Who doesn’t need some joy in their hearts? Life seems to be so full of stress and strain, of duties and obligations, of pleasant responsibilities and necessary employment. In the thick of it we can all too easily lose our joy and peace, that which keeps us centred both spiritually and emotionally. For those willing to stop and look there is abundant evidence in the world around us of our Creator God – the heavens are telling the glory of God, and the skies do show his handiwork. And yet there is a natural progression from seeing God in the world around us to wanting to know him more deeply.
This Psalm makes that transition. The law of the Lord in its perfection will revive my soul; his testimony brings me wisdom; his precepts rejoice my heart; his pure command brings light to my eye. This kind of fear of the Lord is cleansing and enduring.
These decrees of the Lord are both true and righteous. This should be my ultimate desire – to seek after and to find the word of the Lord active in my life, bringing revival, wisdom, rejoicing, light – hope. This love of the Lord and seeking to know him through his word is what will ultimately preserve me, guard me, and bring me great joy.
May this attitude of heart fill my desires, and may this constitute my thoughts and my speech in the light of the knowledge of and in the presence of my God, my Rock, and my Redeemer.
There’s a gap in our history of the apostle Paul. In Galatians 1:17 Paul himself alludes to it, but gives no more detail than the fact that he went to Arabia for a while. I don’t often speculate, but in this case I think I have fairly firm ground.
Paul was steeped in the law. He knew the Jewish Scriptures inside out. We was versed in all the prophecies. But he was wrong about how it all fitted together. My dad says that prophecy without fulfilment is like having a jigsaw puzzle without having the picture on the lid – you won’t know how it all goes together until you can see the whole picture. Paul had all the pieces, but he didn’t have the completed picture.
When he encountered Jesus on the Damascus road, Paul was given the the whole picture; he realised that Jesus was the Christ, the fulfilment of all the Law, the prophecies and promises. That left Paul with a lot of pieces to rearrange. I believe that Paul left the country until he had put all the pieces of the jigsaw together, according to the picture that he now had. It would have taken some time for Paul to take all that he had known, and make sense of it on the basis of his new found understanding. Paul speaks of this in his letters as ‘the mystery revealed’.
And so, once Paul had got the revealed mystery understood in his own mind he came back so that he could share this understanding that Jesus is the fulfilment of God’s great plan, that Jesus is all the Law and the Prophets. This mystery revealed, this light bulb moment for Paul drove the rest of his life.
In his letter to the Colossian christians Paul says this:
“For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Colossians 2:1–3”
Whatever your hopes or desires are for the coming year, this hope transcends all, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is in Christ. Paul’s desire was that all might know, and he struggled with all his might to share this understanding. For us, we should take this for our own. We have the mystery revealed, we know Jesus is the Christ. Let’s do what Paul did. Let’s determine this year to know God and his Son through the Word that he gave us. Let’s put all those pieces together in our own minds and let’s share that knowledge with anyone who will listen.
So, my goal for the coming year is to read God’s word, to prayerfully study and consider, and to put together the pieces of God’s eternal plan in my own heart, and then to pass on what I have learned, to whoever will listen.
I’ve just returned from a bit of last minute shopping. It’s frantic Friday – everyone is rushing, pushing, searching, trying to put the finishing touches on the event that Christmas has become.
I was musing recently about why we give gifts at Christmas. Is it because we think of Jesus as God’s gift to us, or perhaps because the wise men brought gifts. It’s impossible to equate even the most extravagant Christmas gift with the giving of Jesus for us. Although Jesus is ours, he is never ours in the sense of a possession, something we own. He is ours, because we are his, and he is everything.
So that brings us to the wise men and the reasons for their offerings. First of all, the wise men were rather late to the party. Although they set out when they saw the star rise, it took some time to arrive at Bethlehem. Mary, Joseph and Jesus were no longer in the stable, and Jesus was an infant child, not a new born baby. But that in itself tells us something about Christmas – it was an event so monumental that the wise men were determined to pursue what they had discovered, even at such cost in terms of time and energy. I don’t know how far east they had come from, but judging by the age of the children that Herod murdered, it was some distance. This was more than curiosity, it was a conviction that the rising star bore real significance.
For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.
Worship is a serious business, and these wise men were serious about worshipping the new king.
When they arrived at the house, the wise men did indeed worship Jesus, and they offered gifts to him. But those gifts were not toys or trinkets to be played with. The gifts themselves were an act of worship.
Perhaps we will come late to the real meaning of this party too. It may be well after the decorations have come down that we can objectively think about how we should treat Jesus, but here’s some food for thought for when you get there.
We are told that the wise men ‘offered him gifts’ (Matthew 2:11). The important word is ‘offered’. It’s quite a common word in the New Testament. We read of it when the people brought Jesus the sick and the demon oppressed. We read of it when the paralytic was lowered down from the roof. We read of it when a blind, mute, demon possessed man was brought to be healed. We read of it when the little children were brought before him.
Yes, we bring our offering of worship to the incarnate God – Immanuel, God with us; Jesus, God saves. But we come too, knowing our need, knowing that there is only one who can heal, restore, forgive. We offer ourselves not because we can give to him, but because he alone can save. And, strangely, these two, worship and petition go hand in hand with our loving God. No matter what state we find ourselves in this Christmas, know this, that Jesus welcomes all who will come and offer themselves to him. ‘I won’t reject anyone who comes to me’ Jesus would later say.
So, when you are struggling with the busyness, or the obligations, or just the whole commercial weight that is heaped on our Christmas celebration, remember the lines of the Christmas carol, and take them to heart:
Yet what can I give Him?
Give Him my heart.
And give him your heart in worship and in need. Jesus is more than willing and able to meet that need and accept that worship.
Difficult times can hit us in so many ways: job worries, family worries, health concerns. Perhaps the hardest part of any of these is the not knowing the end – not being able to recognise a purpose in that trying time. For Christians in particular it can add to the burden when we are walking a difficult path. We are to live by faith, and we do, but still that faith seeks out a purpose, a reason for the hardships that we suffer. If only we knew why, it would help us stand up under the pressure. And yet, God does not often reveal his purposes at this specific level.
Job suffered catastrophic loss, and yet we know from his story in Scripture that the heavenly goings on were never revealed to him during his life on earth. His faith is the ultimate example. I suspect our wanting to have a specific purpose for suffering is actually a lack of faith. We want to approve whatever it is that God is doing, it’s an attempt to wrest back some sort of control over our lives and our destinies: “Lord, work out your purposes, but please just run it by me first.” But that is original sin, it is pride and it is lack of faith and we must repent of it.
All through the Bible we read of God’s plan and intent in all that he does. The whole universe was made for his purposes, and we are a part of that. God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world according to his good pleasure – God has taken pleasure in his plans for us! That universal plan has a definite purpose and a definite end. In Ephesians 1:10 we are told that God is going to one day bring life, the universe and everything to its ultimate conclusion. That’s a concept that we need to keep at the forefront of out minds as we walk through any difficult time.
We don’t often know the specifics of God’s plan for us before it happens, and often we don’t understand as it happens, but we do know that there is a purpose.
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
That is sufficient!
In the book of Ephesians Paul uses some incredible terms to describe what God is doing in his created universe. Each and every one of us plays their part in God’s plan. Paul’s purpose was to reveal the mystery of the Gospel, that was previously hidden, but now revealed in Christ Jesus. But every individual has a part to play. So, let us take up all the equipment that God has given us and press on, not insisting on knowing the specifics, but understanding we are here specifically to play our part.
so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.
The first couple of words in the verse above translate a small Greek word, and possibly my favourite word in the Greek New Testament: hina. It literally means ‘in order that’. Right through God’s Word he is reassuring us that what he is doing, he is doing ‘in order that’, and that includes us. The Church is here in order that we might make known the manifold wisdom of God, not just here in this world, but to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places too – now, there’s an incredible purpose.
So, when the hard times come and we wonder why we look to a greater purpose that we do know. We don’t minimise our present troubles, but we don’t seek to take control from God’s ultimate purpose, we trust, we endure, we look in faith and in hope to that ultimate consummation of all things when our Creator God recreates, redeems and fulfils all his promises and plans. Even so, come Lord Jesus.
When Abraham and Lot parted company, Lot thought he had got the better deal. That thought was driven by his own desires for the good life. Lot eventually settled on the plain of Jordan, and as we know gravitated towards Sodom. The Bible tells us that Lot was righteous and greatly disturbed by the behaviour of the residents of Sodom (2 Peter 2:7), but not enough to leave.
When, at Abraham’s intercession, the angels went into the city to warn Lot of the coming judgement, he still wavered. It’s an indication of how far a righteous man can go, when in the wrong environment that when the city, to a man come with the intention of raping the angels Lot offers his virgin daughters as an alternative.
Deep down in many of us there is a gnawing hunger for the world. There is a desire to be a part of it, and to enjoy the benefits of living, as the world does, for ourselves and for our own pleasure. We have more in common with Lot than with Abraham. Now, Lot was righteous; Lot knew the danger or remaining; and yet Lot still lingered. He had to be physically dragged from the impending judgement. Is that you?
This world has nothing of value to us. More than that it is deeply harmful to our souls, it lures and entices and offers nothing in return, yet still we linger! Don’t linger, don’t look back! Turn away from the world and seek out the Lord God, who alone offers forgiveness, hope, peace, and a future.
Even as Lot’s family fled, his wife looked back once too often and she lost the ability to flee. God forgive us for looking back and longing for that which has no value when we can flee to the One who has all to give and have offered it freely, no charge, not because it is of no value, but because we cannot afford the price.
God is a gracious and loving and merciful and patient God, who offers forgiveness to all who will flee to him. But don’t linger, don’t look back, because the time that you look back may be the last opportunity that you have.
It was from Abraham that God’s family, his people was to come. Choose to live in the wilderness with God, rather than in the world – the wilderness with God is a much safer place to be.