Wednesday, 4 September 2013

A promise for those in transition

In our prayer meeting last night we were praying for many in transition. Young teens about to leave for university, pre-teens about to move to senior school, folk on the threshold of hospital treatment, folks in the early days of bereavement. For these and many others life changing events are taking place. These can be unsettling times when the familiar begins to give way to the unknown, sometimes as a result of our decisions, sometimes as a result of the decisions of others. Sometimes the new future is embraced with anticipation, sometimes it casts a long shadow of uncertainty and anxiety. A word from the Old Testament scriptures came to mind…
Therefore say, “Thus says the Lord GOD: ‘Although I have cast them far off among the Gentiles, and although I have scattered them among the countries, yet I shall be a little sanctuary for them in the countries where they have gone.” ’ Ezek 11:16 NKJV.

This promise comes on the heels of God's judgement of Israel and Judah as a result of their sin. Their experience to come was the result of their own actions and a modern disciplinarian might well have said "they made their bed, let them lie in it". In other words, this is their own fault let them stew in their juice! But even in the midst of God's disciplining of our lives he brings this promise. Wherever they find themselves and irrespective of where the fault lies God will not abandon them. Their new circumstances will never be 'God-forsaken'. The Lord, Jehovah declares "although I have cast them off", "although I have scattered them" they will not be God forsaken; " I shall be a little sanctuary for them in the countries where they have gone." God's earthly 'sanctuary' the temple was gone, there was no turning back the clock. The Davidic dynasty and the priesthood were gone. The familiar supports of their faith were all gone… "yet I shall be a little sanctuary for them".

God, himself, would still be available as a place to find refuge. He, himself, would be place of rest and security. God, of course, is always more permanent than his gifts. If we have God himself available the transition, even the judgement, can be a time of genuine blessing.

The Old King James version gives a fascinating insight into God's way of measuring the next step into uncertainty.
Because they have no changes, therefore they fear not God. Psa 55:19 KJV.

Those actual uncertainties and the absolute certainty that 'change is here to stay' become the setting for a new era of discovery in which we may discover God in a new way. Don't let the fear of the unknown tomorrow paralyse you. Whatever else may change, God will not. Whatever tomorrow holds for you He himself will continue to be available as the place where you can find refuge and the presence of your God.
“For I am the LORD, I do not change; Therefore you are not consumed, O sons of Jacob. Mal 3:6 NKJV.

Friday, 5 April 2013

The Paralysis of Omnipotence

This is the next passage in G Campbell Morgan's commentary on the Gospel according to Mark. He covers the attitude of the people at Nazareth to Christ's return visit. The locals knew Jesus of Nazareth so well, they knew his family, his personal history as the local carpenter and they were astonished at the power they had heard of and at the wisdom of the 'local boy'. In fact the passage records two different kinds of astonishment.
  1. Mark 6:2 And when the Sabbath had come, He began to teach in the synagogue. And many hearing Him were astonished, saying, “Where did this Man get these things? And what wisdom is this which is given to Him, that such mighty works are performed by His hands!
  2. Now He could do no mighty work there, except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them. And He marveled because of their unbelief. Mark 6:5–6 NKJV.
Campbell Morgan uses a surprising phrase to describe the second instance. He calls it the 'paralysis of omnipotence'. It is a shocking phrase and something of an oxymoron. How can anything hinder omnipotence?

And yet clearly it did.

It is a sobering passage of Scripture. Christ comes, apparently with the desire in his heart to accomplish the will of the Father and his intentions are frustrated. I am choosing my words carefully. I am not saying he 'felt' frustrated but that his intentions were frustrated. He knew the will of His Father. He was anointed with 'power and the Holy Spirit'. He came to 'do' that will and yet He was 'not able' do what he wanted to do. As the passage declares he was 'not able to do a work of power there', other than to lay his hands on a few sick folk and heal them.

And the thing which caused the paralysis of omnipotence was 'unbelief'. Is 'unbelief' more powerful than omnipotence? We are touching this amazing mystery again that God, although omnipotent, will not use his omnipotence to force human beings to do things which they do not desire. It seems that in that crowd there were some who did respond to him and to those 'who received him he gave the right to become'. Perhaps it is the same in almost every gathering of people. There will be those who shut out the word of Christ and shrink away from his outstretched hand. He can do no work of power for such. But there are those who receive his word and long for his touch.

Christ marvelled at the 'unbelief' of those who rejected him. Has God given any greater power that the power to say 'No' to God? Will he 'marvel' at our reluctance to hear what he says to us, or will there be rejoicing in his presence as we voice our 'Yes, Lord'?

Thursday, 4 April 2013

If He Who can, does not, then it is better so!

From time to time I read something and feel I want to post the whole thing so that others can share it. Most often this happens when I am reading something by G Campbell Morgan. Of all the commentators available to me this man's ministry has blessed and challenged me most consistently. I don't always agree with the line he takes, but then as I sometimes say "I don't agree with myself all the time." Margaret and I often read him together.

This morning we read from his commentary on Mark's Gospel. If you haven't already discovered Campbell Morgan take the time to read his commentary on the story of Jairus' daughter and the woman with the issue of blood. You can find a free version here. With amazing sensitivity he unpacks the thrilling story of Christ's dealings with the two women. G Campbell Morgan lost his only daughter at an early age and you will hear it in almost every line. This is no trite comment from an author's desk but something that scorched his own heart and which has passed through his own being.

He ends the exposition with these words…

Yes, but, you say, my child died, and I lost her! Yes, but, you say, I am not cured. I am still suffering! How shall I reply to that kind of statement? Reverently I say in answer; even though our children went, and He did not let us have them; even though we were not cured, and long, long suffering runs on, there is something to be sure of. Seeing that we have had that unveiling of Him; we know His heart and therefore are sure of His sympathy.

There is another thing to remember. Many children are raised up even yet. Do not put these stories back two millenniums. That one lassie that God took out of my home I did so want to keep; but she went. But I have other bairns in the home who have seemed to be as near the end as she. I asked for them, and they are with me yet. He still touches the little hands, and raises up the children. He still heals, and He has cured many a soul of bodily infirmity.

Therefore we know that those who are not raised up or cured, are still in His love. Therefore that which happens to them is best for them, and must be best for us. He did not let me have my lassie. He took her. Then that was best. I do not quite see how, for me, and yet I am sure it was so. If He Who can, does not, then it is better so!

This is the faith of those who glimpse the Throne.

If He Who can, does not, then it is better so!

Monday, 1 April 2013

Keep Calm and Don't Panic

This wartime slogan has gone through thousands of permutations in the last couple of years. You will find the general idea of the slogan on T-shirts, coffee mugs, posters. It would be hard to go out in public in the UK and not see some reference to the idea. There is one place however where you will not find it, heaven. Only people who can't see the throne need this kind of advice and the presence of the Throne is fundamental to our revelation of heaven. 'The Throne' appears 33 times in the book of the Revelation. It is one of the central revelations of the Revelation.
Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne. Rev 4:2 NKJV.

John's world was falling apart. Jerusalem, the city he had known so well in his youth was destroyed. The temple and the priesthood were gone. All his brother-apostles were gone; he is the last swallow of the summer. The local churches that he knows best are in disarray; leadership is degenerating into control. Then to top it all he is exiled to a island and most likely put under house arrest. But comfort does not come from a poster or fridge-magnet bearing the words "keep calm and don't panic" but from a revelation of things as they are to the eye opened by the Spirit. He beholds, amidst all the shambles of his earthly experience, a throne set in heaven, and it is occupied; One sat on the throne. As long as that throne is occupied by its rightful owner we have no need of worldly epigrams.

We don't need to be in heaven to see the Throne. Christ saw it after a busy day of teaching as he lay asleep with his head on a cushion in the stern of a small boat on the Galilean sea.
And a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that it was already filling. But He was in the stern, asleep on a pillow. And they awoke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?” Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace, be still!” And the wind ceased and there was a great calm. But He said to them, “Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith? Mark 4:37–40 NKJV.
They mistook his faith for complacency and passivity; true faith is neither.
An old hymn captures the truth…
Give to me a vision

Reaching to the throne.

Let me see earth’s problems

In that light alone:

‘Tis Thy Word assures me

All shall work for good,

Things that long have baffled

Soon be understood.
ECW Boulton

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

because I have you in my heart

This is part of the secret of the ministry of Paul to the churches. Certainly he had a 'royal commission' but he had something else too; the love of God had been poured out in his heart by the Holy Spirit. Romans 5:8.

The heading is taken from Paul's letter to 'the saints', the people of God, in Philippi. Php 1:6,7. There is a line from an old Graham Kendrick song that comes to mind.
"where are the love tears that earned the right to speak"
This is not the first time I have quoted these words on this blog.

There is an interesting feature in the original of Philippians 1:6,7. Apparently, just as accurately, it could be translated 'because you have me in your heart.' This mutual affection is the uniting bond that linked these early saints together. Paul spoke to the saints at Philippi with a deep conviction that was authenticated by the fact that he had them 'in his heart.' It was a New Testament pattern; 2Cor 8:16. He was not driven by duty or necessity but it was the 'love of Christ' that constrained him.

Do we long to speak words of authentic comfort to the saints? We shall, if we have them in our hearts. We have no right to speak into the lives of those who we do not 'have in our hearts'. At best such preaching will have reform at its heart rather than a love for the individual. It will have targets and milestones and the critical eye of the man who knows how other men 'ought to behave'. But we usually recognise the man or woman who 'has us in their hearts' and to heed their counsel or receive their encouragement is not difficult.

Who has God put in our hearts? We have God's authority to speak to them. It is said of our great Shepherd; his commandments are not burdensome.1John 5:3. Or as one version has it "his commandments do not weigh us down." It's because he has us in his heart.