29 August 2010

Ten things that make me happy

The lovely Ali has tagged me.  The brief - to list ten things that make you happy.

1. Living life secure in the knowledge that Jesus died for me.  This glorious hope undergirds all else.
2. Sharing life with the three gorgeous people in this photo.

Being on holidays at the beach with them is pretty good too. 
3. Reading the Bible first thing in the morning, cup of steaming hot tea by my side, while the house is still quiet.  (The house is quiet but that doesn't mean everyone is still asleep.  Small people get to stay in their rooms until 7am and that is what makes this possible.)
4. Letters - writing them, sending them, receiving them.  Epistolary novels make me happy too.
5.  Speaking of books...reading, time to read and as of recent times, receiving a book in the post from The Book Depository.  (Gilead by Marilynne Robinson awaits me for holiday reading.  October can't come too quickly!)
6. Listening to this CD - especially the first disc.  Loudly if possible.  And singing along with it. 
7. Praying with other people.  Especially precious is time spent praying with my prayer triplet - a group of eight (counting is a small problem...but we are good at praying) who have been praying together in some formation or other depending on who is in town since 1997, at first weekly, then fortnightly and now monthly.  Always special.
8. Flowers.  Especially of the cottage garden variety.  Nice in a vase.  But even nicer in a garden.

9. Cups of tea shared with friends.
10.  Blogging.  And being tagged.  Thanks Ali!

What makes you happy?  I tag Sarah, Helen and Jean.

19 August 2010

God is always good

Yesterday I was reading the beginning of Job and lingered over a comment he made to his wife.
"Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?" (Job 2:10) 
It reminded me of a time when I learned an important truth about God - that God is always good.  Thankfully at the time I learned this lesson I was spared trouble, save a small amount of embarrassment. 

It was a time when I was asked to give a testimony at a church event, with the aim of being an encouragement to the church family and maybe sparking some interest in God for those who came as guests.

I had decided to talk about how God was at work in my life at that time, rather than describe how I became a Christian, but on the morning of the event I still had no idea what I would say.  As I drove to work I prayed earnestly that God would give me some direction - I was running out of time!  And pretty soon that prayer was answered. 

As I sat at the traffic lights, waiting for them to turn green, I heard the screech of brakes, the sound of metal hitting metal, the tinkle of smashing glass.  Once, twice, three times.  A four car pile up and had there been sufficient momentum, I would have been the fifth car, but by God's grace, my car remained untouched.  The lights turned green, I drove off (that sounds a bit irresponsible as I write it now...I wonder if I should have stayed at the scene??) and praised God that He had spared me from being involved in that traffic accident - and praised God that I now knew what I would talk about that evening.

As I spoke that evening of the morning's traffic accident, I kept using the phrases, "God was good" and "God was with me."  Over and over.  And eventually I brought my story round to the goodness of God, that He should send His Son to die for me that I might have eternal life in Him. 

At the end of the evening, as I walked back to my undamaged car, a dear woman approached me and said, "Meredith, that was a great talk.  But I have a question for you.  If your car had been hit this morning, would God still be good?  Would God still have been with you?"

I still wince at that oh so gentle rebuke.  Because she is right.  God is good.  Even if my car had been the fifth car in that pile up, or even the first to be hit and so sustaining the greatest amount of damage, even if I had been injured or even killed that day - God is good.  Because trouble of one sort or another WILL come.  Traffic accident.  Ill health.  Fractured relationships.  Unemployment.  Poverty.  Death.  But for those who love Him, life with all its goodness and troubles, is lived upon the foundation of hope - that God will bring them home to Himself through the work of His Son on the cross.  That is the good constant with which we live, despite what happens to us in our day to day lives.

God is always good.

16 August 2010

Something to do when you're not feeling well

The following is today's reading from  Morning Thoughts by Octavius Winslow.  In some ways it seems almost preposterous and insensitive to post it, sitting here in fine health.  It is one of those "easier said than done" things.  And yet I think they are wise words - the sort of passage to reflect on during the good times and tuck away in your heart against the day when ill health will surely strike.

“Beloved, I wish above all things that you may prosper and be in health, even as your soul prospers.” 3 John 2

Is it true that God, by setting you aside from active engagements, has set you aside from all duty and labor? We do not think so. Is it too much to say, that He is now summoning you, though to a more limited and obscure, yet to a higher and holier, because more self-denying and God-glorifying, sphere of duty? Your present loss of health has brought with it its high and appropriate duties, obligations, and employments. It bears an especial message from God to you, and through you to others. Contemplate the work to be done in your own soul, and the testimony through this which you are to bear to the power of Divine grace, to the sustaining energy of the Gospel, and to the character of God; and I ask if the lone chamber of sickness has not its special and appropriate duties, responsibilities, and work, equally as difficult, as honorable, and as remunerative as any which attach to the sphere of activity or to the season of health?

You are called upon now to glorify God in a passive, rather than in an active consecration to His service. Graces hitherto perhaps dormant, or but feebly brought into play, are now to be developed and exercised to their utmost capacity. Patience is to be cultivated, resignation is to be exhibited, faith is to be exercised, love is to be tried, and example is to be set; and are not these great, holy, and sublime achievements? Who will affirm that there is no sermon to be preached from that languid couch, that sick-bed; yes, and it may be more solemn, more searching, more full of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit, than the pulpit ever preached.

The Church and the world have now the testimony of one passing through the present and personal experience of what he speaks. A sick-room is not the place for theorizing upon truth and eternity. All transpiring there is stern reality. The dust of human applause is laid aside, the breath of adulation is hushed, the flush of excitement has faded, and the delirium of an admiring throng has passed away; the artificial gives place to the true. All is as real and solemn as eternity.

Deem not yourself a useless cumberer, because sickness has incapacitated you for active labor. God has but changed your sphere of duty, transferring you, doubtless, to one more glorifying to Himself. Receive, then, with meekness your Heavenly Father’s dispensation, which, while it has set you apart from the Lord’s work, has set you apart more exclusively and entirely for the Lord Himself. Your great desire has been to glorify Him: leave Him to select the means which may best advance it.

You have thought of health and activity, of life and usefulness; of being a champion for the truth, a herald of salvation to the ignorant and the lost, a leader in some high and laborious path of Christian enterprise; but He has ordained it otherwise. And now by sickness and suffering, by silence and solitude, He is giving you other work to perform, which shall not the less secure your usefulness, and promote His glory.

10 August 2010

Preparing for the Prophets

About fifteen years ago I was the co-leader of a Bible study group for the very first time.  One of the things we did that year was an overview of the Bible.  While the other leader (my minister, who was teaching me the craft of leading Bible studies) and I were planning these sessions I remember declaring, "I will do ANY section of the Bible for these studies but please don't make me do the Prophets." 

The troubles I have grappling with this section of the Bible are not new!  In just over a month's time I will be up to the Prophets (major and minor) with the Bible reading plan I have been using this year.  In order to finally have some success understanding in this part of the Bible, I have done some preparatory work.  Actually understanding the context of these books is likely going to be a key ingredient to understanding!!  Should have done this years ago!!  So below, some basic contextual information for each of the Prophets, major and minor, with thanks largely to The Lion Handbook to the Bible.

First though, some key dates.
The schism between Judah (the Southern Kingdom) and Israel (the Northern Kingdom) - 922BC
Israel carried off into exile to Assyria - 722BC
First deportation of Judah to Babylon - 597BC
Second deportation of Judah to Babylon - 586BC
Edict of return by Judah to Jerusalem - 538BC

with a message to - Judah
during the reigns of - Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah
when - 740 -700BC
Summary of message - Isaiah speaks to the nation under the threat of Assyrian invasion, preaching of God's righteousness, warning of the judgment on sin and comforting his people with the knowledge of God's love, His longing to forgive and telling of all the glories in store for those who remain faithful.

with a message to - Judah
during the reigns of - Josiah through to Zedekiah
when - 627 - 580BC
Summary of message - Jeremiah speaks to Jerusalem as they face the Babylonian invasion, warning them of the coming disaster and appealing to them to turn back to God.

Not one of the prophets, but a book found in their midst.  Probably written by Jeremiah.  The first four poems are written by an eye witness to the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar's Babylonian army in 587BC.  The laments express a grief not simply over the suffering and humiliation of his people but over something far deeper and far worse, that God has rejected His people because of their sin.

with a message to - Judah
during - the period of exile
when - 593 -570BC
Summary of message - Ezekiel inspires the Judean exiles in the plains of Babylonia.  He sees God in all his awesome majesty, all seeing and all knowing and people's sin in all its blackness.  He carries the weight of one who must give warning to the individual concerning the danger of sin or else be held accountable - that we have individual accountability before God.

with a message to - Judah
during - the period of exile
when - 605 -530BC
Summary of message - Daniel serves God before the kings of Babylon and records a series of visions of future events.

with a message to - Israel
during the reigns of - Jereboam II until just before the fall of Israel to Assyria
when - 760 -730BC
Summary of message - Hosea expresses God's love to his faithless pople.  What Israel's idolatry means to God - how He continues to love and long for His people to return to Him - Hosea learns through bitter personal experience, as his own wife betrays and deserts him.

with a message to - Judah
during the reign of and when - unknown.  Dates range from the 8th century BC through to the 4th century BC, which is quite a range!
Summary of message - Joel picks up the theme of "the day of the Lord" when God will finally judge the world and its people.  It is a message of devastation and new life - a timeless message for all generations.

with a message to - Israel (Interestingly Amos was from Judah but sent by God to speak to Israel)
during the reigns of - Jereboam II until the fall to Assyria
when -  760BC
Summary of message -  Amos denounces the social and religious corruption present in Israel and warns of God's impending judgment.

with a message to - Edom
when - 500BC
Summary of message - Obadiah prophesies against Edom's pride.  Edom regards its strongholds as invincible.  Obadiah foretells the return of Israel to possess a greatly extended land including Edom.  (The Edomites are the descendants of Esau.)

with a message to -  Ninevah (in Assyria)
when - possibly 770BC
Summary of message - Jonah takes God's message to Ninevah and records the city's reprieve.

with a message to - Judah
during the reigns of - Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah
when - 737 - 690BC
Summary of message - Micah denounces Samaria and Jerusalem - the rulers, priests and prophets and also the corruption, dishonesty in business and religious sham present.  God's judgment will fall on Samaria and Jerusalem but Micah sees a glorious future when Jerusalem will become the religious centre of the world and Bethlehem will see the birth to a great David to rule over God's people.

with a message to - Ninevah (in Assyria)
when - 593 -570BC
Summary of message - Nahum prophesies against Ninevah and predicts its destruction.

with a message to - Judah
when - not entirely clear but close to the Babylonian invasion
Summary of message - Habakkuk debates God's justice, battling with the problem that while God's people seem to suffer, the wicked go free.  Current events face him with this problem in a particularly acute form.  God had announced that he will use the Babylonians - a far more wicked nation - to punish his own people.  Habakkuk, a man of faith, questions God.

with a message to - Judah
at the beginning of the reign of - Josiah
when - 627BC
Summary of message - Zephaniah pronounces God's judgment on Judah, prophecying immediately after the reigns of evil Manasseh and Amon and before Josiah launches his great programme of reform in 621BC.

with a message to - Judah
during - the return to Jerusalem after the exile
when - 520BC
Summary of message - Haggai gives encouragement to rebuild the temple - but it has permanant relevance because his concern is not only with the physical rebuilding of the temple but with restoring priorities.

with a message to - Judah
during - the return to Jerusalem after the exile
when - 520 - 518BC
Summary of message - Zechariah presents visions of judgment and glory.  He distils the wisdom of many of the earlier prophets and brings the events of the far future into sharper focus, including references to the Messiah (which are fulfilled in the life of Christ.)

with a message to - Judah
during - the return to Jerusalem after the exile
when - 460 - 430BC
Summary of message - Malachi recalls the people to right priorities, written either just before Nehemiah is made governor or during his absence later on.  Times are tough and the promised prosperity has not been realised.  The people feel let down and are showing an increasingly casual attitude towards worship and to the standards God has set.

[Photo from Microsoft Office Online Clip Art]

06 August 2010

But the older men wept

This week I have been reading Ezra.  The exiled Jews are returning to Jerusalem.  The first thing to be done is to rebuild the temple that was destroyed so that their worship of the LORD, as laid down by Moses, can recommence.   Once the foundation has been laid, Ezra describes the scene.

When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the LORD, the priests in their vestments and with trumpets, and the Levites (the sons of Asaph) with cymbals, took their places to praise the LORD, as prescribed by David king of Israel. With praise and thanksgiving they sang to the LORD :
"He is good;
his love to Israel endures forever."
And all the people gave a great shout of praise to the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid.
But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy. No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise. And the sound was heard far away. 
Ezra 3:10-13

That very tender verse of the older men weeping always stands out to me.  I looked in a few commentaries and there isn't a great deal written about it.  Mainly some thoughts that this verse brings into question the dating of Ezra.  And the fact that the men were not weeping for joy.

It could simply be that they were grieving the fact that this temple would never be as grand as the original.  The former temple that King David so dearly wanted to build for his LORD but didn't because God said, "No David, you have shed too much blood in your lifetime.  But I will grant your son a reign of peace and he can build it for me."  The temple that David carefully planned and for which he painstakingly gathered all the materials - timber from the cedar forests of Lebanon as well as gold, silver, iron, bronze and stone in incalculable quantities - and amassed workmen, craftsmen and artisans and all the money needed to see it built, ready for his son.  The temple that took Solomon seven years to build - the glory and splendour of which was renowned in all the lands.  The temple that was used as a place of worship but at other times was sickeningly defiled. The temple that was vilely desecrated and then tearfully, earnestly and reverently restored, time and again. The temple that was finally pillaged, burned and destroyed as the people of Judah were carried off into exile. 

Were the older men weeping because they could remember the old temple in all its glory?  Weeping because they knew the new temple would never match the grandeur of the former one?

Or does it go a little deeper?  Is it more than just about the building?  Are they weeping because this seemingly feeble attempt will not come close to the glory of the former temple - and therefore will not be worthy of the LORD they desire to worship within its walls?  Is there a heartfelt, conscience stricken grief that goes deeper than aesthetics?

A little time after the foundation is laid, Haggai the prophet comes to the people with a message from God, one that initially reflects the grief of the older men.

Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing? 
Haggai 2:3

But then he says,

'But now be strong, O Zerubbabel,' declares the LORD. 'Be strong, O Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land,' declares the LORD, 'and work. For I am with you,' declares the LORD Almighty. 'This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.'
"This is what the LORD Almighty says: 'In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. I will shake all nations, and the desired of all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,' says the LORD Almighty. 'The silver is mine and the gold is mine,' declares the LORD Almighty. 'The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,' says the LORD Almighty. 'And in this place I will grant peace,' declares the LORD Almighty." 
Haggai 2:4-9

This "present house" is not a building, grand or otherwise, to be found in a city.  This "present house" is Jesus.  It is good to be reminded how deeply blessed we are to live this side of the cross - to know what happened next and how ultimately it didn't matter that the new foundation was built with smaller and inferior blocks of stone.  But as I draw close to the end of the history books in the Old Testament for this year, how very moving it is to picture the older men who had seen so much - the destruction of the temple, the exile, the return to Jerusalem and now the laying of a new foundation - standing there weeping in the midst of great rejoicing.

04 August 2010

Maybe tomorrow...

So much to say.  So little time to write anything down.  Maybe tomorrow.
But in the meantime, just letting you know that I have turned the comment moderation back on.  It isn't that I don't trust you.  You have all been very well behaved.  But I like to try to reply to most comments and it's just easier to keep track of them this way.