Life is a journey, with a beginning and end. We’re all travelers, somewhere on that journey, forever on the move, learning, growing, changing. The disruption caused by Covid-19, the daily news updates of casualties and the attempts to find a vaccine inevitably lead to a rollercoaster of emotions, highs and lows, hopes and fears. Psalm 23 is probably the most widely known and best loved of them all. In part it is because it addresses the strong emotions we often feel at times such as this. There are two parts to Psalm 23:
23:1-3 “The Lord Is My Shepherd” – What I affirm about God. 23:5-6 “You love will follow me” – What I experience of God.
23:4 links the two together. The Lord is my Shepherd because I know Lord you are with me.
We are invariably fascinated when secrets are revealed in the media – except perhaps when they are, our own. Those deeply personal things that matter the most to us – our children, our family, our bodies, our emails, our text messages, our age, our photos, our income, our bank accounts, we keep these private, and in many cases wisely so. The more important, the more personal, the more sensitive the information, the more likely, we will want to keep it private, confidential, or concealed. And many people feel the same way about their religious faith. Its personal. Its private. And it remains concealed.
“When Britain first, at Heaven’s command, Arose from out the azure main, This was the charter of the land, And guardian angels sang this strain: Rule Britannia! Britannia rule the waves Britons never, never, never, shall be slaves.
The nations, not so blest as thee, Must, in their turns, to tyrants fall; While thou shalt flourish great and free, The dread and envy of them all. Rule Britannia! Britannia rule the waves Britons never, never, never, shall be slaves.
Sung with gusto at the Last Night of the Proms, “Rule Britannia” was a poem composed by James Thomson and set to music by Thomas Arne in 1740 to commemorate the accession of George II. 
The Psalms have a unique place in scripture. They have been likened to a hymn book. But not just any old hymnbook. Whether we feel like worship or not, as we begin to recite the verses of the psalms, something begins to happen in our hearts. It is as if the saying of the words draws us in to praise. John Piper says, “Thanksgiving with the mouth stirs up thankfulness in the heart.”
I don’t know about you, but I cannot read more than a few verses of Psalm 148 without wanting to sing the beautiful hymn “All Creatures of our God and King”. It was written by William Henry Draper, based on a poem by Francis of Assisi, and set to a tune composed by Ralph Vaughan Williams. But as we sing, or say, the words of this psalm, I also confess that I smile at the absurd idea that somehow we human beings can instruct the angels, the sun and moon, the weather, the mountains, the seas, reptiles, birds and animals, to praise God. Why? Because the scriptures tell us this is something which they already do, naturally and instinctively, all the time.
On a recent flight I read an article in the airline magazine about a rather unique watch called a Tikker. It doesn’t just tell you the time – it tells you how long you have left to live. The author of the article, Ben Hamersley writes, “Do you have any idea how long you have left, well, actually? In total? To live? I do. It’s counting down on my wrist as I type this. I have, according to my watch, 44 years, ten months, five days, six hours, ten minutes to go. Even less by the time you read this, of course, and the information is coming to me every time I glance at my wrist. I’m wearing a Tikker watch, calibrated against my date of birth, nationality and other pertinent things, and displaying a forever depleting time left to my, actuarially predicted, statistically average, time of death. The brainchild of Fredrik Colting – a Swedish former gravedigger…” Fredrik obviously had plenty of time on his hands. We all do, and one of the things I love to do on a flight is watch the map of the world going by and the timer ticking down to the arrival time. Wouldn’t it be amazing to have one for our life journey? Fredrik hits the nail in the coffin by observing,
The Book of Isaiah, written around 700 years before the coming of Jesus Christ, is quoted more times in the New Testament than any other book of the Hebrew Scriptures. Why is that? 754 of Isaiah’s 1292 verses are predicting the future. That means 59% of Isaiah is prophecy. Isaiah contains 11 direct prophecies concerning Jesus and it is cited or alluded to in at least 50 NT passages. Why? Lets find out. Isaiah 53 is so explicit in predicting what happened to the Lord Jesus it doesn’t need much by way of explanation. Indeed it became so obvious that Isaiah was referring to Jesus after he was crucified and rose again from the dead, that, as the Church separated from the Synagogue, Isaiah 53 was no longer read as part of the Jewish lectionary. There are five paragraphs, each of three verses, and it begins in chapter 52:13.
The Predicted Saviour: The Servant’s Role (52:13-15)
The Rejected Saviour: The Servant’s Life (53:1-3)
The Representative Saviour: The Servant’s Suffering (53:4-6)
The Crucified Saviour: The Servant’s Death (53:7-9)
The Glorious Saviour: The Servant’s Resurrection (53:10-12)
The Predicted Saviour: The Servant’s Role
“See, my servant will act wisely; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted. Just as there were many who were appalled at him his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness—so will he sprinkle many nations, and kings will shut their mouths because of him. For what they were not told, they will see, and what they have not heard, they will understand.” (Isaiah 52:13-15)
Beat the clock. Around the clock. Against the clock. Clock in. Carry the day. Once in a blue moon. From now on. In the long run Come of age. A day in the sun. The crack of dawn. Year in, year out. A month of Sundays. Hour of need. Full of the joys of spring. Now or never. The moment of truth. Better late than never. Make my day. Here today and gone tomorrow. A blink of the eye. Days are numbered. What do they all have in common? Time. We say, long time no see. Killing time. Wasting time. Behind the times. On time. Just in time. As time goes by. The nick of time. Do time. Serve time. A whale of a time. Save time. Good time. Ahead of time. No time to lose. The big time. High time. Time is money. Times flies. Crunch time. Out of time. Time for a change. Times up. I counted over 100 expressions for time. They all refer to chronological or sequential time.
I have always fancied going on a cruise in the sun and 15 years ago I got my chance. In 2004, I was invited to co-lead a late Autumn Cruise through the Mediterranean for MasterSun, a Christian travel company. It was billed as the “Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem” cruise. We visited some of the Biblical sites on Crete, Jerusalem and Galilee, and some of the sites of churches planted by Paul and the Apostles in Turkey, Patmos and Greece.
There were daily lectures to give about the significance of the places being visited the next day and the situation of Christian communities today. And we did indeed pray for the peace of Jerusalem. MasterSun had already invited a host from Christian Friends of Israel and they wanted someone to provide another perspective – hence me. When my name appeared in the publicity for the cruise, however, a rather eccentric Pentecostal minister warned in a prophecy that the ship would sink. MasterSun didn’t seem too worried but I did some research on the kind of whales that live in the Mediterranean.
The cruise actually went very smoothly. Apart from the last night. We encountered a rather violent electrical storm in the Aegean Sea not far from where Paul encountered his. This one had everyone on deck taking photos of the impressive thunder and lightning display. All except me. Being a little deaf without my hearing aids, I slept soundly right through the night. I heard all about it the next day at breakfast. It is the nearest I have come to experiencing the kind of crisis Paul describes in Acts 27. You may like to turn to it with me (and check out the outline in your weekly News)
The fact is, all of us, at one time or another, will find ourselves in a crisis. Sometimes we cause our own problems, sometimes we have no choice, but everyone experiences times of crisis. And it doesn’t seem to matter how good we’re trying to be. As the Scriptures say, “The rain falls on both the just and the unjust.” So how do we deal with a crisis? Like Corporal Jones in Dad’s Army crying “Don’t panic, don’t panic”? How can we stay calm? How can we maintain our confidence and courage, regardless of what happens? Continue reading →
Which command in the Bible is repeated most frequently? Do not worry? Why is that? Because from birth it is our default position. “I’m hungry, I’m cold, I’m afraid…” Even as Christians we are tempted to doubt our loving heavenly Father. Satan knows if he can get us to doubt God, we will live defeated lives. That is why Jesus says over and over again in the gospels, “Do not be afraid, little flock…” (Luke 12:32).
But did you know some people are more prone to worry than others? Over forty years ago, two cardiologists, Milton Friedman and R.H. Rosenman observed that the primary risk factors of coronary heart disease, i.e. hypertension, smoking, and elevated cholesterol, could not explain why some people suffered and others did not. Their research published in 1974 revealed that personality type was also a major contributory factor. They divided people into Type A and Type B. And if you are worried about which Type you are, you are probably a Type A… They observed that Type A people were more prone to worry than Type B and were also found to be three times more likely to have a stroke or a heart attack, even if they were did the same sort of work and lived in similar conditions. Rob Parsons has identified some of the traits of Type A personalities. See if this reminds you of anyone. Continue reading →
I have a problem with suffering. I am sure you do also. A couple of years ago I experienced some of the worst pain in my life and I ended up in hospital. I knew the medical reasons why I was suffering but that didn’t make it any easier. If God wasn’t going to answer my prayer and take the pain away, I wanted to die. When the pain had gone I changed my mind. We struggle to keep their faith when confronted with pain or illness or death.
The problem of suffering is therefore a question we have something in common with our friends. The answer to our question should therefore help them as much as ourselves. For some it is an intellectual and theoretical question about the existence of God and problem of evil. For others it is a present and personal experience. The answer we give will greatly depend on the context. Our culture finds the issue of suffering a huge problem. The presence of pain and evil in the world leads many to question the existence of God. David Hume, the philosopher put it like this:
“Is he willing to prevent evil, but not able? then he is impotent. Is he able, but not willing? then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? whence then is evil?” (David Hulme)
Here is how C.S. Lewis framed the dilemma,
‘If God were good, He would wish to make His creatures perfectly happy, and if God were almighty, He would be able to do what He wished. But the creatures are not happy. Therefore God lacks either goodness, or power, or both. This is the problem of pain in its simplest form.’ (C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain)