Friday, April 24, 2009

No one can take it away.

When I was having a seriously bad time in life, long ago now, a friend gave me some precious words to read. What they say is pretty tough, but it tells me something as well. In the NIV they say:
"Though the fig-tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Saviour.

The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
He makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
He enables me to go on the heights."

He's not making it easy for himself, is he! Could I live up to that? At least, in my own strenght? Not much! I love drinking good coffee, and tea and hot chocolate, and...alright, that's enough. I live eating chocolate, and good wholegrain bread, and Italian food like spaghetti. It's pure joy getting into a good bookshop and seeing what I can buy. I love having our house to live in, not a tent. I sleeping in the same bed as my wife, not out under whatever shelter can be found. In fact this list could go on for several pages, listing all the things there are in life to be enjoyed because they give physical comfort and relief.
The old prophet makes a good point, though. These nice things are good to have. Life would be shorter, harder and grimmer without them. I'm seriously glad to have good pain relieving medication, and anti-depressant medication when needed. It would be a tough call to live up to what is said above. But I don't think Habakkuk was boasting.
If I understand it rightly, he was in a situation where things could not get much worse; and he realized, with the help of the Almighty, that he did not need to despair. Anything of this world is ONLY of this world. What is physical in ONLY physical. And it can all be lost because material things always have a 'use-by' date and then they're gone. What we sometimes learn, even though we would rather not, is that we can actually survive without them.
That does not mean give them all up. If you don't eat at all you starve, right? And being underweight because of body image is a serious problem even in the affluent Western world. So we do need certain things.
But what the prophet is telling us is, those things do not make life. What comes of the Spirit gives life. Jesus added to that when He pointed out, "Humanity does not live by bread alone." He said that to the devil itself - Satan in person, when the evil one tried to take advantage of Jesus' suffering to get Him to do what Satan said. And Jesus threw it right back! He did not need ordinary bread to survive. He needed God. When the time came, when the time in the wilderness was over, God gave Jesus all He needed - and because Jesus waited until God gave it, in His time, it was much much more that He received.
I pray for homeless people, unemployed people left high and dry by the economic collapse. It would be too easy for me to leave my house, carrying my credit card which is backed up by a steady income and deliver sermons at people. But then our family have been through some bad times, too. And we learnt. We need the things of God. When it all goes square-wheeled on Earth, remember God - and the love of God is what cannot be taken away by the rises and falls of the world.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

That which endures

In Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" Romeo says of his friend Mercutio, "He jokes at scars that never felt a wound." In modern English, 'he makes light of things when he has never suffered anything like them.'
Well, the world's full of that. Just one example is people trashing Christians because they want to believe things that are 'too good to be true.' They want to believe that people who die in this life will be alive again, and perfectly safe, in the next. They want to believe that nothing good is really lost, only taken away from us for a while.
Right - you can trash me too for that. I really love to think that some day our family will see the child we lost, in Heaven. One day we will see people we miss because they have gone from this world; and in the next where they won't ever be taken away again. Who would NOT like to see that? And when people ridicule that hope they are denying that we ALL miss things that are lost. That's only human.
It is just as well that we CAN believe in that. Life would reduce you to despair otherwise. People who will not accept that hope must be good at denying their feelings about certain things, trying to pretend they handle grief and loss better than they do. And when things get bad, there can be a change of heart. After the Twin Towers horror, there was an increase in church attendance and things commitment to permanent relationships. When something can be lost, we realize we miss it and want to believe that there is something more than the fragile world. If you want to try and rely on the world for your hope and joy, you might as well trust in a papier-mache umbrella. Anytime at all it could crumble.
It's been a shocking few days! Several mass shootings, an earthquake in Italy...there's not point in going on. We get the point. I'm praying that Easter can still be a happy time for people. Whoever reads this, I honestly wish you peace and joy in Christ. We're being shown at a time like this that there really isn't any thing or one in this world you can totally and utterly rely on. It or they could be taken away, so easily.
I speak with respect for people's feelings. It's too easy to lecture here about things I don't appreciate the way other people do. But it must be faced up to. Some of the buildings, even a whole town, destroyed by the earthquake in Italy were examples of Renaissance architecture, valued parts of Europe's heritage. Losing them is not as cruel as losing the people who died, but to those who value the relics of the past then it's another blow. What has stood for so long and is valued, has been lost in a few moments. It would be cruel to speak lightly about it, and not recognize the distress here. But what does it show?
Nothing in this material world is forever. Thousands of people have been fascinated by things like the Coloseum, the Parthenon, the pyramids; and we're reminded that they can be gone in a few seconds. If you pinned your reason for living on them, then you're at risk! Trust me. I was not always a Christian, and it used to really hurt me when something I liked was lost, (even something no-one else could see any value in) or a person I was attached to either left the world altogether or moved so that they weren't around anymore.
I HAD to know there was more to believe in. Everything of this world passes away. Even if it's lasted hundreds of years and been known to generations, like the pyramids of Egypt, will be gone at some time. If that's all you see value in, then complete loss of hope is in sight.
Jesus said "Heaven and Earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away." We can see all things of the Earth passing away while we watch. Did you ever feel as is you were marooned on a little island that was gradually being eroded by the water around it, and soon you would be left with nothing firm to stand on? I've had that feeling! Just ONE hope exists.
The things of the Spirit are not swept away. The Word of God is forever.
Several times in the last few years, I found myself facing something seriously stressful over Easter. One was a crisis at work, another involved a person being injured. It could have 'spoilt the holiday' but it had the effect of pushing me back closer to God.
Is this what's going on now?
It's pure horror reading about the shootings, which happen when people lose hope and blow up in desperation and rage; the earthquake, the things we cannot control fall on us. I've never been in an earthquake. I was uncomfortably close to a bushfire once, and that was bad enough.
I won't make light of other people's hurts. What has to be remembered is, nothing in this world endures and can be counted on completely.
God is forever, and if He chooses to protect you miraculously you could be caught in a bushfire and not even scorched. Remember Shadrach, Meshak and Abednego? You could be dropped in the sea and yet survive. You could go get caughtin a fearful gunfight and yet survive. Or if you do not, then you cease to live in THIS body and this world, and go to another one. We believe (or I should say KNOW) that Jesus died in the body. Proof existed of His body's death. But He reappeared, completely alive and able to tell the disciple Thomas to examine the wounds for himself.
This is that which endures, He who endures. Jesus is forever and He takes hold of His own and prevents their destruction, even as every physical thing is passing away.
God be with us all.