Typhoon Haiyan

How to think about Typhoon Haiyan

With winds measTyphoon Haiyan Damageuring more than 200mph and waves more than 16 feet high the effects are there for all to see. At least one million have been left homeless with countless more in need of aid. The number of dead continues to rise in their hundreds while disease and sickness are spreading relentlessly. In what is now the worst storm on record, how are we to think about Typhoon Haiyan?

Three things we should not do….
1.) Don’t ignore it.
It’s not easy to watch the devastating scenes on our television or to listen to the stories of survivors. In fact to escape the tragedy of it all the temptation is to change channels. But don’t retreat into the security and comfort of your own dreams and ignore it. Watch and see the reality of the broken world we live in. Most of us live immune to such suffering while the majority of the worlds population live with it every day. We need to be reminded of our privileged position and all that we have; fresh food, secure homes, clean running water and access to health care.

2.) Don’t be overcome
With up to date images beamed into our homes it’s easy to become overwhelmed by it all. The impact of the storm seems insurmountable. We feel helpless and wonder what we can do. While we are not responsible to feed everyone or fix every home, we are responsible to do what we can. From our privileged position we can help those we are able to. God has made us stewards of all the resources he has given us and so we must do all we can to help all we can.

3.) Don’t sit in judgement
The easy way out is to become self righteous believing that what has happened is God’s judgement. We however have no grounds to think this. Those who live in the Philippines are no different to you or I. In fact we should wonder, why a Typhoon has not hit Ireland! If anyone deserves judgement it is us who live such luxurious selfish lives while the world continues to suffer.

Three things we should do….
1.) Be thankful
Instead of our constant complaints at the state of our economy we should be grateful for all we have and enjoy. We are still in the top 20% of the worlds richest people and live in one of the most secure countries in the world as far as natural disasters go. So as the news hits our screens give thanks to God for all that he has provided through his amazing generosity.

2.) Be prayerful
We may feel hopeless and helpless but we can all pray. Pray that food and aid would get to those most in need and that treatment and care will be made available to the most vulnerable. Pray for God’s restraining hand against the acts of evil men who will use such tragedy to exploit children and young women. Pray that people across the Philippines will cry out to God in their suffering and find a saviour who cares and loves them.

3.) Be hopeful
As we witness the broken world we live in and see the suffering and pain in the eyes of those who tell their story, remember that God has done something to end all this misery. Through the death of his Son Jesus Christ, He has paid the penalty for this sin cursed world and made it possible for people from every nation and language to be part of his new creation, a world without Typhoons or any other disaster.

Happy Halloween

halloween nightIt doesn’t seem right: ‘Happy Halloween’, after all judging by the mock graves in peoples gardens and skeletons hanging from front doors it seems anything but happy! In a strange irony the one subject we must never talk about in public and the one event we all fear is celebrated. For a few hours our children will dress up and parade our streets as the Grim Reaper or the Living Dead, in search of a years supply of chocolate and sweets. After all it is just a little bit of light-hearted fun, as we playfully scare ourselves to death! Now I don’t know if you will greet your neighbour with a ‘Happy Halloween’ but here’s why I think we should celebrate Halloween!

Overcoming Our Greatest Fear

When Halloween is over we will all revert back to our greatest fear and no one will be allowed to mention the ‘D’ – word. It’s odd don’t you think that one moment we can play the role the next we avoid it like the plague! Perhaps Woody Allen got it right when he said: ‘I’m not afraid of death, I just don’t want to be there when it happens’. That’s the sad reality we want to make fun of death but we still fear it. So what is there to celebrate? Well the bible, which talks a lot about death, tells us we need not fear death. ‘Jesus shared in our humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death – that is the devil – and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death’. Hebrews 2v14-15. The historical fact of Jesus’ death and resurrection means people like us don’t need to fear death. It has been defeated and destroyed. If we place our faith in Jesus we can truly laugh and mock death because it no longer has any hold over us – not just at Halloween but all through the year!

Hearing God’s Grace (Part 2)

Following on from yesterdays post we see the True Life that God in his grace gives us in four progressive themes.

First God’s continued grace to his people.

The opening chapters is a brief history, a reminder of why Israel took an extra forty years to enter the promised land. ‘…you were unwilling to go up because you rebelled against the command of the Lord’ 1v26. They assumed they could go up without the Lord: ‘everyone put on his weapons thinking it easy to go up into the hill country. But the Lord said tell them do not go up and fight because I will not be with you. You will be defeated…...in your arrogance you marched up into the hill country….but …they chased you down like a swarm of bees and beat you down…1v43-44. So they wandered the desert because of their sin. However God’s response is nothing but sheer grace: ‘He has watched over your journey through the vast desert . These forty years the Lord has been with you, and you have not lacked anything. 2v7. In fact God now commands them to go into the land: ‘Do not be afraid of them; the Lord your God himself will fight for you’ 3v22. God by his grace brings them into the promised land despite their rebellion. In fact when God predicts that they will fail again he reminds them of who he is: ‘The Lord God is a merciful God; he will not abandon or destroy you or forget the covenant with your forefathers, which he confirmed to them by oath’ 4v31. God is gracious and he continues to be gracious in our continues rebellion and sin.

Second God’s loving choice of his people.

As we read on through we are reminded that we are where we are today simply because of God’s loving grace. There is no room for pride or feelings of superiority. If we are to continue on with God it must be with a humble dependence on God: ‘The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers…and redeemed you from the land of slavery..’ 7v7-8. Our life starts with grace and continues with grace. There is nothing in us that attracts us to him, it is simply his choice to set his love on us. In fact the only thing we contribute is our sin: ‘After the Lord your God has driven them out before you, do not say to yourself The Lord has brought me here to take possession of this land because of my righteousness…understand, then, that it is not because of your righteousness that the Lord is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stiff-necked people.’ 9v4,6

Like Israel we need to be constantly reminded that if it were not for God’s loving choice we would be lost forever.

God’s saving purpose for his people

Deuteronomy may seem quite obscure to us especially the laws we read about from chapter 12-26. However they help us see that God had a purpose in choosing and loving his people. This was not to be a private faith but a relationship lived out among the nations. We are reminded of why they have all these laws in the first place: ‘Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear all these decrees and say ‘Surly this great nation is a wise and understanding nation.’ 4v7.

The laws were to keep them separate from other god’s and loyal to their one true God. This way people would see how great and wise God is. In fact they were to reflect God’s character to the nations: ‘Yet the Lord set his affection on your forefathers and loved them,and he chose you, their descendants, above all nations, as it is today’ 10v15. But why did he choose them? ‘ And you are to love those who are aliens, for you yourselves were aliens in Egypt.’ 10v19. God’s people are to love the peoples around them as God loved and treated them, thereby reflecting his character to them.

But more than this God’s people are to also reflect God’s demand for our absolute loyalty. In chapter 28 God sets out the standard: ‘If you fully obey the Lord your God and follow all his commands…all these blessings will come upon you’. ‘However if you do not obey the Lord your God and do not carefully follow all his commands…all these curses will come upon you’ 28v1,15. God’s warning is crystal clear if they turn away from him: ‘The Lord will scatter you among the nations, from one end of the earth to the other….There you will offer yourselves for sale to your enemies as male and female slaves, but no one will buy you.’ 28v64, 68. When this happens: ‘All the nations will ask, why has the Lord done this to the land? Why his fierce, burning anger?’ And the answer will be, it is because this people abandoned the covenant of the Lord…In furious anger and in great wrath the Lord uprooted them from the land and thrust them into another land as it is now’ 29v24-25, 28. The point is God takes sin seriously and when we give our devotion to another he is rightfully angered. God’s people are to reflect to the nations that God demands our love and loyalty. You see the reason we are saved and chosen is to show the community around us that true life and blessing is only found in loving God.

God’s persistent call on his people.

God has shown consistent grace to his people. God has lovingly chosen his people. God also has a saving purpose for his people, so it’s not surprising that he will not let them go easily: ‘For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God’ 4v24. We tend to view ‘Jealousy’ negatively. If someone is jealous they are envious and never satisfied with what they have. It can be controlling. However for God to be jealous is positive. His love is so strong for us that he is not willing to share that love with another. Not unlike that of husband and wife. It expresses faithfulness, commitment, loyalty and devotion. God has given himself to his people and so God persistently calls people to himself.

Throughout Deuteronomy God calls his people back to himself everyday. Every time Moses preaches he calls for a response Today: ‘Acknowledge and take heart this day that the Lord is God in heaven above and on earth below. There is no other. Keep his decrees and commandments, which I am giving you today…’ 4v39-40. Similarly ‘You have declared this day that the Lord is your God and that you will walk in his ways…And the Lord has declared this day that you are his people, his treasured possession as he promised….26v17-18. God is loyal to us each day and calls us to express our loyalty to him each day. It is a daily choice we are all called to make: ‘See I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. For I command you today to love the Lord your God…This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death’ 30v15-16,19.

This is not a legalistic choice it is a calling to apply the gospel everyday. To repent of where we have not loved God with all our heart and to renew our faith in God that he is all sufficient and all satisfying. The way to chose life today is exercise repentance and faith. This is God’s persistent call on his people.

 

So Deuteronomy may be a repeat of what has been said before in Exodus-Numbers but I think we need to be told again and again of God’s continued grace and gracious choice of us. Deuteronomy may not be full of action but it does remind us of an active God who has a saving purpose for our lives and persistently calls us back to himself.

As we read this great book we need to hear God’s grace to us afresh. No wonder it is the book that Jesus quotes from the most!

Hearing God’s Grace

Deu-ter-on-omy….It’s hard enough to pronounce let alone read the seemingly never ending thirty four chapters! In fact if you do venture to read this book you will soon find yourself asking ‘Did I not read this before?’ You see most of what we find in Deuteronomy has already been said in the previous three books of Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers. So why should we be bothered to read it?

Another struggle with the book is there is not much action – nothing really happens. Exodus at least has the drama of the plagues and rescue, Leviticus makes us squirm with all the details of how to slaughter animals and Numbers for all it’s counting keeps us engaged with the the miraculous provisions in the desert and the odd battle too. But Deuteronomy has no action, all that happens is Moses dies: ‘And Moses the servant of the Lord died…as the Lord said’ 34v5, and even at that ‘no-one knows where his grave is.’ v6                                                                                                                                  However the death of Moses is very significant and it gives us the clue to understanding the whole book.

Who will replace Moses?

Moses was first introduced to us back in Exodus 2 when Israel were in slavery for four hundred years. God called and chose Moses to lead his people out of slavery. For the following forty years Moses led the people of God as God spoke through him. It was God who spoke to his people through Moses. Forty years later, Israel are standing on the East side of the Jordan ready to cross over into the promised land. But there is one person who is not going to make it. Right at the beginning of Deuteronomy Moses reminds the people of what God said: ‘Because of you the Lord became angry with me also and said, You shall not enter it, either.’ 1v37. Even when Moses asks God if he can go over God is emphatic in his response: That is enough…do not speak to me any more about this matter…look at the land with your own eyes, since you are not going to cross this Jordan.’ 3v26-27. Then at the end of Deuteronomy we are reminded twice more that Moses will not go to the promised land: ‘I am now a hundred and twenty years old and I am no longer able to lead you. The Lord has said to me ‘You shall not cross the Jordan’ 31v2, and then finally God again reminds Moses: ‘This is the land I promised..I have let you see it with your own eyes, but you will not cross over into it.’ 34v4.

We are left with the people ready to enter the promised land but their leader is not going with them, in fact the book closes with his death. So the big question is who will lead the people as they venture into the promised land, who will speak to them from God?

Well Deuteronomy is a collection of final sermons from Moses to the people. It is a summary (Deuteronomy means second law), a repeat of all that God has spoken to the people. So while Moses will not be going with them God’s word will. That’s why no one knows the place where Moses is buried. It’s not important! We are to leave Deuteronomy not remembering Moses as a great leader but trusting that God’s word will sustain us and keep us as we journey on. It’s God’s word that will lead the people. Moses realises this as he faces his imminent death: ‘So Moses wrote down this law and gave it to the priests….when all Israel comes to appear before the Lord your God at the place he will choose, you shall read this law in their hearing. Assemble the men, women and children, and all the outsiders living in your towns so that they can listen and learn to fear the Lord your God and follow carefully all the words of this law.’ 31v9, 12                                          Yes other people will be chosen in place of Moses but they lead by speaking God’s word to the people.

Hearing God’s word

Since the book is a collection of sermons the emphasis is on careful listening: Hear (50 times) now O Israel, the decrees and laws I am about to teach (7 times) you. Follow (16 times) them so that you may live and may go in and take possession of the land…Do not add to what I command you to do and do not subtract from it but keep/observe (170 times) the commands that I give you.’ 4v1-2

God’s word is to be central to their life and living, because how they respond to it will be their life or death: ‘See I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction…now choose life so that you and your children may live and that you will love the Lord your God., listen to his voice and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life…’ 30v15, 19-20.

In fact the reason they wandered in the desert for forty years instead of entering the promised land is because they ‘rebelled against the command of the Lord your God’ 1v26..’in spite of his word you did not trust the Lord your God.’ 1v32.

So the people are commanded: ‘Do not turn aside to the right or the left. Walk in all the way that the Lord has commanded you so that you may live..’ 5v32, 28v14

Ultimately the call to hear God’s word is a call to choose Christ.

Jesus Christ comes as the ‘word of God’ John 1v1, he is the ultimate ‘Moses’ and in his words are life: ‘I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.’ John 5v24.

Moses spoke of the Christ to come: ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to Him’ 18v15. God said of this prophet: ‘I will put my words in his mouth..If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call to account.’ 18v18-19

So as we read Deuteronomy we are hearing Christ and as we listen, we are called to choose Christ, the true prophet and the one who has come to give us life in all it’s fulness.

(This life is seen in four themes that progress through Deuteronomy. We will look at these tomorrow)

 

Christmas In Four Words

‘But when the time had fully come, God sent his son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that they might receive the full rights as sons.’           Galatians 4v4-5

Intervention                                                                                                                      ‘When the time had fully come, God sent his Son…’

God looked down on the world, he saw the mess, the brokenness, the suffering and the pain. He saw how rebellious and disobedient people had become. Like a spoilt child on Christmas morning we have taken all God’s good gifts and have broken and destroyed them and then expected more. God saw that we were utterly weak and helpless and unable to change our situation. So without invitation, without consultation, God intervened. He took the initiative and did something about it. He could no longer sit back and let people and the world destroy itself. When the time had fully come God sent his Son.

Incarnation                                                                                                                        ‘…God sent his Son, born of a woman…’

It simply means that God became a man. While he was still God he was born into the world just like you and me and experienced the full range of emotions and feelings that you and I have. If God was going to help us he had to become like one of us. The creator of the world, who has no beginning or no end. The sustainer and provider of all life, who depends on no one and who needs nothing. The ruler of the universe, who is all powerful and all controlling – was born into this world. God came near and experienced the world, first hand, in all it’s mess, suffering and pain. He loved us so much that he moved in with us. Not only so he can know us but that we can know him – personally and intimately. We are reminded of this each Christmas through the name given to Jesus – Immanuel God with us. God sent his Son, born of a woman.

Identification                                                                                                                                    ‘…born under law to redeem those under law…’

To redeem is to buy back. It means to intervene into the life of someone who is utterly helpless and give them a life that they could not achieve on their own.                                 ‘Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written:Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.’ (Galatians 3v13)                                          God became like one of us so that he might identify with us. His identification was so great that he not only became like us he took the place of us. He came ultimately to take on himself the punishment that the law demands for our sin. Jesus did not stay in a crib he went to a cross and became a curse for us. On the cross he died for you and for me. He redeemed us, he rescued us, he gave his life for our sin so that we might have his life. Born under the law to redeem those under law.

Inclusion                                                                                                                               ‘…to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.’

This brings us to the climax, the purpose and reason of Jesus coming for us. So that we can be adopted into his family. No longer are we outsiders, excluded and rejected we are included into his family. We have been given the full rights as ‘sons’. A son has access to his Father. That means God is no longer to be feared he is our loving father. It means we are his valued and treasured possession and he now treats us as his own Son, Jesus Christ. But there is more. Sons are heirs of all that belong to their Father. So in the same way we will inherit all that God has for us – an eternal Kingdom ruled by justice and peace. As his children we will share in his eternal home.

Happy Christmas!