On Australia Day

As I celebrate this Australia Day, I recognise that I live on the lands of the Nyungar people, and I pay respect to their elders past, present and future. When James Cook landed in Botany Bay, there were some 250 nations of first Australians already here. They had been here for tens of thousands of years, and there could have been anywhere to a couple of million in number.

Europeans did not discover this land, but their arrival started to change it forever, as the first Australians had also changed it. The European colony brought many good things, but it also eventually led to removal of the first Australians from many areas, and without due recompense. History is woefully overladen with accounts of their suffering and debasement at the hands of European colonists. Indigenous peoples still carry much of this pain. Many European Australians deny it in equal measure.

My prayer for Australia now is that we own this history, or it will continue to own us. We need to acknowledge our first Australians in our constitution. We need to listen to their voice, we need to hear their cry, and we need to act in equity and justice. This is what God would want from us. One day we sill stand before him and render account for how we have addressed this situation.

Let our shared love for this country and our awareness of God’s grace gloriously received move us forward into reconciliation, gracious embrace, and a future where all can thrive.

I’m celebrating today because the move toward reconciliation will always outlive the voice of hate and cowering fear. I love my country, and in it everything God has given to me, my children and grandchildren. I doubt there is a better place to live on earth. And I know this great land will only get better as we walk, with our First Australians, into God’s good future.

Stop Being a Control Freak

Read: Genesis 27

You may wonder why you’ve been asked to read a passage like this. I mean, there are hardly any attitudes worth emulating. Rebekah is a conniving mother and Jacob is wimpish and complicit.

Scripture of course does not always give us clear behaviour to emulate. Sometimes it shows us the ugliness of humanity and the deceit of the heart. That’s what we’ve got here. Rebekah knows God’s covenant promises will be kept. Even so, she looks at her oldest son and thinks ‘shivers, is he really to be the hope of the world? He’s more about his toys and achievement than faithfulness to the Lord. I better do something about that …’  The rest is history.

Maybe Rebekah had forgotten how the Lord tends to use the weak and ridiculous to bring his purposes about. She had to know this. Her husband was born to a 100 year old father and a 90 year old mother. Surely she knew the Lord had good form for faithfulness and working well beyond human expectation and circumstances.

But that was not good enough for Rebekah. She wanted the blessing to land on the youngest son. She wanted her own outcome. She wanted control. And what an ugly mess she made of it.

This always happens. When we want to control the future, we’re often doing so to stay in control. We’ll manipulate people. We’ll fudge on the details. We’ll stop listening to God. We simply will not trust his unambiguous promises. We’ll cast him aside believing we can do a better job ourselves.

Ringing any bells?

Have you been closing yourself to God’s will so you can get it done your way?

Listen: this never works. Even if you get an immediate result – like Jacob receiving a blessing – cutting God out of your picture will have serious consequences.

Think of the fear that governed Jacob’s life until his rapprochement with Esau. Think of the ongoing tension and warfare between Israel and the Edomites. Who knows how God would have worked if it wasn’t for Rebekah being a control freak and Jacob withdrawing into passivity. The Lord would have kept his promises however the human characters would have acted.

And this is where God challenges you: you need to trust him to be faithful.

You need to allow him to be your Lord.

You need to believe that he is good, and has the best intentions for your life.

You need to stop being a control freak, and starting following the God entrusting your actions and your plans to him.

Phillip Reinders has a tremendous prayer around this passage:

God of blessing, what a mess I create when I wrestle the future out of your hand and take it upon myself. I pray for patient trust today and good confidence for tomorrow, knowing that nothing can separate me from your love, because my curse fell on Jesus so your blessing can come to me. Amen

[Seeking God’s Face, p.577]

Like a beer on a hot day…

Who would have thought that those who live and share the good news of Jesus are like a beer on a hot day? Not just to other people, but to God.

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No. It had never occurred to me, either.

But my reading this morning took me to Proverbs 25:

Like a snow-cooled drink at harvest time is a trustworthy messenger to the one who sends him; he refreshes the spirit of his master. (Prov 25:13, NIV)

It says nothing about beer, but a snow cooled drink? Imagine how wonderful that would have been to a culture which knew nothing about refrigeration.

It took me back to days in western Sydney, moving house with a friend. It was such a hot day, and we stopped – briefly – at the Plumpton Inn for a breather. We both bought a gloriously cold beer – it was so good. We even breathed the involuntary ‘aaaaahh’ as a chaser.

This is what it’s like to share the news about Jesus. God looks on. He’s with us and in us, working through us. He knows our efforts aren’t perfect (have to say that as a Calvinist), but being gracious he observes what we do, and as we do it faithfully, it’s like a beer on hot day to him. ‘Aaaaahh … that’s so good!’

Not sure about you, but that thought seeds a growing desire to share more of the good news of Jesus!

The prayer in “Seeking God’s Face” today reads as follows:

Sending God, never let me think the call to share the good news of Jesus is for a select few. You send me, along with the whole church, to all people with the gospel. May my obedience as a messenger of the gospel be refreshing to you, like a cool drink on a sweltering summer day (Canons of Dordt. II.5)

 

Yes, you are religious

In Australia people are giving up on religion, so the ABS says. Personally, I doubt it. There may be less people attending church, and a reduction in the number of those who have nominal attachment. But really, everyone is religious. Even the ‘no religion’ response is a religious response.

Those who do not believe in God still offer a response to God – one of unbelief. As those who are agnostic say ‘we don’t know if there is a God.’

Maybe there are just different religious responses.

Those who ignore God, and live as though he doesn’t exist.

Those who avoid God. Who know he’s probably there, who tip toe around his fingerprints, and do their best to think about other things.

Those who manipulate God. Or at least try to. If I

  • work on my broken relationship
  • pray harder
  • get to church more
  • stop that terrible behaviour
  • give to that charity
  • fill in the blank

…then God will do what I ask, bless me, accept me.

Then there’s following God. Receiving his gift of grace, forgiveness and life, and living a life that shows his true intent for life and humanity. This is the life Jesus has come to give.

‘No religion’ is not an option, so which one are you? And how is that working?

Remember: Satan’s Power Is Limited

Whatever happens today, remember that as strong and as ugly as the evil one appears to be, he has limited strength and ability. Jesus Christ, ruler of our universe, has all power and authority. He is on the throne and rules all nations. You can trust this powerful Saviour to be near you and to give you all you need today to follow him.

Rev 12:1-9 “A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads. Its tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that it might devour her child the moment he was born. She gave birth to a son, a male child, who “will rule all the nations with an iron sceptre.”  And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne. The woman fled into the wilderness to a place prepared for her by God, where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days.

Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him. “

Prayer: High King of Heaven, this strange visit fits our this world. Every news story of misery and corruption is an echo of the dragon waiting like a thief to devour all that is good and to vandalise your shalom. Thank you for the good news that evil has met its match in Jesus, and give me the patience in this day as I wait for its complete end. Amen
(Philip F. Reinders, Seeking God’s Face, p.537 – using material from Belgic Confession, Article 12)

Your Not Always Obvious Opponents

Today’s prayer:

“God of truth and light, my sworn enemies – the world, my own flesh, and the devil – are not always obvious opponents. They are shifty prowlers, usually hidden and wickedly crafty. So make me wise to their schemes but mostly alert to your grace.

In Jesus’ name, amen”

Philip Reinders, Seeking God’s Face, p.523


 

I love how this prayer recognises the presence of sworn enemies ‘in my own flesh’. Ruthlessly honest. The problem is not just ‘them’, it’s also me. As Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn observed, the dividing line between good and evil runs down the centre of every human heart.

Thankfully, God’s grace in us in Jesus is greater than the shifty prowlers in the world.

Seeking God’s Face

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Every follower of Jesus wants to be a person of prayer. That’s what Eugene Peterson suggests in the introduction to Seeking God’s Face. I think he’s right. Trouble is, few of us know where to start or what to say.

This is where Seeking God’s Face  is brilliant. It encourages a daily practice of prayer and reading by providing a structured program throughout the year.

Each daily reading has several sections:

Invitation: A brief passage of Scripture drawing the reader into a mindfulness of God’s presence.

Quiet: The reader is encouraged to be still before the Lord. Turn off. Slow down. Be quiet. “Cultivating a stilled, attentive heart before God and quieting down actual noise and internal noise is a vital step in preparing to hear God’s voice.” (p.19)

Bible Song: Each day has a Psalm to be used a prayer. These Psalms guide the reader to respond to God. It might be confession of sin, praise for His goodness, or magnifying his power. Following these Psalms will take the reader through the entire Psalter twice in the year.

Bible Reading: The readings follow the celebrations of the church year: Christmas, Lent, Easter, Pentecost etc. The readings are for meditation: to hear the voice of God. Since we believe the best place to hear God’s voice is Scripture, this is a welcome alternative to reading what someone else has written, and to hear God’s word directly.

Quiet: The second period of quiet presents an opportunity to move to a more contemplative frame, opening ourselves to what God will say to us in his word.

Dwelling: The reader is encouraged to slowly re-read the Bible passage, listening for words and concepts that stand out as they read. This is lectio divina – listening for God’s voice and seeking to grow in our walk with him. The author acknowledges this may be new for some, but in a world where we are so used to interpreting, studying and analysing the word it is good to train ourselves simply to listen deeply.

Free Prayer: Several prayer points are noted, which are excellent prompts to broaden our prayer focus well beyond our immediate needs and personal gaze. For example: the first time I used this book it was suggested I pray for the continent of Australia. I thought that was pretty good!

Prayer: Each day has a set prayer where the living theology of the reformed confessions is enfolded into the Christian activity of prayer. One of the true benefits of this volume is that it works the faith heritage we know and love into our devotion and praise.

“If we can begin to weave these core Christian beliefs into our prayers, most likely we’ll find them trickling into our minds, embedded in our hearts, and lived out in our lives [.22]

Blessing: a final blessing closes the session, reminding us of God’s good intentions and his gracious provision.

 

Each day is conveniently arranged on a page opening, with a helpful table pointing the reader to the correct reading for each respective date.

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I love the way Seeking God’s Face opens my mind to God’s voice in his word. I love the way it slows me down. I love its depth of content. I love the way it draws me into the reformation heartbeat.

Whether you’re busy and your schedule is overgrown, or whether you’re looking for renewed opportunity to deepen your sense of God’s presence, Seeking God’s Face is just what you’re after.

As a Pastor, I can only dream about how my local church would grow and mature if every person used Seeking God’s Face for a year!

 

You can order Seeking God’s Face from Book Depository, Koorong, or direct from Faith Alive Resources

…and I should point out it’s way cheaper to buy this title through Book Depository.

Dave