Feasting the Soul

Reading the book of Jeremiah can be quite daunting. At first glance it appears to confirm the assessment of Jeremiah as the weeping prophet – full of judgement and hopelessness. But nothing could be further from the truth! The book of Jeremiah is a beacon of hope in the throes of a hopeless situation: the exile of Israel & Judah.

Of course we all have our favourite, go to passages. One of these is chapter 31, which speaks of the New Covenant. But the temptation is to just jump to the bits that we understand and like, and in so doing to miss all that God is saying to his people.

The New Covenant, so wonderfully described in Jeremiah 31 is the foundation on which the community relationship of God with his people is built. It was Israel as a nation who had sinned grievously, and it was Israel as a nation who were judged and punished. They had broken the covenant and had separated themselves from God. The result was that God brought judgement on the whole community – the nation was punished. Their sin was ‘of the now’, it was the immediate satisfaction of the pagan rituals in which they indulged. In exile their here & now became a life of slavery.

But the promise of a New Covenant isn’t just a new foundation, but a new community built on that foundation. Satan would keep us living in the here & now, looking for small pleasures day by day and ignoring God.

God assures us that he has loved us with an everlasting love – it transcends the present. God also promises a life lived together as a community of his people: ‘they will be my people and I will be their God’. This is a life lived singing with gladness. It is a life lived as those who are redeemed, both personally and as God’s people. It is a life lived ‘radiant’ over the goodness of the I AM God. It is a life lived as God’s ‘watered garden’, bountiful in God’s care. It is a life of ‘feasting the soul with abundance’ and of being a people ‘satisfied with his goodness’. This is our hope and expectation, not just for the Day of the Lord and the world to come, but the here and now of God’s people, living in the light of his redemption, his love, his taking us to be his own.

So, let’s live now, in the light of this understanding of who God is and who we are in him, knowing that our life lived now as a community of God’s people, feasting our souls with his abundance and satisfied with his goodness is simply a ‘foretaste of glory divine!’

Feasting the Soul

Remember your Identity

9-5 ThesesWe’re a generation living with an identity crisis. We have been told that we can choose to be whoever we are, and with that choice, for most of us comes confusion. Where does that leave us? Identity comes from where we come from, where we’re going, who we belong to. It is a complex thing, and not one that is always consciously understood, and yet it still defines us.

I remember that it was only once I had left home and began to live in a different country to the one that I was born in that I became more interested in family history – my origins. Subconsciously I was trying to establish my identity, and that identity had roots. If we decide that we can arbitrarily change that identity we are in effect cutting off our roots. But roots are the very thing in which we thrive. A tree without roots is mere wood. A person without roots doesn’t know where they are going or where they have come from.

The Bible, cover to cover is given to explain not just our roots, but also our destination. The Bible makes explicit what we can see in part as we look at the universe in which we live. The Bible also makes clear that we are God’s and he is ours. He made us, he has plans for us, he has plans for this entire universe.

And so, our identity is bound up in God. We cannot choose it and more than we can choose our parents. And yet, just as a child can disown his parents and walk away from them, we too can walk away from God. The story of the Bible, and of Jesus in particular is that God is not willing to walk away from us. He sent his Son, Jesus to win us back, to open the door to a restored relationship.

It is neatly summed up in the Apostle Peter’s first letter (2:10):

“Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, now you have received mercy.”

Our identity, our belonging, our hope and destiny is all bound up in a loving God who has shown mercy, who has at great cost opened the door to forgiveness and reconciliation for all. Our God has offered to include us in his people – that’s our identity.

In the book of Hebrews we’re told of a new covenant. The single word translated by these two literally means a ‘together covenant’ – the idea being that of bringing all things together: a consummating covenant. This is the ultimate goal that God has for this universe – a people that belong to him, loved, prepared, as a bride for a groom and kept for all eternity!

“For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days declares the Lord. I will put my laws into their minds and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” Hebrews 8:10

Remember your Identity

On Opening the Door

Opening the Door

We have a sign on our front door, it reads ‘Welcome Friends’. It’s interesting the difference friendship makes to a welcome. It’s not that we’re unfriendly, or don’t welcome people we don’t already count as friends, but just think for a minute about the difference in your attitude when you are expecting a knock on the door and when you’re not.

When we’ve arranged for friends to come round we are expecting them, we are looking forward to what’s to come. We go to the door with a smile already crossing our face. But sometimes, usually when we’ve just sat down with a cup of tea, we hear an unexpected knock on the door: is it a cold caller? As we go to the door we are usually just that bit more wary, not sure of how to receive until we know who it is we are receiving.

In Revelation 3:20 there is a direct message from the risen Jesus to the Church. It’s directed at those who already know him – he’s a friend. But the shocking thing is that he’s on the outside, knocking to get in! Remember, these are Christians that Jesus is talking to!

When we invite friends round, it very often comes with the offer of a meal. As we eat together folks relax, relationships are built, questions are asked and answers given – we get to know one another.

For many people today their relationship with God is transactional. Let me explain that: we make our relationship with God a deal, an agreement, an acknowledgement of our sin and God’s forgiveness through Christ. But we leave it there. The deal’s been done, we’re saved. That’s what makes for Revelation 3 lukewarm Christians! We often use the term ‘accepting Christ’ as a description of our salvation. That somehow seems such a poor concept of what Jesus is and what he wants. He doesn’t want to be accepted, he wants to be welcomed!

Read Revelation chapter 1 through to 3:20 and try to see the risen, exalted, incandescent Jesus of chapter 1 standing outside the door to you: knocking, waiting. Try to imagine what it would be like to open that door to Jesus as the best of all friends, and to welcome him in with open arms and a laden table. Try to imagine a life spent around the table of our hearts with the Lord Jesus Christ breaking bread with us, getting to know him as he knows us. That’s a relationship, not a transaction.

Jesus is saying to each one of us in our apathy and lukewarm faith: LOOK! I’m outside knocking! If anyone opens up and welcomes me to the table, I WILL come in and share it with them!

What an incredible offer and privilege – let’s all throw wide the doors with glad abandon and welcome our Lord into our lives.

On Opening the Door

What Pervades?

What do the conversations revolve around in your home? What is it that animates you and yours? What gets your passions roused enough to discuss, debate, express yourself?

There’s so much to capture our attention these days and there are so many ways of being captured. For many people it’s the TV that sits in the corner of the room, always on, always directing our thoughts. For others it’s social media, stuffed chock full of memes and breaking news.

It’s good to have interests, it’s great to have passions, it’s healthy to be aware of what’s going on in the world. But, when these things pervade our lives then we are subject to them. This is why God explicitly tells us to deliberately determine what pervades our lives. Here’s my paraphrase of Deuteronomy 6:4-9, the great ‘shema’.

Listen up, people: the I AM God, the LORD is the only One
Love the LORD with all of who you are: heart, soul, strength
Keep these instructions in your heart
Teach and talk of these things: to your family, to your friends, in the home or out and about,
First thing in the morning and last thing at night
Make these words of God guard and guide what you do with your hands, what you see with your eyes
Make these words of God the gateway to your home

What Pervades?

When I don’t know how to pray

Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer.

Daniel 9:3

What was Daniel’s life really like? He was abducted from his homeland as a young man, probably in his early teens. He and his friends were put under the Chief of the Eunuchs – the logical deduction is that as part of Daniel’s incorporation into the retinue of the king of Babylon he and his friends were made eunuchs. Daniel was also a slave. No matter what position he was given it didn’t change the fact that he was owned by the king. Reading between the lines of the book of Daniel he was down more than he was up – at times of crisis he was remembered, at other times he could be completely forgotten. With every change of regime, and Daniel suffered quite a few, Daniel would have lost whatever position he had (apart from the Belshazzar/Darius change, where things went the other way).

Why the background? To show that Daniel didn’t ‘have it good’. He wasn’t recognised by all around him as some giant of faith and righteousness. He was often hated, occasionally recognised, but mostly it was just him and his God. But God recognised him as a giant of faith and righteousness (see Ezekiel 14:14,20)! We need to understand how he came to be who he is while under the constraints that he suffered. We need to know that we have the same access to the same God that Daniel did, if only we would avail of that access.

It’s strange, but I struggle to read books on prayer – they just don’t seem to work. In one sense, it’s such a simple act that I wonder how someone can write a book about it, and yet in another it’s one of the most difficult acts for a believer to truly indulge in. I’m not going to write a book on it, but I do think Daniel exemplifies how we should go about it when we don’t know how to pray.

Daniel was at his wit’s end, he couldn’t see a way out of the domination by a succession of superpowers. He himself was powerless and subject to the whims of those superpowers. Where could he turn, where did he turn?

He turned to God’s word! “I, Daniel, perceived in the books” Daniel 9:2. We’re often told that we should listen before we speak. This is all the more vital with prayer. How can we worship aright if we don’t first remind ourselves of who God is. How can we ask aright if we don’t read of God’s sovereignty and grace. How can we seek God’s plans if we have not first imbibed them into our own souls?

Before we turn to prayer we must turn to the word.

Then, like Daniel, we can turn our faces to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer. Daniel used what he learned in God’s word to direct his prayers. He confessed not only his sin, but that of the nation. Remember that God chose a people, not just persons; we should pray for God’s people as a people. Daniel reminded God of the promises made in his word and asked God to fulfil them. We need to be seekers after God’s plans and purposes so that we can pray that God would fulfil them, we need to understand the times in order to see God’s providence in them and seek the progression of his kingdom.

Most of all, we need to seek God’s glory in our prayers, because in that is everything else made right. Our peace, our prosperity, our salvation and redemption, our future hope are all bound up in the God of this universe bringing about his plans and purposes. As we see the reality of this we will see the part that our lives play in the greatest story of all: God and his people. As we look at the world around us, and the church, which is God’s dwelling place on earth, till he comes, we can honestly pray with Daniel:

Now therefore, O our God, listen to the prayer of your servant and to his pleas for mercy, and for your sake O Lord, make your face to shine upon your sanctuary, which is desolate. Daniel 9:17

When I don’t know how to pray