I am so grateful for the Bible. So grateful to and for the men and women whom I meet in its pages. So grateful that they are not cardboard cut-outs, but real people who lived real lives, who faced challenges, who had anxieties, who got it so wrong at times. I am glad for their heartaches, their joys, their gripes and their experience of a living loving God as they cried out to him in praise and in pain. I am grateful for my meetings with the Holy Spirit in the pages of the Bible and I am grateful for a Saviour who satisfies, and who forgives me when in humility, I step down from my religious soapbox and recognise myself in some of these characters.
PHBC is currently going through a series titled ‘Seeking Through the Psalms.’ It has certainly been a time of seeking – an eye opener, as some of the Psalms chosen by Pastor are not ones I had bookmarked or even thought about committing to memory. And yet, in all of those Psalms is a clear celebration of who God is. A clear reminder that He is the one true and faithful God. Whether we are crying out in praise or pain we find a God of hope, healing and reconciliation. A God who sees the best and worst in us and is forever holding out His olive branch of peace.
We started the series by looking at Psalm 8, a psalm which opens up in celebration of our great God and the wonders of His creation. We are reminded in this Psalm that we are made a little lower than angels, and not a little higher than apes, and that we were made to have dominion over creation. Psalm 19 continues in praise as it reminds us that creation itself cries out in praise.
In Psalm 80 we find a people almost blaming God for the situation they found themselves in, even though they brought it on themselves! They are waiting to hear from God who has already spoken through the prophets and His Word. They promise to turn back to God as they begin to understand the error of their ways. I so recognise myself in this Psalm!
In this psalm we learn that God is not interested in mini makeovers as he is in the transformation of heart business! As our assistant Pastor puts it, we should be crying out ‘Lord, change my heart!’
Psalm 91 was a real challenge. When reading this Psalm the tendency for me has been to savour the first and last section and rush through the middle section, as I find it a little unsettling. I don’t want to contemplate arrows flying, pestilence, terrors of night or snares, I want a comfortable sanitised read in my comfortable sanitised space.
Unfortunately, for the people of the Ukraine and many others around the world, they are daily waking up from a night of terror and into a day of terror. For some, there might not be flying arrows, but there are certainly flying bombs and their pestilence comes in the shape of: bombed hospitals which will hinder medical help and may increase the incidence of diseases; bombed schools, bombed water supplies. For others, insanitary living conditions which thwarts the health of those already vulnerable; some individuals are marginalised and made scapegoats because of their beliefs. Others yet are denied access to technology, which is so important for communication to keep in touch with the rest of the world.
Those caught up in conflicts around our world are living the reality of Psalm 91, so how should we as the Church of Christ respond? As we join with brothers and sisters all over the world we remember Paul’s words in Ephesians 6:12
‘For we do not fight against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.’
This is why it is so important that we spend time in the shadow of El Shaddai. This is where we draw our strength from – close to the source of light and life. It is a scientific fact that the closer an object is to the source of the light the larger the shadow. Imagine a tree with large overhanging branches. The closer one is to the trunk of the tree the greater the shadow cover, the further away from the trunk the less effective the shadow cover. Imagine someone sitting right up against the trunk and actually leaning against it. The trunk can be quite rough, it can leave marks on what you are wearing and even make indentations in your body, if you sit there long enough. And that’s the great thing about spending time in El Shaddai’s shadow and close to the source of His light. It can be uncomfortable; it is not a passive rest. El Shaddai leaves His marks on us inside and outside, His imprint is visible in our lives, so as Christian intercessors, we bear those marks because we have been changed by being in His presence and having our hearts transformed.
As we think about the people of Ukraine let’s also remember those in North Korea, Afghanistan, Somalia, Ethiopia, Libya, Pakistan, Eritrea, Nigeria and other places around the world where conflicts continue, and Christians are persecuted for their beliefs.
Some of you may have already seen posts on social media suggesting that people of colour are being denied access at various borders. The reality is that we certainly live in a fallen world and our true colours are often seen when our backs are against the wall, as it were. Racism is a feature of our fallen world and so I tell myself racism is ignorant, and it is ignorance and I see what God says. If I refuse to do that, I place myself at the mercy of others and I know it is not good for my spiritual, emotional or physical wellbeing. In the words of my grandmother ‘If you know better, then do better.’
The next Psalm we looked at, Psalm 94, provided an answer for me as I contemplated the genuine hurt being felt and I would like to direct those hurting to the opening verse of this Psalm.
‘O Lord God to whom vengeance belongs
O God to whom vengeance belongs, shine forth!
O judge of the earth.’
As we look to this Psalm let’s remember that we too are sinners and as we were reminded, we too come under the vengeance of God. Let’s remember that we too speak insolent things, that we too are foolish, and we too need God’s instruction and his righteousness and therefore his judgement.
My favourite verse in this Psalm is verse 19.
‘In the multitude of my anxieties within me, your comforts delight my soul.’
So much changes once our perspectives change! Once we come to that place where we recognise and value the forgiveness we have received, how easy it then becomes to forgive others as God floods us with His mercy and grace.
As I write this, I am looking forward to Psalm 118. A psalm of praise and affirmation. A Psalm which truly celebrates the strength of God in our lives and His everlasting mercy. A Psalm which reminds us that it is better to trust God than man.
Verses 11 to 21 is rather poignant, yet at the same time offers hope in regard to what is happening in the Ukraine, and we ought to be praying for these verses to become the solution and the reality of the situation.
I have just listened to how churches in Russia are working together with churches in the Ukraine and coming together to support the people of the Ukraine. There are stories from Ukrainian soldiers of God’s saving grace on the front line as armies advance. There is a story of a children’s home where Russian soldiers told the adults to surrender and when the adults caring for the children refused, the soldiers just walked away. Real stories in real time of how our very real God is moving because people are praying.
As we position ourselves to pray into these situations, let’s ask first of all for forgiveness. Forgiveness for allowing this to happen on our watch, forgiveness for not being more vocal about issues of injustice and for being afraid to challenge. Someone said all it takes is for good men to do nothing for evil to flourish. In June 1936, in his appeal to the League of Nations after Mussolini had attacked Ethiopia, Haile Selassie said in closing his speech, “It is us today, it will be you tomorrow.” Three years later, the invasion of Poland started the Second World War.
Next, we pray for wisdom for world leaders. In regard to the situation in the Ukraine, our leaders are walking a tightrope and they need to exercise wisdom in every decision they take.
You see, it doesn’t matter what hue evil disguises itself in, it doesn’t matter how it tries to justify itself, it doesn’t matter which side of the economic divide we find ourselves on, or indeed the religious preference we profess. All of that is insignificant in our global world which has become intricately connected over the decades. This is a conflict in which, whether we like it or not, we are all a part of. The good news is that we call on a God who promises to be our defence, our shield, our buckler and will even send His special agents – His angels to protect us!
Our final Psalm is that of Psalm 137. For some groups, this has become almost an anthem. Popularised in the late seventies by Boney M, it reflects the time when the Jewish nation found themselves in exile, and as they contemplated their situation they again cried out to God. Babylon was a real place for the Jewish people and today it is used figuratively to represent injustice in its different guises.
The frustration, anger and desperation are evident as the nation cries out in pain. Not just in this Psalm but in most of the Psalms we have looked at. We do not see anger sanitised; we see the real thing. We see and feel the rawness of a people who appear to be devoid of a sense of the ‘correct way’ to mourn or the ‘proper way’ to seek God. We see a group of people (warts and all) who are at their wits end! In fact, the last two verses seem to be advocating that the same atrocities the Jews have suffered should be inflicted on their enemies. This isn’t a quiet prayer meeting with people sitting nicely in rows with a few songs to set the scene. This is a ‘Lord from the depths of my soul I cry out to you! Lord when? How long Lord? How long?’
There are so many things I struggle to understand, but I tell myself I don’t need to understand because God does. I have ‘magpied’ a sentence I recently heard ‘ Whoever controls the truth controls reality.’ People of God, we know God’s truth, we know it sets us free, we know it is what our world is in desperate need of right now. Let us endeavour to get God’s truth out there, let’s not disguise it in a religious covering of respectability. The truth will speak for itself through us, through the way we respond to situations around our world. Let us present this new reality, because others are lining up with their versions of truth and reality.
Dr David Jeremiah of Turning Point Ministries reminded me recently about the three spiritual temperatures recorded in the Bible. In Matthew 24:12 we read that because of the spread of wickedness the love of many will grow cold. In Revelation 3:14 we read about the lukewarm church and in Luke 24:32 the disciples on the road to Emmaus said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while He talked with us on the road, and while he opened the Scriptures to us?’
I know the temperature I would like to be operating at in my prayer life, and I feel that you do too. About five years ago I was challenged to desire more of God, so let’s reset the temperature gauge, turn it to hot, hot, hot and see God move on our behalf in His world.
I guess the bottom line is, when all is said and done, if we are not making a difference, we might as well shut up church, call it a day and re-enter the world. As far as I know, Christianity has never been the comfortable option.
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