Understanding God – Hope

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.

Isaiah 40: 1-2

These last two weeks we have been trying to understand God, in as much as a human mind can understand the divine.

If we are to understand God then yes, we understand he is creator, lawgiver, and everything in between. To understand God is to understand our sin and the importance of repentance. Yet to think that it is our repentance that gives us hope would be a mistake.  

God, speaking through Isaiah said ‘Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jeruslaem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for.

Here is the key to understanding the hope we have in God. It is not that we have paid for our sin, it is not that we have made up for our sin, it is not that our repentance makes everything ok. It is that our sin has been paid for. God himself, in the person of Jesus Christ has paid the price through Jesus death on the cross. The perfect sinless creator sacrificing himself for the sinful creation.

This hope, our sin being paid for is received though faith in Jesus Christ. That means it is received simply by believing, trusting, being assured that through the cross we have forgiveness of sins. Believing means living in a way that shows this to be true – which is what we call repentance, the change of life, the change in how we live.

As we finish our set of reflections on understanding God we are left with the question, do we understand the hope of God? Is now the time to start believing in a creator God deserving of our total obedience and so to turn from the sin that besets each one of us, trusting in his salvation receiving his hope?

I hope these reflections have helped us to understand God, and in understanding him we have grown to know him better.

Prayer Lord Jesus Christ, I have sinned. As David said, I have sinned against you and you alone. I am not worthy of the hope you bring through Jesus Christ. Yet Lord I thank you because of Jesus, his life, death, and resurrection. I thank you for the hope of his return in glory. Lord, forgive me, renew me, and teach me to live as you have commanded. May the hope of the gospel be real in my life and seen in my life. Amen

Understanding God – Worship

Elijah went before the people and said, ‘How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.

I Kings 18: 21

There are some things we find difficult to decide. Should I take that new job? What university should I go to? These things are difficult because we think they are big life changing decisions. Other things are difficult simply because we are not good at making decisions. What colour should I paint my bedroom? Will I get an iPhone or an Android? To be honest most of these problems are first world problems.

Big Bang Theory – Sheldon deciding between Xbox and PlayStation

Often when it comes to our worship often, we live as though we can’t decide who or what to worship. We would never say such a thing out loud. We would never imagine that our worship was directed towards anyone or anything other than God. Yet I wonder if we were asked to give up something precious to us as part of that worship how would we feel?

The truth is that all to often our worship is the same as deciding, we shift our affection from one to the other we become like Sheldon trying to make our minds up. James, the brother of Jesus, wrote in his letter, ‘…the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind… such a person in double minded and unstable in all they do.’ (James 1:6 & 8)

When we read the story of Elijah on Mount Carmel (read here) we are reading a story that teaches us we cannot take this double minded approach to worshiping God. ‘If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.

To understand God is to understand God is a jealous God, he cannot be worshiped alongside anyone or anything else. In fact, to think we can worship God along with someone or something else is the same as saying we are choosing not to worship God.

The question we are left with is who is the Lord? If he is God then will we worship him alone, putting him before all things. To do anything else is to say that Baal is God…

Prayer Father today I declare you to be God. I understand you to be the creator God, the law-giving God, the only God worthy of my worship. I declare you to be above all things and before all things. Father God today I echo Paul’s words to the Philippians, and I bow the knee, in worship and submission. In obedience to you. Help me, Lord, to live my life serving you only. Amen

Understanding God – Repentance

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

Psalm 51: 10-12

At the heart of our understanding of God has been his rightful place as creator, lawgiver and one who calls his creation into obedience.

The common denominator through each of these understandings has been God’s faithfulness to the promises he has made to his people, but equally the disobedience and unfaithfulness of his people. Yesterday (Understanding God – Sin) we read about David’s affair with Bathsheba which epitomised the sin in each of our lives. Our desires taking priority over God’s will.

Churches Protest at Stormont Seotmeber 2019

We touched on how Nathan the prophet confronted David with his sinfulness in 2 Samuel 12 (read here). We should be careful not to be judgemental when we read stories such as David’s. Scripture makes clear that none of us our righteous. Paul wrote in Romans 3:10-12, ‘None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.’ The psalmist wrote in 14:3 ‘They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.’ And then again in Psalm 53: 1-3 ‘They have all fallen away; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.’ (read more here)

The call of scripture is not to sit in judgement on one another but to change how we live, to recognise that we are just as guilty as the next person. Psalm 51 is David’s response to his own sin. It is a cry of repentance, an acknowledgement that his sin was primarily against God. It is a plea for God to cleanse and a promise that as he moves forward his life will be one of worship and obedience.

What has our response to our sin been? Have we had the honesty to come before God and admit that we have wronged him? Have we asked for God’s forgiveness and his cleansing? Have we recognised that life can’t go on as it has been and that we will have to make changes?

The reality is that it is only through repentance, this coming to God in honesty that we can find the forgiveness and release we so desperately need. In Psalm 32 David speaks about how his bones wasted away when he kept silent about his sin. The blessedness of the psalm is found in acknowledging sin to God.

To understand God is to understand that we can only have the weight of sin lifted from us when in honesty and repentance we bring that sin before God because only he can give the forgiveness we desire because it is against him we have sinned.

Prayer Father, it is against you and you only have I sinned. The more I try to hide that sin from you the more I feel my bones wasting away, the more I groan all day long. Today I confess that sin to you. I confess that I have been ­­­­________. I commit to stop hiding my sin from you, but as you cleanse me, so I also commit to make changes in my life, to be obedient to you. Father in your forgiveness, grant me the steadfast spirit that enables me to be faithful. In Jesus name, the atonement for my sin, I pray. Amen

Understanding God – Sin

When Uriah’s wife heard that her husband was dead, she mourned for him. After the time for mourning was over, David had her brought to his house, and she became his wife and bore him a son. But the thing David had done displeased the Lord.

2 Samuel 11:26-27

The story of David and Bathsheba is a story of how one man, David, saw something beautiful, Bathsheba, which fuelled a passion overriding all sense of what was right and wrong. (Read the story here)

This picture by Artemisia Gentileschi depicts King David looking on from his balcony as Bathsheba bathes and is attended to.

There are couple of things worth considering at this point, why is David looking on? Why if he was innocently taking some air did, he not leave Bathsheba in private?

As we read the text of the story, we discover that David thought Bathsheba incredibly beautiful (v2). We also discover that David was not content in admiring her beauty from afar (as wrong as that would have been). He sent someone to find out about her and then someone else to have her brought to him and then he slept with her. (read here)

David knew his actions were wrong. He was breaking several commandments. Not least do not commit adultery, he was placing his desire for Bathsheba above his desire for God and so he broke the first commandment. He was jealous for his neighbour’s wife (Bathsheba was married to Uriah) and so he broke another commandment.

His way of dealing with the consequences of his actions was at first to get Uriah home hoping he would sleep with his wife and so deceived into thinking the child was his, breaking the commandment about not bearing false witness. Ultimately David committed murder by proxy to deal with the problem. There weren’t many commandments David didn’t break in this episode.

At the heart of David’s problem was his desire for his pleasure above all other things. He wanted Bathsheba, she was commanded to come, her marriage, which David knew about in verse 3 did not stop him. His knowledge of the law did not stop him, his love for God did not stop him. Respect for human dignity and life did not stop him. (Both Bathsheba’s dignity and Uriah her husband were ignored.)

This lack of respect was summed up well by Nathan the Prophet who exposed David’s sin with the story about a rich man who instead of taking one of his many sheep to feed a traveller took the only lamb from a poor man. (Read 2 Samuel 12)

Sin has not changed. The sin we are beset with is the same as David faced. Our desire set above God. Our wants set above God’s law. We place ourselves at the centre of our universe neglecting the God of all creation, believing his purpose is serve us and not the other way around.

The lesson we should learn from David’s encounter with Bathsheba and apply to the sin in our lives is incredibly simple. ‘But the thing David had done displeased the Lord.’ Ultimately this one action destroyed David’s reign. His life became a battle against one rebellion after another. He had to fight for everything he had and to hold on to it. Even his own family, his own son would rise in rebellion against him. Perhaps the most cutting consequence of all was the death of the child conceived in sin.

Sin destroys everything, nothing good ever comes from sin. Relationships are damaged, life is changed or polluted in a way that we cannot undo. The only remedy to sin is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. John the Baptist said of Jesus, ‘Look the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!’ (John 1:29)

What areas of life do we put ourselves before God? What are the things we must have above all else? Is it respect, love, family, to win an argument? What’s the cost in terms of our relationship with God and one another? Is now the time to confess and seek the remedy of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!

Prayer Heavenly Father all to often you come second in my life because my desires come first. Forgive me. Forgive my selfishness, my god complex where I act as though I am you. Help me to re-order my life, to love the Lord my God with all my heart, mind, soul, and strength and then to love my neighbour as myself. Lord help me to understand that in putting you first I am not putting myself second, but last, because others will come before me. In Jesus name, amen.

Understanding God – Trust

Then the Lord said to Joshua, ‘See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men. March round the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days. Make seven priests carry trumpets of rams’ horns in front of the ark. On the seventh day, march round the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets. When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, make the whole army give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse and the army will go up, everyone straight in.’

Joshua 6: 2-5

To understand God is to understand that we are to trust him. I don’t know if you have ever been in the military. This Friday (8th May) is VE Day. I’m guessing when the WW2 generals where planning the invasion of Europe on D-Day, or when they planned the campaign in North Africa or the Italy landings that they didn’t entertain the idea of simply walking around the Nazi positions with torches.

VE Day celebrations in Belfast
Crowds celebrating VE Day outside City Hall Belfast Picture from Belfast Telegraph

I wonder how much courage it took for Joshua to follow God’s instructions. Although in fairness he’d already witnessed the Lord’s mighty hand as he served alongside Moses for so many years. Immediately prior to the story about the fall of Jericho Joshua came face to face with the commander of the Lord’s armies. A heavenly warrior, ready for battle. (Read here)

Joshua’s confidence in God was born out of his experience of God. He learned to trust when he saw the power of God as demonstrated through the plagues Moses brought upon Egypt. He crossed the Red Sea in a miraculous way, he learnt about the faithfulness of God when in the wilderness he ate of the Manna God provided each morning.

Trust is like a Lego tower. One brick is built upon another. On experience on top of another. Gradually the Lego tower grows taller and taller and so our trust grows stronger and stronger. Do we have trouble trusting God in the big things of life? Have we committed to trust God in the small things? Have we begun the process of building the Lego tower?

The tower under constriuction in Milan. Photo: Lego

To understand God is to understand he is trustworthy and faithful. To build our trust in God is to look for his hand on our lives and to acknowledge that hand in thanks. The more we thank God for what he has already done for us, the more we will be able to trust him for the next thing that comes our way.

Why not use the hymn below to help you reflect on God’s faithfulness and trustworthiness in your life.

Louise Wilson playing for Moneydig & Second Kilrea online service of worship

Prayer Father, thank you for all that you have done in my life. Thank you for Jesus, the cross, forgiveness and new life. Thank you for those times when you have guided my life and my steps. Thank you for the protection you have afforded from sin, illness and harm. Thank you for the way in which you have brought me through or are bringing me through difficult circumstances. In Jesus name, amen.

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