Being Grateful for the Everyday

We need to count our blessings and be grateful for the things we take for granted every day. Most of Ireland’s citizens live like kings with freedom to worship, a government that’s accountable to them and a host of public services which the most needy never have to pay for. We also need to remember why this is so.

Come out of your foolish fears and preoccupations stoked by baseless conspiracy theories and count your blessings:

  • Education- subsidised and free
  • Health care-public and private
  • Justice & security- Gardai with integrity, courts where justice is served, fair judges
  • Fresh flowing water
  • Secure food supplies
  • Elaborate and effective waste removal and treatment systems
  • Elaborate dwelling places with all sorts of facilities such as:
    • Hot showers
    • Electric ovens
    • Central heating
    • Flushable toilets
    • Comfortable furniture and beds
    • TV
    • Computers
    • etc.
  • Motor vehicles
  • Mobile phones
  • Holidays
  • Recreational trips
  • Parks maintained for our pleasure
  • Eating out
  • Freedom of worship
  • Freedom of assembly
  • Freedom of speech (and writing!)
  • Accountable government
  • Transport systems
  • Greenways and tourist attractions, etc.

We also need to remember our history and why we enjoy such freedoms. To say that we owe most if not all of our current wealth, security and freedoms to the United States is not the ravings of a man with some kind of imagined agenda. It is the plain truth to those who have open enough minds to appreciate it.

In the last century the United States were the only reason in the end that we won the first and second world wars. The alternative of losing the second world war would have been fascist rule in Ireland under a demon possessed and lunatic dictator. Also in the last century the US pursued a series of wars and political and financial campaigns against the USSR and its allies (unpopular with many at the time) which held back the spread of another fascist regime. Many Eastern Europeans are old enough to remember what life was like under communist rule. It would be worth your while talking to them. Believe me you didn’t want to live under that system (maybe watch the Sky series Chernobyl if you need reminding).

And why do we owe so much to the USA? It is because fundamentally it is founded on Christian principles. The biblical basis of the US constitution, culture and philosophy is undeniable. It was written by people who (whether they or their ancestors) had paid a high price for their religious freedom escaping persecution from anti-Christ organised religion in Europe. Obviously they weren’t perfect in their implementation of it, and are still not, but if it wasn’t for the land of the free we wouldn’t be.

We have a bad habit in this land of knocking everyone and in particular the US. There is no doubt that there are some individuals (some in high places) that are an embarrassment to that nation and what it stands for. But we would do well to remember here in our national pride just how small and insignificant a nation we are and how much we are at the mercy of much larger powers. We don’t even bother to maintain an effective deterrent army to protect ourselves, such is our trust in the US and its allies in NATO.

Our lifestyles, culture and freedom were made secure with US (and British) lives which, even publicly, we have only just begun to acknowledge. When they won the war they didn’t come in to our country to take over, strip our assets and send them back to the mother country like the USSR did in Eastern Europe. Instead they supplied industry, jobs and supported our freedoms.

And the main reason they did this was because their nation was, and is, fundamentally Christian.

All things you ask believing

There are several statements that Jesus makes about asking in faith:

“And all things, whatever you ask in prayer believing you will receive.” (Matthew 21:22 see also Matthew 7:7-11, Mark 11:24, Luke 11:9-13, John 14:13, 15:7,16b)

The emphasis in these statements of Jesus is asking the Father in faith knowing who He is. Nothing is impossible for God. We want His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven – he will always answer our prayers if it is His will.

Jesus illustrates how this works by His prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matt. 26:39, 42). There was absolutely no question that Jesus could receive all the faith required to ask and receive. However, even He didn’t receive what He asked for from His Father – that this cup be taken away from Him. Jesus gives the answer to why this was the case: “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matt. 26:39) and “Your will be done” (Matt. 26:42).

God works all things according to the counsel or purpose of His will (Eph. 1:11). It becomes important then to find out what that is when we are asking God for something. One of the surest ways we know we are praying according to His will is that we will receive the faith to see it happen when we do. We will “know” as John puts it in 1 John 5:14,15 (cf. Heb. 11:1). If we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.

I have come across many situations both in my own life and in the life of others where prayers are not answered with a yes. Too often our prayers are us telling God what we want rather than listening first to hear what He wants (Eccl. 5:1).

You can rest assured that only His will will be done. Our aim is to find that out and fulfill Jesus wonderful prayer “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.” (Matt. 6:10).

If we come to God with our will only in prayer without listening to what He wants we will only see random, sporadic answers to prayer – sometimes we will be in line with what God wants, often we won’t.

We may know the Scriptures concerning healing for instance (Psalm 103: 3b, Isaiah 53:5) and so know the general desire of God to heal but, as Jesus showed when He was at the pool of Bethesda (John 5:1-9) not every sick person is healed. Similarly, it is God’s desire that all should be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:4), however we know from Jesus statement about Judas (the son of perdition John 17:12) that not everyone is saved.

I believe we should be seeing more healing and at least some resurrections from the dead. Likewise God wants to save this country and every person in it. It is up to us all to start that conversation with God about individuals we know and find His answers.

Physical Realities

Methusalech was afraid. This was his normal emotion every time King Hezekiah called him in for a progress report on the tunnel. It was not that the King made him feel that way, it was just that he seemed to be continually bringing him bad news.

The King understood the difficulty of what he had asked. No one had done anything like this before. Even the Egyptians with all their building projects hadn’t attempted something as peculiar as this. Methusalech spent a lot of time before the LORD praying for guidance as a result.

God’s faithfulness was shown in the continual flow of the spring which was named “Bursting Forth” (Gihon). It was an ancient name. The first book of the Torah said that one of the 4 rivers of Paradise was called the same. The people of Jerusalem liked to think that their Bursting Forth was somehow the same river as the one that watered Paradise like the Tigris and Euphrates were also thought to be somehow related to their counterparts. Methusalech thought all this unlikely considering how much the great Flood had changed the face of the earth since then.

The great thing was that it never stopped flowing and producing enough water for all their needs.

Then the King had his dreams and revelations. One of them warned him that the Assyrians were going to come and take over the land. The second told him to not let the Bursting Forth waters be accessible to just anyone. He had a picture of the spring being like the city’s wife, she shouldn’t be available to any stranger but only to the city itself.

Then he had a dream of a tunnel with gently flowing waters (Shiloah) in it. And that’s when he called in Methusalech.

They had been digging for 6 months now and things were not going well. The original plan was to dig a straight line through the bedrock with two teams. One team was to start at the place where they were to collect the water (the Pool of Shiloah). The other was to start at the Gihon spring itself.

The problem was trying to dig in a straight line.

Methusalech realised early that they were going to have problems direction finding when deep underground. There were no stars or landmarks to go by, nothing but a general sense that they were going in the right direction.

The team that started from the pool end had already gone through several changes of direction. In some ways it wasn’t so difficult for them since they were not going under the mountain to the same extent. In theory they should be able to hear the men at the top thumping their big instruments. But the ground carried the sounds in all sorts of strange ways so they kept changing direction as they heard it change.

The Team that started from the Gihon spring had been led by Ahimoah. He was a good man. The original intention had been to bring the spring waters straight to the other side of the mountain of Ophel and then go down from there. However it was taking too long and the mountain rock was too hard. So they decided to change direction and head south instead. It would have helped if they could know what south meant under that much rock.

Thoughts on Healing: Elisha

The middle of the night is a good time to hear things it seems. I woke up this morning remembering Elisha’s incident with the women of Shunem:

One day Elisha went to the town of Shunem. A wealthy woman lived there, and she urged him to come to her home for a meal. After that, whenever he passed that way, he would stop there for something to eat.

She said to her husband, “I am sure this man who stops in from time to time is a holy man of God. 10 Let’s build a small room for him on the roof and furnish it with a bed, a table, a chair, and a lamp. Then he will have a place to stay whenever he comes by.”

11 One day Elisha returned to Shunem, and he went up to this upper room to rest. 12 He said to his servant Gehazi, “Tell the woman from Shunem I want to speak to her.” When she appeared, 13 Elisha said to Gehazi, “Tell her, ‘We appreciate the kind concern you have shown us. What can we do for you? Can we put in a good word for you to the king or to the commander of the army?’”

“No,” she replied, “my family takes good care of me.”

14 Later Elisha asked Gehazi, “What can we do for her?”

Gehazi replied, “She doesn’t have a son, and her husband is an old man.”

15 “Call her back again,” Elisha told him. When the woman returned, Elisha said to her as she stood in the doorway, 16 “Next year at this time you will be holding a son in your arms!”

“No, my lord!” she cried. “O man of God, don’t deceive me and get my hopes up like that.”

17 But sure enough, the woman soon became pregnant. And at that time the following year she had a son, just as Elisha had said.

18 One day when her child was older, he went out to help his father, who was working with the harvesters. 19 Suddenly he cried out, “My head hurts! My head hurts!”

His father said to one of the servants, “Carry him home to his mother.”

20 So the servant took him home, and his mother held him on her lap. But around noontime he died. 21 She carried him up and laid him on the bed of the man of God, then shut the door and left him there. 22 She sent a message to her husband: “Send one of the servants and a donkey so that I can hurry to the man of God and come right back.”

23 “Why go today?” he asked. “It is neither a new moon festival nor a Sabbath.”

But she said, “It will be all right.”

24 So she saddled the donkey and said to the servant, “Hurry! Don’t slow down unless I tell you to.”

25 As she approached the man of God at Mount Carmel, Elisha saw her in the distance. He said to Gehazi, “Look, the woman from Shunem is coming. 26 Run out to meet her and ask her, ‘Is everything all right with you, your husband, and your child?’”

“Yes,” the woman told Gehazi, “everything is fine.”

27 But when she came to the man of God at the mountain, she fell to the ground before him and caught hold of his feet. Gehazi began to push her away, but the man of God said, “Leave her alone. She is deeply troubled, but the Lord has not told me what it is.”

(2 Kings 4:8 – 27)

One of the traps of any ministry is that you think you have to always perform, know all things, always be able to carry out the ministry. But that is not God’s way. Not only did Elisha not know what was wrong with his friend but even when he did, he entrusted the miracle to a corrupt man who couldn’t help her. The woman knew better than Elisha in this case: she didn’t trust Gehazi though Elisha apparently did.

28 Then she said, “Did I ask you for a son, my lord? And didn’t I say, ‘Don’t deceive me and get my hopes up’?”

29 Then Elisha said to Gehazi, “Get ready to travel[a]; take my staff and go! Don’t talk to anyone along the way. Go quickly and lay the staff on the child’s face.”

30 But the boy’s mother said, “As surely as the Lord lives and you yourself live, I won’t go home unless you go with me.” So Elisha returned with her.

31 Gehazi hurried on ahead and laid the staff on the child’s face, but nothing happened. There was no sign of life. He returned to meet Elisha and told him, “The child is still dead.”

32 When Elisha arrived, the child was indeed dead, lying there on the prophet’s bed. 33 He went in alone and shut the door behind him and prayed to the Lord. 34 Then he lay down on the child’s body, placing his mouth on the child’s mouth, his eyes on the child’s eyes, and his hands on the child’s hands. And as he stretched out on him, the child’s body began to grow warm again! 35 Elisha got up, walked back and forth across the room once, and then stretched himself out again on the child. This time the boy sneezed seven times and opened his eyes!

36 Then Elisha summoned Gehazi. “Call the child’s mother!” he said. And when she came in, Elisha said, “Here, take your son!” 37 She fell at his feet and bowed before him, overwhelmed with gratitude. Then she took her son in her arms and carried him downstairs.

Elisha was used in astonishing ways. This account of him raising someone from the dead is the first of two, the second raising from the dead occurred after Elisha died!

But the lesson from this passage is that Elisha was very fallible and not a good judge of people it would seem. When we start being used by God it would be good to remember what we are.

Forgiveness of Sins

It is a tragedy to watch Ireland abandon centuries of Christian tradition to become a bastion of anti-christian sentiment, atheism and humanism.

I believe that the main reason that this has happened is that the majority of the people of Ireland have rightly turned with horror from the abuses of the Roman Catholic churches hierarchy which have been laid bare in these last few years like rarely before.

However, we are throwing out the divine Baby with the bathwater.  Ireland needs to return to Christ and the Word of God as it was preached by Patrick when he first arrived in this country in 430 AD and not to return to the paganism that predated him.  And for that we need to remind ourselves of some basics:

“A pope or a bishop has no more power than the humblest priest where the remission of fault is in question. And even where there is no priest, each Christian, were they a woman or a child, can do the same thing. For if a simple Christian says to you, ‘God pardons sin in the name of Jesus Christ,’ and you receive the saying with firm faith, as if God himself had spoken, you are acquitted. If you believe not that your sins are pardoned, you make your God a liar, and declare that you put greater confidence in your vain thoughts than in God and his word. Under the Old Testament neither priest, nor king, nor prophet, had power to proclaim the forgiveness of sins; but under the New Testament every believer has this power.”

(From Martin Luther @1518 AD quoted in Volume 1, Book 3, Chapter 10 of the HISTORY OF THE REFORMATION by J. H. MERLE D’AUBIGNÉ. http://www.DelmarvaPublications.com. Kindle Edition.)

The point Luther was making is that the truth that Jesus Christ was crucified so that we could know forgiveness of sins stands independently of the means by which it is delivered.  It only takes faith in the hearer of the truth itself for it to be effective – and, as Paul says in Ephesians 2, that faith is itself a gift of God.

Luther goes on to say (from the same source):

“Repent, and do all the works that you can do; but let the faith which you have in the pardon of Jesus Christ stand in the front rank, and have sole command on the field of battle.”

This is the faith Patrick taught when he first arrived in Ireland @430 AD.  It was hundreds of years later that St. Anselm and others brought the errors of the Roman churches teachings on forgiveness to Ireland and enforced them on the people by Norman arms.  It was for control then that the Pope and the Roman Catholic hierarchy abrogated the power to forgive sins to themselves and it is for control over naïve people that they continue to do so.

We need to stop being children in our thinking and become men in our understanding (1 Corinthians 14:20).

Faith Tests

So God speaks to you, not once but often, promising something huge.  He tells you to do something about it and you obey.  And then all hell breaks loose.

First of all, the exact opposite to what God promises happens.  You pray for healing believing God has spoken to you saying that that person, or yourself, will be healed and you feel more sick.  You pray for money because God has promised you will be rich financially and your poverty gets worse. You ask for that deliverance from addiction that you know He has promised and you fall more heavily than ever.

If that is your experience you are in good company.  Moses had exactly the same experience in spades. You can read all about it in the first 6 chapters of the book of Exodus in the bible.

There was no doubting God had spoken to him in that burning bush.  He had seen the signs of the rod turning into a snake and his leprous arm miraculously clean.  Aaron, his brother, was with him and he also knew that God had spoken to them both.  Then they went and did what they were told.  They went right up to the ruler enslaving their people and told him that the Lord had commanded him to let the people of Israel go.

So now Pharoah rolls over and out walk the people of Israel taking with them a bunch of Pharaoh’s people’s goods and money.  You wish!!

No, the first thing that happens is the very opposite of what they asked for: the slavery gets worse.  The people are discouraged and no one believes Moses and Aaron anymore.

22 Then Moses went back to the Lord and protested, “Why have you brought all this trouble on your own people, Lord? Why did you send me? 23 Ever since I came to Pharaoh as your spokesman, he has been even more brutal to your people. And you have done nothing to rescue them!” (Exodus 5:22-23).

God then repeats His promises and explains why He is going to deliver the people of Israel.  Moses is still not convinced that it will happen if it has anything to do with him:

12 “But Lord!” Moses objected. “My own people won’t listen to me anymore. How can I expect Pharaoh to listen? I’m such a clumsy speaker!”

In my own experience I have found that when something God has said to me is challenged I don’t doubt God, I usually doubt myself.  The promise is clear enough and there is no doubting God’s ability to bring something about.  So I reckon that the reason it is not happening must be to do with me.  It seems the most logical explanation.

Moses did have something to do.  He and Aaron were given orders from God for the people and for Pharaoh.  The Lord commanded and they obeyed.

Now if you are reading the passage that I am referring to in Exodus 6 you will notice a strange thing happening at verses 14-30.  The writer goes into this seemingly pointless listing of Moses & Aaron’s ancestors.  I can just imagine this story being told around a camp fire by a Jewish village elder to children and others who may have been hearing it for the first time.  The suspense is deliberate.  Our heroes have been told by God to do something and all that has happened has been the opposite to what they have been promised.  Instead of taking us out of our suspense we are left waiting.  What will happen next?  How will God deliver His people as He has promised?  When will it happen, next week, next month, next year? In 400 years?!

In this case we know the story.  The miracles of the rod and Moses’ leprous arm are almost petty in comparison to what God does next.  It doesn’t take God long to fulfil His promise to deliver the people out of slavery and it sure is spectacular when He does.

There are, of course, other stories in the bible of people who got a promise from God and then experienced the exact opposite immediately or soon afterwards.  Abraham is one example, David is another.  In their cases the time spans between the promise being given and being fulfilled were quite different and called for even more patience.

However, in every case the promises God gave were fulfilled.

If you are in the middle of waiting for a promise from God to be fulfilled and it looks like the opposite – or nothing – is happening, take heart, you are in good company.

Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see.Through their faith, the people in days of old earned a good reputation.

Hebrews 11:1,2.

Faith and Waiting

There is a pattern of God’s working with men that seems almost like He is teasing us, but the aim is to test and show our faith, remove idolatry and make us more dependent on Him.

When Abraham was told at the age of 75 that his descendants would be like the stars of heaven or the sands of the seashore (Gen. 15:1-6), his expectation was probably that he would have a son almost immediately and that there would be at least tens of descendants before he died.  As it turned out, he had just two descendants (Isaac & Jacob), to whom the promise applied, by the time he died 100 years later (see Gen. 25).

Joseph might have been forgiven for thinking that the trajectory of his life would not have involved kidnapping, prison and servitude from the age of 17 to 40 after getting dreams of his parents and his siblings bowing down before him (Gen. 37 – 40).

Moses probably didn’t anticipate Pharaoh making things much harder for the the people of Israel when he was sent to deliver them from bondage (Exodus 5).  Watching the bondage actually increase when he was told that God would deliver them must have been hard.  God didn’t tell Moses that that was going to happen first and it didn’t exactly inspire faith in his story in the ones he had come to deliver either (Exodus 5:21).

Another significant example of the same principle in practice can be seen in the life of David.  He was anointed king at around 17 (1 Sam. 16:1-13) but was running for his life for a large part of his career after that and didn’t see the fulfilment of the promise until he was 30 (1 Sam. 18 – 2 Sam. 5).

So, if you have been given a promise from God and the exact opposite seems to be happening don’t be surprised.  You are in good company.

God will come through for you.

“..we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”

Romans 5:3-4

God Manifesting Himself

A boss of mine recently asked me why, in effect, God had been so silent since the time He sent Jesus.  I responded about the Church manifesting Him since, and now, but that didn’t really answer his question.

I’ve heard the same question asked in different ways.  If God is who He says He is then why doesn’t He just open up the sky, look down and say: “Hey, this is Me just so you know” or do or say something similarly earth impacting.

We could argue that every leaf and every created thing shows His glory, so people are without excuse (as Paul points out in Romans 1).  That is true but it still doesn’t really answer the question.

We could also point out how God has salted the earth with over 6 billion copies of the books that contain so many of His spoken words (apart altogether from it claiming that all 66 books of the bible are totally inspired by Him).  True again but also not really answering the question.

But there is a good reason why God doesn’t manifest Himself in that way these days:  He did it before and it didn’t work.

God had already spent 400+ years being quiet when Jesus came.  He spent centuries before that picking a special people – the Jews – and doing all the things you might expect God to do: parting the Red Sea, speaking in an audible voice (when speaking the 10 commandments from Mt. Sinai in Exodus 20), opening the earth up to swallow people, sending angels, hailstones, knocking down walls, etc.  The problem is that some people just don’t believe that the Old Testament stories are real.

But if you take it that they did in fact happen it explains a lot about why God doesn’t do that kind of thing nowadays.  Anyone who has read the OT will quickly see that one of its major themes is failure.  Despite persistent attempts and innovative means (like sending the prophets to warn them) most of the people of Israel and Judah ended up rejecting Him.  Their guilt was only compounded by the things He had done to show who He was, to gain their trust.  They threw it back in His face. Justice demanded retribution and they ended up losing a lot.

I think God came to the conclusion – or more likely He wanted us to see and understand – that no matter how clearly He manifested Himself physically the problem was always going to need a more drastic and different solution.  He wouldn’t be God-who-is-love if He kept using methods of revealing Himself that had so spectacularly failed in the past to elicit the love and relationship He so longs for us to have with Him.

So enter the New Covenant:

“The new covenant is established on better promises.

For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another. But God found fault with the people and said:

“The days are coming, declares the Lord,
    when I will make a new covenant
with the people of Israel
    and with the people of Judah.
It will not be like the covenant
    I made with their ancestors
when I took them by the hand
    to lead them out of Egypt,
because they did not remain faithful to my covenant,
    and I turned away from them,
declares the Lord.
10 This is the covenant I will establish with the people of Israel
    after that time, declares the Lord.
I will put my laws in their minds
    and write them on their hearts.
I will be their God,
    and they will be my people.
11 No longer will they teach their neighbor,
    or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’
because they will all know me,
    from the least of them to the greatest.
12 For I will forgive their wickedness
    and will remember their sins no more.”  

Hebrews 8: 6b-12 NIV

The beauty of the New Covenant relationship is that it is tailor made.  The Holy Spirit enters into a person and changes them from the inside out according to a timetable and using methods that are unique for each person.  It is not always that easy to see the changes, God moves at a snail’s pace if necessary, He is not pushy in the New Covenant. No showy displays, no major earth shattering events.  Just a gentle leading and coaxing into a love relationship.  And so the Church over the centuries grows like a beautiful young woman, being loved and loving in return and changing the world with her sweet influence.

This method works much better.  The world is a better place now than the Old Testament method could have made it.  But that was never His fault.

Exodus 32 – The Golden Calf

Everything changes for the people of Israel after Exodus 32.

God’s anger is clear and more, and more detailed, laws are added in after this incident. Before that we have the Ten Commandments, some instructions about altars and goading oxen and how to treat Hebrew love slaves. After this incident we have 600+ others.

One refrain that occurs throughout the incident is that “the people cast off restraint”.

The advantage of giving up an all knowing, all seeing God for a blind and inanimate idol is that there is no sense that it is watching you. So you can do what you want.

Unfortunately for a lot of weak and vulnerable members in the Israeli society at the time, what a lot of bullies and many stronger members wanted was to exploit them – egged on by the demons behind the idol of course. If that had been left to take its course then the all too repetitive and tragic pattern of oppression, corruption and lawlessness played out in too many societies before and since would have been their lot too. God, and Moses, weren’t about to let that happen.

I’m thankful that I have a God that watches over me. I’m also thankful that His character is relentlessly unchanging. Faith in Him and these facts about Him – I know what He is like and what He wants – keeps me pure.