Grace

May God be gracious to you

Ever since Philip Yancey wrote his book ‘What’s so amazing about grace I’ve been captivated by the idea of God’s grace towards us. This undeserved thing that God lavishes onto us. If I’m honest I don’t remember grace being spoken of in the church I grew up in. I’m pretty convinced it was just not part of our vocabulary there. So, when Yancey wrote so brilliantly on the subject it deeply impacted my heart.

And grace is not just an New Testament idea as some of us might have thought. It is here right in the middle of this ancient blessing from God. The word gracious is the Hebrew word ‘hanum’ which is the same word for grace that denotes God’s desire to forgive sin and to show favour to the undeserving. There it is, grace, not just something that arrives along with Jesus in the gospels.

God’s grace is His unmerited favour towards those who don’t deserve anything at all from here. We don’t deserve anything, yet God gives us everything. When we consider his loving and kindly dealings with us, how is it that we are not more gracious ourselves towards others? Sometimes we are filled with unkind thoughts, we speak unkind words and we give unkind looks and we engage in unkind actions.

We’ve been shown so much grace that it ought to spill over into our interactions with those we meet daily. I was reminded yesterday that at the end of the Lord’s prayer are these very sobering verses from Matthew 6:14-15

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you your heavenly Father will also forgive you but if you do not forgive others then your heavenly father will not forgive your sins.

Now I haven’t got time to go into this in detail but as the parable of the unforgiving servant shows us there is a severe warning to those who don’t show grace towards others and they as they have received grace themselves from God.

I would like to close by praying a simple prayer using Ephesians 4:32 onwards.

I pray that each one of us would be kind and compassionate to one another forgiving each other just as in Christ God forgave you. Follow God’s example therefore as dearly loved children and live a life of love just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. May each of us choose to live a life full of grace towards others as we thank God for his grace to us each day. Amen

Blessing

We’ve all enjoyed listening to the song The Blessing.  Original recording as part of Elevation Worship latest album it has quickly been taken on by churches around the world during the current crisis. Two weeks ago a version was recorded by members of 65 different churches in the UK which has received over 2 million views on YouTube. It is truly inspiring to hear people sing a blessing over this nation and the person who started the ball rolling, Tim Hughes has been recognised by the Prime Minister for his positive contribution to the nation. Many nations have now joined in and there’s even a global one which is appropriate as a response to a global pandemic.

But what does it all mean what are the words of the song actually about? The song begins with these words.

The Lord bless you and keep you make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you the Lord turn his face towards you and give you peace.

If you’ve been in a church recently you properly recognise these lines that are used at the end of many services. The practice of sending forth worshippers with this blessing stretches back thousands of years and originally comes from Numbers chapter 6 verse 24 to 27 when the priests were instructed as to how they should proclaim God’s blessing over Israel.

It’s called the Aaronic or priestly blessing and was regularly part of temple worship in Jerusalem and it’s synagogues too. And the early church inherited this practice from Jewish worship, where it also continues to this day.

The sheer ancientness of this blessing is astonishing. Modern readers will struggle to appreciate these cryptic lines because they are not rooted in an ancient world. However, a few insights from language and culture will help us to understand and meditate on them and so this week I want to take the blessing and discover the richness behind it as we focus on a different aspect each day.

Putting these ideas together, we find that the priestly blessing describes God’s loving provision and his watchful, protective gaze over his people. We hear of God’s heart for listening to our prayers and his desire to comfort and sustain us in every way. What welcome words to our troubled, anxious hearts during the Coronavirus pandemic!

The biblical text emphasizes that these words of blessing had no human author. They were not penned by an ancient psalmist or by a prophet. God himself is their originator, and he alone can fulfil them. When God instructed priests to speak them over Israel, he was making it clear that they were acting as mouthpieces, human voices to proclaim his loving intentions. God is the one who activates these words in the lives of listeners, to do for them what they cannot do for themselves.

This changes how I listen to this song and watch the video. To me, it’s not just about the Church being alive in spite of the lockdown, or the unity it displays. It’s not even about how the Church has blessed hundreds of thousands through acts of kindness although that is very important. Through this video, I think it is the Lord himself using the voice of the UK Church to express his incredible love for the world.

The blessing starts with these words – The LORD bless you. To bless is to ask God to look favourably on someone, to bestow some kind of goodness or benefit upon them.

I am going to follow in this priestly tradition and speak a blessing over you today. To ask God to look favourably on you.

May your love abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:9-11, NIV)

Keep

Yesterday we looked at the idea of speaking a blessing from God over someone as part of the first aspect of this ancient blessing from Numbers 6:24-27.

The second aspect which I want to focus on is ‘and keep you’. The Hebrew word literally means to guard or to protect or to watch over. We find the same verb three times In Psalm 121:7-8

The Lord keeps you from all harm and watches over your life.

The Lord keeps watch over you as you come and go, both now and forever.

The first thing I want us all to notice here is the intimacy of this. It is the Lord who will keep you. It is the Lord who will protect, guard and watch over you. He is not leaving it to anyone else. The Lord himself is the wonderful watcher over you. We are all guarded every moment of every day by the all-powerful, all-seeing God. We need not be a fearful, anxious or apprehensive.

When our children were younger, they would, on occasions come into our bedroom at nighttime having had a bad dream or upset by a noise outside. Actually, one time that noise outside was a car being set on fire so not all were imagined by our children. Anyway, when that happens you try to settle them back to bed. You hope your reassurance is good enough to get them off to sleep as quickly as possible so you can go back to bed yourself.

But, more often than not, they weren’t satisfied by that. I’m still scared they would say. But we are only next door in the bedroom I would reply. No dad I need you here and so you would lay down beside them until they have fallen asleep. They are at peace enough to sleep because you are there watching over them, guarding them. This is the picture I have of Father God keeping us.

He is the Lord, our keeper (John 17:12). He is able and ready to keep us from sin (1 Peter 1:3-5). To keep us from falling (Jude 24) and to keep us safe until the end of the journey (Psalm 73:4).

For a full picture of the Lord keeping us, I want to finish by using Psalm 121 as a prayer which speaks about the safety of those who put their trust in God’s protection.

I look up to the mountains—does my help come from there?

My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth!

He will not let you stumble; the one who watches over you will not slumber.

Indeed, he who watches over Israel never slumbers or sleeps.

The Lord himself watches over you! The Lord stands beside you as your protective shade.

The sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon at night.

The Lord keeps you from all harm and watches over your life.

The Lord keeps watch over you as you come and go, both now and forever.

Shine

The next part of the blessing is a little strange and sounds quite odd.

‘Make his face shine upon you’

It might sound strange but what it communicates is quite profound. The word ‘face’ here is ‘Panim’ in Hebrew which can also mean ‘countenance’ or ‘presence’. To get the idea, think of how a person’s face lights up when they see a loved one. It could be translated, ‘May God smile at you.’ It communicates God’s affection and pleasure at hearing our prayers.

I watched recently on Facebook a clip of a dog being able to see her owner’s girlfriend after 8 weeks of lockdown. It went completely mad, running around and wagging its tail like there is no tomorrow. He was utterly delighted to see her, smell her and have her fuss him. As a dog lover, it’s was sheer joy to watch and I don’t mind admitting it made me a little emotional. The girlfriend also has a huge smile on her face.

This statement here is about the joy of being in each other’s presence. The joy of being together just like that dog and his owner’s girlfriend. It again speaks of intimacy as it did yesterday.

This part of the blessing means two things: Firstly, we have the smile of God resting upon us. God is not frowning or looking angry at us. He is showing his favour. He always hates our sin, but how greatly he loves us (Jeremiah 31:3). Secondly, it means that his beauty is reflected upon us. We have no beauty of our own but through our union with Him, we reflect his grace and his loveliness, like Moses (Exodus 34:29) like Steven (Acts 6:15) like the saviour himself (Matthew 17:2). This can and should be true of all who love and belong to the Lord.

This is what we read in 2 Corinthians 3:18

So, all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.

Is your life pleasing to Him? Are you reflecting His beauty?

Let us pray.

Loving Heavenly Father, I humbly come before you and pray that You anoint me with your Holy Spirit. I repent of all my sins and commit my life to you. Lord, have Your way in my life so that I can reflect the glory and beauty of Jesus Christ.

In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen

Hope

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13)

Do you overflow with hope? Is hope spilling over and infecting everyone around you? Hope can be described as a happy anticipation of good which is coming. This comes from knowing God because he is the author of hope so the more we walk with him the more this hope will overflow in our lives and others around us will take notice.

Paul writes to the Romans “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him”. Trust is something that is learned and experienced. The further we walk in fellowship with the Lord the more we know him and understand his will and desires concerning us. He fills us with joy and peace in His presence. Joy is the source of happiness; it is more than a feeling. It is the ability to be content and joyful in every circumstance. Hebrews says that Jesus was anointed with the oil of joy. Meaning; there has never been anyone fuller of joy than Jesus. As his children, it makes sense that we are also anointed and filled full of joy for this life. As God fills you with His peace, you will understand that you are at peace with Him. He is not angry at you for sin, instead, he sees you as he sees Jesus. These things are necessary for this life. The author of hope can fill you to overflowing with these things as you learn to trust him and experience Him by faith.

An amazing truth is that this all happens on a supernatural level by the power of the Holy Spirit living inside you as a believer. This hope that Paul is describing is supernatural, it is not based on feelings. This means how you feel cannot dictate whether or not you experience this hope. The hope is given by God and you have it. When we walk with the Lord, the anticipation of future things builds and builds until it overflows in your life. Remember God is the author of hope and he has given you eternal life, which is knowing Him in a personal and intimate way. We experience this life by faith and the more we practice it the more this joy, peace and hope will spill out into the natural realm of our lives.

Today, I pray that you renew your mind to this wonderful truth from God’s word. Like Paul, my prayer for you is that you are filled to overflowing with the hope that is yours in Christ Jesus. May you experience his power, his joy, and his peace today as you walk in fellowship with Him, amen.

Plans

Jeremiah 29:11 is a very famous verse. You may have it in a picture frame or T-shirt, maybe it is underlined in your bible. The verse says, for I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord. Plans for welfare and not for evil to give you a future and to give you a hope.

Many people use that verse, out of context, to say this is the college I want to go to or this the boyfriend or girlfriend or this is the job I want. Those are my plans and now God declares that we will prosper. We don’t understand that we are making ourselves central not God. The first thing you must understand is we can’t just take one verse out and put it on our Facebook and Twitter without looking at the narrative. What’s going on, what’s it trying to say, who’s the author, when was it written, stuff like that.

The fact that I think sometimes we take verses that God meant for specific people at a specific time and then we wrench it out of its context. For example, if a King was to say you know thousands of years ago you know that everyone in this land gets mars bars, 2000 years later if we saw that in the history books we read that and say yes that means I get a mars bar right now. That doesn’t make sense. Why, because it was a very specific place, specific time.

Clearly, other scriptures talk about God who has a plan for us. He knows and he cares for our welfare needs. It is not that this verse isn’t true for us but with this verse, we just need to think about the context. Context is huge. What’s going on here?

Now Israel was in exile because of their disobedience and because they weren’t repentant. There are in exile and Babylonians were pretty much lording over them.

Before we can fully understand verse 11 we have to look at the verse before. If we really want to know what is going on there. Verse 10 is highly important, it says, This is what the Lord says. So this when God kind of goes into a speech and 11 is a part of it. When 70 years are completed for Babylon I will visit you and I will fulfil to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you he goes on.

First of all, he’s not saying that in the context of now right. Now it’s all going to get better. He said 70 years you will be in exile. I think what God is saying is he knows that he has plans for us. We know what he’s doing but sometimes whether it’s because of discipline or just because of suffering it might not happen right in that instant. The nation still had a lot of time in Babylon and they still were going to be in captivity for a good chunk of time.

The danger is that we make plans and then say to God bless this because you want to prosper me – it says so in scripture. We make ourselves central but you’re not. God is central he has plans for us and when we take our plans and project them onto him, we sometimes we can miss what God’s doing. The truth of this verse is even if you’re healthy, sick, rich, poor, whatever. It is God who has plans for your welfare and it might not look like what you think but because He’s good because He’s God and because He is our Father it will happen and so that’s what I want to leave you with today.

Let us pray.

You have plans for us all Lord, but they will unfold in your perfect timing and not mine. I trust your purposes for my life and for this time of crisis. We once again surrender to your will in everything. Amen.

Wisdom Required

We read in 2 Timothy 1:7

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.

Over the next few weeks we are going to all make decisions about how we are going to live our lives. The ‘stay alert’ message in many ways means that each of us must make wise choices in a whole variety of ways.

• When the schools open am I going to send my children?
• Is it safe to go back to work? Will my work allow me to socially distance?
• Am I OK to meet up in the open air with this person?
• Is this allowed? How do the rules apply in this situation? When is it okay to do that?

We will all have to make decisions based on advice from government, safe practise, wisdom, and good old common sense. But as the passage today reminds us we shouldn’t make it based on fear.

Now, please don’t hear what I’m not saying. I’m not saying as some have that Christians will be protected from Covid-19 and therefore we don’t need to fear. But I do believe that in this scripture it is saying that God has given each one of us a spirit of power, love, and sound mind. We have all we need to be able to listen to God, read the advice and make wise decisions. Decisions that expressed our desire to come under the authority of the government (Romans 13:1) while recognising that He that is in us is greater than he that is in the world.

Wisdom helps us know what to do, when to do it, and how to go about it. We all need wisdom from the Lord. We need wisdom as we lead our homes, deal with co-workers, care for our family and friends and move forward while staying alert. “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” James 1:5 NIV Let us ask God for this wisdom and he will give generously to us.

God is still on his throne! He is still in control. But the enemy wants us to be driven by fear, but God wants us to be driven by faith. This is a time to be believing God is greater than this virus. Let us respond with faith.

So do not fear is not a free pass to do stupid, unlawful staff. It is a reminder that we have the spirit of power, love, and sound mind therefore we need not fear. We make godly choices each day through him who gives us strength. Let us pray

Lord, we need your help. We do not want to be afraid or doubt – we want to trust you. We want to be a people marked by faith in you even when we cannot see the path ahead. Lord Jesus, hear our prayers. Lord, we cry out to you now.