Categories
Faith

Waiting For the Phone To Ring & Hoping It Doesn’t

I’m sitting down to write this as a kind of reflection in progress. I say in progress because the event(s) I’m reflecting on as I’m sitting here ruminating are only in the midst of their processing. How I feel today is not necessarily how I’ll feel after the next conversation I have on the phone.

It’s been that kind of week. Each time the phone rings, change happens. Some calls have led to minor improvements in mood and outlook. Others the opposite and more than one has brought quite a swirl of shocking emotions, competing for attention in my increasingly-stretched and pressed emotional view.

Just under two weeks ago, my family suffered an unexpected and sudden bereavement. Trained in pastoral work and care as I am, quite experienced in doing it pretty well as I’m told I am, after those first few times the phone rang to offer increasingly desperate and then ultimately crushing news, comforting words seemed far from my mind. Presence, quiet consolation, mixed with a raging sense of the unfortunate unfairness of it all, they’re what came to me then and have sustained me ever since. I hope I’ve been of some support and use to my family in their grief, still so new and raw, but even if I haven’t, I’ve given what I had, what  God gave me when I prayed urgent, hushed prayers asking for ‘enough’ for today and then that tomorrow would bring enough for that day. God has been faithful, kind and generous as have so many of our family and friends, and yet, still I wish what happened hadn’t happened. Death and grief are fine enough when they’re distant, theoretical concepts, but when they come close the feelings they engender, the tiredness, the bone tiredness that’s been part of my life for 12 days now, that’s what I think will change how I talk to bereaved families or families whose loved ones are close to the end. Anyone who’s been through it will probably remember, or still be experiencing the feeling. Being a professional minister means that I sometimes have to do the professional work of supporting grief and loss, but it is so important that any of us who have this privilege don’t detach ourselves so far from the visceral pain of what is happening that we seem aloof. The most helpful things that have happened over the last few days are people who have asked us ‘how are you?’ or who have turned up at the door with food we didn’t ask for or realise we needed but which have meant we haven’t had to think. Thinking is hard. Thinking is tiring. Decisions are distant dreams. So I all of a sudden am very keen on provided soup, casserole and the like.

All of that would and probably should be enough, but then a couple of days ago when the phone rang, it was for a different reason. On the line when I picked up was the Family Liaison Officer from a prison not too far from us. As soon as the prison was named I knew who it was about, but what I was told next really did shock me. A prisoner who I an others at Emmanuel befriended through our Foodbank and other work and who became part of our Church family was seriously ill with Covid-19, she said. He was in a bad way. My heart sank. How sad. He’s due out this year. The shock didn’t end there though. The prisoner, my friend, had named me as his next of kin. Was I willing to take on the role? Having then as I do now, not much idea of what that might entail I thought I ought to say yes.

What a privilege, a sad and humbling privilege. On the one hand that the work I and many others had done with him had had such an impact; on the other that there was no one else who he felt he could trust and rely on to take on this role.

That was on Wednesday morning. I’m writing this on Friday afternoon. In the intervening time, P has deteriorated and rallied, deteriorated and rallied. I have decisions and judgement calls on his behalf which have all been best-guesses. Apparently the answer ‘keep him alive please’ is not detailed enough when responding to the question ‘How would you like us to proceed’, for instance. Just this afternoon I have spoken to the prison FLO, a Dr who is treating him and a member of the hospital’s fantastic chaplaincy team. What I’ve gleaned is that all of them are fantastic and want the best for P and are doing the very best they possibly can to bring it about. It is still very much touch and go what will happen in the coming time. This afternoon P has been asking if I could go and see him. It is, I have to say, pretty gutting that I can’t at the moment.

So, rather than just tell you a long-winded piece of a tale with an unknown ending, how about some reflections….

First, at the moment, the two situations I’ve described above are all I can think about at the moment. As I’m typing I know that there are some people I work with who are pretty unhappy with how things are going at work. I also know that the Church of England, of which I am a part and who to an extent I represent, has got itself in more than one media kerfuffle over the last 24 hours. I also know that all over the place people are receiving news, both good and bad, that the team I support and chaplain for, Northampton Town, have a game tomorrow and plenty more besides. Ordinarily, of course, all of these things are important, some of them crucial, even, but at the present moment I couldn’t really care less about most of that. I wonder where God is in that thought? I wonder how it might impact how I talk to those who are dealing with things of this nature (because I know there are a lot of them) in the future that might be changed compared to how I might have been three weeks ago?

What would Jesus say to P, or to those treating him, caring for and about him, or to my family, or to me, if we paused to listen today? Maybe ‘come to me all who are weary’ might be something. Would Jesus weep? Would he rage? I think I know what he would not do: walk by on the other side. I think he would point out all the ways he is at present involved, working, caring for, soothing and challenging in equal measure. I think at some point he would ask ‘what do you want me to do for you?’ and then do it, to show that this world is not all there is, that what we see in front of us, the failures, the mess of our own making and that made by others, is actually gloriously passing away, and would give a sign that the better world we are promised and of which we dream is closer than we even dare to believe. I think he would do all this and more.

A little while back, in a previous lockdown, far, far away before any of this happened (the end of October) I wrote a piece about starting to record a new album called Ruthless Trust. Sometimes my trust is wafer thin. Sometimes it’s thinner than that, whatever that is, but at times like these, when I honestly have no clue what to do or say, it’s a surprising comfort to me to be able to say ‘I am no longer my own’ and that in some small way I have understood a little of what it means to enter into the fellowship of the suffering that Jesus went through for me, for my family, for P, for those treating and caring for and about him. I’d give a lot to not have gone through the last two weeks, or to have watched those I love go through the last two weeks, but it seems like all I can do is persevere and hope that in doing that, faith and character follow and that out of all of that, this maelstrom of words I have written here which gives you an insight into a little of the chaos of my brain at the moment, new hope would be born. I want that hope to be firm, not in a concept or a thing, but in the One who is making all things new.

In the meantime, if you pray, please do for my family, for me, for P and all who have not had pieces written about them today but who also need some comfort, some peace and some strength to carry on.

The phone only rang 3 times while I was writing this. I hope it doesn’t ring again for a good while.

Categories
Disability

On the Value Of A Human Person

We all know we live in challenging times. When we are under pressure or under challenge, perhaps even under persecution, it’s often the case that what we really think about the things that matter comes more readily to the fore. We don’t have the strength, or the capacity, to pretend. We get closer than we usually do to saying what we really think; we prioritise the things or the people that are most valuable or precious to us; the values we hold and the lengths we would go to to gain or to protect them become obvious, when we would usually try and keep our personal and privately held motivations to ourselves

Over the last few weeks, I’ve read too many times that the lives of ‘vulnerable’ people should be sacrificed, in whatever sense that particular thought is expressed or meant, so that everyone else can ‘get back to normal.’ This isn’t theoretical, it’s personal. To me. If you think, or say that stuff, do you know what it says to me when I read it?

It makes me think you think the lives of disabled/elderly/unwell people are worth less than those who are, at the moment, none of those things. It makes me wonder if you realise you may well, sadly, be any of them, or all of them, someday.

It makes me wonder what you would do in response to a govt policy, now or in the more distant future, which said that ‘we can’t possibly afford to support people’ or something like that. Would you vote for a party saying that? I wonder these things. It’s more than possible that one of the outcomes of the economic and health and social care policies pursued during 2020 and beyond will have societal consequences. They will undoubtedly have fiscal consequences. All this bailing people and industries out was not, I believe, done out of largesse. We and our descendants will very likely be ‘paying back’ what has been paid out for a long time to come. In these uncertain circumstances, who will be valued, prioritised, encouraged, supported? Can we afford to support those who aren’t at present able to work to support themselves? What happens if we make the decision that ‘we’ can’t? My question would rather be, can we afford not to?

All of us have changing circumstances. Not only that, but they are constantly subject to change and often the change is outside of our control, however hard we try to pretend we have it all sorted. Not all of us live to an old age, but all of us are vulnerable, all of the time. All of us have underlying conditions. Some of us have over(?)lying conditions too. Do we want to live in a society that seeks to deny or demonise this idea? That’s one of many things I think is at stake here. The slow, gentle progress towards a thinking which makes covert or overt eugenics seem to be a sensible policy. And that is not acceptable to me.

If you’re a Christian like me, the language being used in public discourse, often by prominent people of faith, ought to give us pause for thought. Is the value of a human life only measured in terms of an economic unit, our productivity and net give and take? I don’t think people would say it is, but in practice it looks like a lot of think that way, judging by what we do, what we think and what we say. We all need to come to terms with the uncomfortable truth that ‘vulnerability’ is a breath away for any of us. If and when you or I become vulnerable, how do we want the society we are part of to respond or treat us?

And, speaking to people of faith again, how are we going to work to show that there is a hope-filled way of living which shows what a huge lie it is to think that ‘survival of the fittest’ has ever been a good way to choose how to live? Our faith ought to have something to say about this idea. If you’re not a person of faith, your ethical senses ought to start tingling, all of ours should, wherever our foundations are found and placed. Either every human being is of equal value (I believe this deeply) or they are not. If the prevailing wisdom is going to be that each human being is only valuable if able to perform certain functions, I think this is hugely dangerous and will oppose it with every fibre of my being.

 I know others have other views. My main point is, it actually hurts me to see what I perceive to be hard-heartedness towards others coming from people. I hope that I don’t fall into that trap, but I know I do sometimes and I’m sorry for that. It is not ‘woke’ to say that it matters greatly how a society behaves towards those who are poor, or vulnerable. If we harden our hearts and look after ourselves, good does not automatically follow. 

As an impaired and disabled person (those are not the same thing) I have spent a lot of time thinking about how I am valued. It follows that if I think I’m valuable then others ought to be too, no? If I decide because of the prevailing wind of things saying that I’m not valuable because (pick a reason) I wear glasses, can’t walk, can’t reach high shelves or cupboards, sometimes find it hard to do my job because of physical or mental/emotional impairments or ill-health or myriad other reasons, then it follows that I can both isolate myself from reality and also not value others. I am forced to look up to those whose function is higher than mine and I am forced to value them more highly. Is that the way we want it?

Alternately, if others are allowed, or even positively encouraged, to ascribe value to me and place me on a particular echelon or rung simply due to my impairment or functional ability, voiding my God-given personhood and identity, that means that it follows that beneath a certain echelon or rung a person could be deemed not valuable enough, too expensive, too needy and so on. It might seem that we in Britain are a long way from seeing or describing people in this way, but the recent debates in media and on social media about vulnerable people leaves me feeling at beast queasy and at worst fearful. I might be deemed valuable at the moment because I’m a public figure in a job which some people think is worth something, but it won’t always be that way. What happens when the protections afforded to me by my role in society are taken away? It’ll happen one day. It could happen to any one of us.

Jesus said that the way that people would know that those who followed him were his followers was that they would love one another. This is not a theoretical concept. It needs to be seen in practice and only when it is seen in practice can we truly be able to call ourselves Christians. Whether you consider yourself a Christian or not, I would say that loving one another, in the way of sacrifice, service, working for the good and benefit of all, those ideas should form the core of who we are or seek to be, whatever our ideology. If we love one another, that means that I don’t need to spend so long worrying about loving or taking care of myself (although valuing the self is important, certainly) because someone else will love, care for, support of me. That might seem twee or naive to you but I would contend that it is only when we live this way that we can claim to live in anything approaching a decent society. At the moment, the promotion of the cult of the individual, which we see everywhere, including in the Church, means that if some people at the bottom of the ladder’s rungs are gently eased off their perch, we don’t see it or don’t mind quite as much, because we ourselves, and the core of family and friends around us that we love, are ok. This is not a long term solution. It’s short-termism born out of fear. We need each other. Each person is precious. Each life is valuable. At present it is undoubtedly the case that not everyone agrees with my last two statements. The battle is on, one heart and one mind at a time, to turn it around. At the moment, on the particular evening that I’m turning a series of tweets that I fired off at relative random into something a little more formed, I find myself concerned. What are we about, as people? What do we think is important?

I’m vulnerable. You’re vulnerable. We’re all vulnerable. We have just celebrated Christmas. Some of us still are celebrating Christmas. At Christmas, we as Christians mark the birth of a vulnerable baby (all babies are inherently vulnerable) ‘born to save the sons of earth, born to give us second birth’ as the Carol you’re now humming goes. God decided that each and every human life was of such value that it was worth taking the slightly madcap and undoubtedly a little bit dangerous step of becoming vulnerable in order to both fully identify with what it is to be human and also to show us that the way to true fullness of life is the way of sacrifice, of true self-giving. It’s not fashionable, it’s not cool, it doesn’t make sense to most people, but as long as it makes sense to enough of us, there’s a little bit of hope that things can be different, that they can be better. I don’t want things to return to normal. Normal wasn’t and isn’t good enough for me. I want to see life transformed, one heart and one mind at a time, so that we can truly say that we did our best to love one another, whether we think of ourselves as vulnerable or not. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Categories
Ruthless Trust

Ruthless Trust

Today is quite an exciting day for me. I start recording on my first musical project since 2013. I don’t know if you’ve noticed but a lot has happened in our world since then. Back then, when we were working on Mirrors, my friends and I, on both sides of the Atlantic, had no idea what would happen to each of us, to people we love and care for, and to the world at large over the next few years.

In the intervening time, I’ve become quite, ahem, busy, with my Church work and all the other things I’m privileged to do. I’ve also missed music. A lot. Writing about something is not the same as actually doing it, so I’m really excited to record these songs and see what everyone else thinks of them. I’m really glad and grateful, too, to be working with some fantastic people on this project. What’s best is that all of us have other things going on in our lives, so we can make this album at our pace, release it when we’re happy with it, and make sure that, as best as we can, we capture what we feel needs saying at the moment and how it needs to be said. It’s a sign of the times in my life that we’re beginning this recording with a three day session. That’s the time I have spare…

A couple of years ago now, I was at Lee Abbey in Devon, and Simon, who was the warden of the house at that time really grabbed my attention when he used the phrase ‘ruthless trust’ about how he felt I would need to live in the months and years to come. A lot of people say a lot of things to me. I say a lot of things to people, too. It’s interesting though that the odd phrase or few sentences of all of the conversations we have can really stick with us and either change the course of our lives or at least give them a renewed focus and vision. That’s what Simon did for me that day. He probably didn’t even realise it, either.

More than anything else that this year has demanded from all of us, a ruthless trust in the people, institutions or gods we follow has to be one of the most important. All of us follow something or someone, from a football team, to a political party, to the calendar of the social club or group we belong to. Or a religious faith. For me, leading the Churches I serve and trying to support the huge and wonderful community it is my privilege to work with as part of my ‘job,’ from the schools I visit, to Northampton Town, Weston Favell Centre Foodbank, to MPs and everything in between, a ruthless trust is the thing that has kept me going, even as I’ve been doing most of it over the last 7 months from an office at home. I would be lost without the confidence that the One I trust most of all is actually worthy of that trust, that it really is worth basing my life around being a friend and follower of God – what a gift that is – and so it seems like a good time to be making an album of songs that reflect that trust. The songs are also angry, aggressive, disappointed, frustrated and plenty more besides. They will, I hope, be pretty loud, and I’m so fortunate that I have a great team of people joining with me to bring them to life. I have no idea when the songs will see the light of day but I’m posting this so that whoever reads this can see that my intention is there and that I’m getting started on the endeavour. There’s something good about admitting publicly that you’re doing something. It brings with it a sense of purpose, but also an accountability that the aim is to see this through to completion and bring whoever chooses to give time to listening to the songs something to actually enjoy.

So, this is Ruthless Trust. It’s just getting started but I feel like we’re all going to need a lot of it before all this is over.

Categories
2020 Bible Reflections

May 4th 2020: Psalm 112

Praise the Lord.

Blessed are those who fear the Lord,
    who find great delight in his commands.

Their children will be mighty in the land;
    the generation of the upright will be blessed.
Wealth and riches are in their houses,
    and their righteousness endures forever.
Even in darkness light dawns for the upright,
    for those who are gracious and compassionate and righteous.
Good will come to those who are generous and lend freely,
    who conduct their affairs with justice.

Surely the righteous will never be shaken;
    they will be remembered forever.
They will have no fear of bad news;
    their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord.
Their hearts are secure, they will have no fear;
    in the end they will look in triumph on their foes.
They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor,
    their righteousness endures forever;
    their horn[c] will be lifted high in honor.

10 The wicked will see and be vexed,
    they will gnash their teeth and waste away;
    the longings of the wicked will come to nothing.

Surely the righteous will never be shaken….
How do you know if you’re one of the ‘righteous’? It’s a real challenge for many of us who are people of faith. The confidence, the trust, the relative certainty needed to know that you are in the right place, facing in the right direction, living in the right direction, being the kind of follower of God that will enable you to know and trust that all is ok, that you are ok, that people around you are ok. It causes a lot of people real angst when they aren’t sure. Is there anything we can do to help them?
I think so. When talking about people who speak of God and the way we should live, Jesus said ‘you will recognise them by their fruit’, that is, does your life and the way you live, what you say about God, end up with good outcomes? Are people helped? Are they shown love? Are they welcomed? Are they pointed to the hope and freedom that only God can give, ultimately? If, to one extent or another you can say these things about your life, then I think you can be counted as one of the righteous. If your trust isn’t just in yourself only, but in God, then ultimately that is the greatest sign of all that you are one of his people. We are told that faith that is planted first as a seed can grow in people so that they become oaks of righteousness, planted in the Lord as a display of his splendour (Isaiah 61:3). Later in the Bible we’re told that God himself is the gardener (John 15:1). If you put your trust in God, a seed of faith is planted, a new creation is made, the old has gone and the new has come  (2 Corinthians 5:17). If that is the case, God tends the seed and watches it grow and you are never out of his sight (in a good way). Seeds that God is tending may get pruned sometimes and the bad bits that bear no fruit thrown in to the fire, but they are never forgotten or given up on.
Put your trust in God and you can know that when a storm comes, it might make you wobble, it might make it seem like you are flailing about with barely anything to hold on to, but the true foundation at the core of your life will never be shaken or uprooted. That is the power of the love, mercy and passion of God, that we might grow up as trees bearing good fruit and be displays of His splendour, to point people to him.
Something to Do
What ‘branches’ of you are there to celebrate today? What do you think might need to be pruned off?
Something to Pray
Pray for all those afraid today, including you if you are, asking God to bring peace and calm. Maybe someone comes to mind as you pray. Get in touch with them and ask them how they are.
Categories
2020 Bible Reflections

May 1st 2020: Psalm 149

Psalm 149

Praise the Lord!

Sing to the Lord a new song.
    Sing his praises in the assembly of the faithful.

O Israel, rejoice in your Maker.
    O people of Jerusalem, exult in your King.
Praise his name with dancing,
    accompanied by tambourine and harp.
For the Lord delights in his people;
    he crowns the humble with victory.
Let the faithful rejoice that he honors them.
    Let them sing for joy as they lie on their beds.

Let the praises of God be in their mouths,
    and a sharp sword in their hands—
to execute vengeance on the nations
    and punishment on the peoples,
to bind their kings with shackles
    and their leaders with iron chains,
to execute the judgment written against them.
    This is the glorious privilege of his faithful ones.

Praise the Lord!

There’s no denying it: some Psalms are troubling. The first half of this is great. Just the kind of thing you want to sing in the words of a song at Church on Sunday. From the second half of verse 6? Well, yes, quite so.

I never really know how to make any kind of definitive statement about pieces of Scripture like this. The people of God had been taught and shown through the stories of their history that it was their role to be the judges of those who opposed God, or them. This isn’t very palatable in our day – I wonder if it was then, to be honest – and any group setting themselves up as being justified in behaving in executing judgement against anyone else rightly is quickly to desist.

But there is a key point at stake here. In the new relationship between God and people that is possible because of all that Jesus did and who he was, we are reminded that God is a judge, that he judged humanity, found that it fell short and that justice needed to be satisfied in a different way. And so, Jesus and all that he did and all that he was. Judgement doesn’t go away just because we are no longer living in Old Testament times. What I think is offered to us now in the days that we live in is the opportunity to be clear and certain that we have hope, that we are forgiven and free and to invite anyone else who needs or wants to be forgiven and free to trust in God’s offer of salvation.

Because that is what the first two thirds of this is about. It’s about God’s goodness, which is so very good that all we can do rejoice and dance around thanking him for his kindness and mercy. It’s about realising that God crowns the humble (or, in other translations, the poor) with victory. It’s a sign that what might look or feel like victory in this life often isn’t, but that what looks like weakness, putting our hope and our trust in a God who might be largely unseen but who is most certainly not unknown or unknowable, for safety and salvation will ultimately lead to the kind of peace and the kind of life that this world that we live in simply cannot offer on its own. So in one set of key ways, we are to be judgemental. We’re to be judgemental about choosing love, choosing hope, choosing to pray for those who call us their enemy, choosing to speak good news in love and not to back down, choosing to trust in God for salvation, and choosing to be ok with the now and not-yet of receiving love from God now but realising that we won’t receive a final reward until later. ‘Well done good and faithful servant’ has to wait until we have proved to be good, and faithful. Keep going, my friends.

Something To Do

Check: if you are judging about something, is it because of a kingdom-related reason? Does judging this thing help you to love God, other people and yourself more?

Something To Pray

God, help me to judge rightly the way that you want me to live, the person you want me to be and please give me what I need to be just that kind of person today.

Categories
2020 Bible Reflections

April 30th 2020: Psalm 73

Psalm 73

A psalm of Asaph.

Truly God is good to Israel,
    to those whose hearts are pure.
But as for me, I almost lost my footing.
    My feet were slipping, and I was almost gone.
For I envied the proud
    when I saw them prosper despite their wickedness.
They seem to live such painless lives;
    their bodies are so healthy and strong.
They don’t have troubles like other people;
    they’re not plagued with problems like everyone else.
They wear pride like a jeweled necklace
    and clothe themselves with cruelty.
These fat cats have everything
    their hearts could ever wish for!
They scoff and speak only evil;
    in their pride they seek to crush others.
They boast against the very heavens,
    and their words strut throughout the earth.
10 And so the people are dismayed and confused,
    drinking in all their words.
11 “What does God know?” they ask.
    “Does the Most High even know what’s happening?”
12 Look at these wicked people—
    enjoying a life of ease while their riches multiply.

13 Did I keep my heart pure for nothing?
    Did I keep myself innocent for no reason?
14 I get nothing but trouble all day long;
    every morning brings me pain.

15 If I had really spoken this way to others,
    I would have been a traitor to your people.
16 So I tried to understand why the wicked prosper.
    But what a difficult task it is!
17 Then I went into your sanctuary, O God,
    and I finally understood the destiny of the wicked.
18 Truly, you put them on a slippery path
    and send them sliding over the cliff to destruction.
19 In an instant they are destroyed,
    completely swept away by terrors.
20 When you arise, O Lord,
    you will laugh at their silly ideas
    as a person laughs at dreams in the morning.

21 Then I realized that my heart was bitter,
    and I was all torn up inside.
22 I was so foolish and ignorant—
    I must have seemed like a senseless animal to you.
23 Yet I still belong to you;
    you hold my right hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel,
    leading me to a glorious destiny.
25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
    I desire you more than anything on earth.
26 My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak,
    but God remains the strength of my heart;
    he is mine forever.

27 Those who desert him will perish,
    for you destroy those who abandon you.
28 But as for me, how good it is to be near God!
    I have made the Sovereign Lord my shelter,
    and I will tell everyone about the wonderful things you do.

As April draws to a close, here is a psalm which says some of the things that I most certainly most needed to hear. I wonder if I am the only one who needed to hear them or if there are others besides me.

‘My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart; he is mine forever.’

Yes, indeed, I certainly can empathise with the first half of that phrase. My health might fail and we’re being presented daily with opportunities to consider the potential of failing health, either our own or of those around us. If health diminishes or your spirit grows weak (you get worn out with the struggle, perhaps) will you still be able to say ‘God remains the strength of my heart’? It’s a battle, for sure. It’s easy to give in and to say no, that God isn’t my strength, he’s not my shelter, my refuge, my help in time of need. It would be anyway, if it were true. I suppose there’s a reason why faith comes down so often to the question of trust. I can repeat these phrases until I’m blue in the face but what it really ends up being about is whether I am willing to trust that God is willing and able to be the strength of my heart. If I’m not, I know in the part of my not affected by emotion that he remains my heart’s strength anyway, but if I spend too long trusting things other than God I miss out on so much and waste so much time and energy.

There is a warming here for those who abandon their faith and trust in God with finality. It’s strong and it’s stark and we should pay attention to it.

But we should also remember that God’s heart is for those who are prodigal, those who have wondered away but who realise their need for him and the things that only he can bring.

In these days of shielding, how good it is to remember that God is our greatest shield of all.

Something To Do

Take a health check. How are you feeling? Physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually? What could you do with some help with today? What do you have to celebrate?

Something To Pray

Pray that God would shield you today and give you time to rest and be refreshed.

Categories
2020 Bible Reflections

April 29th 2020: Psalm 67

It’s Time to Praise Him

67 For the Pure and Shining One
A poetic song of praise for guitar
God, keep us near your mercy-fountain and bless us!
And when you look down on us, may your face beam with joy!
Pause in his presence
Send us out all over the world so that everyone everywhere
will discover your ways and know who you are
and see your power to save.
Let all the nations burst forth with praise;
let everyone everywhere love and enjoy you!
Then how glad the nations will be when you are their King.
They will sing, they will shout, for you give true justice to the people.
Yes! You, Lord, are the shepherd of the nations!
Pause in his presence
No wonder the peoples praise you!
Let all the people praise you more!
The harvest of the earth is here!
God, the very God we worship,
keeps us satisfied at his banquet of blessings.
And the blessings keep coming!
Then all the ends of the earth will give him
the honor he deserves and be in awe of him!

I find The Passion translation of the Bible useful as a counterpoint to some that I usually use – there’s so much life to it – and when we’re looking at a piece of joyful poetry like today’s Psalm it’s perfect.
Some of the phrasing is so evocative. ‘keep us near your mercy-fountain’ is such a powerful image of the way that God keeps pouring out daily mercy to people who seek it from him. Whether we think it should or not, it flows freely, it keeps on flowing and it would only stop flowing if God chose to make it stop. Except God doesn’t choose to make it stop. This might seem odd, or even stupid to us, but that’s the choice that God has made.
Do you ever stop to think about God and end up thinking, ‘no wonder people praise you’? If not, you’re probably thinking about a conception of god which is not God at all, but some other kind of less-than, false god. It’s easy for any of us to create an image of God as a frustrated parent, an absent guardian, a school teacher with a cane ready to discipline us for a small or larger step out of line. It’s easy for us to decide that the things that happen in our lives or in the wider world are because of the defective character of this god, or the demands that this god makes.
I said last week in the Emmanuel Sunday service, that if you’ve met Jesus, you know. It’s hard to describe in mere words. All the good theology, good translation of scripture, good thinking, learning, attention to doctrinal detail and everything else that are all good elements of a life of faith, enquiry and honouring the one we love only work and make sense if they are aligned with an experience of a living relationship with God. It is this God that the psalmist is praising in our reading today. It is this God who does bring justice to the people and it’s to this God that the people shout for joy and lift up their praise. No need for counterfeit gods here. The real God, giving love and justice, mercy and peace, hope and joy to all who ask for it and put their trust in Him, is the only one worth following.
Something To Do
Spend a bit of time seeing if your God is the real God. This might sound silly, but spend a bit of time working out if the God that you follow causes you to overflow with joy and praise, even in the hardest and most pressing of times, like the Psalmist here says the living God does. If you’re not in that place today, think again about whether you’re really relating to the living God. That’s not to say life won’t be hard. That’s not to say that we can’t be angry or disappointed, or ask questions, all at the same time as praising…
Something To Pray
Pray that God would fill you with His joy and keep you near his mercy-fountain.
Categories
2020 Bible Reflections

April 28th 2020: Psalm 71

Psalm 71

In you, Lord, I have taken refuge;
    let me never be put to shame.
In your righteousness, rescue me and deliver me;
    turn your ear to me and save me.
Be my rock of refuge,
    to which I can always go;
give the command to save me,
    for you are my rock and my fortress.
Deliver me, my God, from the hand of the wicked,
    from the grasp of those who are evil and cruel.

For you have been my hope, Sovereign Lord,
    my confidence since my youth.
From birth I have relied on you;
    you brought me forth from my mother’s womb.
    I will ever praise you.
I have become a sign to many;
    you are my strong refuge.
My mouth is filled with your praise,
    declaring your splendor all day long.

Do not cast me away when I am old;
    do not forsake me when my strength is gone.
10 For my enemies speak against me;
    those who wait to kill me conspire together.
11 They say, “God has forsaken him;
    pursue him and seize him,
    for no one will rescue him.”
12 Do not be far from me, my God;
    come quickly, God, to help me.
13 May my accusers perish in shame;
    may those who want to harm me
    be covered with scorn and disgrace.

14 As for me, I will always have hope;
    I will praise you more and more.

15 My mouth will tell of your righteous deeds,
    of your saving acts all day long—
    though I know not how to relate them all.
16 I will come and proclaim your mighty acts, Sovereign Lord;
    I will proclaim your righteous deeds, yours alone.
17 Since my youth, God, you have taught me,
    and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds.
18 Even when I am old and gray,
    do not forsake me, my God,
till I declare your power to the next generation,
    your mighty acts to all who are to come.

19 Your righteousness, God, reaches to the heavens,
    you who have done great things.
    Who is like you, God?
20 Though you have made me see troubles,
    many and bitter,
    you will restore my life again;
from the depths of the earth
    you will again bring me up.
21 You will increase my honor
    and comfort me once more.

22 I will praise you with the harp
    for your faithfulness, my God;
I will sing praise to you with the lyre,
    Holy One of Israel.
23 My lips will shout for joy
    when I sing praise to you—
    I whom you have delivered.
24 My tongue will tell of your righteous acts
    all day long,
for those who wanted to harm me
    have been put to shame and confusion.

There’s so much in today’s Psalm. I would encourage you to take time with it today and see which verses reach out to you particularly or if it’s the sum of the whole that grabs your attention. Perhaps it’s because of how things are in our world at the moment and how I’m feeling personally too today, but the verse ‘From birth I have relied on you’ has particular resonance with me as I read this. So many Psalms declare faith and trust in God and repeat promises to praise and be thankful, ask God not to leave or let the writer be put to shame. So many make the point that God somehow ought to realise that the psalmist has kept commandments, been good, basically. It’s easy to gloss over these elements as they are repeated so often, but the acceptance that since birth the Psalmist has relied on God is something which is stated less often. I don’t think there’s ever been a period during my own life where I’ve been more aware that this life I live now won’t last forever. Every breath, every move I make (go on, sing along if you know it) I make with God. I need God. I can’t do it on my own. I could spend time thinking, wishing perhaps, that I could go it alone and sometimes that seems attractive. Sometimes the arguments of others about how silly it is to believe in God, or any kind of benevolent deity, how silly it is to praise God when all of life seems so unfair, sometimes that course of action is attractive. If you’ve been there or are there at the moment, most people who have honest faiths in God have been there too. I don’t personally think it’s anything to worry about. At some point, though, I come to realise that God has seen me through ever second, every single moment of my life so far and I still am relying on him. That doesn’t make me extra-special. I think it just makes me honest. With God, all things are possible. Without…Well that doesn’t really bear thinking about.

Something To Do Today

Are you comfortable relying on God? Work today on beginning to let go of your independent streak.

Something To Pray Today

Thank you that you are always reliable. Amen

Categories
2020 Bible Reflections

April 27th 2020: Psalm 61

Psalm 61

For the director of music. With stringed instruments. Of David.

Hear my cry, O God;
    listen to my prayer.

From the ends of the earth I call to you,
    I call as my heart grows faint;
    lead me to the rock that is higher than I.
For you have been my refuge,
    a strong tower against the foe.

I long to dwell in your tent forever
    and take refuge in the shelter of your wings
For you, God, have heard my vows;
    you have given me the heritage of those who fear your name.

Increase the days of the king’s life,
    his years for many generations.
May he be enthroned in God’s presence forever;
    appoint your love and faithfulness to protect him.

Then I will ever sing in praise of your name
    and fulfill my vows day after day.

When you are ‘growing faint’, what do you do? For me, I often get to the end of a day and am so worn out, or weighed down by things that have happened during the day just gone, that I long for sleep. Not David, the psalmist and King though, no. As he seems to be reaching the end of himself, he is praying, desperate for God to listen, to hear, to answer, to save and free him.

I wonder, is there a model for those of us who pray to follow here? Rather than a quick prayer before a meal, in the morning and at bedtime, prayer can be something which we turn to throughout the day. We can turn to God at good times, bad times, all the times in between. If we pray, it’s because we want God to listen, whether we’re thanking him for something, asking him for something, lifting someone or something to him or any other reason you might be praying, follow David’s example. There is a rock that is higher and firmer than him, that’s what he realises. God is the rock. He is the rock that doesn’t change or fail, whatever else happens, whatever what is happening around us or inside us looks or feels like. God is the rock and firm foundation of the lives of the ones who trust him. We all need hope and a firm foundation. All of us.

Something To Do

How are you feeling today? Are you ok? Anxious? Happy? Joyful? Spend a few moments thinking about how you actually feel within yourself.

Something To Pray

‘lead me to yourself, the rock that is higher than I’.

Categories
2020 Bible Reflections

April 25th 2020: Psalm 148

Psalm 148

Praise the Lord.[a]

Praise the Lord from the heavens;
    praise him in the heights above.
Praise him, all his angels;
    praise him, all his heavenly hosts.
Praise him, sun and moon;
    praise him, all you shining stars.
Praise him, you highest heavens
    and you waters above the skies.

Let them praise the name of the Lord,
    for at his command they were created,
and he established them for ever and ever—
    he issued a decree that will never pass away.

Praise the Lord from the earth,
    you great sea creatures and all ocean depths,
lightning and hail, snow and clouds,
    stormy winds that do his bidding,
you mountains and all hills,
    fruit trees and all cedars,
10 wild animals and all cattle,
    small creatures and flying birds,
11 kings of the earth and all nations,
    you princes and all rulers on earth,
12 young men and women,
    old men and children.

13 Let them praise the name of the Lord,
    for his name alone is exalted;
    his splendor is above the earth and the heavens.
14 And he has raised up for his people a horn,[b]
    the praise of all his faithful servants,
    of Israel, the people close to his heart.

Praise the Lord.

Sometimes these reflections are more challenging to write than others. Today’s is pretty straightforward. Praise the Lord. Praise Him all the time. Whatever is going on. Good, bad, indifferent, the best ever, the downright most disgusting; praise God anyway, all the time, during the things that make up our days, at the times when we wish we could sleep but the past is playing like a movie, condemning us anew. Whatever, whenever, through all circumstances, praise the Lord.

It is only God and his name that is lifted up, higher than both the Earth and heaven (that’s pretty high, I’m sure you’ll agree). We are not God. We are friends of God if we trust in him. We are brothers and sisters of Jesus if we accept his invitation to be so, but we are not, we ourselves, God. I say this so that we get things in the right and proper order. When we praise God we are praising the one who made heaven and earth, the one who put the stars in their place, the one for whom we exist, the one who the earth and everything in it belongs to. That God. That’s the Lord who we are praising. He is high and lifted up. And deeply, massively and completely in love with each one of us. It seems silly, almost beyond comprehension that God would love us, but love us he does. He wants us to praise him not just because he is worth it, but because he has loved us from before we even knew anything about him, before we were born even, and called us to be his children. When we are praising always it is because that is absolutely the very least we can do. We praise in singing, in praying, in spending time reading psalms like this but also in how we live, what we make our priorities (put God and other people first and that will be a good start). And we praise God with where we place our trust. Is it in Him and Him alone, or are we keeping some of our trust for ourselves, other people, other relationships, other institutions? We’ll be truly free, truly who we’re meant to be, when our trust is in Him and Him alone.

Something To Do

Make a list of things from the last 24 hours that you are thankful for.

Something To Pray

Ask God to help you trust Him more.