Wait Quietly

‘Wait quietly for the Lord, be patient till he comes;
do not envy those who gain their ends,
or be vexed at their success.’ (Psalm 37.7 REB)

More than once I heard my dad say, “I am not a patient person, and so whenever in my life I’ve really wanted something, God has made me wait for it.”

Of course — how else did we think God was going to teach us to be patient? You grow muscles by exercising your body. You grow patience by exercising your ability to wait without fretting.

In this psalm what is in view is the good fortune of the wicked, and the fact that God seems to take so long to answer the prayers of the righteous. The righteous person is praying, yes, but is also fuming. “How come that wicked person gets to jump to the front of the lineup? What sort of universe is this?”

What sort of universe indeed! If the purpose of the universe is to give me everything I want as quickly as possible, then it’s certainly suffering from a design flaw! On the other hand, if the universe has a higher purpose, which includes teaching us to be mature people who are able to wait without fretting, then maybe it’s not such a bad design after all.

God, help me learn to wait quietly for you, and to be patent until you come. Amen.

(Today’s One-Year Bible readings are Leviticus 6:1 – 7:27, Mark 3:7-30, Psalm 37:1-11, and Proverbs 10:3-4)

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When Jesus saw their faith

‘After some days (Jesus) returned to Capernaum, and news went round that he was at home; and such a crowd collected that there was no room for them even in the space outside the door. While he was proclaiming the message to them, a man was brought who was paralysed. Four men were carrying him, but because of the crowd they could not get him near. So they made an opening in the roof over the place where Jesus was, and when they had broken through they lowered the bed on which the paralysed man was lying. When he saw their faith, Jesus said to the man, “My son, your sins are forgiven.”’ (Mark 2.1-5 Revised English Bible)

‘When he saw their faith’. Who are ‘they’? In the previous two sentences, ‘they’ refers to the friends who brought the man to Jesus. The man himself is not included in the ‘they’. We aren’t told whether he had faith or not. Maybe he did, and maybe he didn’t. But the important thing was that his friends had faith, and their faith was enough.

There are times I can pray with faith, and other times when it’s very hard for me. At times like that, I’m comforted that I have friends who can pray for me and carry me to Jesus. I can lean on their faith. At other times, I’m the one others lean on. That’s part of what it means to be the Body of Christ. No one’s faith is alone. We lean on each other and we lift each other up (or let each other down through a hole in the roof, as the case may be!).

Finally, what exactly did Jesus see? You can’t see faith, but you can see the actions faith causes. ‘Faith without action is dead’ says the Letter of James, and in this passage that saying really makes sense. All the faith in the world would not have helped the paralyzed man if it had not been embodied in the arms and legs of the friends who carried, climbed, dug, and lowered. Faith is not really faith until it has been acted on.

Loving God, thank you for the faith of my friends who many times have carried me to you when I could not carry myself. When it’s my turn to do the carrying, help me step up to the plate. Amen.

(Today’s One-Year Bible readings are Leviticus 1:1 – 3:17, Mark 1:29 – 2:12, Psalm 35:17-28, and Proverbs 9:13-18)

The Gospel of God

‘After John had been arrested, Jesus came into Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God: “The time has arrived; the kingdom of God is upon you. Repent, and believe the gospel.”…Jesus said to them, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”’ (Mark 1.12-13, 17 Revised English Bible)

I like to find little Gospel summaries in the pages of scripture. I don’t believe there is any one exhaustive statement of what the Gospel (‘good news’) is, but there are many explorations of it.

In this passage the ‘gospel of God’ that Jesus announces is ‘The time has arrived; the kingdom of God is upon you’. The kingdom of God isn’t about going heaven when we die. It’s about the answer to our prayer “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven”. When God’s just and loving will is done on earth as in heaven, God’s kingdom is upon us. The Gospel invitation is to put our faith in this good news and to repent – i.e. to change the direction of our lives so that rather than living out of the values of the kingdom of evil, we live into the values of the coming kingdom of God.

But that’s not all. Every disciple of the kingdom is also called to be an agent of the kingdom. As soon as they accept the call to be disciples, Jesus begins to make his new friends ‘fishers of people’. They spent years learning the skills and patience of fishermen. Now they will begin to learn a new set of skills, which will need even more patience and reliance on God. The kingdom of God advances one heart at a time, as the new disciples spread its message of hope and invite people to come in.

Is this a scary thing? It doesn’t have to be. It’s not about Bible-bashing or manipulation. It’s simply about living our lives openly, in such a way that our words and actions are a good advertisement for the hope of the gospel. And when opportunities for conversation arise, it’s about being willing to take them, trusting that the results will be in God’s hands.

Lord Jesus, thank you for calling us into your kingdom of justice and love. Make us fishers of men and women, so that your justice and love will spread throughout the world. Amen.

(One Year Bible readings for February 15th are Exodus 39:1 – 40:38, Mark 1:1-28, Psalm 35:1-16, and Proverbs 9:11-12)

Some Were Doubtful

‘The eleven disciples made their way to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to meet him. When they saw him, they knelt in worship, though some were doubtful.’ (Matthew 28.16-16 REB)

“If the risen Jesus would just appear to me like he did to the first disciples, I’d find it so much easier to believe!”

Well, maybe. But Matthew is totally honest about the response of the first disciples to the risen Jesus. ‘They knelt in worship, though some were doubtful’.

We find that incredible. We assume that ‘seeing is believing’. But in fact seeing is not always believing. Sometimes we literally don’t believe our eyes. Our brain tells us this is impossible, it can’t possibly be true. It must be a hallucination or a trick. And so we reject it, even when the miracle is standing right in front of us in plain sight.

We never get to the place in the Christian life where a decision of faith is no longer necessary. God doesn’t appear to want us to be able to treat faith like math, with the answer to the sum obvious for all to see. He wants us to make a choice about it. He doesn’t offer infallible proof — he offers a relationship.

At the end of the chapter he invites us to be his disciples, to be baptized as a sign of our enrolment in his school of discipleship, and then to learn to live by his teaching. As we follow him, we learn to believe in him. But we still struggle with doubt from time to time. There’s nothing unusual or culpable about that. For myself, I’ve always found that the best way to deal with doubts is to go back to the teaching of Jesus, find something he obviously wants me to work on, and get busy learning to practice it. As I follow, the doubts become less of an issue.

Lord Jesus, we would so like to see you risen from the dead! But instead you invite us to know you by following you in our daily lives. Help us in that journey of discipleship, and when we doubt, help us to continue to be faithful to you. Amen.

(Today’s One Year Bible passages are Exodus 37:1 – 38:31, Matthew 28:1-20, Psalm 34:11-22, and Proverbs 9:9-10)

Taste and See

‘Taste and see that the Lord is good.
Happy are they who find refuge in him.’ (Psalm 34.8 REB)

‘Why do you believe in God?’ I’m sometimes asked that question. And the most honest answer is, I continue to believe in God because I believe that from time to time I’ve sensed God’s presence in my life. I have tasted life in fellowship with him, and it is good. And conversely, life out of fellowship with him — those times when I get so caught up in my own agenda that I ignore God’s presence — is NOT good.

Lord God, this verse is your invitation to us. ‘Taste and see that the Lord is good’. Some days we forget to do that. We have our schedules, our to-do lists, all the emails and Facebook posts to check, and we forget to ‘taste and see’. Help us remember today that this is the best thing we can do for ourselves: to return to the quiet, the stillness, the place of refuge, and taste your goodness again. Amen.

(One Year Bible readings for February 13th are Exodus 35:10 – 36:38, Matthew 27:32-66, Psalm 34:1-10, and Proverbs 9:7-8)

Compassionate and Gracious

‘The Lord, the Lord, a God compassionate and gracious, long-suffering, ever faithful and true, remaining faithful to thousands, forgiving iniquity, rebellion, and sin but without acquitting the guilty, one who punishes children and grandchildren to the third and fourth generation for the iniquity of their fathers!’ (Exodus 34.6-7 REB)

These two verses seem to be a creed of sorts, and variations of them appear in a few other places in the first five books of the Bible. What I notice is the passionate nature of Israel’s God. This is not some distant deity who holds himself aloof from the concerns of humanity. This God is intensely involved — compassionate, gracious, patient (‘long-suffering’), faithful, true — but also angry.

It seems unjust to me that God would punish children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren for the sins of their parents. But I need to remember that the Old Testament writers often personalize the consequences of actions, seeing everything as being done by God, either in reward or punishment. And it is undoubtedly true that the choices of parents have an effect on the lives of their children and grandchildren. I think that may be behind the seeming contradiction earlier in the passage, which talks about God ‘forgiving…without acquitting’. Yes, God is ready to forgive, but that doesn’t mean we’re miraculously rescued from the consequences of our bad choices.

Faithful God, thank you that you aren’t distantly removed from your creation. Thank you that you care passionately about us and the choices we make. Help us today to rest in your compassion and grace, your patience and your faithfulness. And help us to use the wisdom you give us to make good choices that will have a positive effect on those who come after us. Amen.

(Today’s One Year Bible readings are Exodus 34:1 – 35:9, Matthew 27:15-31, Psalm 33:12-22, and Proverbs 9:1-6)

“No Mortal May See Me and Live”

‘But Moses prayed, “Show me your glory.” The Lord answered, “I shall make all my goodness pass before you, and I shall pronounce in your hearing the name ‘Lord’. I shall be gracious to whom I shall be gracious, and I shall have compassion on whom I shall have compassion.” But he added, “My face you cannot see, for no mortal may see me and live.” The Lord said, “Here is a place beside me. Take your stand on the rock and, when my glory passes by, I shall put you in a crevice of the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I shall take away my hand, and you will see my back, but my face must not be seen.” (Exodus 33.18-23 REB)

Can a human being see God and live? The Old Testament doesn’t speak with one voice on this issue. This passage says no, but other places record Moses speaking face to face with God (Exodus 33.11), and the seventy elders of Israel too (Exodus 24.10). Obviously different Old Testament writers had different points of view. Some stressed the closeness and accessibility of God. Others stressed the majesty and mystery and unknowability of God.

One day we will understand how both these emphases can be true. But it’s worth considering the fact that in today’s passage God’s refusal to let Moses see his face is an act of mercy, not judgement. ‘No mortal may see me and live’. No mention is made of Moses’ sins and unworthiness, but only that he is a frail mortal and would find the sight of God too overpowering.

“If only I could see God!” we think. Maybe not. Maybe the sight of the glorious One who created and upholds all that exists would be so overwhelming for us that it would fry the circuits of our brains. At any rate, when God chose to reveal himself to us in Jesus he had to ‘conceal his identity’, to the point that many didn’t recognize who he really was. Maybe that was a mercy. Maybe a human face for God was all we could take, given our current state of frailty.

God, you are far beyond anything we can possibly imagine about you. Any image we can make of you can’t help but be an idol, a totally inadequate representation of who you are. But thank you that we see you reflected in your creation, and most of all in the words and actions of Jesus. And thank you that all your actions toward us, even the action of hiding yourself from us, are done because of love. Amen.

(February 11th One Year Bible Readings are Exodus 32:1 – 33:23, Matthew 26:69 – 27:14, Psalm 33:1-11, Proverbs 8:33-36)