“I will sing the LORD’s praise, for he has been good to me.” – Psalm 13v6
There’s an important distinction between declaring that “God is good” and “God has been good to me.” The first is a general truth and the second is a personal testimony. General truths can seem hard to take in the light of suffering or loss: the “goodness” is difficult to understand in those precise circumstances. There can be times where faith stands up under the strain and says “God is good” (through gritted teeth?)… see below for words from a country man and prophet named Habakkuk…
Tonight I give thanks and praise to God because He has been good TO ME in a specific way. A follow-up test has shown my cancer surgery was completely successful back in 2019. I believe God loves me and looks over me- and in a good partnership with the NHS, I have been blessed with a longer life. Honestly, it was harder to say “God is good” on the day the surgeon said “We need to operate on Thursday…” The general truth about God’s goodness was not something I doubted- but it didn’t “feel” good. God gave me a surprising peace, a wonderful wife, some amazing friends, and a brilliant surgical team… and now, three + years later, the general truth has become a specific one. I am simply grateful- and saying my most sincere thanks.
Today I also have various friends facing surgery, struggling with serious health concerns, living in difficult even tragic circumstances. God is good: my prayer must be that “God will be good to them” in the most appropriate manner, bringing healing and wholeness through medical skill and/or Holy Spirit power and grace. (There is no need to believe it must be God-OR-medicine. It can be BOTH/AND.)
I truly hope that my faith- and theirs- may reach the depth of that man Habakkuk… To be able to say and mean this:
“Even if the fig tree does not bloom and the vines have no grapes, even if the olive tree fails to produce and the fields yield no food, even if the sheep pen is empty and the stalls have no cattle— even then, I will be happy with the Lord. I will truly find joy in God, who saves me. The Lord Almighty is my strength. He makes my feet like those of a deer. He makes me walk on the mountains.” – Habakkuk 3v17-19
I’m attaching this post to a photo I took this week of my favourite type of crocus. Purple-and-white stripes with a glowing orange centrepiece. I do believe the God who created these IS good and generously kind.
Simply thankful: Peace and grace to you, with joy and hope through faith!
Our search for a hero is expressed in so many ways… making idols of sporting teams, flirting with extremist politics, or obsession with the Hollywood myths- like Superman.
What a fabulous kite! Dipping and soaring on the wind, brightly coloured, ingeniously designed- but powerless. Much like the comic book universe that puts our longings into the box office. At one level, much religious activity is based on unfulfilled wishes- so “gods” were manufactured out of wood, stone, or precious metals. The forces of nature are seen as divine: spirits of trees, water, and fire. Even animals can be worshipped. Bulls are strong, lions are courageous, eagles are majestic…
In the 20th century, two colossal wars caused awful loss of life and dreadful destruction. No wonder fictional heroes gained even more attraction. Add the incredible “special effects” of modern film-making, and the impossible happens before our eyes.
Is it surprising that many have abandoned “faith” as hollow and powerless? We have lost trust in politics, church, and morality. Give us Superman! If nothing else, Superman would lift responsibility and guilt from our shoulders… we could leave everything to the superhero.
Now, if Jesus had worn a red cape and Y-fronts over a jumpsuit… Would everybody have thronged to follow Him instead of crucifying Him?
The way of Jesus is the opposite of acting out a superhero fantasy.
Love, grace, life-transforming teaching, some miracles; but embracing Death in order the shatter the power of Death forever.
He could have called 10,000 angels- but instead He chose the path of willing obedience. Out of that humility, new life was birthed through Resurrection- the Father’s “Amen” to the self-giving of Jesus. WE are called to make Jesus our model, inspiration, and goal- not to yearn for “superhero myths” but to walk in humble Love.
“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.“ (Phil. 2:5)
Great pic, isn’t it? Eagle Owl, Dartmoor, near Princetown. All my own work: could start a rush of twitchers heading for Devon!
Except this is a way of telling truth to mislead. It is an Eagle Owl, I did take the photo. So far, so good. It is Dartmoor in the snow- I took the photo. All true. So what’s the problem?
I combined the two pictures so the owl had a more “natural-looking” backdrop. I haven’t lied, but I wasn’t 100% accurate.
My intention matters. If I have just melded two photos for a better picture, that’s OK. Were I to present myself as a wildlife whizz, discovering Eagle Owls in Devon, then perhaps selling the image to a news agency in exchange for fame and fortune, that is unethical and dishonest. And WRONG.
“The camera never lies” says the old proverb. But it may mislead, even present corrupted truth (in other words, a LIE). This is a huge problem in journalism, advertising, politics… “Deep fake” pictures are created and used to destroy the victim’s reputation, or as the lever for blackmail. Bits of truth selected deliberately, then mixed into untruth. A complete rejection of integrity.
Unless we are careful to act with integrity, there is even a danger that “picking bits” of the Bible then jamming them together will mislead or misdirect people who are seeking God. This coming Sunday, I’m preaching at our church. I have a heavy responsibility to tell the truth truthfully: or I risk putting words into God’s mouth, or persuading people into misunderstanding. A stern warning from the New Testament: “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.“ – James 3 v1
James points out the risk that teachers and preachers take on. Matthew’s Gospel records words from Jesus about the required heart-attitude, the integrity, of those called to serve through leadership and preaching. It must be real, and honest, and true- not a crafty construction of bits of truth. If I cannot preach out of humility and integrity, I should not preach at all.
“Everything they do is for show. On their arms they wear extra wide prayer boxes with Scripture verses inside, and they wear robes with extra long tassels. And they love to sit at the head table at banquets and in the seats of honour in the synagogues. They love to receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces, and to be called ‘Rabbi.’ Don’t let anyone call you ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one teacher, and all of you are equal as brothers and sisters. And don’t address anyone here on earth as ‘Father,’ for only God in heaven is your Father. And don’t let anyone call you ‘Teacher,’ for you have only one teacher, the Messiah. The greatest among you must be a servant. But those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” – Matthew 23 v5-12
Please pray for me- and any other preachers and teachers you know.
Our journey towards faith always requires that we seek a way through the unknown, through mysteries that ask more questions than we can answer. But God WILL make a way. He always has.
Consider Joseph and Mary… a long walk to Bethlehem at what must have seemed a MOST inconvenient time. Pregnancy offers challenge enough! Wretched Romans, making life more difficult.
As if that wasn’t enough, there is a jealous king with homicidal intent who will be responsible for the death of children- so another journey as refugees finding shelter in Egypt. How ironic- Joseph working as a labourer in the land where Israel had been enslaved. Then after Herod’s death, a return from exile into the Promised Land: bringing the infant Saviour with them.
Angels, Magi, shepherds and fulfilled prophecies. That’s the way God made. The way of the unexpected, the foretold, the surprising, the spectacular, the ordinary, the unthinkable, the wonderful. One humble brave girl, one courageous, gentle and devoted husband. One Word spoken before the beginning of Time, echoing through the centuries until the End of Time. One Word enrobed in human flesh, one Love embracing and reconciling a lost world. God has made a way.
“See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland…” – Isaiah 43 v19
This way, this Word, is what we celebrate at Christmas.
Bayonets fixed and a feeling of dread
as fast as we can
we cover the ground
Rifles and cannon
ripping the field and smearing us red.
Another skirmish in nameless terrain-
so very important
to winning the war-
but nameless corpses
mark a small triumph bought with their pain.
Just over the ridge...
Not many came back.
Red poppies now flourish as memories fade
where courage and terror
stalked through the corn.
Respect for the fallen
of countless ridges where still bones are laid.
Until peace heals.
(For Remembrance Day 11th November 2022 (c) Richard Starling)
This jigsaw was completed by a team of dedicated puzzlers at our drop-in cafe recently. After false starts, mistakes, and lots of co-operation, the job was done. Oh, the satisfaction of fitting the last few pieces in the right places!
Honesty compels me to say that not every word spoken over that puzzle was positive during the assembly process.
Making sense of life has similarities! The Bible gives an overview of what we should be like- and why we exist at all- but doesn’t always give precise indications of the next step.
So many things to fit in. So many bits looking the same- nearly.
I was looking at the prophecy of Ezekiel tonight- and struggling with it. There are sections that are far from easy to comprehend. (Even the straightforward bits are quite difficult.) Chapters 40-42 are a detailed description of the Temple. And I mean detailed. Then in chapter 43 comes a statement: “Then the spirit took me up and brought me into the inner courtyard, and the glory of the LORD filled the Temple.”
The design, the puzzle, is complete. Does that mean Ezekiel is now easy to understand? I wish!
“Then the Spirit took me up…” is a recurring theme through the prophecy. Perhaps this statement is key? Like finding all the edge pieces of a jigsaw. That’s something to work with, anyway.
I don’t think I could ever write a commentary on Ezekiel… that’s a job for wiser and better scholars. But I’ve found a grain of sense that applies to working out my faith in practice. My life is a sequence of plans & events, and the key is the Spirit “taking me up” and putting me in the place where God IS- the inner courtyard, the Holy of Holies- for THEN the glory of the Lord enters in.
Christians are described as the Temple of God- “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Cor 3 v16).
May the Lord take us up, place us in His Presence, dwell in us, and glorify Christ in and through us. May He complete the work begun in us- and then the jigsaw we are living will finally be perfect.
Overnight rain has passed, memories of the storm still rumbling through our senses, and leaving teardrops caught in the alchemilla leaves.
Sparkling like crystals, these tears are for the passing of summer. It was the first of a wave of storms heading our way- and weakened by the drought, trees have fallen and the leaves of the survivors have been persecuted to the point of giving up. Autumn will seem short this year.
Many of us work hard to conceal our struggles and try to “be brave” by bottling up our feelings. Yet tears are a safety valve; crying is a reflex to help us process strong emotion, grief, and pain.
Charles Dickens makes this point: “Heaven knows we need never be ashamed of our tears, for they are rain upon the blinding dust of earth, overlying our hard hearts. I was better after I had cried, than before–more sorry, more aware of my own ingratitude, more gentle.” ― Great Expectations
We are improved by our tears! The apostle Paul made another point about the way our crying may help us let others know how much they are loved: “I wrote that letter in great anguish, with a troubled heart and many tears. I didn’t want to grieve you, but I wanted to let you know how much love I have for you.” – 2 Corinthians 2:4
Tears can even be a form of prayer. Having run out of words, having reached rock bottom, facing problems and sadness… what better way to express ourselves and communicate with God? There is even a verse in Psalms (Ps. 56 v8) that says the Lord “treasures” our tears as a keepsake of love.
Even Jesus wept at the passing of a friend. (John 11:35) After His tears came a miracle…
I wonder how the Lord values- and could use- OUR tears?
What does faith in God offer to the political debate that consumes the time and energy of the news media? Quite a lot!
When looking for leaders who will serve the people, we should look at character and attitude. As the Bible says, God looks at the heart not the outward appearance. May I suggest a meditation to form the basis of our prayers? The beginning of the Book of Psalms sets out a conditional blessing based on the essential choice to seek out goodness and godliness in place of selfish greed and ambition…
Let’s pray that the Lord will be at the centre of the situation: that we as a nation may know God and His ways. That is the way to mercy and blessing.
The Way of the Godly – Psalm 1:1-3
How blessed is the person who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers!
But their delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law they meditate day and night. Such a person will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season, and whose leaf does not wither. In whatever that person does, they will prosper.
Lions in pictures, zoos and books… on the TV… or sleeping. These are all acceptable encounters with large predatory pussycats. But live, loose, and hungry- not so cute!
One zoo has a warning notice, roughly saying this: “Beware! A lion looks at you and sees meat.”
Warning notices exist for a reason. Danger!
And if you miss or ignore the sign… trouble awaits like a pouncing puss in a bad mood. Today I encountered a “computer lion” also known as – “Don’t do that, Richard. You’ll be sorry. Oops. Told you you’d be sorry!”
I missed the sign until too late. Hastily deleting unwanted emails before dashing off to a meeting, I discovered why “hastily” and “delete” should NEVER go together when computers are concerned. Hungry savage beasties lurk in wait for the unwary- and I had more bitten off than even the lion could chew.
Trying to delete one last email, the cursor sort of “slipped” (ahem) also spelt “You idiot, Richard!” – and I deleted the entire email folder.
All of it.
My fault, I suppose. Although a clearer, more helpful warning “Do you really mean to do that?” sign would have been a nice thing for the programmers to include…
Anyway, saving 30 seconds cost me three hours of panic and trying different ways to find and UNDELETE approximately 3,000 emails. It also tested my sanctification and verbal self-control. Saying “bother” in the face of calamity is unsatisfying at best, and aggravating at worst. BOTHER!
How often and how easily simple mistakes and bad choices can turn life into a carnival (carnivore?) of doom. Especially when we don’t pay attention and don’t look out for warnings.
Peter, the apostle and friend of Jesus, knew about mishaps and bad choices- and was apt to shoot off his mouth before engaging brain (I don’t think he’d have liked computers…). In 1 Peter 5 v8 he wrote wisely about something he’d learned the hard way.
“Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”
To ruin your day takes a hungry lion. To really bother things up requires a computer. Or a spiritual enemy out for your blood.
So, Richard, be alert. Don’t let lions, computers, or anything else trap you.
(In case you were worried for me and my fading sanity, I have now recovered the emails from the server. My gibbering has eased. And my patience, tolerance, and self-control have been given a good gallop through the digital paddock. PLEASE don’t make the mistakes I have made- there isn’t always a happy ending!)