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The book of Isaiah is all about how God acts for His glory, and especially how He does it in dealing with His people. The chunk of the Bible that runs between the poetry of Psalms, Proverbs and the like and the beginning of the New Testament is full of warnings to a people who had forgotten God. But it also contains a load of promises, too, and Isaiah is no exception.

Chapter 35 comes at the end of a section of chapters (28-25) that are mainly about judgment on Judah, the southern kingdom of what was Israel (Israel split into two during the reign of Solomon’s son, Rehoboam. The southern bit – made of the tribes of Benjamin and Judah, and whose capital was Jerusalem – was called Judah; and the northern bit – which included the other tribes, and whose capital was Samaria – kept the name of Israel), and its neighbours. Judah had turned away from God, and worse still, they were ignoring the warnings He was giving them about the judgment that was hanging over them. They treasured other things instead of the God who loved them and had cared for them for generations. They frantically made political alliances to try and gain some national security, instead of calling on the God who impossibly brought them out of slavery in Egypt and gave them the promised land. So God would strip them of everything, until they had nothing left.

Yet in these chapters we see the LORD’s passion for His glory in more than His judgment on sin. So many times in this section of Isaiah the judgment is peppered with glimpses of God’s heart for His people as He promises what He would do if only they would repent and cast themselves on Him. When God threatens to destroy Israel’s beautiful capital city, Samaria, He also says

“In that day the LORD of hosts will be a crown of glory, and a diadem of beauty, to the remnant of his people, and a spirit of justice to him who sits in judgement, and strength to those who turn back the battle at the gate.”

Isaiah 28:5-6

After God reveals that His people are stubborn, insisting on piling up their sin on themselves, and making plans that will only backfire He says

… the LORD waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the LORD is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait on him.

Isaiah 30:18

These are only a couple of examples – go and look for the rest, and be amazed at a God who justly pours out judgment but is so ready to give mercy and lavish blessing on people who will just trust Him and return to Him.

After six chapters of Isaiah describing God’s judgment on Judah for their disobedience and refusal to return to Him comes chapter 34, a final summary of the wrath that God will pour out on the enemies of His people and those that don’t trust in Him. It’s a chapter full of destruction and shed blood flowing like the sacrifices on the altar to satisfy God’s anger, finally ending in total desolation, the land left smoking and barren, a home for wild animals.

And after all this devastation come these verses:

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad; the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus; it shall blossom abundantly and rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the LORD, the majesty of our God.

Isaiah 35:1-2

The wilderness shall be glad, the desert spring into bloom, and the dead wasteland full of beautiful life. Already God has promised to be His people’s crown and beauty, to provide for their needs, to be with them and give them deep joy; and now as God comes to give them these things the dead land springs to life ahead of Him. This is the picture of salvation – beautiful life, abundant life; and not just life but close relationship with God: They shall see the glory of the LORD, the majesty of our God (Isaiah 35:2)

So how do we respond to a God so holy and passionate, who is repulsed by the spiritual adultery of our sin yet promises so much for those who turn to Him? We can only approach Him with humility, knowing we are sinful, confessing that we aren’t the people He made us to be and asking for His forgiveness. But we can also approach Him with boldness because we know that God has forgiven us in Jesus! We are sinners in the hands of a holy God, but redeemed sinners, beloved of the Lord and with all His promises given to us today. We have this salvation, this abundant life! Let’s thank and praise Him for all He has done for us! And let’s love our holy God, enabled by His Spirit to honour Him with our lives. Let’s work today as worship and service to Him.

There are many unknowns in life. Some aren’t all that important – for me, it makes no real difference whether or not I keep up with this year’s World Cup. I normally have an “I don’t know and I don’t care” view of football, so whether or not England get kicked out in the semi-finals on penalties yet again doesn’t affect me. But I’ve come to the stage in my Masters degree where unknowns are important. I’m doing my research project, and the point of research is to make unknowns known, to find out new things and ask what works, and why and how things are the way they are (and to spend plenty of time groaning “why-won’t-you-WORK?!?” when the experiment fails yet again).

But besides my research, a much bigger unknown is looming. Beyond the end of the next few months, little is certain; which means that answering the barrage of questions that naturally get asked when one comes to the end of a degree, like “what do you want to do next?”, “have you got a job yet?”, and (unspoken) “why haven’t you sorted your life out?” is a real nightmare! I’m someone that doesn’t get on well with uncertainty, either. I hate not knowing what I’m going to be doing at the weekend, let alone what direction my life is heading in. And with such a big thing like that, uncertainty is really scary. What if I can’t find a job? Or end up in one I hate because I’m desperate? Or can’t afford to live? Or end up moving somewhere else for work that’s far from everything and everyone I know and I’ll be so far away and DIE ALONE!?

Uncertainty is something that worry loves to latch on to because it means that, at least for a time, circumstances are out of our control. I know that when I get desperate, I can’t stand things being out of my control because it means I have to rely on something or someone other than myself, and because they aren’t me, they’re an unknown. And as worry grows, my perspective shrinks and I end up imploding in a dark little ball of stress.

But Jesus said “Do not worry.” (Matthew 6:25-34)

Why shouldn’t I worry? Don’t I have every right to be concerned about my life?

“… do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?” (v25)

Well, yes. But how am I going to earn? I need money. If I don’t have money, I don’t have a roof over my head and I’ll go hungry.

“Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?… And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labour or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you – you of little faith?” (v26-30)

God sustains the world. We have an ecosystem where every species has something to feed on. Granted, living things die of hunger or lack of other resources, and nothing on this world lives for ever. But the point isn’t about God not letting things die. The universe is still here, and it still works. When God created, and when He sustains creation now, there isn’t a gap where he missed something out like forgetting to make things edible or accidentally missing an important thing out of physics like a dodgy line in computer code so that the moon will randomly explode tomorrow or something like that (to you physicists out there, I’m so sorry if I got that wrong. I’m a microbiologist, physics is all a bit weird to me). The point is that God has created the world, with its complexity and beauty, and He has ensured that living things can live. And not just live, flourish. So if our Father can feed animals and make even grass beautiful, won’t He care for you, whom He cares about far more? Won’t He care for you, whom Jesus shed His blood for? For you, whom He has promised to be with and protect and keep safe until the day you see Him face to face?

Worry takes all of this and says “I’m not so sure that’s true.” Because worry is us trying to be in control, rather than trusting God to be in control. At the moment, it’s very easy for me to worry because it does seem like my life has to be in my control. In a sense, it is and will be: God loves me too much to hand me everything on a silver plate. He doesn’t promise that a job will fall into my lap, He doesn’t promise that life will be without hardship. As His child, He loves me too much to take away such opportunity to learn and grow to be more like Jesus, however hard the road is. Yet when nothing’s moving forward and my future is uncertain day after day I still doubt whether things will actually work out for my good in the end. Has God forgotten me?

God’s people Israel went through a lot in the Old Testament. They started out as an ethnic minority group in Egypt, made into slaves. They were rescued by God and brought to a new land. When they were established in the land, they had enemies to contend with at their borders. But the worst of it was that they turned away from the God who has rescued them and given them everything, and because of that God allowed them to be conquered and sent into exile in a foreign country. They were far from home, living among people who spoke a different language, who had different customs, and worshipped other gods. The symbols of their connection with God like the temple in Jerusalem had been removed from them. Where was God? Was He back in Israel? Had He abandoned them? Had He forgotten them?

To these people, God spoke prophetically through Isaiah:

Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.

Why do you complain, O Jacob, and complain, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the LORD, my cause is disregarded by my God”? Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no-one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint

– Isaiah 40:26-31

Look at the stars – who made them? Who makes sure they are all there? Who knows them by name? Who is it that created the earth, who has limitless power and understanding and strength? Isn’t it the Lord, your God? Your God? Don’t you know that He gives strength and power to the weak and tired? Don’t you think He would remember you, His people? Don’t you think He will give you all you need?

Don’t I believe that God will provide what I need? Don’t I believe that I can apply for jobs, and trust God for the outcome, and He will work for my good – wherever I end up?

To this worry has no answer, because it has no place in us who are God’s. We have a heavenly Father who loves us and never forgets us. We have no need to worry, because our God is the God who sustains the world and commands history to achieve His purposes.

First of all, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all of you! And thanks for reading the blog 🙂

And no, I’m not getting married. You wish 😉

Despite my lack of nuptials announcement, this year will very much be the Year of the Wedding for me. It’s that time of life when you reach your early-to-mid-20s and all the Christians get married! I’m doubling the number of weddings that I’ve been to in my entire life in 2013, so (other people’s) marriage and relationships are very much on my mind. Having been pretty much a lifelong Christian Singleton, it can be as much of a struggle and heartache as it is a genuine joy and delight seeing my friends get married and be in relationships. It is so easy for doubt to creep in – perpetual loneliness, insecurity, lack of love, etc. It gets more and more ridiculous as you work yourself up, but it happens. And with the often well-meaning but unintentional obsession with marriage and matchmaking in Christian circles, it can be hard to be single beyond the age of studenthood.

BUT this is not a rant about that. No, because the important thing is not ‘woe is me, it’s so hard to be single’ or whatever, but about where our heart lies. Is having a spouse or boy/girlfriend an idol? I openly confess that I spent years with my aim in life to be married, and it was no help at all. OK, so it’s not wrong to want to have a special person and be someone’s special person; but I think that this longing for intimacy is something rooted in us. Because, at the end of the day, we all do have a relationship like that which we can look forward to. A relationship of intimacy and beautiful love that is offered to all of us. And that, my friend, can encourage both the singletons and married among us.

I hope to write more about this soon because it’s very much a theme in my life that God is using to encourage me – not just the weddings of friends, but also what God has been speaking about in sermons and talks that I’ve been listening to. And the relationship that we have, or could have, with Jesus is something utterly exquisite. I want to take time to do justice to it, but in the meantime, I’ve put what I’ve been reading/listening to below.

Song of Songs is a book that’s been fantastically opened up as a wealth of imagery and encouragement, and

Mike Reeves’ series on Song of Songs on the Theology Network website: http://www.theologynetwork.org/unquenchable-flame/the-reformation-in-britain/getting-stuck-in/the-love-of-christ-in-song-of-songs.htm

Henry Curran’s sermon series on Song of Songs on the St Mary’s Wollaton Park website (back in September 2012: http://www.stmaryswollatonpark.co.uk/podcast.html – you’ll have to scroll down to find them) have been really helpful. What you might also like is the series on Ruth also on the St Mary’s podcast page (May 2012).

I’m sure there’s loads more to put down that I can’t quite remember now! Enjoy 🙂 And watch this space!

Hi guys,

I hope to start posting about sciencey stuff soon – especially biology (since that’s what my degree was). I’ve noticed that there’s a lot of stuff that I thought everyone knew because it was basic information for my degree and A-levels, but actually people don’t quite know. It’s not a clever-than-thou thing, it’s just that school doesn’t always teach you why water and oil don’t mix, or why genetics isn’t quite as scary as the movies (or the press, to be honest) make it – but can still be pretty cool, or why you can believe in God and think that evolution works, or why biology is awesome. You poor, deprived people.

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a bit of a biology geek… and when I say ‘bit’ I mean “you are such a geek!” happens quite a lot. So a chance to rabbit on about one of my favourite subjects is going to be a lot of fun. Hopefully there’ll be some hilariously-badly-drawn pictures too.

So if you want me to find out anything for you, or post about anything sciencey, leave me a comment!

I’ve just moved into a new house! Yaaaay! 😀 As you can see, I was so excited I made a rookie attempt to draw it on the computer 😛

New things are always very exciting to me. It’s why I like presents – something new to look at and discover and play with, and all the more fun if I have to rip off pretty paper before I can get to my prize. But this house is all the more exciting because: a) it has a garden; b) it has a conservatory (something I’ve never had before); c) it has a greenhouse; d) it’s in Lovely Suburbia rather than Grotty Studentland; and e) there was a time when I didn’t have a house. And THAT’s a whole saga! Basically, the System meant that it took more time to process everything than we had before the contract on the old house ran out, so I had almost a week of living out of a suitcase at a very kind friend’s house while I was waiting to move in.

But what I love the most about this house is that it feels like a home now; like somewhere more permanent and settled where I could enjoy living for more than just a year. OK, so I am by myself in it at the moment – Blondie and Smiff (not their real names) are away in various places of the world at the moment so it’s just been me for a few days. It’s quite nice being in the house by yourself for a bit, you can just do whatever without having to think about when dinner is/who’s watching the TV/whether housemates will be annoyed at you making noise; but it has its limits.

Aaanyway, back to the point – home is nice. Home is safe, permanent, and somewhere where you can relax. Much like my parents’ house. I loved visiting them last weekend. They’ve been living in that house since I was very young, so it’s always been home to me. One of a few constants in the ever-changing life of a young adult.

“Home is where the heart is,” as the saying goes. So where is a person’s heart focussed? Things made of bricks and mortar and glass, as nice as they are to live in, aren’t permanent. Everything in life can change. So do we focus our desires and hopes on buildings? Or on the things we want, but don’t have yet? Or on the people we love?

“Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21) So where your desires, hopes, and what you most value are, that’s where the core of your being is centred. As a Christian, my heart is supposed to be set on heaven, and much more, on God, who is the whole point of heaven anyway. But I find it just so easy to not set my sights that high. After all, it’s probably going to be another 60 years or so before I drop dead. And heaven is after you die, right? So what about the meantime?

Being a Christian is not, and never has been, just about getting into heaven so that we have somewhere nice to go after we die. It’s a whole life thing. It’s about the everyday boring stuff like paying bills and getting the bus to work. The question is, how do I set my heart on heaven while I’m paying the water bill or going to the supermarket? Our attitude – not just what we let others see, but what we don’t expose to the outside world – is very important in this. It shows where our heart, our treasure, our home is.

I can’t wait till I move into the house that I will live in for the next 5/10/20 years. I’d love to settle in a place. But is the most important thing in my life a building? It might be home, but it’s not quite Home – that, my friends, is far, far better.

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