Prosperity

Psalm73

You may be able to relate to this Psalm. On some occasions or your whole life, almost always, you may be inspired and impressed by the successful, self made winners;  inspired and impressed by the magazines you buy, the ads that may motivate you to choose a coke or a jeep. The idea of being carefree, of being successful is an easy one to indulge,the Psalmist finds. However he finds that this is what sinners are like (v12). They are prosperous, healthy, strong (v6), unburdened , powerful (v8) and popular (v10). And in their hearts they are sinful (v7) and proud (v6).

On some occasions, or your whole life, you might be envious. Envious of such people. In our hearts wanting what they have. Wanting success. Wanting an easier life than the one  you have, free of care (v13).  Envy (v3), is not as apparent as stealing or swearing, but it attacks our hearts, making us grieved and embittered (v21), and ignorant before God (v22).

For those who belong to God, the presence and the person of God is far more valuable than prosperity. Without God, we face ruin (v18),terror (v19), and wrath (v20). By God’s activity and Grace we can know and say that “God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (v26). We are with God always, held by Him (v23), guided (v24), and promised future grace.

Treasure this, ” whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Meditate on this and on how rich we are.

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A life full of flavour …

Today’s Readings: Ezra 5 & Matthew 16:1-12

I’m not one to do much baking. Cooking yes, but not baking so the function of yeast is not something  I’m really up on, apart from knowing it helps to make the bread rise. As Jesus speaks to His disciples about ‘being on their guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees’, I can certainly appreciate the confusion they might have felt. Matthew 16:6

My own conclusion about this conversation is that Jesus not leaving them in the dark about His comment and explaining His use of such language is very significant not just for the moment, but as an analogy for them to possibly reflect back on into the not too distant future.

A quick check of the purpose of yeast in bread provided what I found to be a helpful description.

‘When yeast ‘digests’ the flour, it breaks these compounds down into simpler molecules which have more flavour to the human tongue. The longer the yeast has to work at this, the better the flavour of the bread.’

What a great lesson to embrace, not just with scripture and the teachings we hold firm too, but also for being reminded about other information, experiences or conversations  – subtle as they may be – we should be on our ‘guard’ about putting into our life.

If the ‘yeast’  I allow to permeate my mind and body has a direct outcome on the ‘flavour’ others experience, and if my purpose is to bring glory to God in all things, then surely there is much to guard against?

‘When a person’s ways are pleasing to the Lord, he makes even his enemies live at peace with him.’  Proverbs 16:7

 ‘May the God of peace …. equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory and ever and ever.’ Hebrews 13:22-21

Luke also records the words of Jesus as he describes the yeast to guard against.

‘Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known.’ Luke 12.1b

There are many voices that compete for our attention. How easy it is to be distracted by options and opinions, particularly when they stroke our ego and support our own personal thoughts and feelings. Yes, each of us will have different passions and priorities, but it’s the core of our faith where there is unity.

Might the words of Paul, written to the Corinthians be words of encouragement and a prayer that’s all about making sure the ‘yeast’ we allow to impact our life, be ever pleasing to our Heavenly Father.

‘Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men and women of courage; be strong. Do everything in love.’ 1 Corinthians 16:13

KD

Matthew 15:31

Ezra 4, Matthew 15:29-39


Matthew 15:31 (New International Version)

15 The people were amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled made well, the lame walking and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel.


Amazement leads to praise. The people were amazed, and then they praised the God of Israel. Why were the people amazed? Hadn’t they themselves brought the mute, the crippled, the lame and the blind to Jesus to be healed? Even so, they were amazed. We can imagine them coming to Jesus hopeful but unsure, hoping for a cure but scarcely trusting that hope, and then the amazing thing happens – the mute speak, the crippled are whole, the lame walk and the blind see. Amazing! Then their focus lifts from the healing to the healer, to Jesus who has thus revealed himself to be Israel’s Messiah, and they praise God.

So should our focus be not on healing in itself but on the God of Israel and Jesus Christ his revealed Messiah. As God has given us powers and abilities, let us use them in his service. If he has blessed us with sight, let us see aright; if he has made us able bodied, let us work for his glory; if he has blessed us with mobility, let us use that to share the gospel with those who are far off; if we can speak, let us tell others of how good God is. And let us praise the God of Israel!

 

Based on a true story… so the movie subtitle goes.

Ezra 1

It is often hard to correlate historical descriptions contained in the Old Testament with other scholarly knowledge of the ancient world. “Why would Cyrus not only give permission for the Israelites to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple, but also shower them with resources of wealth to achieve it?” This is a fair question but there are a couple of points here that are relevant. Firstly, Cyrus did not capture the Israelites in the first place but came to be in charge of them after conquering the Babylonian empire. Secondly, Cyrus pursued a policy of supporting and nurturing local culture in the countries across his vast kingdom stretching from India in the East to much of the Middle East. (After his death his son extended the empire into Egypt and North Africa). It was politically successful to allow local administrations to continue with their customs even though they had been conquered and dominated by the Persians who were renowned as great administrators.

So, it is quite in keeping with secular, historical knowledge of Cyrus that he may have allowed the Jews to return to their home lands and rebuild the temple. Interesting that the writer of Ezra here says this whole episode occurred “in order to fulfil the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah”. It is just so hard to get the big picture that God is completely sovereign when so many things have to gel over centuries to arrive at a particular point in history.

Matt 14: 13 – 36

Here we have another pair of historical descriptions which can in no way be explained by any natural phenomenon, historical sequence, coincidence or interpretation of the facts. These two miracles defy the laws of physics as we know them. This passage is one of those that will divide readers of the Bible into those that accept the supernatural and those that do not. The critical verse however is v 31. Matthew does not tell us directly that it is faith that allows the miracle to occur but there seems to be a hint that it is so. But wait! If faith causes Peter to walk on water then it is not a pure miracle. It could be said that we could command all sorts of miracles if only we had enough faith. Not so. We have seen already in Ezra, that God is sovereign and acts over centuries to bring His plans to fruition. Similarly here, the miracles occur to demonstrate the power of Jesus as the Son of God. Yes, we are required to have faith in Jesus and his redemptive sacrifice, but we will be disappointed and confused if we think that faith can allow us to do things like walk on water. Have faith in God and let him work things out. He worked thought Cyrus, one of the most powerful kings to ever reign and He is still sovereign today.

Matthew 15:

Ezra 4, Matthew 15:29-39


Matthew 15: (New International Version)

Who shall dwell on your holy hill?


Psalm 15 asks – and answers – the question: “Who can reside with the LORD?”  The answer converges on actions in four areas: rectitude, relationships, reputation and revenue.

• Rectitude – conduct oneself blamelessly, do what is right, speak the truth;
• Relationships – do not speak evil, do not do evil, do not hold grudges;
• Reputation – shame the shameful, honour the honorable;
• Revenue – earn every cent earned honestly, spend every cent generously.

Who can tick off all the items on this list? No one.

Except Jesus, and those in him.

Ears to hear

Today’s readings are Lamentations 3:25-39 and Matthew 13:1-23.

“It’s not fair!”

I suspect every child ever born has uttered those words at one point or another when something bad has happened to them, or they have received unpleasant consequences for their actions.

After the first two and a half chapters of Lamentations, filled with graphic description of suffering and pain through God’s consequences delivered to Jerusalem, it’s notable that we don’t hear Jeremiah cry out it’s not fair – in fact quite the opposite. What we hear instead is acknowledgement of the goodness of God, and how good it is to wait upon the Lord for his mercy. We see that even though God is the source of the suffering, God does not delight in it, for he does not willingly afflict or grieve the children of men (v33).

Jeremiah is convinced that both good and bad come from God, and that his current suffering is just. It’s as if he’s crying out the opposite of children everywhere “that’s totally fair”.

Is it not from the mouth of the Most High
that good and bad come?
Why should a living man complain,
a man, about the punishment of his sins?

 

Over in Matthew 13 we read again perhaps one of the most famous of Jesus parables, one of the only ones where Jesus himself provides the interpretation. It is perhaps ironic then that both the explanation of why Jesus uses parables, and the parable itself feature people’s inability to understand. Yet there is a subtle difference between the two groups.

For the first, it has not been given to those listening to Jesus’ parables to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven. It seems their lack of comprehension is part of God’s plan. This does not seem to be the case for the three groups not producing fruit in the parable itself however. In these groups the hearers themselves appear to be the cause of their own lack of comprehension. They don’t understand what they hear, or things get tough and they give up, or they love the things of this world more than the word of God. For these groups, it does not seem to be because God withheld understanding.

We of course, have the benefit of being able to read the explanation of the parable – God is not withholding understanding from us. With that explanation we therefore have the chance to decide into which category of hearer we fall.

Perhaps this morning is a good time to reflect on whether you have ears to hear.

But this I will call to mind

Lamentations 3: 1 – 24

The Lamentations passage today contains the profound and extraordinary verses of trust and hope which many of us hold onto in times of great trial, sorrow and grief. If you can bear to, come this morning into the passionate covenant relationship expressed here between God and His people.

Lament is frankly the only appropriate response to the trauma, injustice, pain and suffering which confronts us day to day. It may be our own personal experiences and stories, it may be the travails of the world, it may be the disintegration of the institutional church under the horror and shame of child sexual abuse. Lament is our expression of grief and sorrow, and Lamentations is the poetic record of the Hebrew grief and sorrow at their destruction, exile and dispossession. Lamentations is our communal expression of rage and sorrow, our communal attempt to find purpose and meaning amidst terrible sadness and pain.

When faced with unbearable heartache, with cruel injustice, with unceasing sorrows, it is to God that the people of Lamentations cry out. God, I feel afraid of you; God, I feel betrayed by you; God, you do not listen to me, you turn away from me; God you have abandoned me; God, I am utterly bereft of peace, health and happiness, I am empty.

…And then, like the pin prick of a torch light through a night of pitch dark; like a fragile, wavering candle flame in a blackout, comes verse 21.

But this I will call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases,
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.

“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”

This new morning, let us hold in prayer those of us who are in terrible pain, who feel in utter darkness.

This new morning, may our God light in us again a hope, a hope in His faithfulness, a hope in his mercies. As certain as the arrival of morning, is our God’s steadfast love.

Amen