Friday, December 21, 2007

Where is God?

In my devotional times I've been reading the stories of people in the Bible. Okay, so that's not difficult to do because the Bible is full of stories abut people. But I wanted simply to spend some time reflecting on the whole God and people thing. How does he involve himself in the lives of ordinary people? How do they know what is going on? Do they even recognise him at work?

You see, it seems to me that when we read the stories we usually know the outcome. But how did Joseph feel when he found out that Mary was pregnant? Would you have believed her story? Jeremiah in the mud-hole, Daniel in exile, Moses in the wilderness, Joseph in prison. What they have in common is that they only experienced life in the present. They could not see the future. 

All of these people faced the same challenge we do: To see God's hand at work in our lives. How many times have you heard someone ask where was God in this or that circumstance. Perhaps the real challenge is to trust him even when we don't see any evidence of his involvement.

Perhaps the real test of faith comes when we have to apply our knowledge of God's faithfulness and trustworthiness when we can't see clear, unequivocal evidence that he is at work.

I recently read the story of Ruth and at the moment I'm just finishing off the story of Esther. In the first of these God gets mentioned, but only in the context of expectation. There is no, "and God..." moment to speak of as I recall. Esther of course is best known for not mentioning God at all! But as you read both these stories, you cannot escape the conclusion that he was clearly at work in the detail of all the lives described.

On my bookshelf I have a baseball. Unusual for an Englishman, but this is a special baseball. 

In 2001 we visited America as a family. We spent about a week of our time visiting some friends in Florida and while we were there we went to a baseball game. I thought taking home a baseball would be a nice memento of the trip but only one came in our direction and someone else caught that one. The following evening we were out near the ground when I sat down on a bench and prayed. We were about to return to the UK to face a time of uncertainty. We knew we were leaving the church we had served for three years and that meant leaving our home too. But we also needed a school for our daughter and my wife's job was also uncertain. So, no long-term home, no school place, no ministry, uncertain employment. 

So I did the logical thing, I prayed for a baseball. 

I said something along the lines of: "God, it's not really important, but it would be nice if a baseball would come over the corner of the stadium and land down here." Now I've prayed a lot of prayers like this in my life and I've gone away empty-handed a fair number of those times, but this time God was gracious and before I finished praying over the wall came a baseball. 

As I sat there somewhat stunned and amazed, holding my new prize, I sensed God speak to me: If you can trust me in this small thing, what can't you trust me with?

I have my days when all I need to do is hold that baseball. Days, if I'm honest, when all I can do is hold onto the baseball. It's all I need as a reminder that God is faithful and trustworthy. And if I can't see him at work, that doesn't mean he isn't at work, because he is always at work.

If you don't have an equivalent of my baseball, then you can share mine with me, even if only vicariously! 

I need grace

At the foot of the cross, where grace and suffering meet.
You have shown me your love, through the judgement you received.
And you've won my heart,
Yes, you've won my heart.
I was thinking about these opening lines from the Kathryn Scott song the other day as I thought about the relationship between Christmas and Easter and the need we have for forgiveness and grace.

Situations constantly arise where we think we have no options left to us. We find ourselves facing issues and challenges that make us angry or resentful or just leave us in pain, and we think we have only one option left. That option is often either to lash out or walk away. Get angry or get even. But when we do that we walk away with all the pain and guilt and judgement still in our hearts. 

The cross of Jesus gives us another option.

It offers us grace as a solution, an alternative response to any situation. 

If Christmas truly is a time of goodwill to all people, then it's probably a good time to experience the giving and receiving of grace. So have a grace-filled Christmas and carry that grace into and through the new year ahead.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Hope in the darkness

It's advent again, and we're into the second week having just had our second Sunday in advent celebration yesterday. Our theme for advent this year is hope, and yesterday we looked at hope in the darkness. We heard the words of Isaiah 9 read and we thought about how light brings hope and the connection with Jesus as the light of the world and therefore the hope of the world.

Whenever I start to preach on a topic like that, I can feel the passion rising. Maybe it's because I'm not at all successful in evangelism and mission, that I feel it so keenly. But as I think about the mandate we have to bring good news to every corner of the earth, to every person who lives in our neighbourhoods, villages, towns and cities, I can't help but feel the pain and disappointment of not seeing folk being added to the kingdom of God. Where are the people who are being added daily to the church? Where are the stories of how we're touching lives and seeing them transformed by the gospel of grace? 

And so I'm forced to my knees to ask God's forgiveness for my shortcomings and to ask for his empowering to get involved with evangelism, to influence my friends, my family, my neighbours, towards a relationship with God. To do whatever it takes to help someone see how much God loves them, how deeply he cares for them and how far he has gone to win for them an eternal future they could never win for themselves.

Perhaps 2008 will be a better year, a more successful year. Whatever the outcome though, I'm still going to commit myself to take every opportunity that comes my way and make myself available for God to use how he wants, when he wants, where he wants and to what ends he wants. To take every opportunity to bring light into darkness so that no one near me needs to stumble around in the gloom.