1 Thessalonians – it is hard to get away from the sense of expectation in the NT that we have – Jesus is coming back, and it could be soon.  And we are not to be surprised.  Not in the sense that we know when Jesus is coming back, but in the sense that we expect him to one day, and it may well be today.

I know that there will be some who would want to push back, and say ‘but what about event x – doesn’t that need to happen before Jesus returns?’

Now.  I know that for some of you this is an area of confusion, while for others it is an area where you have a definite view of what should happen and when.  I don’t want to get into the details of the various debates on the issues.  What I want to hopefully show is how the Bible says we should think about these things.

First thing to remember is that Jesus is very clear that know one knows when he will return.  When Jesus was on this earth he did not know (Mark 13:32).  That means that anyone who has a timetable is wrong – I guess one day someone will get lucky – but that is all it will be.

Second thing to remember is that we are in the last days now.  Remember last week, Pentecost is the start of the last days – the Spirit given to the church – there is no event in God’s salvation plan to come between Pentecost and the Return of Jesus – so in the NT whenever you read ‘the last days’ think ‘Pentecost -> return of Jesus.’

Third thing is that difficulty and hardship and suffering characterise these last days: 2 Timothy 3:1, Mark 13 – earthqakes and famine and war – and the end is still to come.  Sometimes you hear ‘tribulation’ used – it is simply a translation of ‘suffering’ – there will be a lot of suffering before Jesus returns – and some of you here right know that all too well.  And yet the gospel goes to all nations – as well as hard times we will see times of great fruit and advance for the gospel – and that is what we have seen throughout church history.

Fourth thing is that Jesus’ return is very often spoken of in picture language – Revelation is not a timetable for the end, or a detailed explanation – it is picture language for all of history – using imagery readily understood by the first readers.  So don’t make it into a detailed timetable of events that need to happen before Jesus returns

The fifth and final thing I would want to say on this – promises made of a return to the land in the OT to Israel are usually to be regarded as fulfilled by the return of Jesus – think of Ezekiel 47 with its vision of a temple and a river, finding some fulfilment in Jesus’ words about the Spirit given to believers flowing out like rivers  in John 7 and then the way the language is taken up in Revelation 21 and 22 about the new Jerusalem.

But, even if we think there are events that need to happen before Jesus’ return it is worth remembering that we could be wrong – I could be wrong, you might be wrong – there is room for disagreement around the finer details.  Jesus could return any time.

Look at 1 Thessalonians 5:2-4 Jesus’ return will be unannounced, until it happens.  It is like the labour pains – that suddeness that is essentially unpredictable, yet part of a larger pattern that points to what is coming.  You don’t know when labour will start – but you know the end of the pregnancy is soon.  And that brings us on to the final point:

Wait eagerly with a waiting that changes everything

And, just as in labour when we don’t know exactly when it will come, or how long it will be, but we know it will be worth the wait, so with Jesus’ return – so many details are not clear, but I’m going to read a few verses from Isaiah and then a large chunk from Revelation which will just whet our appetite for what is to come.

Just before we do that, a brief explanation of one of the phrases we are about to read: ‘no longer any sea’ – doesn’t sound great – except that all through scripture sea is the symbol of chaos and darkness – it means danger, it means the devil and all his forces – and so what no more sea means is that there is no more chaos, there are no more dark forces to bring havoc and destruction on the earth – finally there is perfect peace – so with that in mind I’ll read these verses:

“On this mountain the LORD Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine— the best of meats and the finest of wines.

On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth. The LORD has spoken.”

(Isaiah 25:6–8 TNIV)

Rev 21 “Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.””

(Revelation 21:1–5 TNIV)

“I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.”

(Revelation 21:22–22:5 TNIV)

The wait is worth it:

We live life now waiting.  Waiting eagerly, waiting expectantly, but still waiting.  You might be familiar with the bumper stick slogan: “Jesus is coming back: look busy” – but actually it is ‘Jesus is coming back – wait eagerly’.  We don’t fill our lives with frenitic busyness in service to God – rather we realise that we are waiting – there is nothing we can do that will bring in God’s kingdom.  That waiting leads to activity – we are waiting, in the sense that a couple waiting for their first baby are waiting – doing things now that will get us ready for the coming day, and living now in the light of his return – but it also gives a sense deep in us that God’s kingdom and plans do not depend on us.

Look back at 1 Thessalonians 5:4-8.  I think the point of that is that in terms of our daily routine: sleep, food, work, rest, play – in one sense nothing changes when we are Christians, we don’t get removed from this world.  But actually everything changes.  We do the normal stuff of human existence, knowing that it all matters, because in all of it we live out our obedience to Christ – we are called to work, we are called to family life, we are called to friendship and love – and in all of these things we live showing that Jesus is supreme.

We are children of light. We don’t sleep – not in the sense of staying awake all night, but in the sense of not being asleep to the reality that Jesus will return one day.  Instead we are to keep awake – remember Jesus’ command to the disciples to watch.  We are to be alert. We belong to the day.  We belong to the light.  We don’t belong to darkness, we don’t belong to the night – a symbol here of evil and sin.   We are awake and watchful over all of our lives, ready to put on the breastplate of faith and love, and a helmet of the hope of salvation.  We trust Jesus, we love him and others, and we place our hope in him for deliverance.

Doing those things is what matters.  Doing those things will mean we are alert.  We plan individually and together how we can show that trust Jesus and love him and others.  We live out our lives as signposts to the reality of what is to come.  We don’t bring God’s kingdom by our mission – instead we join God’s mission in his world – which looks outwards to call others to him, and to show his love and compassion to a broken world of broken people.

We will focus on what matters most.  As we go about our daily work our focus will be not so much the performance targets as the people.  We will seek to love our colleagues, our patients, our pupils in word and deed – which of course means very often that we will work hard at our jobs as a form of love for those around us.  As we do that our character will be more and more formed and shaped and prepared for our new lives to come.

As we do that we will attract others to the life to come – acting as signposts. And as we do that we will remember that no good thing we do for Jesus is ever wasted.  Somehow all of it matters, and all of it will follow us – both in terms of the goodness of what we have done in its own right, and in terms of the impact that goodness on others.

And we will encourage one another with these words: “We will always be with the Lord” – that is what it comes to down to – there are a lot of questions about the end of the world, about Jesus return, but our final destination is that we will always be with the Lord – one day we will see his face.  One day we will be with him forever.

Think of that: ponder that: Always.  With.  The Lord.  With the Jesus who was born for us, who lived for us, who died for us, and who rose for us.  We will be with him forever.  Trust the one who holds us.

After the sermon we had communion, and after communion I read this poem by John Piper (edited down slightly): https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/glorified which is also towards the end of “Future Grace”.   The end of the poem goes like this (I changed me to us at the end).

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.

I’ve read this out loud a few times before  and these lines always catch me – ‘the cancer-ridden bone is clear’ is always poignant – and then the next lines too, so that getting through a public reading without tears stopping the reading is a challenge.  So I hadn’t been sure about reading it, but thought, I’ll only do if there is time – and sure enough there was time, and sure enough it was hard.  But it is right that these lines should move us to tears, there is a place for tears of sorrow and tears of joy and relief in the face of the reality of what the new creation will bring, that, as Isaac Watts puts it in one of his hymns: “there will shall see his face, and never, never sin, and from the rivers of his grace drink endless pleasures in”.

Then we sang ‘There is a Day’ (this is a great video for it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5dPJQ8Jve1E), which somehow right now seems to be a song that particularly strikes cords at church and concluded with 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24:

May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.

A Bigger Story, learning from the skeletons in the cupboard…

I haven’t done a posting of a sermon for a while, but here is my latest one from Sunday on Matthew 1:1-17 – ever so slightly different from the final delivered version, but the overall message is much the same (if you google Hockliffe Street Baptist Church, Leighton Buzzard you can listen to spot the differences!).

 

It’s not the most exciting start to a book is it? Names, names and more names. It is not how we write and not how we think. However interested we are in family history we are not going to start our books with a genealogy. And yet Matthew has done this for a reason. There is a purpose to how he writes his gospel, and for Matthew it matters. These names matter. These names are actually a shorthand for Israel’s story to this point. These names tell us that we are not coming in to the story at the start. The birth of Jesus is not the start of the story. There is a bigger story going on. To tell the story of the beginnings of Jesus – 1:1, Matthew has to stretch way back in time. The story has been going on for centuries past, and Jesus is the fulfilment of that story.

 
Jesus is the one to whom all Israel’s story, from Abraham to David, to exile and beyond, in all its ups and downs points. That’s why Matthew talks so much about fulfilment, especially in these early chapters. It’s not mostly about predictions made about Jesus, rather it is about patterns that Jesus lives out and shows the full meaning of by his life and death.

 
That helps to explain some of the odd verses Matthew quotes – When Mary and Joseph flee to Egypt Matthew quotes Hosea 11:1 ‘Out of Egypt I brought my son’, which in context is about Israel coming out of Egypt at the Exodus. And Matthew knows that, he’s not taking the verse out of context instead he is saying that Jesus fulfils what the Exodus is all about – bringing freedom from captivity to those in slavery, and he does that by living out specific events that match Israel’s history – for another example think of Jesus tempted in the wilderness for 40 days – like Israel for 40 years.

 
Matthew lays the foundations for this idea by this genealogy, which tells us about the story so far. By it he gives substance to the fact that Jesus is the Son of David and the Son of Abraham.

 
Remember the promises to Abraham:

“The angel of the LORD called to Abraham from heaven a second time and said, “I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me”
(Genesis 22:15–18 TNIV)

There would be a descendent of Abraham who would bring blessing to the nations, blessing to the whole world.

 
Abraham has children, and eventually we come to David – remember God’s promise to him – that he would have a ‘son’ who would reign forever.

““‘The LORD declares to you that the LORD himself will establish a house for you: When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son. … Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.’””
(2 Samuel 7:11–16 TNIV)

 
There was an initial fulfilment of that promise with Solomon, but of course, his sin disqualified him, and there was still the hope of a King who would come from David’s line who would enable Israel to live out her calling to the nations.

 
Jesus is this descendent, and so Matthew’s genealogy, this obscure list of names is designed to highlight this reality and to hint at what God’s kingdom looks like, and how God’s kingdom works by reminding us of different figures and events in Israel’s story. These people and events can be divided not so much into the Good, the Bad and the Ugly, as the Good, the Bad and the Unknown. And through all of these we see that God is frequently at work in unexpected ways and through the most unlikely of people.

 
First let’s look at the Good that the family tree reminds us of. The good here reminds us of God’s promises, and the hope held out. It also reminds us of how this comes about in very unexpected ways, through very unlikely people. The Good we read of reminds us to look out for the unlikely, and to take heart if that is how we think of ourselves.

 
Matthew’s genealogy first of all reminds us of God’s promises, and in particular how God’s blessings would reach out to all nations. We are reminded of the early Genesis story – of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and so we remember God’s promise to them. As we read of David we are reminded of God’s blessing of a King, and in Solomon of how that kingdom grew and thrived. There was a hope, and that hope was of blessing to all nations. Even in the dark times there was some hope – amongst the kings who failed there are exceptions – Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah and Josiah.

 
And Matthew reminds us of this also through some unexpected names. You may have noticed, if you were paying attention, the slightly unexpected addition of 4, even 5 women. There are two of them that we’ll look at in this positive category, and they both come in v5. Both of them are unexpected additions to this family tree.

 
First in v5 Rahab. Rahab remember was a Canaanite. In fact she was an inhabitant of Jericho – the first city to be conquered by Joshua. So she was under a death sentence. She was also a prostitute. Unlikely material for coming to be part of Israel, and a descendent of the Messiah surely? And yet she is in this list. Joshua 2 explains how that came about. 2 Israelite spies had hidden in her house. And she had agreed to hide them. But what is crucial is why she had hidden them. Joshua 2:9-13.

““I know that the LORD has given this land to you and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. We have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed. When we heard of it, our hearts melted in fear and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the LORD your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.”

She had come to faith in the God of Joshua, in the God of Israel.

Notice too in passing – all her family were saved through this action, and she had heard about Israel and the Exodus. The Bible does not show the Canaanites as ignorant, or innocent. Whatever questions the accounts in Joshua raise for us – and if you have some, do come and see me about it afterwards, because there is plenty of material in the biblical text to give the lie to the likes of Richard Dawkins who talk about a God who commands genocide – they need to be read with Rahab in mind. She is the first Canaanite mentioned – and she is spared, because she trusts in Israel’s God. That option was open to others (look in Joshua 9 for other examples).

 
So, outsiders can come into Israel if they trust in Israel’s God – even if there are commands elsewhere that suggest they should be destroyed. Likewise outsiders can come into Israel if they trust in Israel’s God – even if they should be excluded to the 10th generation. This is also shown in Matthew 1:5. Ruth. Ruth & Boaz is an extraordinary story. Ruth is a Moabitess – excluded from Israel because of Moab’s history. And yet she returns to Bethlehem with her mother in law – Ruth 1:16-17 gives us her declaration of faith.

“But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.””
(Ruth 1:16–17 TNIV)

 
Again, an outsider trusts the true God. This story is also notable for one of the true heroes of the genealogy. Boaz is an Israelite man, established in his village and community, a man of integrity – a worthy man in every way. Read Ruth and see the care Boaz exercises – and read Judges 17-21 to see what the rest of his society is like. See what happens to innocent women visiting strange cities. See the leaders who use and abuse women, see the people who choose what is right and wrong in their own eyes, Boaz shines out. He takes care of Ruth, takes his responsibility seriously and thus the family line continues.

 
When we read Matthew’s gospel we read about Jesus’ birth through the eyes of Joseph. Joseph is righteous man – and he is confronted with the situation of Mary – a woman, who though unmarried and engaged to him, is pregnant – and not by him. He’s going to deal with it quietly, minimise fuss and upset, and salvage his reputation without dragging Mary through open disgrace, and then an angel comes in a dream. Then Joseph too has to risk misunderstanding and loss of respect in order to obey God’s commands. People will be able to do the maths – and know that Mary and Joseph haven’t been married 9 months. So one thing Matthew may well be pointing out in his genealogy is that the questions that would inevitably have surrounded Jesus’ birth were nothing new in God’s story. God has always worked in unexpected and unorthodox ways that his people don’t always get.

 
That should raise questions for us. How much are we prepared to go against the flow to follow Jesus, and do things in unexpected ways, that people do not necessarily get. Are we prepared to risk our reputation, like Joseph and like Boaz, in supporting and helping someone to be part of and grow in God’s kingdom? Is there some aspect of our Christmas celebrations that could look different in order to show how much Jesus matters to us? Where are we prepared to risk people speaking ill of us because we are obeying God? There will be all sorts of areas where that challenge hits home – and as we do we need to celebrate and emulate those, who like Boaz, and Joseph – and of course like Jesus welcome and include the outsider.

 
And then we re-read this genealogy, this collection of names, and more questions come. Some of the events referred to are not so positive. We read of the Bad as well as the Good – and through these what we will see is that God works out his plans through all sorts of suffering and sin on the part of his people. We are clued into that as we start the genealogy. Look at v2 Abraham had his moments where his actions failed to match up to the huge promises God had given him. Jacob – deceiver – deceiving his father, spurring with his uncle over who could out deceive the other, running his family with blatant favouritism leading to major disaster – even if God did ultimately use it for the good of his people and his glory. And then Judah, and v3 expands a little and reminds of the obscure story tucked away in Genesis 38 of Judah and his family.

 
It’s not really what you’d want to draw attention to in the genealogy of the Messiah. Judah has a son, Er who he finds a wife – Tamar for. Er is so wicked that God puts him to death – we don’t really find out why. Then Er’s younger brother refuses to produce an heir with Tamar to continue the family line, so God puts him to death too, and finally Judah promises Tamar his third son, when his third son has grown up. Judah never delivers on the promise – so Tamar takes matters into her own hands, dresses as a prostitute, Judah sleeps with her, and leaves identification (signet ring, staff, and cord – think credit card and driving license) with her in lieu of payment – but when he comes to send payment he cannot find the prostitute. When it is discovered that Tamar is pregnant he is about to have her burnt for adultery when she produces his identification – then he declares that she is more righteous than him. Perhaps that is some sort of wake-up call for Judah because then in the Joseph story he plays a key role and takes on responsibility. But in this story no-one comes out very well. It highlights human manipulation, and sin, and yet Judah and Tamar find their place in David and ultimately Jesus’ line.

 
The next woman mentioned doesn’t even get her name read out. But Matthew’s informed reader knows exactly who she is. She is Uriah’s wife. Bathsheba. Matthew’s omission of her name highlights the same thing as the 2 Samuel 11 story. Bathsheba is, in David’s eyes, an object. Contrast the grasping attitude David has with the way that Ruth is treated by Boaz and you see how different it could be. At a time when he should on the battlefield he is at home in the palace. He sees her purifying herself – no hint is given in the text that Bathsheba was doing this to be in view – it could simply be that she was unaware that she could be noticed. David sees she is beautiful and asks who she is – after being told she is the wife of Uriah (one of his fighting men who he knows is out of the way) he has her sent for, he takes her and she goes away again. We don’t know how Bathsheba felt, or how much choice she had. The point rammed home in 1 Samuel is that this is David’s sin. David. King David. The man after God’s own heart. That David falls in this way – and then of course has Uriah killed – a cover up operation. And yet God saw. God knew.

 
Solomon is born – and Bathsheba has major influence over him becoming King. More manipulation, this time of David. It isn’t a glorious story. There are serious flaws in David and his family. He is not sinless. He is not the perfect King. And yet through this sin God is still working out his plans. It is 100% totally clear that God disapproves of David’s actions in Bathsheba’s story. David is punished. God takes his son. And yet that human sin does not stop God’s plan. God is working in the midst of the mess. God works with what he has to hand. God doesn’t wait for us to be perfect before working in us and through us. That never excuses our sin, and sin will be judged. Oppressors will not get away with it. Those who use women as objects will be judged. But in the meantime it often leads us to question what he is doing. Where was he when… We have limits round that situation – God never causes sin, God hates sin. And yet we live in a world where God does not stop it. It looks hard, and often it looks messy, because God takes the raw material of our brokenness and sinfulness, and brings salvation to the world.

 
We should look at these names, and take it as a warning. If even David, the man after God’s own heart sinned in such a way, then you can, and I can. Also we should take it as an encouragement – if David sinned in such a way and was then forgiven then you can be, and I can be, forgiven. Remember when David was confronted with his sin. He admitted it. “I have sinned” – that was what made the difference. His predecessor Saul on paper sinned less – but when confronted he always made excuses, and tried to reduce his sin. David admitted it. Yes, we are to expect that in a messed up world others will sin, and we will sin – but we are never to excuse that sin. We are always to admit our sin and seek forgiveness from God and others – and always be ready to forgive when others have to say sorry to us.

 
When David sinned, God took the life of his son as a punishment on David. But David had another son, Solomon – and through that line we come eventually to Jesus – who dies so that we don’t have to. Whose life is not taken by God, rather he lays it down for us, out of love. Through the mess of human pride, jealousy and fear came the redemption of the world. The genealogy of Jesus tells us that God has not given up – he is still the who weaves redemption out of tragedy.

 
Finally, we come to the unknowns. The unknowns of redemption who teach us that this king who comes takes his time and uses nobodies – be patient, God isn’t finished with his world yet.
You see with the first 14 generations we recognise some of the names, and see that even with those we don’t they are on their way to David. With the second 14 we have the Kings of Israel, but the final 14 names are essentially unknown. If you know your bibles well you’ll have heard of Zerubbabel who did get to be governor, but never king, of the Persian Province of Judah when the Jews were allowed back to Judah. However beyond Zerubbabel the names have faded into history, and into insignificance. We know nothing of who they were, nothing of what they did, nothing of whether they had any expectation of ever ruling anything again – and by the time we reach Joseph it seems highly improbable that he ever had any ambitions of royalty.

 
They lived at a time of small things – the phrase is used in one of the last prophets to Judah after the exile, before the silence began. They lived in exile in the land – there is only exile mentioned in this genealogy. No return is mentioned. Physically the Jews came back. Physically the temple was rebuilt. But the temple was a shell. The glory never returned, the cloud of God’s presence never came back.

 
They lived waiting. Longing for the who would come and prepare the way of the Lord, longing for the time when a King would arise who would again rule on David’s throne. They lived in a time of darkness, and of distress. Of national confusion, of weak leaders, of divisions in God’s people. A time of withdrawal, or compromise, or hiding. A time that sounds all too familiar.

 
And yet God’s plan was being worked out. ‘When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son’ Paul wrote to the Galatians. When 3 lots of 14 generations had been completed the time was right for something new.

 
A new beginning. A new chapter in the bigger story, with a rebuilt people of God who will live out the calling to be a light to the peoples, to be a blessing to all nations – which of course is how Matthew will end his gospel – the disciples going to all nations. Jesus lives out all that Israel were supposed to be, and by turning to Jesus, by submitting to him, we can be part of his restored Israel – the church, going to all nations.

 
We are part of this same story, a people who live out their calling as ordinary, unknown people, people in a dark world that is all too reminiscent of many of these stories Matthew alludes to here. We live as part of a story that has been going on for more than 4000 years, and in which God is still at work. We live knowing that Jesus is the one through whom God saves, and the one through whom God is with us now in the muddle and the mess of our lives now. And so we live waiting for the day King Jesus will come, and bring about the fullness of rescue that began with his first coming, that began with the simple submission of a peasant girl and her carpenter husband to be to the word of the Lord.

 
So today take heart from the good examples of those who have gone before, take heed of the warning of the bad – face the reality of a fallen world and of sin and sorrow, and be ready to serve as part of the great line of God’s unknowns who will one day see the face of the same Jesus who came 2000 years ago to Mary and Joseph. On that day the waiting will be over and the fullness of the fulfilment will have arrived.

 

 

A God who hides?

I wrote this post around May last year, but for some reason didn’t post it – so am rectifying this now – I think the references to then current events still resonate (sadly).

“Truly you are a God who hides yourself…” – Isaiah 45:15.  I read those words yesterday morning, and at so many levels they seemed to speak.

A God who hides himself, and who seems to be hiding the next steps pretty tightly right now.

A God who hides himself – in a world of mass murder, a world of violence, a world of hateful rhetoric from politicians who use pictures of refugees fleeing war torn scenes we cannot imagine to frighten us into choosing their way.  A world where one serious contender for the most powerful position on the planet thinks he can make a country safe by building a wall and stirring up hate.

A God who hides himself rings true in our experience and in the experience of a world that can seem utterly out of control.

But it is important too to get the context of these words right.  They come at a key point in Exodus 40-55. The soaring rhetoric of these verses holds out the promise of a new Exodus for Israel, a new deliverance for God’s people.

But in chapter 45 things take a surprising turn.  God’s deliverance will not be like the first Exodus. It will not happen through an appointed deliverer confronting a pagan ruler.  It will not happen by a miraculous series of signs of judgement on Israel’s oppressor.  Instead Isaiah 45 begins:

1Thus says the LORD to his anointed, to Cyrus,
whose right hand I have grasped,
to subdue nations before him
and to loose the belts of kings,
to open doors before him
that gates may not be closed:
2 “I will go before you
and level the exalted places,[a]
I will break in pieces the doors of bronze
and cut through the bars of iron,
3 I will give you the treasures of darkness
and the hoards in secret places,
that you may know that it is I, the LORD,
the God of Israel, who call you by your name.
4 For the sake of my servant Jacob,
and Israel my chosen,
I call you by your name,
I name you, though you do not know me.
5 I am the LORD, and there is no other,
besides me there is no God;
I equip you, though you do not know me,
6 that people may know, from the rising of the sun
and from the west, that there is none besides me;
I am the LORD, and there is no other.
7 I form light and create darkness,
I make well-being and create calamity,
I am the LORD, who does all these things.

This time the LORD’s deliverance of Israel will be achieved through the action of Cyrus.  Cyrus is the King of Persia who defeats Babylon.  It Cyrus who will issue the decree to Judah to return to the land (see Ezra).  When we look at the passage we see that it is God who gives him the strength to do this, God who equips him for the task – with the ultimate aim that, like Pharaoh, or like Israel, Cyrus will know that “I am the LORD”.

The surprise is that Cyrus does not know the LORD.  He is equipped, called and strengthened by name, by the LORD, but he does not know the LORD’s name.  Verse 4 is striking.  For Israel’s sake the LORD calls Cyrus by name – and yet Cyrus does not know the LORD.  Cyrus freely chooses, for reasons of imperial policy to let Judah resettle Jerusalem – and yet this free choice is at the same time the deliberate act of the LORD to rescue his people.

God works out his purpose and plans in the mixed up world of human politics and empire. That is the message of Daniel too – especially the visions of chapter 2 and 7, and the humbling of Nebuchadnezzar in chapter 4.  God is the true King.  He works his purposes out in the rise and fall of empire.  Sometimes that is comfortable.  Sometimes less so.  45:7 is stark.  Sometimes God’s purposes involve calamity.

I don’t like that.  I want to say that God always does nice things.  The Bible however is consistent.  God works with and in the mess of this world to work out his plans of deliverance.

Isaiah 45:15 does not end with God hiding.  It says: “Surely you are a God who hides himself, O God of Israel, who delivers.” The verse marks a transition point in the chapter.  Up to 45:15 the focus has been on God’s use of Cyrus to bring about his rescue.  To the end of the chapter the focus is increasingly on God’s rescue of Israel and even on a hope beyond Israel.

What struck me as I read that was that God is a God who simultaneously hides himself and delivers.  His salvation occurs in the unlikeliest of ways and through the strangest of people.  His salvation does not occur in the same way twice.  He hides while delivering.

I’ve been reading the Narnia stories to the boys at bedtime over the last few weeks.  We began with the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, moved on to Prince Caspian, Voyage of the Dawn Treader and now are moving into the Silver Chair.  It has struck me that these stories are marked by the gradual withdrawal of Aslan from seeming active involvement in the story.  This is especially marked by the Voyage of the Dawn Treader where Eustace’s encounter with Aslan is told through Eustace’s eyes, and the only direct encounter in the story is with Lucy in the magician’s house.  (Aslan does, of course, appear at odd moments as a warning, and as an albatross to provide encouragement, and to rebuke Caspian towards the end, and there is then the final encounter with Aslan.)

The Silver Chair is more striking even than this.  The only encounters with Aslan directly are at the start and very end.  Jill’s encounter with Aslan has some striking similarities to Isaiah 45 in its starkness and lack of apology for divine behaviour.  Jill is then given the signs to remember – and warned of how tempted she will be to forget, and of how easy it will be to go by mere appearances.  The remedy is simple: remember the signs.  Remember.  Aslan does not turn up to rescue in the book.  The children mess up at each point.  And yet the quest succeeds.  One of the key points in the book is Puddleglum’s determination to believe against all odds.  Following Jesus often looks like living the Silver Chair.  It often involves getting it wrong.  It often involves feeling like God is hiding.

Yet it is the hiding that God is saving.
God was saving a people through a Persian King who did not know him.
God was saving when He came as a helpless baby in a manger.
God was saving when the baby grew up to become a man.
When the man was nailed to a cross.  Rulers scoffed and mocked.
The sky went black.  The man cried out forsaken, and alone.
And yet at that moment God was accomplishing salvation for all who believe.
At that moment of utter hiddenness God was doing his greatest work.

It is the hiding that God is saving.
I don’t know what that means in my life.
I don’t know what the means for our next steps.
I don’t know what that means for your life.
It might mean disaster.  It might mean illness. Bereavement.
I don’t know what it means in the life of our nation and our world.
It might mean the collapse of our democratic tolerant comfortable society for something much more nightmarish.
But none of that means that God has stepped off the throne.

It is in the hiding that God is saving.

18 For thus says the Lord,
who created the heavens
(he is God!),
who formed the earth and made it
(he established it;
he did not create it empty,
he formed it to be inhabited!):
“I am the Lord, and there is no other.
19 I did not speak in secret,
in a land of darkness;
I did not say to the offspring of Jacob,
‘Seek me in vain.’[c]
I the Lord speak the truth;
I declare what is right.
20 “Assemble yourselves and come;
draw near together,
you survivors of the nations!
They have no knowledge
who carry about their wooden idols,
and keep on praying to a god
that cannot save.
21 Declare and present your case;
let them take counsel together!
Who told this long ago?
Who declared it of old?
Was it not I, the Lord?
And there is no other god besides me,
a righteous God and a Saviour;
there is none besides me.
22 “Turn to me and be saved,
all the ends of the earth!
For I am God, and there is no other.

He is God.  He is not an idol.  He is not made by us.  Not created by us.  Not defined by us.  Not pinned down by us.  There is no other God besides our God.  He is God.  He is hidden – and yet he saves.  He does not say “seek me” in vain.  All who seek will find.

We all have a choice.  An idol – a god that cannot save, that we create and form and make.  Or God – the true God – the God who makes us uncomfortable, who unsettles and disturbs.  The God who saves, restores and heals.  There is no other.  Aslan says to Jill – who longs for a drink yet is frightened of this great lion – “There is no other stream”.  There is no other way to life than by casting ourselves on the God who hides and delivers.

 

Where love and mercy meet.

It’s been a while since I have sat down and written here. I’ve missed writing, this evening though is one of those evenings when writing becomes necessary. It is the means by which I breathe fresh air once more.

God has been faithful these last 9 months since we moved mid January. He has led us, He has provided and sustained us. His mercy and grace have been faithfully new each day. They have been needed daily, hourly at times in those months. He has humbled us by placing us among His people to encourage and equip one another to be disciples of Christ in all of our lives. That means there is no hiding our own lives from God and holding back parts. If we are calling others to live their whole life rooted and set on Christ then we need to do the same. And that means life doesn’t always look the way we want it to look. It doesn’t feel the way we would like it to feel.

We were away this weekend thanks to friends opening their doors to our children, to celebrate our 10th anniversary. I was struck on the way home how perfectly those 48 hours had mirrored our marriage. Meals, walks, conversation, being, joy and a deep satisfied sense of purpose soaking in Les Mis, hard honest late conversation, money angst when our bank card refused to work when we tried to book our ticket home and God faithfully providing, my skewed health making sure it got a look in. It was not a weekend detached from reality but a celebration of all of life. All of life that we are called to live for Christ and which we call others to do too.

At church recently we had a sermon from 1 John and I was challenged on the question of what it meant for Christians to love in a way others didn’t. For me the challenge I needed to heed in my life is that God’s love requires justice and mercy. And I realised that I can ‘love’ others but when seeking justice my anger blinds me to the act of mercy but seeks out revenge, it spills out in anger.  It was unsettling to think that my ‘love’ I want to believe I am extending is God’s love but when the rubber hits the road there is only some desire for justice and an absence of mercy. That conviction has rocked me to my core this week. I don’t like to admit that anger is so readily to hand in me. I want to be (known as) generous, calm, unrocked, merciful. The reality is far from that. This is why I need the gospel, why I need the work of the Spirit in transforming me. I don’t have a framework for messing up and still being loved and accepted and of worth. Forgiveness is real for others but I so often forget it is for me too. No wonder my love is filled with anger because I so often forget the love given to me from God and so the ‘love’ I share is flawed and hollow too often. Too much I try to walk this road of faith on my own strengths and merit, too much I try to love from being a good person and getting it right and doing the right thing to justify my anger.

And what I don’t get in all of this is knowing friends who love deeply, who do desire justice and mercy and do not share my faith. For me the only answer comes back is that we are all made in the image of God and so all have the capacity to love as God would have us love and some seem able to do it without knowing Him in ways I understand. I am thankful for their example and humbled.

IMG_20170521_190551_1CS

In these past 9 months there have been more times than I want to admit to of asking God for a break. When we feel there is nothing left to be stretched yet further. At times to be left with less and less than we started in regards to physical and emotional resources. To know that deep deep peace that passes understanding that says ‘you are right where I want you to be’ and to feel right at home like we had not felt for some years. To have seen far too much of the hospital at MK and our local surgery and know there are more visits to come. To feel not on the fringes of community but be in the early days of belonging.   To have felt turned inside out more than was possible as God’s word has brought us to our knees, has asked more of our family than we might has said we were willing to offer. To have asked more questions and shed more tears. To be afraid of my body’s fragility and frustrated by how it seems to have decided to behave and according to the consultant at my last appointment its uniqueness. Being medically unique was never something I was aiming for!

To have realised that calling others to whole life discipleship only works when your own whole life is in Christ and discovering that is far from the reality in my own but grateful that the work of redemption is a life long journey this side of eternity and was not a one stop deal that I missed out on. So my desire is to being willing to be honest and vulnerable when desperately trying to hold it together or run for the hills; and to sit with the unfinished stories of our lives alongside others and their unfinished stories. And sometimes that is going to mean our threads get caught up with each other and in a tangle and need sorting and other times we have some to offer gladly. Some stories break us, some spur us on, some challenge us and call us on, others witness to ours and us back to them.

Having the courage to write this is far easier than having the courage to live it, but writing it and placing it where others see it is for me is placing a marker to say to myself this I was what I long for even if running away still feels a better idea. It’s going to mean rooting myself deeply into the gospel, allowing God’s word to shape me, convict me and encourage me. It’s going to hurt, its going to mean immense joy, its going to mean life as Jesus meant us to live; full.

Names of hope

Names in the Bible often have significance, and that is why I’ve found reaching the end of 2 Chronicles (and therefore the end of the Old Testament in the Hebrew order) fascinating.

The last King of Judah to achieve anything is Josiah (whose name sounds something like: May Yahweh give, or perhaps ‘may Yahweh heal’ according to a different dictionary), who reforms Judah’s worship, rebuilds the temple and rediscovers the book of the Law as he follows Yahweh wholeheartedly.  Yet even these reforms do not accomplish anything lasting, the kings after him do not follow his ways, and the people return to their idolatry.

2 Chronicles 36 lists these final kings, and it was their names that caught my attention as I read.  There is Jehoahaz – which sounds something like ‘Yahweh is strong’ or ‘Yahweh gives strength’, but he only lasts 3 months before the King of Egypt deposes him and takes him off to Egypt.  He is replaced by his brother: Jehoiakim, which sounds something like ‘Yahweh exalts’, but after 11 years of his reign Nebuchadnezzar invades and takes him into exile, replacing Jehoiakim with his son Jehoiachin.  Jehoiachin’s name sounds something like ‘Yahweh establishes’, but he only lasts 3 months, enough time to do evil in the eyes of Yahweh, and then be replaced by Zedekiah whose name sounds like ‘Yahweh is righteous’.  Despite the promising name Zedekiah too does evil and after 11 years of his reign Babylon invades once more, and the survivors of the population are taken off to Babylon in exile.

It is striking that as Judah goes on the downhill route to exile because of their continued rebellion against God their kings have names that should remind everyone of who is really in control.  It is possible to conceive that even while rebelling against Yahweh, and worshipping other gods, that the royal family is still determined to sound like it is doing the right thing.  Perhaps they are among those who say ‘this is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD’ in Jeremiah 7, and who follow the deceiving  prophets that Jeremiah has to contend with who say ‘peace, peace’ but there is no peace.  They can say the right things, and yet reject God in their hearts.

And yet even if these kings are named out of a false show of piety they testify to the reality of what is going on behind the scenes.  Behind the scenes God is still the one who gives strength.  God is the one who lifts up and brings low, God is the one who establishes and God is the one who is ultimately righteous.  The Babylonians were the instrument of his judgment – yet behind them he was already raising up the Persians who would allow the Judeans to return, as the end of 2 Chronicles testifies.

The book of Daniel points to the rise and fall of many empires on the world stage, but in the midst of these empires rising and falling there is rock not built with human hands.  There is one like a son of man in the midst of beastly empires.  His reign and rule will be established by God.  And he will reign in righteousness for ever.

The encouragement for the believer in a 2 Chronicles 36 type world where God’s people seem under pressure, and in decline, is that God’s character remains the same.   He continues to make strong and to build up.  He is righteous, and his righteous kingdom will know no end.  In such a world he simply calls for faithfulness.

Josiah’s reforms didn’t achieve very much.  Within 3 decades Jerusalem was overturned and had fallen – his reforms did not last beyond his lifetime.  And yet he was faithful, and was commended for his faithfulness. Sometimes our faithfulness will be like that.  Sometimes we won’t achieve very much.  But the call is the same.  Keep on seeking to do God’s will God’s way, and trust him with the results.

Doing God’s work his way does go into a bigger picture.  Josiah’s reforms at least meant the book of the Law was rediscovered, and when the people went back to the land they could build on God’s Word rather than making it up.  The reforms were too late to save the kingdom, but they sowed the seeds for the next stage of God’s plan.  We don’t always get to see that plan.  Josiah didn’t see that plan.  We simply have to act, as Josiah did, in obedience, one step at a time, to our faithful God and leave the outcome in his hands.

As we do that we know that the outcome is secure, that Christ’s kingdom will come in all its fullness, that we may not see reasons right now, or understand why obedience is necessary – but it will one day be worth it when the righteous King takes his throne for ever and he establishes and lifts up, when he puts right what is wrong.  That gives us strength not to listen to the false prophets of peace, and not to follow the paths of idolatry away from our God.  On that final day we will see and know the one we hope and trust in now, and we will see and know that the difficulty of following now was worth it.

 

 

 

 

 

Missing

Tomorrow, 22nd March, would be Mum’s 80th birthday. For her 70th my friend Cate and I bought my wedding dress. For her 60th I was in my final year of my undergraduate degree. Days I never got to mark with her because she had died December 1994. Time does heal but time also brings a new ache. Becoming a mum myself has given new shape to my memories of her, of our relationship, of what might have been. While there is sadness that she has not been around to meet Mark or the boys, it is in having a daughter of my own that the ache has deepened. In so many ways I see my younger self in our determined independent daughter and in mothering her I am given new insights to mum and my own relationship with her.  I long to say sorry, to ask forgiveness, to forgive, to hopefully laugh as we recall moments from my own childhood that are being played out again with me as the mother this time. Over the past few days I have had little reminders of my mum’s sacrifices she made for us, her volunteering; as a children’s play assistant at the local hospital, and with meals on wheels to name two that stand out in my mind. The meals we had every day, clean clothes, a home. I long to be gathering with all the family tomorrow to sing her happy birthday and to celebrate her. For her to be celebrated not because of what she did,  but because she was her.  As with me she was not perfect, but she was and is my mum and tomorrow there will be something missing in my day.

With mother’s day this coming Sunday as well, there is a rawness to my edges this week, a frailty to my desire to have it altogether, to not be swayed by things so easily. Today has been a day when the tears have spilt easily and awkwardly at different times. And as happens so often it is never just one thing that tears are spilt in an ache that is runs 22 years deep. But however deep it is, it is the channel into which other past journeys find their way and spill out.  God led me to the passage today in John’s gospel where Mary Magdalen encounters the resurrected Jesus in the garden. I was preparing it for an Easter reflection I am doing in a couple of weeks with the ladies fellowship and realising that mum might have been part of such a group. I thought I was on safe ground getting on with preparing this for others. For some reason I forgot that it was God’s word and that is not how He works. This was a passage He was and is going to first use in my life. Twice Mary is asked why she is weeping. It is not as an accusation but as a concern, a recognition of where she is at. It is Jesus who asks her the second time  and he follows it with the question ‘who are you looking for?’ And through my own tears I sensed God asking me that question, in my tears and rawness ‘who are you, Roz, looking for?’ I am looking for someone who is not brought to tears as easily as I am, who does not feel vulnerable and fear like I do. I am looking for the good parts of my life to have been woven into a different past. I am looking for a way to make the truths stand out louder than the lies.  I am looking to not doubt and wobble. And in looking for a different me I miss God and His ways. I miss Him calling my by my name. I miss that in my weakness He is made strong. I miss Him.

So tomorrow I will invite the children to join me in the garden, a place that mum loved and where many of happy memories of being with her are rooted, along with sitting Sunday by Sunday in church holding hands as we joined with those around us to say the Lord’s prayer. To be in God’s creation, to get my hands dirty, to root myself where He has placed us, to tell them stories of Granny, talk with and about God to them. To remember Mum and know that God is present and while sometimes we can miss Him He never loses sight of us.