By Faith (Hebrews 11:1-3,8-16)

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One of the toys our kids are currently collecting are small plastic pencil-top figures called Ooshies. There are two main ways to buy Ooshies. One way is in a multi-pack where you can see what characters you’re buying, except for a mystery Ooshie which is included. You can also buy single packs called ‘blind bags’ where you don’t know what you’re getting. In either case, buying Ooshies can be thought of as an act of faith because we are hoping for something good even though we can’t see exactly what we’re getting.

In some ways, this is the kind of faith the Letter to the Hebrews talks about in chapter 11. The author looks back at Old Testament heroes and shows how their faith meant that they lived their whole lives trusting in God’s promises to them even though they couldn’t see what they were hoping for.

Hebrews 11 teaches us some important things about the nature of Christian faith:

1. Faith is grounded and grows in God’s promises
The faith of the Old Testament people in Hebrews 11 was directed towards God’s promises to them. For example, God promised Abraham a land that his descendants would inherit. To Sarah, God promised a child. As Hebrews 11 looks back at the other Old Testament heroes, in every case their faith was connected a promise God gave them. It’s the same with us. Saving faith is always grounded in and grows from God’s promises to us in Jesus. As Paul writes in Romans 10:17, ‘faith comes from hearing … the Good News about Christ’ (NLT). For us and for our faith, then, hearing God’s promises in the Bible becomes vital to a living, active and saving faith.

2. Faith makes a difference to our lives
In every example that Hebrews gives, people’s lives were changed because of their faith in God’s promises. For Abraham the change was leaving his home and living in tents in the land God had promised him. The difference to Sarah’s life was having a child and becoming a mother at the age of 99. For the rest of the people in Hebrews 11, faith in God’s promises led to some sort of action. This is very different from an understanding of faith I come across sometimes which is more about intellectually agreeing with a church’s teachings or doctrines. Good teaching and doctrine are important in a church, but their purpose is always to point us to faith in God’s promises in the gospel which changes our lives.

3. Faith generates hope
The big difference faith in God’s promises made to all the people mentioned in Hebrews was that it gave them hope. Using the examples of Abraham and Sarah, both of them found hope when they believed what God had promised them. For Abraham, the hope was that his descendants would have a homeland. Sarah’s hope was that her shame would be removed through the birth of a child. For us, too, faith creates and sustains hope in our lives. When so many people in our society are struggling for something to hope in, when we trust in God’s promises and bring that good news to others, faith in those promises will lead to a greater hope in our lives and in the lives of the people around us.

4. Faith means trusting in what we can’t see
None of the people of faith in Hebrews 11 actually received what God had promised them. In verse 13 we read, ‘they did not receive what was promised,’ and again verse 39 states, ‘none of them received all that God had promised’ (NLT). This is the most difficult thing about faith – it’s trusting that something is real and living like it’s true even though we can’t see it and don’t fully experience it. This is especially hard in a culture which teaches that ‘seeing is believing’ and that if you can’t prove or have empirical evidence of something, then it doesn’t really exist. The very nature of Christian faith is that we hope for something and live like it’s true even though we can’t see it or prove it. The best we can do is look back at the ways in which God has kept his promises in the past. Based on that evidence, we can continue to hope that God will keep his promises to us in the same way that God kept his promises to all the people of the Old Testament. This is the purpose of Hebrews 11, and in fact all of the stories in the Bible: to encourage us in our faith. As we hear how God kept his promises to the people of the past, we can trust that God will keep his promises to us in the same way.

I have known people who say that living in the way of faith is easy because there are no absolute moral standards to reach and no rules that we have to follow. I disagree. Living by faith is much harder than a rule-based or self-help life because it asks us to trust God’s promises and live like they’re true, even though our experiences in life might indicate something different. Faith means hoping for what God promises, even though we can’t see it.

When I buy an Ooshie for my kids it’s an act of faith. We are hoping for something good, even though we can’t see what we’re getting. God makes us amazing, life-giving promises in Jesus. He asks us to trust him enough to live like what he promises is true, even though we might not be able to see what he promises us. As we read Hebrews 11 and look back at the heroes of faith from the Old Testament, God is showing us that he can be trusted so our faith can grow and we can bring the hope he gives to the people of the world, even when we can’t see it.

More to think about:

  • I’ve heard it said that everyone has faith – what’s important is in what you have faith. Would you agree with that statement? Why or why not?
  • What do you have faith in? Why do you have faith in it? What does it promise you? Can it actually deliver what it promises?
  • As you read Hebrews 11, which is your favourite Old Testament character? Why is that person your favourite?
  • I’m suggesting there are four things we can learn about faith from Hebrews 11. What was the promise your favourite character received from God? What difference did it make to his/her life? How did s/he find hope through faith in the promise? Why did s/he never see what was promised?
  • What are some promises God makes you in Jesus?
  • What difference might having faith in those promises make in your life?
  • How might those promises give you a greater sense of hope?
  • How might you be able to live like those promises are true, even if you can’t see them?
  • Who is someone you know whose life might change for the better through faith in God’s promises to them? How might you be able to share a promise form God with them this week?
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Easter 2019

 

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Maundy Thursday: ‘As I Have Loved You’ (John 13:1-17,31b-35)

This year’s Maundy Thursday service was held in our hall. The chairs were arranged in the round with a table in the centre on which was placed the bread and wine for Holy Communion. As people entered, they were offered the opportunity to have their feet washed. I always find it interesting to watch people’s reactions to the offer. Some accept and are thankful to have someone wash their feet. Others, however, are not comfortable with it and decline the invitation.

I can understand why they do that. we can be very sensitive about our feet. We often think of them as unattractive, dirty, smelly or something we just don’t like other people seeing or holding. We are can feel shame because of our feet and so don’t like others to be close to them or to see them as they really are.

We often think of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet before their last meal together (John 13:1-17) as an example of how we should serve each other. I wonder whether there was more to it. As I reflected on how reluctant people often are about others seeing or touching their feet, I thought about the areas of our lives which we don’t like others knowing about. We carry things in our hearts and lives that are unclean, or unacceptable, or shameful. They might be things we’ve done, things that have been done to us, either sins we’ve committed or that have been committed against us. We can try to keep them hidden from others like smelly feet, but they’re still there and we carry them with us everywhere we go.

When Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, he was showing that he is able to make the dirtiest, smelliest, most shameful parts of our lives clean and fragrant again. Jesus’ death and resurrection for us removes all our guilt and shame so we are able to live in God’s presence as his holy children. Jesus is able to do this because he knows everything about us – all the things we try to keep secret, we don’t want anyone else knowing, or we are ashamed to admit even to ourselves. We can’t hide anything from him. But he sees who we are, he takes our guilt, our shame, our dirt to the cross and puts it to death. Then he washes us clean in his blood so we can be clean, righteous and good people through faith in him.

Imagine what it would be like to be in a community of people who knew everything about you, even the things that you’d prefer to keep secret, and who still loved you unconditionally. I wonder if that’s what Jesus meant when he gave his new command, to love each other like he loves us (John 13:34; 15:12,17). We experience real grace when we reveal our ‘dirty feet’ to each other and still continue to accept, forgive and love each other in the same way that Jesus accepts, forgives and loves us. If we aren’t honest with each other about our flaws, wrongs or wounds, then we won’t experience the full healing and life-giving power of the grace Jesus extends to us in his death and resurrection. To love each other like he loves us means being real about the dirty, smelly, shameful parts of our lives, and then accepting, forgiving and loving others who are really just the same as we are.

That’s when Jesus’ love becomes real for all of us.

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Good Friday: ‘Listening to Jesus from the Cross’ (Luke 22:39-23:56)

On Good Friday morning we gathered in the church to listen to the story of Jesus’ suffering, death and burial from Luke’s gospel. As part of the reading, three people from the congregation shared personal reflections on what they heard when Jesus spoke from the cross. Luke tells us that Jesus said three things as he was being crucified:

  • “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34 NLT)
  • “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43 NLT)
  • “Father, I entrust my spirit into your hands!” (Luke 23:46 NLT)

When we listen to Jesus’ words from the cross in Luke’s gospel, we can hear him praying for forgiveness, promising Paradise, and trusting God to take care of him. These words amaze me, because so often we don’t do what Jesus did. When people hurt us, how often do we want to do the same or worse to them as they have done to us? When we are suffering or in pain, how often are we critical or judgmental of others? When life is out of our control and going badly, how often do we try to take control ourselves?

Jesus’ words of forgiveness, promise and trust from the cross show me that he was much more than just an ordinary bloke. I don’t think any of us could have done what he did. That’s why it’s important to remember that Jesus doesn’t just give us an example of how to live our lives. It would be easy to turn these words into a morality message like, ‘We should all forgive, promise and trust like Jesus did.’ While there’s some truth in that, the reality is that it’s hard, sometimes even impossible, for us to do that. We need to acknowledge that our natural tendencies are to do to others like they do to us, to criticise and condemn, or to try to control those things around us that are making life hard.

We need to listen the words Jesus says as though he was saying them to us. When we are treating others badly because of something they’ve done to us, Jesus prays for us to be forgiven. When we are suffering or have been hurt by others, Jesus promises us a place in Paradise with him. When our lives are out of control or going in directions we don’t want them to go, Jesus entrusts us and everything in our lives in the safe and loving hands of our heavenly Father. Grace means that Jesus does for us what we can’t do for ourselves, and then gives us the benefit as a free gift. So when he prays for forgiveness, promises paradise and trusts God with his future, we can hear him speaking to us, saying and doing for us what we often can’t say or do ourselves because of our human condition.

When we hear Jesus speaking to us and for us, that’s when we find new and better words to say to others. When we hear Jesus speak words of forgiveness, promise and trust, then we, with Jesus, can pray for forgiveness, promise a better future to others, and entrust everything into the Father’s gracious and loving care.

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Resurrection Sunday: ‘A Strange New Word’ (Luke 24:1-12)

One of the things we can look forward to at Easter is the giving and receiving of chocolate eggs. Christians often use the hollow egg as a symbol of Jesus’ empty tomb. However, for most people, Easter eggs just taste good, especially if we have given up chocolate for Lent.

Imagine waking up on Easter Sunday morning and finding that your largest, most delicious egg was broken. What would you think, though, if you put it away in a cupboard while you ate the rest of your chocolate, then, few days later, you went back to the cupboard and found that the egg had been made whole again? What would your reaction be if what was broken had been made whole again?

Even as I write this, the idea sounds like nonsense. Broken things don’t spontaneously become whole again. It’s not the way the world works! Some things can heal over time, such as broken bones, and the human body has an amazing capacity to mend itself. But most things can’t be restored to their original condition once they have been broken. To suggest they do sounds like nonsense.

One thing I love about Luke’s telling of the resurrection story in Luke 24:1-12 is the amount of confusion. When the women arrive at Jesus’ tomb early on the first day of the week, ‘they stood there puzzled’ (v4) because the body they had expected to be there wasn’t. Then, when they told Jesus’ remaining disciples about his resurrection, ‘the story sounded like nonsense to the men, so they didn’t believe it’ (v11 NLT). For the women to tell Jesus’ disciples that he was risen from the grave would kind of be like me telling someone that their broken Easter egg had been made whole again. It doesn’t make sense because it’s not part of our regular experience.

How much sense does the message of Jesus’ resurrection make to us? We might connect the story with the promise of eternal life in heaven, but, there is a lot more to it than that for us. For example, Paul writes that through baptism we have been united with Jesus in his death and resurrection, so we ‘should consider (our)selves to be dead to the power of sin and alive to God through Jesus Christ’ (Romans 6:11 NLT). Paul is saying that the resurrection of Jesus makes a difference in our lives now! We have already been raised with Jesus and we live as people whose defining reality is not the brokenness of this world, but the healing and wholeness that Jesus gives through his Spirit in the promise of his resurrection.

An important part of living as Jesus’ followers means making sense of the resurrection in whatever is happening in our lives right now. We all suffer from brokenness – in our bodies, minds or hearts, in our relationships and community, in our world. The burning of Notre Dame in Paris and the bombing attacks in Sri Lanka are recent examples of that. In Jesus’ resurrection, God makes his mission known to us. God’s plan of salvation is to put the broken pieces of this world, our relationships and our lives back together again, restoring all of creation to its original condition. God’s mission to bring healing and wholeness was put into effect with the resurrection of Jesus and will continue until the last day. Then his saving work will be completed as the dead are raised with new, imperishable bodies and creation is returned to the way God intended from the beginning.

Until that day we can participate with God in his mission to bring healing and wholeness to our broken world in two ways. The first is to make sense of the resurrection in our own lives by looking for God to heal us and make us whole from our brokenness. Our wholeness will be completed when Jesus returns, but the healing can start how through Jesus’ resurrection power. The second way we can participate in God’s mission to restore a broken world is by looking for ways to bring his healing and wholeness to others. As I read the Scriptures, it seems to me that the mission of the church is less about converting people to our way of thinking, and more about bringing the life-giving message of Jesus’ resurrection to broken people living in a broken world in all we say and do.

This message might make about as much sense as a broken Easter egg becoming whole again after a few days in the cupboard, but it didn’t make sense to Jesus’ disciples when they first heard it either. The more we make sense of Jesus’ resurrection as the defining reality of our own lives, the more it will make sense to others as they see Jesus’ healing and wholeness in us.

More to think about:

  • Do you think the idea of someone washing your feet? Why? Why not?
  • What do you think it would be like for someone to know everything about you and still love you? How is that like Jesus’ love for you?
  • Who can you show this kind of love to in your life?
  • What do you hear Jesus saying to you when he prays for forgiveness, promises Paradise and entrusts himself into God’s hands?
  • What is it like to think he says these words to & for you?
  • To whom in your life can you speak a word of forgiveness, promise or trust?
  • What doesn’t make sense to you about the resurrection of Jesus?
  • Where do you experience brokenness in your life?
  • How might the resurrection of Jesus bring you healing or wholeness?

A Face Like Stone (Isaiah 50:4-9a)

 

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Over the season of Lent, we have been focusing on listening to the voice of Jesus. It just makes sense that if we are going to follow Jesus as his disciples, we need to learn to hear what Jesus is saying to us.

The clearest way Jesus speaks to us is through the Bible. That’s why John calls him ‘the Word of God’ (see John 1:1-14). Jesus speaks to us through the stories of the gospels, the letters of the New Testament, and even the ancient writings of the Old Testament.

For example, we can hear the voice of Jesus in this year’s Old Testament reading for Palm Sunday, Isaiah 50:4-9a, which was written five or six hundred years before the birth of Jesus. As I listen to them in the context of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, I can imagine him reflecting on these words while he waited for his friends to bring him the donkey, thinking about what lay ahead of him, preparing for the events of the coming week.

During his life, Jesus listened to God to learn ‘words of wisdom’ which ‘comfort the weary’ (v4). Jesus learned the will of the Father as God taught it to him ‘morning by morning.’ These words give us a picture of Jesus gradually learning God’s will for him as an on-going process through his life. This is very different from what I thought when I was young. I believed that Jesus just naturally knew what God wanted for him because of his divine nature. However, Isaiah’s words seem to be saying that Jesus grew in his understanding of his Father’s will as he learned to listen to God, just like we do. As God spoke with him, and as Jesus listened and learned, Jesus didn’t rebel or turn away from God’s will, but he embraced what God wanted for him and followed in his way.

Jesus knew that following God’s will would be difficult and hard. Verse 6 tells us that Jesus knew that it would involve being beaten, having his beard pulled out, being mocked and spat on. As Jesus rode into Jerusalem to the shouts and praises of the crowd, he knew that what lay before him was suffering and death. That’s why he ‘sets his face like a stone’ (v7). Knowing what was ahead of him, Jesus embraced the future he was walking into with a gritty determination to see it through.

We can think of what Jesus did as an act of obedience to his Father. Another way to see it is that he acted out of love for us. He rode into Jerusalem because he knew that the only way to restore our relationship with God and renew us as God’s holy people was to suffer and die for us. Jesus did that because he reckons you are worth it. He chose that path because you matter to him. Jesus did what was necessary because he learned by listening to God that God’s will is that everyone be saved and know the truth (1 Timothy 2:4) of his grace and love. The only way for that to happen was through his suffering and death, so he took the hard road out of love for us and every person who has ever walked this planet.

Jesus entered Jerusalem to suffer and die out of love for us and in the faith that God would help him. If we read this text as Jesus’ words, we can hear him declaring his faith that the Sovereign Lord helps him, he will not be disgraced, he will not be put to shame (v7), God will give him justice in the face of those who unfairly accused him(v8), and the Sovereign Lord was on his side even when people declared him guilty (v9a). Again, when I was young I thought that Jesus knew he was going to be saved from death because of his divine nature, so he had nothing to worry about. Listening to these words and looking at the struggle Jesus had in the Garden of Gethsemane, I now wonder if the only thing Jesus had when he rode into Jerusalem was faith in the promises of an ancient book. In these verses we can hear God telling his Son through Isaiah that he would not abandon him but would help and vindicate him. I wonder if, as Jesus rode into Jerusalem, he trusted in his heavenly Father’s saving help because of the words he had read. Jesus set his face like a stone and rode into suffering and death because he trusted that God would declare him innocent, no matter that the priests or crowd or anyone else said, by raising him from the dead.

These words are really important for us to hear. We all have our accusers – voices that come from outside of us or within us which accuse us of the wrongs we have done or the good we haven’t done. Our culture, the media, other people, even our own hearts, can accuse us by telling us that we’re not good enough, that we’re hopeless, that we don’t belong, that we’re too much of one thing or not enough of another. As we follow Jesus into Jerusalem we share in the promises God made to his Son. When we face accusations of any kind, we will not be put to shame because God has declared us innocent for Jesus’ sake. Because we are in Christ, and have been united in his death and resurrection through faith in him (Romans 6:4), God makes us new and calls us his children whom he loves and with whom he is pleased (Matthew 3:17; Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22). If this is what God says about us when we are in Jesus, then it really doesn’t matter what anyone else says!

As we listen to Jesus in the words of Isaiah 50:4-9a, we hear the words of someone who listened to God and who learned what God wanted from what he heard. We hear the words of someone who knew that God’s will involved taking the hard road which would lead to suffering and death, but who took that road because of his love for us, because we matter to him, and because he reckons we’re worth it. We hear the words of someone who did all that, trusting that God would help him, would not let him be put to shame, and would give him justice in the face of those who accused him. These are the words of Jesus who rode into Jerusalem, who suffered and died for us, who trusted in his Father who raised him to life, who brings us a word to comfort us when we are weary, and who teaches us words of comfort and hope which we can bring to others.

More to think about:

  • Do you generally prefer to take the easy way or the more difficult way? In what circumstances would you prefer to take the more difficult way? What does that say about what’s more important to you or what you value?
  • How does reading Isaiah 50:4-9a from Jesus’ perspective shape the way you understand these words? How does reading them from Jesus’ perspective shape your understanding of Jesus?
  • Do you think Jesus rode into Jerusalem more knowing what was going to happen or trusting in the saving work of his Father? What is the difference? How can the difference help us when we are struggling with our futures?
  • Do you hear voices accusing you in your life? How can the trust Jesus had in our heavenly Father give you confidence & hope when you face accusations from either inside or outside of yourself?
  • As we travel towards Easter, how can these words from Isaiah 50:4-9a give you a greater insight or appreciation for what Jesus was about to go through? Do they help you walk with Jesus? Do they help you trust that Jesus is walking with you? Discuss why…

Isaiah 50:4-9a Discussion / Reflection Questions

Here are some questions I have on Isaiah 50:4-9a, the Old Testament reading for Palm Sunday, 14 April, 2019:

  • What questions do you have of this text?
  • This text talks twice about God’s will in verses 4 & 7. What can you learn about what God’s will might be from the words of this text?
  • What kind of situation does it sound like this person is walking into – something good, dangerous or something else?
  • From what you read in verses 7-9a, why can this person go into that situation? What gives this person the courage to do that?
  • Who do you think this text is talking about? What gives you that impression?
  • Why do you think this text is has been selected for the reading on Palm Sunday?
  • If you read this text from the point of view of Jesus, what might it say to you about him? How does it fit with the beginning of the week before Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection?
  • if you read this text from your own point of view, what might you hear it saying to you?
  • What good news can you hear in this text? What is God promising to do for you? How might that make a difference in your life?

Let me know if you have any additional thoughts or question on the text in the comments below. I’m always interested in your perspectives on the text…

Bless ya!

Refuge (Psalm 91:1,2,9-16)

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During this season of Lent, we are focussing on learning to listen to the voice of Jesus, as we heard in the story of Jesus’ transfiguration (Luke 9:28-36). This is an art we need to be learning as Jesus’ followers because sometimes God’s word is easy to understand, sometimes it can be more cryptic, and at other times it seems to run completely contrary to our human experience.

For example, the psalm for the First Sunday in Lent is Psalm 91:1,2,9-16. It makes some extraordinary promises about God keeping us safe and nothing harming us when we make God our refuge and shelter. The psalmist writes,

If you make the Lord your refuge, if you make the Most High your shelter,
no evil will conquer you; no plague will come near your home.
For he will order his angels to protect you wherever you go.
They will hold you up with their hands so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.
You will trample upon lions and cobras; you will crush fierce lions and serpents under your feet! (vv 9-12 NLT)

On the one hand, the promises God gives us in this text sound fantastic! As a lifelong motorcyclist, I love the idea that God’s angels will protect me whenever I’m riding. An initial reading might seem like this psalm is promising us the assurance of a problem-free life where everything goes well and we are never going to suffer in any way.

Most of us know, however, that this isn’t always the case. The often harsh realities of human existence in this world can make it hard to believe what God seems to be saying to us in Scriptures like this. We can start asking questions like, are we suffering because we’re bad people or we’ve done something wrong? Can we really trust God’s promises to us? What is Jesus trying to say to us when our experience doesn’t match up with what we seem to be reading in the Bible?

In order to try to make sense of these words from Psalm 91 I would like to listen to them through two stories of Jesus – in his temptation and then in his crucifixion.

When the devil tempted Jesus, we read that he took Jesus to the highest point of the Temple in Jerusalem and told him to jump (Matthew 4:5-7; Luke 4:9-12). The devil used Psalm 91:11,12 to try to convince Jesus that if he did, then God would keep him save and he wouldn’t get hurt. Jesus replied by telling the devil not to test the Lord (Deuteronomy 6:16). There is a way, then, in which the devil can use words like these to tempt us to test God rather than to trust him.

I think of it this way: I could theoretically ride my motorbike without a helmet, exceed the speed limit, run red lights and ignore the road rules, and say that Psalm 91 tells me that I can do whatever I like because God is going to protect me. That would be like Jesus jumping from the highest point of the Temple in Jerusalem. It is taking unnecessary risks, challenging God to prove himself. Jesus shows us that Psalm 91 does not give us an excuse to be irresponsible or reckless and expect God to keep us safe. God has given us the sanctified common sense to be able to work out what is reasonable and responsible and to be able to do it. So on the one hand, the promises of Psalm 91 do not give us permission to test God by behaving irresponsibly or recklessly.

The other way I would like to hear the words of this psalm is through Jesus’ crucifixion. I wonder, given his experience with the devil tempting him with these words, whether Jesus thought of them in the six hours he was hanging on the cross. Obviously we don’t know, but I wonder if Jesus thought about the verses from the psalm and the promises God was making to his Son through them.

When we view these verses through the lens of Jesus’ crucifixion, they could seem empty and false. How could God let this happen to his Son when the psalm promises that is angels would protect him? However, they can also be heard as words of hope. When we hear these verses in times of suffering, pain or loss, they can remind us that even though we are struggling or hurting, we can still find protection and refuge in God through Jesus. Sometimes this is what faith is about: trusting that God’s word is true even though our experience tells us something different. Faith is trusting that we can find refuge in God even when we’re hurting. Faith is believing that we can find shelter in God even when we’re struggling. Faith is hoping that we can find protection in God even when everything is falling apart. Faith is relying on God who is bigger than all of our pain, stronger than our suffering, who enters our human experience in Jesus and gives us something better in his resurrection. Faith isn’t believing that life is going to be perfect and pain-free as a Christian. Faith is trusting that God will give us shelter, rest and refuge even when everything is going wrong.

That’s why Psalm 91 ends with these words:

The Lord says, “I will rescue those who love me. I will protect those who trust in my name.
When they call on me, I will answer; I will be with them in trouble.
I will rescue and honour them.
I will reward them with a long life and give them my salvation.” (vv 13-16 NLT)

These words assume that bad things will be happening in the lives of God’s people. We wouldn’t need rescuing if everything was good. We wouldn’t need protection if everything was easy. God’s promise is that when trouble comes we can call on God who will rescue us, honour us as his children, reward us with a life that is stronger than death, and gift us with the salvation Jesus won for us in his death and resurrection.

I understand that these words can be hard to hear, especially when we are suffering, grieving or in pain. Life isn’t free of troubles, but our troubles don’t mean that God has forgotten us or can’t be trusted. When we listen to words like Psalm 91, they remind us that our troubles are not the final word in our lives. They don’t give us permission to be reckless and irresponsible, like jumping from a high place without a parachute or bungy cord. However, in all the ups and downs of life, we have a God who can be trusted to protect us and keep us safe, even when we’re suffering, because that’s what he did for his Son.

 

Psalm 91:1,2,9-16 Discussion/Reflection Questions

Next Sunday’s message at St John’s will be based on Psalm 91:1,2,9-16. Read the text and then discuss or reflect on the following questions:

  • What questions to you have of the text?
  • What promise do you hear from God in this text?
  • What is difficult to believe about this text? Why do you find it hard to believe?
  • In Luke 4:9-12 the devil used these words to tempt Jesus. How does what the devil say show us how we can interpret them wrongly?
  • How do you think Jesus might have interpreted these words while he was hanging on the cross? What do you think they might have been saying to him then?
  • When we are going through difficult times or suffering in life, would these words be difficult to believe? Or might they be able to give you hope? Explain why…

Feel free to leave any comments or questions below.

God bless ya…

Hope (Psalm 25:1-10)

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If there is something that you want, are you happy to wait for it? Or would you prefer to get it straight away?

We live in a society that isn’t very good at waiting. Generally speaking, we are constantly being told that we can have what we want right now, without needing to wait for it. We can buy things and pay for them later. We can use an app to order our coffee so it’s ready to collect when we arrive. Dating websites give us the opportunity to find our ‘perfect match’ without wasting time getting to know the other person. In so many ways, a strong message from our society is that we can have whatever we want right now without waiting for it.

Maybe that is one reason why our society also finds it hard to hope. I was surprised to find that in Psalm 25, the Hebrew word which is translated as ‘hope’ in verse 5 of the New Living Translation, as well as verse 3 in the New International Version, is also the word for ‘wait’. This tells us that the people of the Old Testament saw a very close connection between ‘waiting’ and ‘hoping’. To wait for something good also meant to hope for it. Maybe if we are going to find hope, we also need to learn to wait.

As he wrote Psalm 25, David was waiting and hoping for someone to save him. He wrote, ‘Do not let me be disgraced, or let my enemies rejoice in my defeat’ (v2 NLT) and ‘Lead me by your truth and teach me, for you are the God who saves me’ (v5 NLT). Like other Old Testament people, when David wrote these words he didn’t think that being saved meant going to heaven when he died. Instead, he was waiting and hoping for God to save him from his enemies. These were real people who wanted to take his life. For Old Testament people, salvation was more about here and now than it was about what happens when we die.

If we think about ‘being saved’ in this way, then we all have very real enemies we need God to save us from. I’m not thinking about human, flesh and blood enemies who make life difficult for us. Jesus teaches us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44). Instead, I’m thinking about enemies who want to take life from us such as fear, guilt, physical and mental illnesses, anxiety, depression, shame, and even death itself. If we read Psalm 25 with these ‘enemies’ in mind, then David’s words can take on new meaning for us and can actually give us hope, no matter what our ‘enemies’ might be.

As we celebrate the First Sunday in Advent, this is what we can wait and hope for in the coming of Jesus. One reason for Jesus’ birth is to give us hope in the face of the ‘enemies’ we struggle with as we wait for him to come and save us. Jesus’ saving work began when he entered into our human experience as an infant. This saving miracle is what we celebrate at Christmas. Throughout his ministry on earth, Jesus constantly saved the people he had contact with by freeing them from their ‘enemies’ and giving them new life as whole, clean, forgiven people. Jesus then defeated our ‘enemies’ by suffering on the cross and dying in our place. This is where he won his saving victory for us which was made evident when he was raised from death to eternal life at Easter. Jesus’ whole life, from his birth, through his death and resurrection, and still now as he joins his life with ours through his gift of the Holy Spirit, is to save us from our ‘enemies’ which want to take life from us. The time will come when Jesus will return again to complete his saving work by getting rid of all the evil in the world, making everything that is wrong in creation right again.

This is what we wait and hope for as we prepare to celebrate Jesus’ birth in the season of Advent. Jesus came to us as a baby to save us from our enemies. He is coming at the end of time to complete his saving work once and for all. As we wait for that, Jesus is still coming to us as the one who saves us from the ‘enemies’ that want to take life from us. I understand that there are times in life when it doesn’t seem like Jesus is saving us, and it can appear like our enemies have the upper hand. That is because the paradox of hope is that it is waiting for something we don’t have yet. The Apostle Paul put it this way:

We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us. We were given this hope when we were saved. (If we already have something, we don’t need to hope for it. But if we look forward to something we don’t yet have, we must wait patiently and confidently.) (Romans 8:23b-25 NLT)

Like the people of the Old Testament, Paul connects waiting and hoping like two sides of the same coin. He also says that we have been saved, but that we also hope for something that we don’t have yet. As God’s people whom he has saved in Jesus, we wait and hope with patience and confidence for God to complete his saving work in Jesus, even though we don’t fully have it yet. Even though it might not feel like Jesus has saved us from our enemies, we can still wait in hope for his saving work to be made complete in us.

As we wait for Jesus’ coming during this Advent season, we can wait in hope, peace, joy and love. These are God’s gifts to us all in the birth and life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Whatever our ‘enemies’ might be, God gives us the hope of a better tomorrow as Jesus comes to save us from them.

I honestly pray that you might find a greater sense of hope this Christmas as you put your trust in Jesus who comes to save you from the enemies you face in your life. Or, if you already have this hope, that you might be able to give the gift of hope to someone else who needs it.