There is a house which I pass regularly on my way into town. I’ve always admired it - it’s part of an old terraced building and has two beautiful stained glass windows downstairs. The windows have very attractive curtains and on one deep window ledge there is a large, stunning china ornament which I’m certain would be very expensive to buy. Just recently a ‘For Sale’ sign appeared in the garden.
Now I have no intention in this world of moving house but I wanted to see the inside of this little gem which had come on the market and by the wonders of modern technology this was very easy to do.
What a disappointment!
When I googled it, the first tell tale sign was the price tag. The selling price was very modest. Then, when I looked at the interior, it was very poorly furnished and was described as ‘in need of some upgrading’. It was clean and tidy but had little else to recommend it. The owner had obviously made a huge effort to keep up appearances to the outside world but inside things were so different.
I keep thinking about it.
It is a perfect description of many lives. Looking good on the outside, but so poor on the inside. I did admire the efforts of the owner to keep up appearances to the outside world and, I don’t know the background, but maybe this was all that could be achieved. But when we think of the spiritual - and the eternal - side of things surely we don’t want to live this way? I’m not speaking of the material things that can be bought with cash, but of the quality of the life inside us - life that cannot be bought with money but comes from our walk with God. Richness, peace, security, joy and contentment - these are the things that should ‘furnish’ the inside of our beings.
Are they ‘in need of some upgrading’ in our lives? Thank God, that can be provided - without money and without price. Let’s upgrade the place where we are living - by walking closely with the Saviour.
The Israelites had various feast days throughout the year and the purpose of some of these gatherings was ..... to look back. Two notable examples are the Passover Feast and the Feast of Tabernacles. The first of these reminded them of their deliverance from slavery in Egypt. The second, of God’s faithfulness and provision for them on their long journey through the wilderness. What was the purpose of these feast days? It was first of all, to gather the people together - because there was strength and encouragement in being together - and then to remind them that in very difficult circumstances, God had brought them through. And to increase their faith that it would be so again.
They also had times when they were told to look up. Abraham was told to look up to the high places and God said He would give them to him for his inheritance. The people looked up at Mount Sinai and felt the awe and power of a holy God. At the dedication of the temple as they looked, not at the the temple but up to the God for whom they had built the temple, the glory fell upon them. The purpose of looking up was to remind them of the God in whom they trusted and of His love for them, of His greatness and His power to help them.
And at times they looked forward. Joshua looked forward to conquering Canaan, David looked forward to overcoming Goliath, and the disciples looked forward with anticipation to taking the gospel of Jesus Christ out into the world after He had died, risen again and poured out His Spirit upon them.
The secret that Joshua, David and the disciples had learned was this —they each looked back and took encouragement from what they had seen and known of the action of God; they also had learned to look up and see something of Who God is and feel the power that is in Him. And because of that, they could look forward with confidence into a future where there were many uncertainties and many unexpected twists in the road - God would surely be with them.
Child of God - Where are you looking ?
I've been reading about Elijah recently. When he left Mount Carmel after his victory over the prophets of Baal, he fled for his life and we read of the time when God spoke to him, not in the earthquake, the wind or the fire... but in a still small voice. Elijah knew what it was to hear God speak to him in mighty dramatic ways, but he also knew how to listen for that voice speaking to him in the quietness.
Sometimes we find it difficult to hear what God is saying to us and there can be many reasons for that - we are too busy with our own lives... we are too focused on what we want to happen, how we want a situation to work out... we are listening to what everyone else is saying. We need to learn how to shut down all these voices and to let God speak.
I remember something that happened to me many years ago. I was faced with a situation where two courses of action were possible... and I knew that I desperately wanted to take one road and not the other. But I did want to be careful to do the right thing. The battle I had was to be open to either way being the right way. I pictured the first road being the one God wanted - that was easy. But then I deliberately opened my spirit to the other road being the right way. I pictured how it might work out and asked God to help me accept that. And, gradually, that happened. Only then was I able to hear what the still, small voice was saying and to be sure I was making the right decision on the matter. A chorus comes to mind -
God’s way is the best way. God’s way is the right way.
I’ll trust in Him alway - He knoweth the best.
We can never improve on God’s plans - but we must learn to listen and to be open to what He is saying.
‘Tis Jesus the First and the Last
Whose Spirit shall guide us safe home
We’ll praise Him for all that is past
And trust Him for all that’s to come’
Many of you will be aware that the past few days have been a bit of a roller coaster for us in Falkirk. We have been letting people know that The Almond Tree will be closing at the end of the year as it is no longer possible to sustain it as a business. This decision is not without its pain and sadness, but we have no doubt the decision is the right one. Our shop has been open for almost 20 years and the church is much better known in Falkirk as a result of its presence. Many lives have been touched, souls have been saved and people have been baptised in the Spirit. For all of this we praise and thank God!
But we see this as the end of an era, not the end of a work. The building is a wonderful resource and there is already the sense that we can continue to use it in future days for outreach ventures to take the gospel beyond the walls of our church.
As I thought about it this morning the words of the above hymn came to mind. My English teacher background (!) came to me as it struck me that the line
‘Whose Spirit shall guide us safe home’
uses the emphatic form of the verb ‘to be’ in the word ‘shall’ - underlining the certainty that it will be so. God has guided us, as a Church, thus far and as we lean heavily on our Beloved (... echoes of the livestream on Sunday night!) He surely will continue to lead us in the days to come until our journey is complete. And so, as we praise Him for all that is past, let’s trust Him for all that’s to come. He is well able to carry us through all the uncertainties in the world at this present time. Our God is much bigger than that!
Onward and upward!
This was the heading of a reading by Spurgeon which I was looking at last week and the words have stayed in my mind.
He began to write about the wolves which come to attack the Christian in the ‘evening’ and he painted a very vivid picture. These wolves were all the more ferocious because they had no food all day and were ravenous and vicious by evening time. And the Christian had felt very safe during daylight times when he was walking in pleasant places under sunny skies. Do you get the picture?
There are times when we are much more vulnerable to the attacks of the enemy. Perhaps you have lived through days or hours when life has been hard, when the future has been uncertain or when you have wandered spiritually and are living in a shadowland. There are many ways in which we can feel the night shadows coming around us. And at such a time the wolves that come to snap at our heels and attack us can be very vicious... where is God in all of your present troubles... You’re not really doing well, you’re not going to make anything of this Christian life... etc.
Just at the time I read these words by Spurgeon I had felt the enemy snapping around me and trying to upset me about a particular set of circumstances. But at the same time another verse of scripture stood out from something I was reading:
Cast your burden upon the Lord and He shall sustain you. (Psalm 55:22)
And immediately I sensed there would be a way through! The snapping of the enemy and the swirling of the shadows didn’t disappear immediately but somehow they began to lose their potency and there came a certainty that they would soon be gone. And by the end of the following day it was so.
Always remember that things can be painted very black by the enemy of your soul and when the Sun of Righteousness draws near the shadows can be dispelled in the brightness of His Presence... and the evening wolves are forced to retreat.
Abraham believed God and it was counted unto him for righteousness (Romans 4:3)
Abraham had to wait a long time for the fulfilment of God’s promise in the birth of Isaac. But during all that time he was growing spiritually, he wasn’t marking time. Sometimes he slipped, but he didn’t stay in a low place. He was brought back and he continued to believe. He is called ‘the father of the faithful’ - not because of his own track record but because he kept turning back to God and believed in His faithfulness.
Do we believe God? When we slip, when we doubt, do we languish in a low place for a long time before we are restored?
Though your sins be as scarlet they shall be as white as snow (Isaiah 1:18)
Behold I stand at the door and knock. If any man hears my voice I will come in and sup with him and he with me (Revelation 3:20)
I will never leave you or forsake you (Hebrews 13:5)
Do you believe what He says in these scriptures?
Promises like these should be like the bread of life to us - but you have to ‘eat’ them, digest them - and then they will become nourishment for your soul. And if we believe words like these we will keep coming back to them. We too will grow spiritually and begin to be rooted and grounded in the word of God and not swayed by every circumstance and mood. Our growth comes from drawing our life from Him. He is faithful - learn to believe in Him and trust Him in every situation.
‘Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them’. (2 Kings 6:6)
This story comes from the life of Elisha, when his servant was afraid because he saw the strength of the armies that were on the hillsides around them, ready to attack. But Elisha saw what the servant could not see - the heavenly armies that were present and were far mightier than the earthly armies. He asked that God would open the young man’s eyes that he might see them too.
This verse was in my daily reading and it struck a chord in me because of what I have been reading in the life of David for the past few days. The part I have been reading is the climax of the hunting down of David by Saul. Time after time, Saul seeks the whereabouts of David and sets out to kill him. And time after time God intervenes. At times it looks as if Saul has learned his lesson and repented, but not so - it starts all over again. Until it comes to a climax and Saul overreaches himself - he consults a medium and then word comes from God that he is about to be defeated in battle and killed.
What struck me as I read is the way in which we find that David does not give in to fear and discouragement in this long and weary conflict with Saul and neither does he take the battle into his own hands. Each time there is an escape, he must surely have hoped that the tide had turned and there was coming a change - and then Saul renews his attacks. But David kept following God, believing that his life was in God’s hands - not Saul’s hands. And ultimately the power of Saul was broken and David moves forward in his life and his calling.
At times, life can be wearisome and there seems to be no moving forward but if we look heavenward we will see that God is with us to strengthen us and carry us through and, like David, we do not need to give in to negative thinking. We will perhaps go further and see what Elisha saw - the armies of heaven are around us and there can be victory for the children of God if we keep looking into the spiritual world, and not the world around us. And I love the fact that God opened the eyes of the servant that he too saw the spiritual powers that were protecting them. So, even if you feel you are a very lowly person in the kingdom of God He can open your eyes that you, too, might see!
Lord, help us look into your world and find the strength, the encouragement and the hope that is there for every child of God!
I have heard all about you, Lord. I am filled with awe by your amazing works. In this time of our deep need, help us again as you did in years gone by. (Habakkuk 3:2)
The prophet Habakkuk was speaking at a time when life was hard for the nation and he encourages them to remember what God has done in the past - things such as the exodus from Egypt after years of slavery... the times of the judges when the people fell away and were rescued again and again and given victory over their enemies... the reign of David when Israel grew strong and established themselves as a powerful nation.
And we can add so much more when we look at the New Testament. It looked like total defeat when Jesus was crucified ..... but then there came the resurrection! It looked as if the church would never grow to anything after His ascension and only a small band of insignificant followers was left behind ..... but then there came the Day of Pentecost and the explosion of the power of God. And after that there came Paul, a vicious opponent of the gospel, ..... but after his conversion on the Damascus Road he took the gospel into the Gentile nations and to virtually every part of the Roman Empire.
Dark hours come again and again before the dawn.
Go to your Bible and remind yourself of what God has done in past. He is still the God of the universe and Christ is still the Saviour of the world.
After the victory on Mount Carmel, Elijah scanned the horizon. Then he prayed... and he went on praying... until his servant came back to say he saw a cloud the size of a man’s hand. And Elijah heard the sound of abundance of rain! Don’t be discouraged, read in your Bible of the wonderful works of God... and pray on... and on... for an intervention of God in your personal life (and many have been finding that already) - and in the life of the church and in the worldwide situation that faces us at this time.
My Spirit remains among you, just as I promised when you came out of Egypt. So do not be afraid. (Haggai 2:5)
These words were spoken to a people living in very hard times and it must have seemed to them that the time of the deliverance of their nation from Egypt was a far off memory and so removed from their own situation.
But that was not so. God’s Spirit remained among them. Think of the many times in scripture that God’s Spirit came to his people or to individuals and despair turned to hope, sadness turned to joy. Peter was released from prison... Paul and Silas found their chains broken in the darkness of a prison cell... the disciples found the Spirit outpoured on them on the Day of Pentecost and on many other occasions... John was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day on the isle of Patmos and was lifted into a place where he saw into the spiritual world and forgot for a time the hardships of the world around him.
In some of these situations you have a person, alone, in very discouraging circumstances but they found that ‘His Spirit remained among them'... and God has promised that it will be so for those who turn to Him, even to the end of the age when Christ returns again.
Where are you today? Are you discouraged or feeling crushed by your circumstances? God would remind us that His Spirit remains amongst us - so do not be afraid.
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace.
You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies... my cup overflows with blessings... surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life. (Psalm 23)
About a year ago I was taking the funeral of a man who had made a profession of faith many years ago but had drifted away and become very cold until his life came into very difficult circumstances. He then grew bitter and angry about what had happened but in the afterward he started coming to church and gradually found a place of peace before he died very suddenly some years later.
At the funeral I spoke from the 23rd Psalm and in particular from some of the words quoted above - You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies.
The psalm was written by David and though he had many enemies throughout his life, he found that God provided for him, very richly, in every situation. But at the funeral I am speaking of, the emphasis was very different. That man’s enemies were the bitterness and anger that he was harbouring in his heart. And the wonderful thing was that God prepared a feast for him even in the presence of these enemies and gradually the love of God and the warmth of His presence worked a miracle and the enemies were defeated.
Often our enemies are within ourselves - enemies of discouragement, fear, a sense of failure. Or anger, resentment and bitterness. But if we come to God, even in the presence of these enemies, we can feed on something very different - He provides a feast of His love, His forgiveness, His care - and gradually the enemies lose their grip and our cup overflows with blessings.
I’m always grateful when I read the 23rd Psalm because it says that not only goodness, but mercy will follow us all the days of our lives. How we need that mercy, because of our weaknesses. Be encouraged, His mercy will follow you all your days and your cup can continue to overflow with blessings until you go to be with Him.
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Struthers Memorial Church is a registered Scottish Charity No. SC 006960 | Struthers Memorial Church is a company limited by guarantee incorporated in Scotland Company No SC335480 | Registered Office: 33 West Stewart Street, Greenock, PA15 1SH.