Welcome to the Prince of Peace!

The second half of this Isaiah passage is so well known. While reading these familiar words various songs fill my head. Such is the power of music!

The chapter before this passage though has many references to trouble, pain and darkness. In spite of all the advances we have made over the centuries the world is still looking for the elusive answer to “world peace.” (Cue beauty pageant speech!) The Middle East continues to be a hot spot with the possibility of war at any moment. We are living in a world more frightening than ever with strong countries using power to secure peace and radical countries resorting to terrorism to gain the upper hand. Is there anyone who is interested in securing real peace and justice or are they all just interested in achieving their own desires? Following the prophecy of war and destruction in chapter 8 Isaiah has given this prophecy about the coming King. A King who will be born a child yet will govern over all nations bringing justice and righteousness and unending peace.

Verse 7 Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom,  to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and for evermore.

What a wonderful picture! What a contrast to our present world.  No wonder musicians from over the centuries have used these words as a celebration of the birth of the Saviour.

I pray that we all remember the hope we have as we celebrate the birth of our Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Enjoy the link below. Written in 1741 by Handel this oratorio is a celebration of Jesus’ birth and taken from verses in the Psalms. It is still one of the most frequently performed choral works in Western music today.

Praise to the Prince of Peace!

https://youtu.be/TN5BaOGTmGs

 

 

 

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Glass half full, or is it?

 Today’s reading is Psalm 90 and it is a hard one for an optimist such as me to read and digest! The conundrum of human life is outlined with a powerful word of hope as we strive to make the most of our life. Sounds pretty heavy. A quote from Monty Python to lighten up: Now, here’s the meaning of life…. Try to be nice to people, avoid eating fat, read a good book every now and then, get some walking in, and try and live together in peace and harmony with people of all creeds and nations.

This Psalm seems to sum up the meaning of life and deals with the darker side, one we don’t like to dwell on. I have read that this Psalm could have been written using Moses’ words. I don’t know whether that is true or not, but if it was, he was having a very dark and introspective day.

Verses 1 – 12

God is introduced as our Refuge and Creator. In the Message, “From once upon a time to kingdom come” is a great summary of God’s dominion over everything and even over time itself. How do we fit into that time span? We spend our life striving – good exam results, well paid job, strong marriage and warm friendships, our own home, good health, exciting travel opportunities and the list goes on.

As we read this Psalm the realisation comes that compared to eternity, our life is only a breath. That’s not much time at all.
So don’t return us to mud, saying,
“Back to where you came from!”
Patience! You’ve got all the time in the world—whether
a thousand years or a day, it’s all the same to you.
Are we no more to you than a wispy dream,
no more than a blade of grass
That springs up gloriously with the rising sun
and is cut down without a second thought?

But wait there’s more:

Next we read of God’s anger, his disapproving frown and his record of our wrongs being kept for all eternity. There’s nowhere to hide as he sees all and knows all. Then, a glimmer of hope perhaps.

12-17 Oh! Teach us to live well!
Teach us to live wisely and well!
Come back, God—how long do we have to wait?—
and treat your servants with kindness for a change.
Surprise us with love at daybreak;
then we’ll skip and dance all the day long.
Make up for the bad times with some good times;
we’ve seen enough evil to last a lifetime.
Let your servants see what you’re best at—
the ways you rule and bless your children.

To sum up, Psalm 90 reveals the meaning of life will not come through what we do, or by not eating fat and getting along with everyone, but by our relationship with the Mighty Creator and King of his creation. Our striving will not stop but our confidence will be in our Lord so our hard work has a purpose and is pleasing to him. More than a glimmer of hope now, something to really strive for!

And let the loveliness of our Lord, our God, rest on us,
confirming the work that we do.
Oh, yes. Affirm the work that we do!

Iris

The Rock Incident

I think the reading today from Numbers 20 is one of those “too hard” biblical passages which Ian spoke about last Sunday.

Too hard to read that faithful Moses, God’s chosen leader, and his brother Aaron were punished so severely for what seems a fairly human reaction to these whinging people.

Moses and Aaron were used to taking their problems to God and expecting an answer. After falling on their faces before God, (no need for pleading it seems) God said,  “Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle.”

Moses did as he was instructed, mostly. 10  Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and, losing his temper, said to them, “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” 11 And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock.”  

Mission accomplished or mission undermined?

12 And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.”  It seems too harsh God.

But Moses’ theatrics at Meribah were not honouring to God. He was instructed only to tell the rock to produce water which would have demonstrated God’s power and holiness. Moses’ anger and frustration with the people in his charge overflowed before the water did. Here is a quote from R. Dennis Cole that I think sums up the incident:  Moses struck the rock not once but twice as he vented his anger and frustration over this ever-rebellious lot. As in previous circumstances of this kind, the rock was a symbol of God’s mercy and benevolence, so striking the rock was in a sense a striking out against God. Moses had damaged severely the intimate personal relationship he had with God. His actions were detrimental to the maintaining of a reverence for God and his mercy in Israel. The trusted servant had fallen into the same trap as the many rebellious people he had complained about to God. Harrison calls Moses’ actions ‘an unpardonable act of insubordination.’

What about Aaron? It’s very hard to understand that Aaron, the first High Priest, appointed by God, and Moses’ right hand man and brother, was unceremoniously defrocked and died on a mountain top for his part in the rock incident, even though he was only a silent partner. God said to Moses, 24 “Let Aaron be gathered to his people, for he shall not enter the land that I have given to the people of Israel, because you rebelled against my command at the waters of Meribah. Aaron, like his sister Miriam, was another of the older generation who was being replaced before God would allow his people to enter the Promised Land.

The death of Aaron must have been very hard for the people as we read they wept for thirty days after his death. Imagine how hard it would have been for Moses and Eleazar to strip him of his priestly garments and leave him on the mountain top.

Another hard decision made by God. Hard for me to read and understand. It seems God was instructing his appointed leaders and wanting their complete obedience as a model to his chosen people. The rock incident reminds me that God does expect me to follow his commandments to the letter, to put him first and foremost in my thinking and actions.

I’m grateful that Jesus is my Saviour, saving me from my own rock incidents where I think I know better than the Creator of the universe.

Iris

 

Glad I Didn’t Need to Buy a Ram

Today’s readings are from Leviticus 5 and 6 and 2 Corinthians 3 and are well contrasted in reference to the old and new covenants.

Rob and I recently attended our first ram sale at Peak Hill. We went as observers only as our back yard would definitely not feed one of these beasts for more than an hour or so. They are huge, beautifully laden with thick, soft merino wool which has just the right amount of crinkles in the tufts to provide a very high CF (comfort factor for those who don’t know these things!) Some of the most valuable of these rams are preciously housed at night in a shed with ABC FM playing.

I can imagine the high worth of these beasts throughout the centuries as they can provide food, warmth, progeny and income for their owners. As we read in the Leviticus passage today, rams were used as payment for sins. Sheep were restitution for sins such as not speaking out when one should, speaking untruthfully or touching something unclean, all without realising it. I don’t know who the sin police would have been to catch people out in this way!

To unknowingly sin against God however, required a ram as a guilt offering, plus an extra fifth for the priests. Each beast would probably have had as much value to the owner then as those at the Peak Hill ram sale last weekend. Verse 16 And the priest shall make atonement for him with the ram of the guilt offering, and he shall be forgiven.

Were the people in Moses’ time more willing to admit to their hidden, guilty actions? I can’t imagine most of us these days admitting to our own hidden sins. Is that because we want to keep our public persona credible, likeable, reliable? Or is that because we can confess them directly to our Lord God, our God who loves us and is always ready to shower us with his grace?

The 2 Corinthians reading describes the hope and confidence we have in living now under a new covenant with Jesus. I like verse 3 And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.  

I love the picture of the Holy Spirit capturing my heart with knowledge of Jesus. The words etched on the stone tablets given to Moses will always be a preferred recipe for living. Our hearts though are configured by the Holy Spirit. Verse 4 Such is the confidence that we have through Christ towards God. Verse 6 The letter kills but the Spirit gives life. We don’t need to be bogged down in trying to adhere to an enormous list of rules and we don’t need to be continually racked with guilt after we have realised a sin we have committed. Thank you Jesus!

I am so grateful that I live now, confidently, freely under God’s grace because of Jesus’ death. May my life reflect my love and faith in who God is and may we all know his forgiveness for the times we do something wrong, whether publicly or not.

I’m glad we didn’t need to buy that ram!

Iris

 

Timeout With God

Judges 9 and Matthew 26:1-13

The Judges passage today is filled with examples of how humans are motivated to cause harm to others. Emotional blackmail, hit men who earn their 70 pieces of silver, lying and deception, lust for power. Lord, when will things ever change.

The New Testament reading signals the end of Jesus’ ministry here on earth. Here we read how Jesus is preparing his disciples for his coming death. Calmly and with resolve he tells them of his own death and prepares them to the time when they will be without him.

We read of Matthew’s reference to the corrupt religious and legal leadership which was in power at the time. Lord, when will things ever change. It’s interesting to read that the political leaders were deciding which was the most opportune time to kill Jesus. Verse 5 But they said, “Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar among the people.” We know that Jesus was crucified on the day which those leaders were trying to avoid. A subtle reminder of who was in charge.

We also read of Jesus’ compassion. While at Simon the leper’s home, (probably whom he had cured from leprosy) He graciously accepts the gift of the beautiful and expensive oil with which he was anointed by the woman. We know from John 12 the woman was Mary, sister of Martha and Lazarus. It reminds there are times when our only focus should be on God.

The disciples, particularly Judas (John 12:4-6) are horrified at the waste of this expensive gift. I read an interesting quote, “Is anything wasted which is all for Jesus? It might rather seem as if all would be wasted which was not given to him.” (Spurgeon.) But Jesus defended Mary as an example of someone who simply did a good work for him and would be long remembered for this.

I pray that we can take timeout to just focus on Jesus and put everything else aside for a moment in time.

 

God is Angry!

 

How often do we read of the almighty, all powerful, Creator of the Universe described as a loving, soft hearted Lamb? This Lamentations passage does not conform to that same image!

 The passage begins with graphic pictures of how God has abandoned his people and their communities, verse 3 He has cut down in fierce anger all the might of Israel;

he has withdrawn from them his right hand in the face of the enemy;

he has burned like a flaming fire in Jacob, consuming all round.

What a frightening picture!

 The details of despair and pain of his people are hard to read. What horrors were faced by children in particular.

 Verses 18-22 are the prayerful pleas for mercy of these humbled people to this fierce and angry God. Verse 20 Look, O Lord, and see! With whom have you dealt thus.

 I pray that we continue to seek our Lord in all we do and say and be grateful that we are living now, under Jesus. The bible says that in our natural, sinful state we are enemies of God, Romans 5:10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. We are comforted that by Jesus’ death we are welcomed into His presence. Through our repentance and acceptance of Jesus’ death, we are even called his children. Thankfully, God no longer sees our imperfections. Only by what Jesus has done for us are our sins forgiven, our relationship with God restored, and our eternity secured.

 I am thankful that he sees me through his Son. 

On Christ the Solid Rock I Stand

In this passage Jesus ends his sermon on the mount. His final message is probably very well known to many people, even those who don’t know its context or origin.

For us reading this familiar passage it is good to be reminded of the truths behind this proverb. One important aspect is that it is useless to call ourselves Christians unless we put into practice what he has taught us as well as what we are to believe.

It is good to take a look at ourselves and check the foundations our lives are built on. Will we be able to weather the storms, the vicissitudes of our life or will we be washed away? We know the distractions of life, the stresses, the chaos or just plain bad decisions, all lead us away from Jesus. These are all part of our life at some time or another. How we react to these situations or to our own sinful decisions depends on the strength of our foundation.

Our life built on Jesus as our Rock secures us a firm foundation, as long as we take our beliefs and knowledge of who Jesus is and put them into practice. Our own motivation is who we are in Jesus. As I write this, I’m thinking about my own foundations: they sometimes wobble, or small fissures or cracks undermine the strength or even pieces break off and form little mounds of sand. It’s not that I don’t have faith in a loving God, a mighty Creator, a redeeming Saviour but instead of seeking His wise counsel…… well you know the rest.

To be able to weather the storms of life, to please our Lord and glorify Him, we must encourage each other to be real and authentic Christians remembering our lives are transformed and solidly built on His foundations.

For your enjoyment today and to help focus on our Saviour:

My hope is built on nothing less

Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness

I dare not trust the sweetest frame

But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

On Christ the solid rock I stand

All other ground is sinking sand.