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A man lived near a river. After a terrible storm, the waters rose and an announcement came over the radio urging locals to leave the area before their homes were flooded. Being very religious, the man ignored the radio, saying to himself, “I don’t need to leave. I’ll pray, and God will save me.” The water rose higher and the man had to move to the upstairs of his house. Someone came along in a boat and called for him to get in so they could evacuate. “No thanks,” the man said, “God will save me.” Still the water rose, and it got so high that the man had to get on to his roof. A helicopter looking for the remaining survivors spotted him and flew over to rescue him. Still waiting for God to do something miraculous, but confident that He would, the man refused again: “No thanks, God will save me.” The helicopter flew off to find other survivors who were more open to being rescued. The water kept rising, and eventually the man drowned. When the man got to heaven, he asked God, “Why didn’t you rescue me?”

“What do you mean?” God replied, exasperated, “I sent a radio warning, a boat, and a helicopter!”

That’s not a true story, but it makes a point. When we find ourselves in trouble and have important decisions to make, it’s right that we ask God for help and look for guidance from Him about what to do. But we can so often want Him to do something big and obvious that we miss the ordinary-looking ways in which He is actually speaking and working.

Ruth is a book that is surprisingly ordinary. Slotted between the Old Testament history books, it doesn’t feature any kings or battles or epic story arcs. It’s about a normal family, from a normal town, ‘doing’ normal life. There is nothing special about Ruth and her family that would warrant having a book being written about them, especially because Ruth was a foreigner.

The book of Ruth may be about normal people, but it shows us an extraordinary God who faithfully works His sovereign power to look after His people. Most of it isn’t obvious, and is seen through the pretty normal-looking actions of human beings rather than in a spectacular miracle. In Ruth God doesn’t speak directly even once, but we can still see that He is at work behind the scenes.

So let’s have a look. At the start of Ruth, we see a family in crisis. A family with choices to make. And we’ll see three options: the sensible choice, the wise choice, and the bitter choice.

  

The Sensible Choice: Elimelech & Orpah

In the days when the judges ruled there was a famine in the land, and a man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons. The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there. But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. These took Moabite wives; the name of one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. They lived there about ten years, and both Mahlon and Chilion died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband.

Ruth 1:1-5

Elimelech, Naomi and their two sons lived in Bethlehem in the time of the Judges. An ordinary family in an ordinary place, they didn’t get caught up in the battles we read of in Judges, but they did get caught up in a famine. There was no food, and Elimelech had a choice.

The sensible option would be to move to where there was food – if there isn’t food where you are, why not move somewhere else?

Besides this famine, during the time of the Judges Israel was in political turmoil. They would stray away from God, so God allowed their neighbours to rule over them and oppress them. Then they would cry out to God to rescue them, and God would send a judge to defeat their oppressors and lead them. But the peace didn’t last. After the judge died, it was only a matter of time before God’s people strayed again and the whole cycle repeated.

In the face of such uncertainty, it would have made sense for Elimelech to move to somewhere more stable, where his family could live in peace as well as have enough to eat.

The other option would be to stay in Bethlehem and ride out the famine. But how long would the famine last?

At the time, the country had no king, so “everyone did as seemed best in his own eyes.” (Judges 21:25). To Elimelech, that looked like moving away.

Reading between the lines in the first few verses of this chapter, we see that Elimelech hadn’t even consulted God on what he should do. He relied on his own intelligence instead.

And his intelligence led him to Moab. Moab bordered Israel on the far side of the Dead Sea and had been their enemy for years. If you read Numbers 22-25 you’ll see that while Israel was passing through Moab to get to the Promised Land their king hired Balaam to curse them, and when that failed they sent their women to seduce Israel to worship their own gods. Even in the times of the Judges, Moab was Israel’s enemy. In Judges 3 we read about how Moab conquered parts of Israel and oppressed them for 18 years.

Elimelech chose to leave the Promised Land for a land owned by his people’s enemies and dominated by their gods.

In moving to Moab he might have been making a sensible choice, but he was turning away from God and the promises He had made to look after His people in the land that He had given them.

In v3-5 we see the results of his decision. Elimelech and his family ended up staying in Moab. Elimelech died, yet his family stayed there for another decade and his sons married Moabite women, Ruth and Orpah.

After those 10 years both sons died too, leaving their mother and childless wives without anybody to provide for them.

Elimelech had made the sensible choice, without consulting God, and it had led his family into disaster.

His wife, Naomi, now had her own choice to make. She had heard that God had brought the famine in Israel to an end, so decided to go home. Initially Ruth and Orpah went with her, but Naomi knew that as childless Moabite widows they wouldn’t get a warm welcome in Israel. So she tried to persuade them to make the sensible choice and go back to their families.

…“Turn back, my daughters; why will you go with me? Have I yet sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? Turn back, my daughters; go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. If I should say I have hope, even if I should have a husband this night and should bear sons, would you therefore wait till they were grown? Would you therefore refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, for it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the Lord has gone out against me.”

Ruth 1:11-13

Naomi couldn’t provide them with husbands because she was too old to re-marry and have more children, and even if she gave birth that day she couldn’t expect them to wait until the boys were old enough to marry! It would make far more sense for them to go back to their own land, to their own families, and to their own gods.

Although Orpah had already promised to go back with Naomi, after hearing Naomi’s reasoning she thought better of it and went home. She made the sensible choice.

But Ruth made the wise choice, even though it cost her everything.

 

The Wise Choice: Ruth

Instead of following Orpah home, Ruth clung to Naomi and begged her to not send her away:

“Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the LORD do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.”

Ruth 1:16-17

Ruth loved Naomi far more than she cared about her own future, and decided to go with her even though it meant giving up everything she knew and moving to a foreign country.

And she wouldn’t be well-received in that country, either. Because Moab attacked Israel on their way to the Promised Land, Moabites had been banned from joining in with Israel’s corporate worship [Deuteronomy 23:3-6]. Because of her country’s history, Ruth couldn’t expect the people of Bethlehem to look kindly on her. She was an outsider. And she was a childless widow – not only did she bear the shame of having never had children, she also had nobody to provide for her or Naomi.

Yet Ruth made the deliberate choice to not just travel with Naomi, but live with her in Bethlehem. She would give up her nationality as a Moabite and choose to join God’s people instead. She would turn away from the gods of her home and live with Israel’s God as her God. Not only that, but she would live like this until the end of her days and even have her body buried with Naomi’s.

In the face of her own life falling apart, and in the face of an impossible situation for Naomi, Ruth decided to commit herself to Naomi, her people, and ultimately to God.

At a human level, this makes no sense. But God’s wisdom isn’t the same as human intelligence. As Proverbs 9:10 says, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom…” True wisdom isn’t about being clever or being good at solving problems. True wisdom starts with having a relationship with God. It’s about knowing God, and therefore knowing what the right thing to do is in God’s eyes, and then doing it. And sometimes the right, godly, faith-filled decision doesn’t make sense at a human level.

The passage doesn’t spell out for us where Ruth was at spiritually when she left Moab. But she knew enough about God to trust that He would accept her even though there was nothing about her that would make her acceptable. She knew God enough to trust that He would provide for them both. She knew Him enough to make the wise choice.

And in God’s sovereignty, He does great things with the choices we make if we make choices that are wise and faithful to Him. Over the next few weeks we’ll see what brilliant things God did with the choice Ruth made to commit herself to Him, His people, and Naomi.

Speaking of Naomi, how did she respond to Ruth’s amazing commitment to her?

And when Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more.

Ruth 1:18

With silence. Naomi had already chosen to be bitter.

 

The Bitter Choice: Naomi

…when they came to Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them. And the women said, “Is this Naomi?” She said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the Lord has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?”

Ruth 1:19b-21

Naomi had lost everything in Moab. She had no sons to provide for her, and not even any grandchildren. And now she was too old to re-marry and try to have children again to carry on the family name. She returned to Bethlehem, as she described it, empty-handed and bitter.

She was so bitter that she told others to not call her by her name, which means ‘pleasant’, but Mara, which means ‘bitter’. In her eyes, why call her ‘pleasant’ when God had taken everything from her? When God had taken away her husband and sons?

Naomi could see that God was in control of what had happened and she believed that it was God punishing her for going to Moab. Yet that didn’t make Naomi repent. God had forced her to return to His land and His people, but she hadn’t chosen to return to Him. Instead, she wallowed in her bitterness. She hadn’t abandoned faith in God – when she was talking to Ruth and Orpah in v8-9 she prayed that God would be kind to them and provide for them. But she believed that God hated her, and she allowed the grief that she rightly felt in brutal circumstances to curdle into a bitterness which meant she could not see beyond the horizon of her own pain.

Can you see how she didn’t even acknowledge Ruth when she was talking to the women in verses 20-21? She was ignoring that fact that God had not left her empty-handed. He had given her Ruth to go back to Bethlehem with her and be her companion and friend for life! And as hard as it is to see what God is doing in all of this, the start of the barley harvest at the end of the chapter hints that God was about to make everything change. But Naomi was too wrapped up in self-pity to see God’s grace to her, trust in His love, and look to Him for deliverance.

The hardship and pain that Naomi and her family went through are part of life. You don’t have to live long in this world to experience it.

So when it happens, what is our choice?

 

Our Choice

When you are in trouble, what do you do?

Do you have a tendency to be like Elimelech, and rely solely on your own brainpower to work the problem and find a way through the situation?

Can you identify with Naomi, and in a crisis end up focussing so much on your own pain and trouble that you can’t see beyond it? I’m not trying to belittle grief or say that sadness has no place in our lives. We live in a broken world, and painful things happen, really agonisingly brutal things, and it’s right to grieve when they do. It’s right to feel sad over things that are wrong. But it isn’t right to get swallowed up in bitterness and be too proud to trust that God hasn’t abandoned us, even though we can’t see His hand in what’s going on.

Or are you like me, and are a bit of both? When things go wrong, I all-too-quickly try to find my own way through the problem; and I have a tendency to get too wrapped up in the hurt or sadness I feel.

Far better than relying on our own intelligence or becoming self-absorbed is to trust in God’s wisdom and commit ourselves to Him, like Ruth. And we have a far better reason to trust God than she did!

Let’s look at Romans 8:28

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good…

Romans 8:28a

How can we be sure of this? Skip down to halfway through verse 31 with me:

…If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

Romans 8:31b-32

We don’t only have God’s promises to go on, we have Jesus. We were in a crisis – we used to be trapped in sin, too dirty and broken to be loved by God, and completely unable to get ourselves out of it. In fact, sin so blinds and corrupts us to the core that there’s no way that we can get ourselves out by our own intelligence.

But God saw us in our crisis and chose to commit Himself to us. His Son Jesus became like us in every way. Where we lived, He lived. Our weakness was His weakness, our struggles His struggles, our pain His pain. And He died just like we die. But He died carrying our sin so that it could be buried forever, and He was raised to life again so that we could share His life that lasts forever.

And if God gave Jesus for us, if God gave the person who is most precious to Him to live in our mess and die, if He has sacrificed so much for us, how can we doubt that He’ll give us everything else He has promised? How can we doubt that trouble, distress, persecution, famine, danger, violence can never separate us from His love? Because He promises that in all these things He will work for our good.

The relationship with God that we have because of Jesus is how we can grow in wisdom and know the right thing to do in His eyes. So when a crisis hits and there’s a big decision to be made, we should trust God and commit to Him by by making the faith-filled, wise, godly choice.

If you’re wondering what that practically looks like, God hasn’t left us unguided. There are plenty of places in the Bible where He spells out what commitment to Him looks like.

Try reading Proverbs, which has loads of bits of wisdom for everyday life. Or read the letter written by James, which talks a lot about what living out our faith like.

Have a look at Matthew 5-7, where Jesus teaches about applying our commitment to God to real life. At my church we’re in the middle of a series looking at the start of Matthew 5, where Jesus shows us just how much God’s wisdom looks a whole lot different from what we think it should look like in this world. You can listen to the series on our website: https://www.stmaryswollatonpark.co.uk/sermons/?wpfc_sermon_series=the-beatitudes-a-world-upside-down

And as you read the Bible, ask God to show you by His Spirit how what you read applies to your situation. God doesn’t make our decisions for us, but He does give us a framework for making those decisions while trusting Him for their outcome. And in your decision-making choose to commit to obeying God faithfully.

If this all sounds alien to you, if you aren’t a Christian and you’re kind of feeling like an outsider right now, please hear that this really is for you as well. All of us sitting here were outsiders once. But we don’t have to prove anything to God for Him to love and accept us. Ruth shows us that no matter how unacceptable you feel you are God will welcome you if you trust Him and commit to Him. It might not make sense to you, but that’s OK. I’m not saying that Christianity is about blind faith, because it isn’t. But sometimes it involves making decisions that don’t make sense on the surface, but do make sense if we have a relationship with God, and making decisions that trust Him for things that we can’t see how He will make them happen.

But when we look back we can see that God has done something great through the choices we made because we know and trust Him. We’ll see that He has fulfilled His promises, sometimes in ways we didn’t expect. Because He is in control of everything and He has the power and commitment to make good on every promise He has ever made.

So why not choose to trust Him now?

When a crisis hits, when there’s a big decision to be made, we shouldn’t rely on our own intelligence to get us through. We shouldn’t be absorbed in bitterness. Instead, we should commit to God, trusting that He will look after us. And who knows what He’ll do through that decision?

 

This is an adapted transcript of a sermon I preached in June 2019. You can listen to the recording here: https://www.stmaryswollatonpark.co.uk/sermons/ruth-1-sweet-providence-in-a-bitter-world/

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(This is an adapted transcript from a sermon I preached at my church back in August. You can listen to the real thing here.)

 “And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation.

“‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’”

Revelation 3:14-22 (ESV)

In the letters from Jesus to seven churches at the beginning of the book of Revelation, we can see that these churches faced a spectrum of challenges that every church faces today, whether it’s having to endure persecution from people outside the church, resisting false teaching from within, or dealing with problems in our own hearts.

If you aren’t a Christian, you might well be wondering how looking at the Bible could ever apply to you and what the point of even reading this is in the first place. But keep reading – see how God talks to His people, but also keep an eye out for how this might be relevant for you.

Let’s turn to this final letter that Jesus sends, addressed to the church in Laodicea.

In Romans 11:22 we’re called to “consider the kindness and the severity of God” and we’ll see that here. We’ll see the severity of Jesus towards a church that’s indifferent towards Him, and His immense kindness and generosity to that same church if she would turn to Him again.

 

The Severity Of Jesus

In the other letters to the churches in Revelation 2 and 3, Jesus had something to commend them for. To Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum and Philadelphia He said, “You are enduring persecution and clinging to Me.” He commended Thyatira’s servant-heartedness and faithfulness. He even had something good to say to Sardis, who were spiritually dying but still had sparks of life and goodness to encourage.

But unlike His other letters, Jesus has nothing good to say about Laodicea. To them He says “I will spit you out of My mouth!” [v16].

Why?

A quick skim of the letter shows this is because Jesus sees them as lukewarm wretches; poor, blind and naked. To fully understand what He means, we need to understand the Laodicean church’s situation.

Laodicea was a wealthy city in the south east of modern-day Turkey. It was a big commercial and banking centre, with a large textiles industry famous for its wool and tunics. Its wealth made it a city of arts, science and literature. It was a leading centre of medicine, and was renowned for its healing eye ointment. Think about somewhere like Oxford or Cambridge today – beautiful, prosperous, and famous for its academia.

The city of Laodicea wasn’t just rich, it was absolutely loaded. In fact, the people of Laodicea were so well off that when the city was destroyed by an earthquake and the Emperor offered to help them rebuild, they said, “No thanks, we’ve got this”!

And it looks like the church in Laodicea had a similar attitude. In v17 Jesus tells them “… you say, I am rich, I have prospered and I need nothing…” and why wouldn’t they? They lived in a wealthy and prosperous city. And do you notice – this letter doesn’t talk about persecution? On the surface, they were doing well.

But Jesus had a bombshell to drop on them: “You, are poor, blind and naked. You think you have everything, but you have nothing.”

The great irony of Laodicea’s situation is that they are the exact opposite of what they think they are. And they can’t see it! It’s their blindness to their spiritual situation that makes them think they don’t need anything.

And this complacency disgusts Jesus.

He says, “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.”

Hot and cold water are good in different ways, and the Laodicean church would have known this well. Hot water from the springs in Hierapolis a few kilometres to the north would have been good for bathing in. Cold water from the springs at Colossae just down the road would have been beautifully refreshing on a hot summer’s day.

But Laodicea didn’t have its own water supply, so it had to be piped in by aqueduct. And by the time that the water got to the city, it was lukewarm. It wasn’t refreshing like the cool water at Colossae or useful like the hot springs at Hierapolis. And it was full of stuff that made it taste absolutely gross. So gross that the Romans said it was only fit for slaves!

That’s why Jesus says, “I will spit you out of My mouth!” He’s saying that they were as foul and unusable to Him as their tepid water was to them. Their smugness and self-satisfaction made them indifferent to Him, and it makes Him sick.

It sickens Jesus that the church He has died and risen for has a relationship towards Him that could be described as: Meh.

Jesus isn’t being needy and whiney. He starts the letter by describing Himself as “the Amen, the faithful and true witness” [v14b]. He is the embodiment of God’s faithfulness and truthfulness. He sees things as they really are, and He doesn’t lie about it.

And Jesus will not pull His punches when it comes to challenging this complacent church. If they stay like this, He will reject them.

Because what can He do with a church that doesn’t love Him? That doesn’t listen to Him?

He is being so severe because this is so important. Jesus wants a Church that loves Him with all her heart, soul, mind and strength (Deuteronomy 6:5; Matthew 22:37), because true worship and obedience to Him only comes from loving Him above all else.

If we find ourselves in a similar situation to the church in Laodicea – if we have plenty, if we are in a comfortable place and are enjoying life going well – we need to ask: are we as healthy on the inside as we look on the outside?

I’m not saying that good things like health and wealth are bad in themselves – after all, God provides good things for us to enjoy. But we can’t assume that doing well for ourselves on the surface means that our hearts are in the right place.

In fact, it can blind us to how we really are spiritually.

Think about it: when do we pray the most? It’s when we need something, isn’t it?

If I think I really need something, like a good night’s sleep after a week of insomnia, or a holiday I’ve been desperately looking forward to, or for the bus to really not be late today, God hears about it from me a lot.

But He rarely hears anything from me about the roof over my head, the wages I’m paid, or anything else I take for granted. But nothing has changed – I still need Him to provide those things, even though I’ve forgotten that.

You see, if we don’t feel how much we need God, we can forget that we need Him.

We can forget that He provides everything for us.

We can forget that in and of ourselves we are wretches with hearts prone to wander into sin.

We can forget that it’s by God’s grace and Jesus’ blood alone that we are saved from hell.

So, like the church in Laodicea, we’ll think “I don’t need anything” and our hearts will cool towards Him.

Our attitude towards the Saviour who provides for us, cares for us, who died to save us, will go from passionate worship to: Meh.

How do we stop that?

Jesus tells Laodicea, and us, the answer.

 

The Kindness Of Jesus

We’ve seen that Jesus has warned the church in Laodicea that if they don’t change He will reject them. But Jesus hasn’t given up on this tepid church. We’ve seen His severity. And now we’ll see His kindness.

You see, the Laodicean church’s indifference to Jesus may have made Him want to throw up, but He hasn’t abandoned them yet.

If you look at the beginning of Revelation 2, you’ll see a picture of Himself that Jesus gives in His letter to the church in Ephesus. He held the stars and walked among the lampstands that represent the churches He is writing to. Jesus still holds the church in Laodicea in His hand, and He is still with her.

He says in verse 19, “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.” He is brutally honest in telling the church in Laodicea how it is because He loves them. Because He wants them to turn away from their complacency and love Him again.

And He gives this blind, naked church the remedy to her disease and poverty: “I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see.” (v18)

But how can a spiritually poor, blind and naked church do this?

The answer comes in verse 20: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.”

They need to stop shutting Jesus out and invite Him in.

And when Jesus is invited in, He will eat with them. When the Bible was written, sharing a meal was all about intimacy. You wouldn’t invite just anyone round for dinner; eating together was about close friendship.

Jesus is using this as a picture of what knowing Him should be like. It’s not having Him safely on the outside and only talking to Him when we need something, and even then only through the letterbox of the closed door of our hearts. No, it’s welcoming Him in to the very core of our being and inviting Him to stay there, to live in the closest relationship that it is possible to have.

And Jesus doesn’t only offer close relationship with Himself. Each of the letters to the churches in Revelation finishes with a promise to “the one who conquers”, to those who endure in faith to the end. The promise He gives in this letter is this: “I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.” (v21)

This is huge! If we persevere in faith, we will sit on the throne of Jesus, who sits on the throne of the God the Father. We will one day share in Jesus’ rule over the whole universe!

This is God’s incredible grace, that the Lord Jesus would see a wretched people and call them to come to Him for riches. Riches that they can’t afford, but that He has already bought for them on the cross. Not the ‘health, wealth and happiness’ of the prosperity gospel, but the faith, purity and clarity of sight that Jesus has bought for us through His blood.

On the cross He paid the price to give us His righteousness to cover our shameful sin.

And faith in His sacrifice for us is worth far more than gold, because it is by faith alone that we have a right relationship with God.

And as part of having a living relationship with God, He sends His Spirit to live within us to help us see clearly.

So how do we buy this from Jesus? By being zealous and repenting like He told the church in Laodicea to do. By deliberately turning away from thinking we’re fine, and throwing ourselves on Him for everything.

If you’re a Christian here today, can you see what’s at stake?

Listen to the warning Jesus gives! Ask Him to show you the real state of your heart, not just where you think you’re at. And if you find you’re cold towards Him and you’ve shut Him out, then pray and ask Jesus to come in to your heart again – not just the threshold, but the kitchen and bedroom and even the downstairs toilet!

Because He wants your heart. He wants you to be spiritually rich and clothed and able to see through your faith and relationship with Him.

And when we turn away from being complacent, when we realise our blindness and self-satisfaction and ask Jesus to make us burn with passion for Him again, He promises to do just that!

So pray, ask to know Him more, to love Him more. And as He shows you how things really are, don’t stop talking to Him about how you need Him to change you.

Ask God to give you a greater yearning to know Him better. That you’ll look forward to hearing Him speak to you every day as you read your Bible.

That you will read your Bible!

This is the most precious book on earth! It is a record of God’s dealings with His people and what He has spoken to us. He has ensured that it would be written down for us to read. And thousands of others throughout history. God has given us the Bible so that we will know Him, and so we will know how to live in the best way possible.

So read it, every day, and ask that through reading it God will give you a greater desire for, delight in, and dependence on Him above anything else.

Ask God to give you a greater passion for Him that spills out into obedience to His command to love your brothers and sisters in Christ, and to love those who without hearing the Gospel will suffer God’s righteous judgment when they die.

If you’re reading this and don’t believe in Jesus, then can you see what’s at stake for you? Our God is not an idea. He’s a person. He cares about the way Christians live – not just the things you see them do, but in how they think and feel about Him. He cares about the way you live, too.

Jesus isn’t blind to our imperfections, although we might be. He knows what we’re really like, everything we regret and everything we hide. But time and time again He gives us the chance to choose what is right. That’s what repentance is – turning from doing what is wrong and going in the opposite direction.

This might sound terrifying. But God isn’t waiting for you to give Him the opportunity to attack you. He’s waiting for you to ask Him to forgive you so He can give you treasure beyond anything in this life, and heal your brokenness, and cover your shame.

The Laodicean church’s indifference towards Jesus disgusted Him, and we need to realise that if we’re lukewarm towards Him, or even don’t care about Him, the danger of rejection is real for us, too.

But Jesus gives us time to change, and if we repent, there is so much that He offers us.

Forgiveness for sin, every wrong that we’ve done.

Being accepted by God.

The right to become a child of God. To be loved by Him. To be protected by Him. To never be separated from Him.

Transformation from broken sinfulness to beautiful holiness.

An heir of God’s perfect kingdom.

That He will make everything work together for your benefit.

That when you die you will leave behind all pain and tears and live with God forever in a perfect world, and He will be more real to you than anything else you’ve known on earth.

Wouldn’t you want to be loved by God like that? You can! Jesus says that if anyone hears His call to repent of a lukewarm heart towards Him and lets Him in, He will.

So let’s remember the kindness and severity of God. How seriously He takes our relationship with Him – so seriously that He will reject us if we don’t truly love Him. But oh, how kind He is to us, that He promises so much to those who will let Him in.

A few months ago I stumbled across an entry in my journal from a day I spent praying and looking at the Bible. Every so often I go through cycles of just being fed up with myself and my own sinfulness, so when I had a day to spend time with God I read Romans 5-8 and prayed about it. I don’t think it’s unusual for Christians to go through times where we get really fed up of our own sin and worry that God isn’t all that far away from giving up on us because we’re so rubbish at being godly. Sin feels like this monster that won’t let us go, and we wonder whether we’ll ever be able to resist that temptation or be free from that weakness or know what it means for that thing to not be a struggle. The below post is based on what I wrote in my journal that day, and what God showed me about assurance through those chapters in Romans.

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

1 John 1:8-9

… while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly… while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.

Romans 5:6, 8-9

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free from the law of sin and death.

Romans 8:1-2

Since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1) – yet this so often is our struggle: when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law that dwells in my members… I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. (Romans 7:21-25) We can be Christians, love God, and know we have been redeemed and forgiven but yet can’t seem to shake sin. It digs its claws in; our sinful old nature doesn’t want to let go. And so we groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our full adoption as children of God, the complete redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:23). This is our fight of faith: we hate the sin we commit and the temptations we fall into. It sickens us.

Yet this groaning is a good thing. Our horror and disgust at our own sin is a good thing, because it is a result of the Spirit’s work to convict us of sin and drive us to Jesus. The Spirit of life has set us free in Christ from sin and death (Romans 8:2) and lives in us (v10-11), giving us life. Our old body of death keeps needing to be put to death and it distresses us to still be attached to it – because we are children of God (v15-17) – and so we moan and cry out and ache and long for the day when our sinful nature will finally fall away to be remembered no more.

Further still, sin does not have the final say by any means. In ourselves we may be helpless, but we are not “in” ourselves any more. We are in Christ. While we were unable to do anything to help ourselves, Jesus died for us (Romans 5:6). He took all this sinful nature from us upon Himself, and took it to the grave. So as much as we can’t yet get away from our sinful nature, it has no lasting hold on us because we are dead to it. Because of Jesus, sin has no power over us (Romans 6:14) because we are under grace now – just as death has no power over Jesus because He has been raised from the dead. Sin clings to us, but only as dead ivy clings to a wall because its roots stubbornly stick in. God is slowly removing those roots – because He has predestined us to be conformed to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29).

Pre. Destined. God has spoken this over us and commanded it over our life’s path so that whatever happens we are being pulled in a Christlike direction. We are being made to be like Jesus! Granted, this won’t happen passively and we need to actively work at growing in holiness so that we don’t fall away (Hebrews 6: 1-12) but God won’t deny that growth to those who want to know and love Him and honour Him.

Until the day He returns we must still put sin to death, but the overwhelming truth for Christians (although hidden for now – Romans 8:19) is:

  • We have peace with God (Romans 5:1)
  • God’s love has been poured into our hearts (Romans 5:5)
  • We are reconciled with God (Romans 5:11)
  • We have been given righteousness (Romans5:17)
  • We are dead to sin and alive to God (Romans 6:11)
  • Sin has no power over us (Romans 6:14)
  • We are freed from sin, and a slave to righteousness which leads to sanctification and eternal life (Romans 6:22)
  • We are not condemned (Romans 8:1)
  • We are in the Spirit, who is life and through whom God will give life to our mortal bodies (Romans 8:9, 11)
  • By the Spirit we can kill off our sinful nature (Romans 8:13)
  • We have the Spirit of adoption as a son and heir of God with Christ (Romans 8:15-17)
  • We have a glory that will be given me in the future (Romans 8:19, 21)
  • The Spirit prays for us better than we can, and the Father knows His mind (Romans 8:26-27)
  • All things work together for our good (Romans 8:28)
  • We will become like Jesus in character (Romans 8:29)
  • God will give us all things (Romans 8:32)
  • We are justified by God – no charge can stand against the righteousness we have been given (Romans 8:33)
  • Jesus, who died for our sin, is alive and praying for us – I cannot be condemned for the sin He took to the grave (Romans 8:34)
  • We cannot be separated from Jesus’ love, and everything that would try to destroy us and take me from Him will be made to serve us (Romans 8:35-39).

The fact that we feel broken over our sin and hate it is evidence of the Spirit of life being at work in us. So God can use precisely what would discourage us for our good if we remember that this anguish over sin is the result of His active work in us, and not evidence of us irreversibly falling away.

Our problem is our hearts that are so riddled with sin we can’t get away from it. But God has and will change them. In Jeremiah 31:33-34 He promised to write His law on our hearts so that we’ll want to do what’s godly. It will take a lifetime to get there, but day by day God is making us to be more like Jesus, to “make our hearts beat with His love, mercy, and passion for His glory” as my pastor put it in his sermon this morning. One day we will be free of the sin we hate. For now, we must pray and trust that God will change us and work against the dead sinful nature that does cling to us, but that one day will be long forgotten.

“Holy” is a word that’s hard to define. Like “glory”. What do you think of when you hear the word “holy”? Can you picture it?

A quick look at my Bible Dictionary shows that “holy” is hard to define. The Hebrew word used in the Old Testament carries connotations of separation and brightness; of God being so much different than we are, so pure, so powerful, so unique, so glorious, so transcendent. God is not like us. We are made in His image but how much is a person “like” the photo taken of them? The picture is like its subject, but the ink printed on a bit of photo paper isn’t the same as the real person in the flesh.

We sing about God’s holiness, and about Him making us holy, so often that we can take for granted what it means. A few months ago I was reading through Leviticus and Numbers, and I was struck anew by the fact that God’s holiness is… dangerous. It’s absolutely terrifying, like being trapped in a cage with a hungry tiger. It’s lethal. I’ll try and explain what I mean.

The book of Leviticus is part of the Old Testament Law given to the people of Israel at Mount Sinai after they were rescued from slavery in Egypt. It deals with a lot of rules about how the OT worship system worked, and as part of that it talks a lot about cleanness and uncleanness. Cleanness in animals Israel were allowed to eat, in death, in childbirth, in disease and illness, in houses with a mould problem, in sex, in how you treat the vulnerable, in a whole load of everyday things! You read all the rules, and God can be pretty specific about what cleanness, or holiness, looks like.

Why does God care? Well, back in Exodus 20 the Law is given to show Israel what it looks like to be God’s people. And it looks like absolute perfection. Complete holiness, because God, their God, is holy (Leviticus 11:45, 19:2, 20:7). And God’s people are to reflect Him to the rest of the world – this is part of how all nations would be blessed through them (Genesis 12:2; 22:18) – and show them how good knowing God is – because when His people keep the covenant Law, God will bless them in abundance (Leviticus 26:3-13) and it looks amazing! Beautiful, lush, fertile land that provides a fantastic amount of food (v3-5); peace, and victory against all enemies (v6-8); a growing and flourishing nation (v9-10); and, best of all, God Himself living among them (v11-12).

But also, God requires a perfect people so that He can have relationship with them. God is perfect, pure, and holy, and can only be approached on His own terms. Israel had to worship in a certain way, the way God designed. Otherwise they would die. In Leviticus 10, two of Aaron’s sons try to offer incense to God in a way other than what He prescribed, and God literally vaporised them (10:2). The priests had to be completely sober when ministering in the tabernacle, otherwise they’d die (10:9). The Day of Atonement, a highlight in Israel’s religious year, the one day where the high priest was allowed to go into the bit of the tabernacle where God’s manifest presence was, was a matter of life and death. He had the awesome privilege of being able to meet God as face-to-face as someone could, but he had to burn incense so it made a cloud over the ark where God’s presence was otherwise he’d die (16:12-13). And this was besides having a complete wash, putting on special clothes, sacrificing a bull (as a sin offering to atone for his own sin), sacrificing a goat (sin offering for the nation), sprinkling the blood of the dead bull and goat on the covering of the ark to make the innermost bit of the tabernacle holy, and doing the same for the rest of the tabernacle, and sprinkling the altar outside with the blood to consecrate that as well. Then he takes a second goat, puts his hands on its head and confesses the sins of the nation, and then sends it off into the desert to figuratively carry their sins away. (Lev 16:1-22)

The priests had specific clothes they had to wear to just work around the Tabernacle (see Exodus 28 – I especially enjoy v42-43 where God commands them to wear pants or risk death). There were specific rules about who they could marry, prohibitions against touching dead bodies – even of their loved ones – what they did with their hair; and they had to be physically healthy and unblemished. See Leviticus 21 for a description of those rules. Coming near the Tabernacle was an offence punishable by death if you weren’t from the same tribe as the priests (Numbers 3:10), and all the things in the Tabernacle had to be carefully wrapped up in several layers of cloth and skins when being transported to prevent people being killed. (Numbers 4).

It’s insane how deadly God is, and this is just His presence. Human beings are sinful, so we can’t be in the same place as God, or even look at Him and expect to live, which is often why when people in the Bible see God they’re absolutely terrified. He is so pure, and we are so impure, that to dare to go near Him is to risk obliteration; as Hebrews 10:31 says, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”. So why do we dare to even try to worship God? How can we dare to pray, to sing together on a Sunday if to approach the Holy One is to dance with death?

Our pure and holy God has always provided a way for the unworthy to approach Him. In the OT, this was an extensive sacrificial system where an animal bore the death penalty your personal sins deserved. The shed blood of a bull, or lamb, or goat, or pigeon, replaced your own to satisfy justice. But this pointed to something far greater that was to come. Because how can a dead sheep or cow be a decent substitute for the life of a human being? The poor animal probably doesn’t have a concept of God, let alone good and evil. And I’m pretty sure they weren’t lining up to get slaughtered on humanity’s behalf. As it says in Hebrews 10:4, it’s impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

But Hebrews also talks about Jesus Christ, the great High Priest and Sacrifice that the Old Testament worship system pointed to. Have a look at this:

“But when Christ appeared as high priest… he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.” Hebrews 9:11-14

On that rugged, blood-stained bit of wood on a hill 2,000 years ago Jesus Christ, the perfect, holy Son of God let Himself be beaten, whipped, mocked, abused and sentenced to death by suffocation while hanging in agony from some nails. And this death was His perfect sacrifice to pay for our sins and the sins of the human race for eternity. He swapped places with us and was obliterated by God’s wrath in our place so that we could be made holy (Colossians 1:22; Hebrews 10:10) Holy! You know, holy like God? The God who is so holy and pure Israel couldn’t go near Him unless they had a death wish? How awesome is that, that Jesus would give up His holiness and swap it for our moral filth at Calvary! And now we are counted perfect, righteous, pure, holy, forgiven; and not just merely acceptable and “safe” to go near God but sons, heirs, the beloved Bride of Christ! We haven’t just been given permission to approach the Throne, but to be close, so close to the One who sits on it! To call the God who once could not be approached “Father”, to be united in intimacy with the King of the ages, to have the Spirit of power who raises the dead live in us and work to help us and teach us… this is no small thing, and it should fill us with wonder.

Isaiah is a pretty cool book, and surprisingly relevant for Christmas. We’ve been going through it in our sermon series at St Mary’s this term, and I hadn’t noticed before just how much it’s about Jesus. In a way, that’s quite daft, because the entire Bible points to Jesus (see John 5:39), and we have those famous passages that we bring out at Christmas like Isaiah 9 (…For to us a child is born, to us a son is given… etc.). But as we’ve looked at it in church I’ve seen just how much it’s about Jesus. Isaiah contains a lot of warnings about coming destruction because God’s people had turned away from Him, but in it God also says I will take your guilt away and promises them so much good if they would come back to Him. And He keeps on hinting at how He’ll bring this about …to us a child is born… (Isaiah 9:4); Behold, your God… will come and save you. (Isaiah 35:4); Behold my servant… (Isaiah 42:1). And then in chapters 49-53 He goes into a whole lot of detail about the “servant”, who would take upon himself the sin of God’s people, die willingly in their place, and bring restoration once again… Jesus!

Isaiah 35 contains another hint:

Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.”

Isaiah 35:3-4

Your God will come and save you. This was a message for the remnant of Israel, the faithful few people that God kept for Himself while the nation was being judged. They would have seen the destruction of their country, their home, as war advanced and their armies were defeated. Ultimately, they would be taken into exile.

God was speaking to people in a very real political situation. I don’t know about you, but I find it easy to forget that the events in the Bible were real bits of world history, and some of them big and scary like we’re seeing today in Syria and Iraq and Ukraine. At the time Isaiah was writing, the country of Assyria had become a world superpower. It had conquered the mighty Babylonian empire and now had its sights set on Judah. So to try and save their skin, Judah made defensive alliances against the Assyrian empire, and the alliance’s attempt to take on their enemy failed. Assyria advanced, and war was on their doorstep.

It’s easy for us to look at the people in the Bible and wonder how they could be so daft as to not trust God when clearly only a few pages before He’d done something incredible, but I know that I can all too often forget who is really in control of the world, and that can be only about something small like catching the bus! But in Isaiah, and in these verses, God is speaking to a people on the verge of international war. He is giving them warnings of worse things to come, but He is also giving hope to those who will trust in Him – don’t be afraid, your God will come and save you.

We know that ultimately He has done this for us in Jesus. When Christ died, He took upon Himself all the punishment that we deserve for our sin and every offence we have committed against our holy God. And when He rose from the dead three days later He showed that He had defeated death once for all, the Father’s wrath was satisfied, and now we have eternal life in Him. And this is eternal life beyond what happens to us in this world – we are alive in Christ no matter what gets thrown at us! We are safe in Christ no matter what difficulties we have to come, no matter what opposition, no matter what illness or persecution we have to suffer. No matter what family situation, breakdown in relationships with people, fear for the future, whatever makes us anxious. We have encouragement from God’s Word to take heart and stand firm because He will come. That may mean that He saves us from the situation we are in now. But that might also mean that He leaves us in the place where we are. Either way, we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28) and nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ. So we are safe, no matter what, because we can never be snatched away from our Saviour.

Christmas day is almost upon us, the day when we celebrate that God has come and saved us. He has shown His glory through a baby born in Bethlehem, God made human, who died for the sins of the world. And because of this, we can have such confidence in our God, that we are His children, His beloved people who can never be snatched from Him. Let’s pray this confidence for ourselves and our brothers and sisters in Christ, that whatever we do we will be encouraged by the fact that God is with us now, and whatever happens He is our Saviour. Let’s praise God that He is far bigger than the world, and makes us more than conquerors in Christ – He hasn’t just defeated death for us, but even makes suffering work for our good. Let’s thank Him that one day He will end all suffering and persecution, and our trust in Him will be shown to be justified. But also, let’s pray that more people would come to know this peace; that people will turn to Christ as their Saviour.

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them he has set a tent for the sun, which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber, and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy. Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them, and there is nothing hidden from its heat.

Psalm 19:1-6 (ESV)

How would you describe beauty? I could point you to a picture of a stunning sunset or get you to listen to The Lark Ascending, one of the most stunning pieces of classical music I’ve ever heard. But I don’t think I could straight up tell you what to look for. What about majesty? It’s how we describe kings and eagles and lions. But I can’t define it in the same way that I’d define what something physical like a book is (the OED definition is “a written or printed work consisting of pages glued or sewn together along one side and bound in covers”, in case you were interested). I have to use a concrete thing to communicate to you about an abstract thing.

Psalm 19 is about two ways in which God is revealed, through creation and through His Word, and this time I’m going to focus on the first six verses. So let’s see what this Psalm has to say about creation; how it, a concrete thing, displays the glory of the God who made it, and how, when we look at the natural world around us, our hearts are led to look beyond what we see and worship the God it points to.

The first thing we see as we look at these six verses of Psalm 19 is that nature declares God’s glory. The psalm bursts open with this! When he was writing this, David wasn’t making a cold observation; you can sense his wonder as he passionately exclaims:

“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.” (v1-4b)

The first thing you notice as you read this is how much communication is going on: by the heavens and the sky, day and night. It isn’t a small memo casually slipped onto your desk, either: they are declaring, proclaiming, pouring out speech, all day, all night, all over the world! And what is this message that the heavens are shouting to all and sundry? God’s glory. The goodness, the perfection, the purity of who God is in all His wisdom and power and knowledge and love and holiness and so much more! The natural world around us is communicating.

It communicates God’s glory because it is created by Him. When I was at school, I used to really enjoy art lessons. I loved painting things and making things, especially when we got to use things you don’t get to use every day. Like clay, because then you get to make stuff in 3D rather than endless drawings of random fruit and veg. It was great fun to mould it, to give it shape with my own hands rather than a brush. And to finish proudly with something that looked… close enough to the idea I had in my head, covered in fingerprints and lines that the ridges on my hands had made, and the occasional nail-mark that I’d forgotten to smooth over. The creation bore the marks of its maker. And – much better than my attempts at creativity – God’s great masterpiece, the universe, bears the fingerprints of its Maker. It reflects Him because He made it.

Verses 5-6 give an example of what we see in creation. In the UK, the sun is often a thing of myth, especially in our long and overcast winters; but when David was writing he was in Israel, where the climate is hot, and the sun would have been far easier to spot in the sky!  Let’s look at how he describes it:

In them [the heavens] he [that is, God] has set a tent for the sun, which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber, and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy. Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them, and there is nothing hidden from its heat.” (v4c-6)

The sun has been given a place in the sky by God: a home, and a course to run (v4c, 6). And our closest star doesn’t struggle along as if it’s dragging its feet; no, it is like a groom going to his wedding, the happiest day of his life, all dressed up and bursting with happiness. It is like an athlete doing what they have trained for, muscles singing and heart thundering with the thrill of the race. The sun, as David describes it here, shows God’s glory as being exhilarating! And other parts of the physical world show other things about God’s glory.

This means that the physical world is good. As we want to be people who imitate God, and resist the temptation that comes so naturally to our human nature, we can fall into the trap of forgetting that the world we live in is made by God, and God made it good. We can focus on crucifying the passions and desires of the flesh, as it says in Galatians 5:24, and this is a good thing to do; but we can do it so religiously that we either don’t allow ourselves to enjoy the good things in this world, or don’t realise that God has made these things to display His glory – the nourishing taste of good food, the sweet pleasure of a well-performed symphony, the reassuring warmth of a hug from your mum.

The fact that God displays His glory through His creation also means that we have no need to worry about science. I firmly believe that you can be a scientist and be a Christian, and I think that people like Richard Dawkins who famously wield science as the antidote to God are wrong. At the end of the day, science is about discovering how the universe works. So what we find out won’t disprove God, because God doesn’t lie (Numbers 23:19), and He wouldn’t deceptively make something that disproves Himself. As we discover more about our universe, it’ll only show us more about His creative power and glory! And for those of us who are involved in discovering more about the world, it’s important to not lose our sense of wonder as we look at what God has made. We shouldn’t let rampant rationalism steal away our joy and reduce nature to a mere set of rules and processes. The heavens declare God’s glory; all the burning balls of gas that we call stars hang in space because they are held by God’s sustaining power.

But God displaying His glory through creation also means that we should look after it. When He created us, God gave us the task of looking after the world (Genesis 1:28-30). Can we say that we do that today? Do we care for our planet as the God-given reflection of His glory that it is, or do we use it as if exploiting our resources won’t have any long term effects? This is something that can be harder to bear in mind as our cultural mind-set has become separated from the land that we live in and depend on; we can forget that the food we eat is grown in the ground, that our electricity comes from energy released by burning coal and oil (mostly), that our cars aren’t carbon neutral. So part of our worship involves looking after our planet.

We’ve seen that creation displays the glory of God because He made it. The second thing we see in Psalm 19 is that creation is a hint of the true God. It is God’s glory that the heavens declare. Nature reflects Him because He actively chooses to communicate through it. Romans 1:19-20 says that “… what can be known about God is plain to them [that is, humanity], because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have clearly been perceived, ever since the creation of the world.” God has given us something concrete to describe something we can’t see ourselves. His glory is something that we cannot see and survive to tell the tale [Exodus 33:20] because God is so pure and holy and we are so imperfect. So God doesn’t just communicate what He is like in words, like what we see in the Bible. God created a physical world that displays His glory, and He gave us the ability to see it, and taste it, and hear it, and touch it. The smell of cooling rain on a hot summer’s day. The quiet splendour of a winter’s morning where the sun gently rises in pastel hues of pink and orange.  The ferocity of a storm, where the rain pummels roofs and roads, thunder roars over our heads, and the sky is split by great flashes of lightning. All of these hint at how life-giving, how beautiful, how powerful God is!

But these hints can be misinterpreted – look at how many religions throughout history have worshipped nature or gods representing the sun or the sea or animals. They’re seeing the glory shown in nature, but are missing the point. And I think this could be one reason why Psalm 19 isn’t just about creation. The rest of it is about God’s “law” – God’s commands and everything else God wants us to know about Himself. It’s basically His Word, the Bible as we know it today. Henry will talk about it in much more details about it next week, but today it’s important to know that the glory creation displays in colour and sound and substance, the Bible specifically attributes to God, and only God.

When we marvel at the vastness of the sky and open ocean, God says “He who made the Pleiades and Orion, and turns deep darkness into the morning and darkens the day into night, who calls for the waters of the sea and pours them out on the surface of the earth, the LORD is his name” [Amos 5:8]. When pride gets the better of us and we start thinking we have the right to tell God what to do, He says “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements – tell me, if you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” [Job 38:4-7] When life gets too much, God points us to the star-filled night and says “Lift up your eyes and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name, by the greatness of his might, and because he is strong in power, not one is missing… He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength.” [Isaiah 40:26].

God uses creation to points beyond itself to who He is. So get out there! Walk round the lake in Wollaton Park. Climb mountains! Go rockpooling! At least, watch a David Attenborough documentary! One of the sad things of our modern world is how we are separated from nature. We work in office blocks away from the sky and grass and trees; we stay up late in artificial light, not noticing the moon and stars and the soft evening breeze; our food comes from the supermarket rather than fields watered by rain and ripened by the sun. Nature becomes something to be controlled and bent to our will, rather than something to delight in. And so we can be missing out on something that’s really refreshing for us, and spiritually refreshing as well as emotionally or physically refreshing. The beauty of the natural world shows God’s glory, and God’s glory is transforming [2 Corinthians 3:18].

And while you are being refreshed, remember Who it is that nature points to. Remember that God is the God who made everything, things we can and can’t see, mountains, DNA, rainforests, atoms, supernovas. This is our God! He is our loving Father and awesome Saviour and invincible Lord. And delight in the world God has created because it points to Him!

As we’ve looked at the first few verses of Psalm 19, we’ve seen that creation displays God’s glory and point to Him as the better reality of what it reflects. But as I’ve been talking, I wonder how easily you believe what I’ve said? Have you taken it all in, thinking “Yes, the world is wonderful! It’s so obvious how great God is!” Or has a seed of doubt, a shadow, passed through your mind? Do you wonder whether what I’ve said really is true, because as far as you’ve seen nature isn’t all sweetness and light?

I’ve just finished a Masters degree in Clinical Microbiology. Over the last year, I’ve studied a whole load of infections and what causes them. Besides seeing how fantastic our immune systems are and how sneaky some bugs can be, I’ve realised that viruses, bacteria and fungi aren’t intentionally horrible. It isn’t like the Ebola virus decided that one day it would destroy humanity and started infecting people in Africa. Infection is an intrinsic part of how these bugs survive, reproduce and even flourish. You can’t separate their life cycle and the effect they have on the people they live in. The same goes for all infections. It’s a tragic reality. So can a good God really exist when the universe He has made contains disease and disaster and wasps?

I don’t often agree with Richard Dawkins, but he puts the issue quite well:

“The total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplation. During the minute that it takes me to compose this sentence, thousands of animals are being eaten alive, many others are running for their lives, whimpering with fear, others are slowly being devoured from within by rasping parasites, thousands of all kinds are dying of starvation, thirst, and disease. It must be so. If there ever is a time of plenty, this very fact will automatically lead to an increase in the population until the natural state of starvation and misery is restored. In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.”

[Richard Dawkins, River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life]

Dawkins, and others, use this as a reason not to believe in God. But how should we deal with the fact that the world is messed up? That sometimes it does look like there’s no justice, no reason behind all the suffering we see, and surely no loving God behind it all! Turn with me to Romans 8:19-23. It says:

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

Creation is groaning. Our whole universe has been made subject by God to decay, to suffering, to futility. Why? Why would an apparently good and loving God force something He created good to submit to this horror? Because of sin. Genesis 3 talks about the first time humanity rebelled against God, which has had consequences that have spun through our entire history. Our relationship with God and with each other was broken, and creation was plunged into misery. Humanity was thrown out of the garden that was a place of safety and provision, and the world became a place where life would be hard and filled with suffering. All that Dawkins was talking about in that quote, the gruesome destruction of life to feed life, the starvation, the misery; these all show what a world without God is like. They show how horrendous rejecting God is, and the appalling consequences of sin. God is so completely perfect that sin is repulsive to Him, so as we are disgusted by the misery we see, creation is still displaying God’s glory by enabling us to understand His hatred of sin.

But, as verse 20 says, creation was subjected to futility in hope. As we have been shown the horror of sin to a holy God, He will show His glory again. Did you notice, v21 says that creation was subjected to futility in hope “that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” There will be a day where God will free creation from the decay-ridden state it’s in and transform it into a place of peace with no death or mourning or crying or pain, as it says in Revelation 21:4. Creation will be at peace; wolves and lambs, calves and lions, children and cobras will be safe to put together because they won’t harm each other [Isaiah 11:6-9]. And this was made possible by Jesus’ death on the cross, where God reconciled to Himself all things [Colossians 1:20]; and so those of us who believe in Him, who are called God’s children, have an incredible future ahead of us. We and creation will have freedom and glory [v21] where we shall be so transformed that nothing gets in the way of us truly delighting in God and being satisfied in Him!

Yet for now, we see the cruelty of nature. Creation shows God’s glory, but creation is tainted by the corruption that stains us all. And this is why God’s Word, the Bible, is so important. Because it addresses the problem of our spoiled world and shows us what true goodness is. It says that we’re right to be appalled at death and suffering, but it won’t last forever. And it says that a holy and glorious God has made a way for us to be renewed, and made right with Him, at great cost to Himself. So let the darkness of this world drive you to the refreshing Light of Jesus. If you aren’t a Christian today, I really do hope that you’ll come to know this great God.

If you are a Christian, be encouraged! Look around you at what God has made! And delight in the fact that God, who is so glorious and powerful, is our God! One day we will see Him as clearly as we see the earth around us, and hear His voice as clearly as we hear a thunderstorm. One day we will be freed from all death and pain, and the universe will be transformed into something more incredible than it is now!

As we’ve looked at the first bit of Psalm 19, we’ve seen that the natural world around us declares God’s glory. It shouts it out for all to hear. And the glory we see in creation is the glory of God Himself – every speck of beauty, every hint of majesty points to the Lord its Maker. Still, this world is broken because God has subjected it to decay so that we would see sin for the monster it is and turn to Him. And one day God will renew the universe, and transform us, into something perfect and a people who will completely enjoy Him forever. So as we see the splendour of the world around us, let’s worship the God who made it! And as we see the misery of its fallen nature, let’s be driven to turn away from the corruption of sin to the God who will make all things new.

This happened on the way home from work and I’m so pleased I thought I’d share.

This isn’t new – many wise pastors, music ministers and the like have said these things before – but I here present it to you in alliterated form!

There are three main things that happen (or should happen) when we sing in church:

Three 'R's of Worship

As you can see, worship is like a triangle. With arrows. And a smiley face.

The important thing is what is going on in the various relationships within the church – between God, ourselves individually, and the whole congregation.

So, when we sing, there are three things going on:

Reveal – God reveals Himself through the songs we sing. This is why it’s so important to have songs true to the Bible and packed with good theology; so that we are teaching our churches, and being taught, who God truly is.

Respond – We respond to God in singing. This is why it’s good to have responsive songs that might not be one-theological-fact-a-line but dwell on what a few things about God mean and allow us to sing with our lips what is going on in our hearts.

Remind – We remind each other of important truths. We aren’t just singing to God individually, but corporately. We are teaching and admonishing each other (as it says in Colossians 3:16), preaching the Gospel to one another, and encouraging each other to keep going in faith.

There it is!

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