Reflection day 13- Secure in the Father’s hand
Jesus said, 27 ‘My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.’ (John 10: 27-29)
As a father of five boys I have had my fair share of holding a tight grip onto the hand of a toddling son. As we have walked along paths the terrain can be variable, from smooth to stony. Each of our boys have toddled off and fallen over. But when I have taken a tight grip of their hand, though the terrain or clumsy feet resulted in a fall, the strong arm and held hand doesn’t result in them falling to the ground. Not even gravity can snatch them out of their Father’s hand.
In the Christian life we can develop the wrong view of our salvation. We can think thoughts of self-reliance in regard to our salvation and our walk with God. We think this way because the effect of sin warps our thoughts and view of God. Jesus teaches us the reality of our situation in v28 – ‘no one will snatch them out of my hand.’ He even repeats it again if you didn’t get it the first-time round – ‘no one will snatch them out of my hand.’
Today, if you are shaken by the world’s situation of Covid-19, or you are rocked by physical, emotional or spiritual storms we must go back to this truth. Our minds need to hear this truth. What we know about God must rule our minds and hearts rather than how we are feeling. Jesus said, ‘no one will snatch them out of my hand.’ We should be extremely thankful that our grip is not omnipotent, but the hands of the Father are. They are holding the whole world (Psalm 95:4). The grip He has on us as His children means that nothing in heaven or on earth can lever open His fingers.
We are secure in the Father’s hand. This security makes the privileges that Christ speaks about in v28 more wonderful – I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish… Our place in heaven and salvation is secure. Our Saviour is mightier than the enemy. Praise the Lord.
Reflection day 12- Drawing near
Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:19-25)
The letter to the Hebrews is soaked in the thinking and ceremonies of Old Testament (OT) religion – a religion still being practised of course by many Jews at the time. In this passage there are references to sacrifice (‘the blood of Jesus’), the Most Holy Place (in the temple which was shielded by a thick curtain from the Holy Place – outside them lay a courtyard), the priesthood, ceremonial sprinklings (done with blood) and washings (done with water). The letter certainly underlines the value of familiarising ourselves with the OT. But even with a passing acquaintance with the OT we can understand quite a lot and appreciate the thrust of what the writer is saying. The author understands all these ceremonies have been fulfilled in Christ. He is the object, the substance, they were just a shadow. They gave a preview, a glimpse into what was to come. So what exactly is he saying here?
i) We can draw near to God (v22). Once a year on the Day of Atonement the Jewish High Priest offered special sacrifices and for a few minutes entered behind the curtain into the Most Holy Place, God’s throne room, where heaven touched earth and a man could meet with God. Here he sprinkled the ark of the covenant (the golden box that contained the Ten Commandments), to make atonement for the law-breaking of the nation. Then, no doubt still trembling with fear, he left for another year. Christians, however, through their great high priest Jesus Christ, who offered his own perfect life as a sacrifice, can, wherever they are, enter God’s very presence with full assurance, completely forgiven, cleansed thoroughly of all their sins. We are reminded of the privilege of private prayer and corporate worship here. To this holy but gracious God we are urged to draw near today. We may feel unworthy and acutely conscious of our sins. Well, we need to remember exactly what Jesus has done and with humble confidence draw near to God.
ii) We have a great hope (v23), the new heavens and the new earth, paradise restored, a world bathed in the glorious light of God and the Lamb. Many people around us are fearful. What a difference it makes to our perspective on life – and death – that we know the best is yet to come.
iii) In the meantime we are to think about how we can spur one another on to love and good deeds and we are not to neglect meeting together (vs24-25). That’s a reminder that our current arrangements are not to become the new normal. We should eagerly look forward to meeting together again as I know many of you do. In the interim we are to use all the means at our disposal to have person to person fellowship. May we enjoy that today and see how we can encourage one another.
Our service today can be accessed again on YouTube https://youtu.be/1yIcX03CaIs
Reflection day 11- Give thanks in all circumstances
‘The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away;
may the name of the Lord be praised.’ (Job 1:20)
There is a solemn story behind our reflection today, just as there is behind Job’s great statement above.
The hymn, ‘Now we thank we all our God’ was originally written in German. It has been sung on many great national occasions in Germany and, in its English translation, in Britain too. But the circumstances in which the hymn was written give the words additional poignancy and significance.
The hymn was composed by the Lutheran Pastor Martin Rinkart during the Thirty Years’ War which raged across Europe between 1618 and 1648. Rinkart was a minister in Eilenberg, a walled-town in Saxony. An influx of refugees caused severe overcrowding. In addition the town was repeatedly plundered by Austrian and Swedish armies. Plague and famine raged and there was much loss of life. Rinkart sometimes conducted fifty funerals a day and many thousands died. Rinkart buried his own wife and four of his fellow clergymen but refused to desert his parishioners. On one occasion, faced with an impossible demand for tribute from a commander in the Swedish army, Rinkart turned to his people and said, ‘Come, my children, we can find no mercy with man; let us take refuge in God.’ He then led them in prayer and in singing a hymn. The commander was much moved and his heart softened. Rinkart took many refugees into his own home and he actually composed the now-famous hymn to be sung before meals in his household.
How can a man praise God in such circumstances? Rinkart believed in the sovereignty of God over all things and that through faith in Jesus Christ sinful men and women could enjoy eternal life in that world to come where there will be ‘no more death or mourning or crying or pain’ (Revelation 21:4). It is evident that he also viewed life as a God-given privilege rather than a human right and was able to thank God for every blessing he and his family did enjoy. So let’s sing with him and learn from him at this concerning time in our nation.
Now thank we all our God,
with hearts and hands and voices,
who wondrous things has done,
in whom His world rejoices;
who, from our mothers’ arms,
has blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love,
and still is ours today.
O may this bounteous God
through all our life be near us,
with ever-joyful hearts
and blessed peace to cheer us;
and keep us in His grace,
and guide us when perplexed;
and free us from all ills,
in this world and the next!
All praise and thanks to God
the Father now be given;
The Son and Him [the Holy Spirit] who reigns
with Them in highest Heaven;
The one eternal God,
whom earth and heaven adore;
For thus it was, is now,
and shall be evermore.
Reflection day 10- Look up!
From David Mortimer, one of our church elders
1 LORD, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory
in the heavens.
2 Through the praise of children and infants
you have established a stronghold against your enemies,
to silence the foe and the avenger.
3 When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
4 what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?
(Psalm 8 vv. 1-4)
Yesterday evening, Jill and I went outside our front door twice in the space of 30 minutes – firstly at 8 to applaud the NHS, then at 8.28, to look upwards and to see the International Space Station zoom across the night sky. There it was, for about a minute, and then it was gone, continuing on its orbit around the earth.
But, continuing to look upwards, our eyes having become accustomed to the darkness, we could see so much more – countless numbers of stars, thousands of miles away, twinkling, shining out the message of verse 1 in the Psalm above – setting forth the glory of God.
When I look at the stars, I am often drawn to Graham Kendrick’s song ‘Servant King’, where he speaks of the Lord Jesus’s ‘hands that flung stars into space, to cruel nails surrendered’. The glory of God is also seen at the cross. Jesus hung and suffered and died there for His people. He Himself speaks of this in John 17 vv. 1-5.
This is amazing love. Such love should cause us to cry out with the Psalmist ‘Why me?’ ‘What is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?’. He does care for us – that was oh so evident at Calvary. And He’s caring for us now, in the midst of all our current fears and tribulations.
Let’s not look around ourselves and be downcast, let’s look up to Him and join with the Psalmist in proclaiming ‘LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth’. You might also want to think through (and sing?) the words of ‘How great Thou art’ in response.
Reflection day 9- fear or faith?
Many people in our nation and the wider world at the moment are scared. They fear for their livelihoods, their lives and for the livelihoods and lives of family and friends. We completely understand this and may feel afraid ourselves.
But the gospels present us with an alternative – calm trust in Jesus. In other words, we are exhorted to choose faith over fear. We see this in the calming of the storm: Jesus asked his disciples, ‘Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?’ (Mark 4:40) In the next chapter we hear him say to Jairus: ‘Don’t be afraid; just believe’ (Mk 5:36) (the English words, believe and faith both have the same root in Greek). Again we have Jesus telling his disciples shortly before his arrest, ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me’ (John 14:1).
Jesus is supremely trustworthy. He is the Son of God and indeed God himself (e.g. John 1:1, 1:18, 20:28). His miracles display his compassion and prove his power. He does not promise us a problem-free life but he does tell us we can trust him. We honour him when we trust in his truthfulness, wisdom, power and love. And we find in our own hearts fear gives way to peace.
Reflection day 8 – ‘strength to the weary’
At the end of Isaiah chapter 40 we read:
27 Why do you complain, Jacob?
Why do you say, Israel,
‘My way is hidden from the Lord;
my cause is disregarded by my God’?
28 Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
29 He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
30 Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
31 but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.
After centuries of idolatry the people of Israel had been uprooted by God from their own land and were now languishing in exile in Babylon. They were far from home, surrounded by people speaking a strange language, in a bewildering and intimidating foreign culture. They’d lost everything they had. They’d lost many loved ones. They were having to start life all over again. So they complain that either the LORD cannot see their condition or that he sees and doesn’t care.
But the awesome power of God we considered yesterday is not simply something that should awe and humble either ancient Israelites or us today. It’s there for our comfort and help. It is not that the LORD is too great to care but too great to fail. He knows what he is doing. And the one who does not ‘grow tired or weary’ gives strength to the weary and the weak.
The young may feel healthy, fit and invincible but even they can grow tired and falter. But those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. We who see so many red kites soaring in the Chilterns (if not eagles) can soar too, uplifted and upheld by God himself. Whether you look at the Christian life as a long-distance race or a walk he is able through Jesus Christ ‘to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy’ (Jude 24).
Reflection day 7 – Behold our God
‘Do you not know? Have you not heard?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood since the earth was founded?
He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in. He brings princes to naught
and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing…
‘To whom will you compare me?
Or who is my equal?’ says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: who created all these?
He who brings out the starry host one by one
and calls forth each of them by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength,
not one of them is missing.’ (Isaiah 40:21-26)
Isaiah reminds the people of Israel of the awesome greatness of God. Who educated God? Whom did he ask for instructions?! (vs13-14) To him the nations of the world are like a drop in a bucket, as insubstantial as dust on a scales (v15). He is incomparably greater than a lifeless idol, gold-plated though it may be. In fact they cannot be compared (vs18-20).
I remember we were on holiday in April 2010 when the Eyjafjallajökull volcano (don’t ask me how to pronounce this) erupted in Iceland. During the children’s talk at church the minister asked the children to identify what was in a jar he showed them – it was ash. He pointed out that through an ash-cloud God had grounded the aircraft of Western Europe and, we may have felt at the time, brought civilisation to a standstill. Today, through something far smaller, a microscopic virus, God has brought the UK, Western Europe, much of the USA and beyond to a state of ‘lockdown’. Notwithstanding all our wealth and scientific know-how God has humbled us. The fact is we are weak, vulnerable, mortal. We should recognise, in contrast, how great God is and earnestly seek his face.
‘Behold our God seated on His throne
Come, let us adore Him
Behold our King! Nothing can compare
Come, let us adore Him!’
Reflection day 6 – I have hidden your word in my heart.
‘I have hidden your word in my heart
that I might not sin against you.’ (Psalm 119:11)
For some of us the next few months may be busier than ever but others of us will find we’ve time on our hands. This presents us with an opportunity to learn some verses from the Bible by heart. We can do this alone, or, if we live with others in our family, we may be able to do this together. Moses exhorted the people of Israel,
‘These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the door-frames of your houses and on your gates.’ (Deuteronomy 6:6-9)
This was how the Psalmist was able to meditate on God’s law ‘day and night’ (Psalm 1:2). This was how Jesus himself was able to quote Scripture when tempted (Matthew 4:4,7,10), when teaching and debating (e.g. Matt 19:4-5, 22:32, 44), when dying (Matt 27:46, Luke 23:46) and then almost certainly after he had risen from the dead (Luke 24:27).
We have a few sets of printed memory cards at church. Some find it more helpful to write verses out by hand and say them aloud repeatedly. Psalms 23 and 46 are favourite Psalms for many and would be good to know by heart at any time. In the New Testament, just thinking about Matthew’s Gospel, there are the Beatitudes (Matt 5:3-10), the Lord’s Prayer (Matt 6:9-13), Jesus’ loving invitation (Matt 11:28-29), his mission statement (Matt 20:28) and his Great Commission (Matt 28:18-20). In Paul’s letters Romans 28:28-39 or 1 Corinthians 13 would be among the most well-loved passages. May we hide God’s word in our hearts in these days and find in it the wisdom, strength and comfort we need.
Reflection day 5 – ‘On the Lord’s Day’
“I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, which said: “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.” (Revelation 1:9-11)
You may have heard people say, ‘It’s like Revelation,’ or use the word ‘apocalyptic’ recently (the Apocalypse is another name for this last, visionary, book in the Bible).
Today I just want to draw your attention to three things in the verses above:
i) John was on the island of Patmos, 40 miles off the coast of modern Turkey. The island is crescent shaped, ten miles long and six miles wide at its widest point. The early church certainly believed he was there as an exile. Exile was a common form of punishment in the 1st century and would have probably also involved forced labour. As we face isolation it’s worth remembering that John suffered exile and that five of Paul’s letters were written while he was a prisoner. God upheld them in these situations.
ii) It was ‘the Lord’s Day’. This refers to Sunday, the first day of the week, the day of Christ’s resurrection (Mark 16:2, John 20:1,19 etc.). Christians worshipped together on this day (Acts 20:7, 1 Cor 16:1&2 – note the Galatians churches in Turkey and the church in Corinth in Greece evidently met on the first day of the week). For us what’s significant is that John was still conscious in exile that this was ‘the Lord’s Day’. It’s important we remember this during the next few months.
iii) John was ‘in the Spirit’. This was a state akin to Peter’s in Acts 10:10 or Paul’s in Acts 22:17. But we recall David’s words in Psalm 139:
Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
Also, we can surely say in general that, though isolation is neither natural nor desirable, we can be on our own and yet still experience the love and power of God in a deep way.
Finally a reminder that we have loaded a short service up on to YouTube: https://youtu.be/sC4KowJ2trU
Reflection day 4 – Our only comfort in life and death
‘For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labour for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.’ (Philippians 1:21-23)
Today a historical reflection. The Heidelberg Catechism was a Protestant Confession of Faith drawn up in 1562 at the request of a German prince. It is still used today, especially in Holland. Recognising the value of the catechism an English Baptist pastor Hercules Collins slightly revised it and published it in 1680 as ‘The Orthodox Catechism’. In most places the two catechisms are identical.
The first question and answer in the Heidelberg Catechism is justly famous:
1. Q. What is your only comfort in life and death?
A. That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with His precious blood, and has set me free from all the power of the devil. He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things must work together for my salvation. Therefore, by His Holy Spirit He also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for Him.
2. Q. What do you need to know in order to live and die in the joy of this comfort?
A. First, how great my sins and misery are; second, how I am delivered from all my sins and misery; third, how I am to be thankful to God for such deliverance.
The second question is the basis for the division of the Catechism into three main sections usually referred to as Guilt, Grace and Gratitude.
For those of you who like the music of Keith and Kristyn Getty they have just published a song, ‘Christ our hope in life and death’, which was inspired by the first question and answer. You can find it here – https://www.gettymusic.com/christ-our-hope
Reflection day 3 – Refuge
‘God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.’ (Psalm 46:1-3)
I see that I spoke from these verses last September. I’m guessing it was the time of the Brexit crisis with the Government repeatedly defeated in Parliament etc. Remember those days? The corona virus pandemic has completely eclipsed them. This is global and dramatically affecting almost everybody’s life in the UK right now. For some of course it’s a life and death matter. Let me remind you of three things that we can observe in these opening verses:
1. The conflicts of believers
‘though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.’ The author describes cataclysmic events, a reversal of the creation order. The Bible tells us to be prepared for such things, what we might call ‘meltdown’ today.
2. The confidence of believers
‘God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.’ This God is identified as ‘the LORD Almighty’ and ‘the God of Jacob’ later in the Psalm. He is the eternal, self-existent, all-powerful, covenant keeping God. He is the God who has revealed himself to us still more fully in his Son Jesus Christ, who is ‘Immanuel’, ‘God with us’ (Matthew 1:23). Others may be far away; we may be self-isolating and feel lonely and vulnerable; but he is ever present and he is the protector of his people as they experience trouble. ‘When men of God make God their study, then they discover in him those things which make a refuge for their hours of danger, a strength for days of labour, and a help for emergencies of every kind.’ (C H Spurgeon)
3. The courage of believers
‘Therefore we will not fear’. This courage is rational (‘Therefore’), it is calming, it keeps us from anxiety and panic, and it brings glory to God.
May this great Psalm, may the great God revealed in this Psalm and the rest of the Bible, en-courage us at this time.
Reflection Day 2 – Treasure
‘Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.’ (1 Peter 1:3-7)
We do not know how well-off Peter’s readers were materially. Some must have been reasonably wealthy since he tells wives in chapter 3 that their beauty should not come ‘from outward adornment, such as elaborate hair styles and the wearing of gold jewellery or fine clothes.’ On the other hand, some (perhaps most) were slaves (2:18) who would have had little more than ‘bed and board’. They could suffer unjustly under a cruel master, particularly if he were antagonistic towards Christians.
In these opening verses Peter reminds Christians of different social ranks where their true treasure lies. He mentions two connected things specifically:
i) An inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is reserved in heaven for you (protected from decay, theft and economic crashes). But notice something else: believers are also being kept for the inheritance, protected themselves, ‘shielded by God’s power’. This should be a source of great joy even as these believers simultaneously experience suffering and sorrow in all sorts of trials.
ii) Their faith. It is of greater worth than gold but like a precious metal is refined through these fiery trials. The dross is being burned away. The genuineness of their faith in Jesus Christ is being proved as, in these trials, believers prize Christ above all things. This will result in ‘praise, glory and honour’ for them, Peter seems to be saying, when Jesus Christ is revealed.
It’s hard for us to appreciate in a society where even some churches can be preoccupied with health and wealth in the present life, but Peter is calling us unequivocally to look beyond the ‘little while’ of this life to the glories of the eternal world to come.
Reflection Day 1 – Hope
‘Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.’ (1 Peter 1:3-5)
The Christians Peter was writing to were suffering some level of persecution (e.g. 4:12 ff). Remarkably Peter does not begin with an expression of sympathy but with praise to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead means Christians have a living hope. Death has been defeated. The future is bright. The best is yet to come. The angel told the women at the tomb, ‘He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go and tell his disciples and Peter…’ (Mark 16:6-7) The resurrection of Jesus Christ transformed Peter and shaped the outlook of the early church.
Can a man or woman live without hope? People can endure terrible trials if they have hope. But misery and despair come with the death of hope. ‘Remember at that time you were separate from Christ… without hope and without God in the world’, Paul writes to the Christians in Ephesus (2:12). But, in Christ, we have real, sure, courage-giving, joy-bringing hope. Let us thank God for this at this time.
Hope should then be a characteristic of every true Christian, in fact a conspicuous one. Peter writes in chapter 3:12, ‘Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.’ When some in our nation currently fear, above all else, death, may we have opportunities to speak to them of the living hope we have through Christ. ‘No guilt in life, no fear in death, this is the power of Christ in me.’