Blogs for March 2018

LIKE A RUSSIAN BEAR. We sometimes talk about the month, or the weather for the month, coming in like a lamb and going out like a lion. Or something to that effect. Well February went out like a Russian Bear being rudely awakened from its winter hibernation. And March came in like that same Russian Bear who was still none too happy. But we are getting over that episode now, although those who came off worse are probably still picking up the pieces - and you've got our sympathy. When I was a child we got deep snow that stayed around for weeks. Nowadays in our part of Yorkshire we don't suffer too badly. Although its always nice to see a bit of snow. Some children were even encouraged to bunk off school  this time to enjoy what was a fairly rare experience for them. Snow. One feature of this late winter episode was the wind - the cold harsh wind that blew across the North Sea, from Russia, picking up a lot of water along the way, to be deposited as snow over Britain.

I could leave it there but in all this wintry drama I was reminded of another drama: Elijah and the great storm of 1 Kings 19v11, that blew on Mt. Horeb. Elijah had fled in fear from Jezebel who was intent on taking his life. In his fleeing he eventually got to Horeb - the mountain of God. He had sheltered in a cave for the night but at some point during the night he was told to go outside and stand on the mountain because the Lord, God, was about to pass by. We are told there was first a great storm - so great and powerful that the wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks. But we are told the Lord was not in the wind. If that was not bad enough then there was an earthquake and then a fire -  but the Lord was in neither. When all that had subsided (for how would Elijah have ever heard it) there was a gentle whisper. That was God. God manifested in a gentle whisper. The storm that had raged got Elijah's attention and awe but he had to listen very carefully in the stillness and the silence for God to speak. 

I'm reading (or rather working with) a book called Daily Offices by Peter Scazzero. These "daily offices" are set times of meeting with God throughout each day, getting away from our daily busyness and dramas to intentionally seek to spend time with God and develop an intimate relationship with Him. You would need to let Peter Scazzero explain it more fully - its probaly what monks and nuns have been doing for centuries. But these short interludes start and finish with centreing our attention on God in the stillness and the silence. Its a place where God can speak to us. Elijah had to get to that place. God waits for us there. He must be very patient because I've been a Christian for 45 years and I've never really succeeded in getting to Mt Horeb. 1 March 2018 StanH

IT’S NOT FAIR (Part 1)

It’s Not Fair. It’s not fair ! Children, even adults, have a sense of injustice which leads them to cry out: "It’s not fair!". It’s not fair that I’ve been grounded for 2 weeks and can’t use my smart phone. That’s not fair. She broke the window. Her! She kicked the ball. It’s just not fair. I didn’t do it. I’m a good boy. And we are aggrieved by the unfairness of the punishment meted out to us.

Because I’m modern and we don’t live in Dickensian days I know that punishment should be first, appropriate, and then secondly, proportionate. So was God being fair, was He being appropriate and proportionate, when he exiled His people, Israel, to Babylon for 70 years? Seventy Years! Wow! I'm seventy-two this year so I've got a fair idea what seventy years looks like.

That’s not fair is it? Seventy years? Surely that’s not fair? Can’t be? Can it?

Seventy is a very clever number. Very few people walking out of Jerusalem into exile would still be around when it was time to walk back. Theirs was, in effect, a death sentence. Most would have died in exile, in a foreign land and many, probably the majority would have been born in exile with very little sense, if any, of ever having belonged to the nation of Israel. Some would even have made a good life for themselves in exile, so it would have been a bit of a wrench when they had to leave and go back home. 3 March 2018 StanH

IT’S NOT FAIR (Part 2)

For a bit of background let’s see what the Jews did and why they had to be punished.

The Jews, the Hebrews, the Children of Israel, whatever we choose to call them, had had a very long but chequered history in their relationship with God. Thousands of years. They were the Children of Promise. They were the apple of God’s eye. And yet they managed to get into so many scrapes with their God. Unbelievable. And He forgave them and forgave them, time and time again, until this one time when enough was enough.

He had shown His love by making them His people. You will be my people and I will be your God. He said. I will make you into a great nation. I will give you a land for you and your offspring. For ever. And it was a green and pleasant land by all accounts. Interestingly He said this to Abram who was only called to leave the land of his birth when he was seventy years old. Seventy. That magic number again. So it is possible to start all over again even after seventy years.

Time. Time is interesting when we apply it to our relationship with God. Eternity, for instance, is a long time. For ever and ever. In the twinkling of an eye is a very short time. 70AD was a bad time for the Jews. Forty years in the wilderness was not very good either. The 1930s and 1940s was an appauling time for Jews in Europe. The Holocaust. 1948 was a great time for the Jews because the Nation of Israel was reformed and recognised internationally. On the third day something amazing happened. They say, don’t they, that time is a great healer. But time did not always do the Jews any favours. Sometimes, when we've got "time on our hands" we are prone to getting bored and sometimes, at those times, we get up to mischief. Oft times, they became complacent in their relationship with God. They were not careful to obey His word. They did not love Him as they should. And given enough time, "enough rope" as we say, they went astray like a sheep caught in a thicket, and began to be interested in other things. Other gods. Other distractions.

This one time (see what I did there), as I said, God, who was normally very patient with His prodigal people, decided that enough was enough. Jeremiah the prophet was given the unenviable task of delivering the news of punishment to the Jews. [Read Jeremiah Chapter 25]. The cup of God’s wrath. Jeremiah told them that he had spoken the words of God to them again and again but they had not listened. So repent (he said) – turn now each of you from your evil ways and your evil practices and you can stay in the land the Lord gave you and your ancestors for ever and ever. And then Jeremiah continues; speaking again for the Lord: “But you would not listen to me” declares the Lord, “and you have aroused my anger with what your hands have made, and you have brought harm to yourselves”. We would say today that you’ve brought it on yourselves. This is when they learn that God had summoned His servant Nebuchadnezzar (an Iranian, a non-Christian, a non-Jew) to mete out an appropriate punishment which, as we know was the destruction of Israel and Judah and their beloved Jerusalem and to be sent into exile in Babylon for 70 years. Wow! 5 March 2018 StanH

IT’S NOT FAIR (Part 3)

Why was that an appropriate and proportionate punishment?

First – appropriate because He was taking them away from them something precious (like that naughty child's smartphone was taken from him), something that gave them their national identity - the Land of Promise. That green and pleasant land that He had given them through Abraham and the Patriarchs. He was, in effect, hitting them where it hurt as we might say. They would remember that day.

Second – proportionate. Really? Was it that bad? Yes it was that bad. If some of us here today can’t see that, it could be because we are spiritually blind to the gravity of sin. The gravity of sin against God.The problem for the world today is that we live in grave sin and the punishment that is on its way to us (and like a runaway train is unstoppable) is even greater than the Jews ever suffered. The Great Tribulation is coming for those who are not in Christ. Believe me you would agreed with me that is is fair and proportionate punishment if only you had any idea just how evil men have become. Many of you are actually sheltered from that knowledge. Thank goodness! You probably could not bear to know everything that is currently going on in the world. 

But that’s another story for another time. Let us remember this one positive thing from Jeremiahs tirade: “…turn now each of you from your evil ways and your evil practices and you can stay in the land the Lord gave you and your ancestors for ever and ever”.

7 March 2018 StanH

THE GRAVITY OF SIN. I've not made this phrase up although I thought I had. You can find it on the internet. So it must be true! I'm just approaching it in perhaps a slightly different off-beat sort of way.

 We know all about sin. Actually we're quite good at it. Sinning. There's a line of an Ed Sheeran song where he sings - "I got sinning on my mind". We even know that God forgives sin and even made that unimaginable, incomprehensible, gesture of sending His own Dear Son into the world to be the one final, all encompassing, never to be bettered, sacrifice for our sins: "For God so loved the world THAT.....". Wow! But isn't that a strange thing to do if sin is only ever as bad as we "feel" it to be. Perceive it to be. What if sin is actually a lot worse, than we thought? In fact, if we were ever allowed to glimpse through the curtain and see whats really on the other side, the effect of sin in the heart of God, we would fall to the ground never to get up off the floor again. 

How do we know sin is as bad as I'm suggesting it might be? Well, I consider myself to be, in my own small way, a bit of an expert on something I call indirect evidence. You see I don't know how bad sin is in God's eyes, and I'm not sure I actually want to know, but if we look at how other people perceived sin then it should make us think. 

So - Indirect evidence. In the Book of Ezra, and its only one of several examples in the OT, we get this sort of thing going on: Some Jews had come back from exile. Quite a large group actually. A long list of names. And with the full support and permission and even funding of King Artaxerxes they set about rebuilding the temple and other buildings inside Jerusalem. Nehemiah, on the other hand, different book, had been inspired by God to rebuild the outer walls and gates. So, even against all opposition through the continuing support and patronage of the King they got the job done. Then they embarked on a different job - a different kind of putting things right and in order. They began to look again at the word of God and maybe see where it all gone wrong. What had God said? One thing that was discovered and had to be admitted to was that, against Gods express command, they had married and inter-related themselves to other tribes, peoples and their gods outside of Israel's borders. I get the impression that Ezra had not really been up to speed on this subject because when he discovered what had been going on and the sheer scale of it - he was appauled ! Absolutely appauled! Outraged! Incandescent ! Literally, tearing his hair out. That must be where the saying comes from. Let's see what the bible says:

"After these things had been done [that great re-building project], the leaders came to me and said, 'The people of Israel, including the priests and Levites, have not kept themselves separate from the neighbouring peoples with their detestable practices....and the leaders and officials have led the way in this unfaithfulness".Now this is Ezra speaking: "When I heard this, I tore my tunic and cloak, pulled hair from my head and beard and sat down appauled. Note: "appauled" is a much stronger than "miffed"; in fact, several notches stronger. Then everyone who trembled at the words of the God of Israel [how many people tremble today at His word or can even remember where they mislaid their bibles]. Later, when he can bring himself to do it he prays: "I am too ashamed and disgraced, my God, to lift up my face to you, because our sins are higher then our heads and our guilt has reached to the heavens.......[then a long while later] What has happened to us is a result of our evil deeds and our great guilt, and yet, our God, you have punished us less than our sins have deserved....".

Today in 2018, this sort of God and this sort of reaction to the realization of sin is totally incomprehensible and completely alien to Church as we know it. We have completely lost sight of the gravity of sin and the holiness of our God. 11 March 2018 StanH

KEEP CALM & DON'T PANIC ! Panic does not seem to be a word that the Ancients used. It was not in their vocabulary. Nowadays we have fridge magnets, coffee mugs and framed posters reminding us that we must KEEP CALM & DON'T PANIC. I heard a story the other day about an old lady, a christian lady, who kept calm and didn't panic. This was her story told to me at our Choir Practice last week. The Choir Master was a former Pastor though I don't suppose Pastors ever completely retire. They've still got it ! So to speak. He had cause to visit this old lady who had lost her pension money. Because she was in distress. Not stolen and not lost in the street - just misplaced. I don't think she was suffering from dimentia as such, but she couldn't remember where she had put it and he couldn't find it when he came to visit. He even offered to lend her a few pounds to tide her over but she didn't want to take. She just wanted to find her own money. At this point I could tell the story of the Widows silver coin in Luke 15v8 but thats not what struck me about this particular lady's story.

Something more topical for us came to mind. I don't know who came up with the idea but one of them said - lets pray about. I seem to recall that it was the old lady said it. And she said something else which was very insightful and I think its going to help us at St James in the coming months:

YOU CAN'T PRAY AND PANIC !

Thats the Christian persepective I think of that popular saying: Keep Calm & Don't Panic. 18 March 2018 StanH.

 

 


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