Thursday, 23 May 2013

The Arms of God

In art, in literature, in music arms provide images of strength, welcome, protection, rescue, tenderness, and comfort.
The Bible shows us that those are things that God offers us. The Bible also often uses the symbolism of arms to describe God’s character and activity.

1. God at the ready                             Isaiah 52:10

Psalm 8:3-4 When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?”
As marvellous as the creation of the heavens is, they were just the work of his fingers. However when God saw the damage our sins brought about the Bible says the “Lord will lay bare his holy arm in the sight of all the nations.” It’s as if creating the world was easy but when it came to solving the crisis of our sin, God had to roll up His sleeves and he really got down to business… This is a serious matter for Him. God intervenes and he is going to act to save his world.
In Luke 1:46-55 Mary saw that her own miraculous pregnancy and that of her cousin Elizabeth was a sign that God acted to fulfil his promise to save.
From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me, holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who fear him from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; (v48-51)

All this activity of God is intricately bound up with the birth of Jesus. His incarnation is the indication that God has done something, that far from being indifferent to the world he stepped right into it.

Strangely not everyone wants a God who is so concerned. They would rather he minded his own business.
Why do people reject the idea of God reaching down into our lives? It is probably because they want to hold on to the arrogant assumption that they can fix the world themselves. God will never accept that the world is not his business. He will never accept that you are not his business. He is and will ever be not only our creator but our Father.

We delude ourselves if we think human beings can sort out this world wn it is we and our sin that is the problem. The old hymn Stand up, Stand up for Jesus has the line, “The arm of flesh will fail you, you dare not trust your own. We need outside help. We need a Saviour. Praise God, we have one.

The image of the Lord baring his arm is a picture of a soldier making ready for battle. Any warrior in Bible times would of necessity remove an upper garment, and free his arms of all encumbrances in order to fight effectively. Usually, this meant wearing some type of sleeveless upper garment so that the arms were totally unhindered in battle. The Bible shows us that God is a warrior ready to go into battle for us.

2. God at work

It is of course one thing to be willing and ready to get involved in trying to save and rescue. But are his arms long enough to reach us and are they strong enough to win the day?
Isaiah 59:1Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear.”

The flexing of muscles immediately conveys power and strength.
In the Bible God is described like this, “Your arm is endued with power, your hand is strong, your right hand exalted.” Jeremiah once said to God, “Ah Sovereign Lord you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you”

Such verses give us tremendous hope because there are millions of things that we find too hard to do.
However a question that raises itself is, “If God is all powerful why do we still see such suffering in the world?”
If he is all powerful why does he let bad things happen?
Where do we begin to answer such a question? Where we start is actually the crucial thing. If we start with the bad things and try to reason back to God we will never make it.
If we start with lung cancer or divorce or rape or murder or earthquakes it is hard to find God. He is there but he is hard to see.
It is far better to start with God and what you know about him and then go back to the bad things. In our personal experience God has shown us his love, and his power we know his presence with us. What we know of him tells us that God will find a way of redeeming the seemingly impossible situations in the world.
We need to start with what we know about God and then look at the world. And what we know about God is best expressed in Jesus. Jesus said, “He that has seen me has seen the father.” When I look at Jesus I see someone who cares, who loves without limit and who ultimately overcame the greatest enemy of men, death itself.
Jesus is represented by the ‘hand’ and ‘arm’ of God. We have heard the expression: “He is my ‘right arm’, or my ‘right hand man’.” These expressions indicate how valuable this person is to us, and how necessary to accomplish the desired results—the person described in this way is an extension of ourselves to help carry out our plans.
Psalm 89:13 “Your arm is endued with power.”
Matthew 28:18 “All power in heaven and earth has been given to me.”
And so let’s not forget that when we say God is a God at work the culmination of that work took place on a hill outside Jerusalem where the Saviour God sent, bared his arms and had them stretched out and nailed to a cross but such was his power that he rose to life three days later.
And we can obey the request of the psalmist; “Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvellous things; his right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him.” (Psalm 98:1)

3. God at my side

Are we able to have an individual relationship with such a powerful being or is he just too overwhelming to know personally?
Human beings have done everything to provoke the Lord to anger.

When faced with the holiness of God and his own sinfulness the prophet Isaiah cried out, “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips and I live among people of unclean lips and my eyes have seen the king the Lord Almighty.” (Isaiah 6:5)

Yet Isaiah was not destroyed but cleansed and then commissioned by God to speak for him.
The Victorian preacher, Spurgeon said, “What a mighty arm of grace it must have been which held back the anger of God while we were in a state of rebellion and impenitence! For God to rule the angry sea seems nothing, to me, compared with the power which He exercises upon Himself when He endures the provocations of ungodly men, the hardness of their hearts, their rejection of Christ and, oftentimes, their blasphemous speeches and their unclean deeds. O Sinner when you are sinning with a high hand and with an outstretched arm is it not a wonder of wonders that God does not cut you down and end your insolence?” (Spurgeon)

Yet God does not just refrain from destroying us his is an outstretched arm that gathers.

Isaiah 40:11 “He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.”

Deuteronomy 33:27,"The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.

We must realize that God is for us. God is not the angry avenger who is peering at earth looking for wayward sinners that he can condemn. God is constantly working to renew and to restore.

It is really saying that human strength is not enough to meet our needs. We need the mighty arm of God around us to redeem us, restore us, comfort and strengthen us.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

The Heartbeat of God

Exeter Temple Sermon notes
Genesis 12:1-9

Sunday 5th May 2013
Those of us who have had children will know what a thrill it is to hear the heartbeat of your unborn child for the first time. It perhaps drives home to you that you are actually going to be a parent of a REAL LIV CHILD. It is both exciting and a bit frightening at the same time.

In the news very recently has been reports from China and from Bangladesh of disasters which left victims buried under the rubble of collapsed buildings.

There is a high probability of survival of an uninjured healthy individual with a supply of fresh air if they are recovered within 72 h of becoming trapped. Survival rates decline after 72 hours of being trapped under a collapsed building, and without access to water most victims are unlikely to survive longer than 120 hours

The success of the whole search-and-rescue mission eventually depends on accurate and rapid location of survivors within the collapsed structures. Acoustic devices work by using specialist software which separates sounds like voices, breathing or the heartbeat from other background noises.
Those sounds including that of a heartbeat indicates that there is life still holding on in the midst of the surrounding chaos and devastation. The hope and joy such a sound brings is immense.

More than 4000 years ago in a country many miles away was one of the most modern cities of that day. It had well developed industries and good opportunities. It was also a centre for worship. There were two prominent temples dedicated to the moon god Nannar and his wife Ningal.
Despite the elaborate buildings and the well-developed worship system there seemed to be, there was no heartbeat of a divine living being, coming through in generation after generation.

In the midst of all this lifeless idol worship and in the centre of city life one man discovered that there was a REAL God who wanted to be known and wanted people to know Him. And so in Genesis Chapter 12 verse 1 we have these words, ‘The Lord spoke to Abram’.

1. Hearing the heartbeat of God
It doesn’t seem that dramatic to us but for Abram to claim that he had heard from God, in a city that had never heard anything from their god’s was incredible.
Abram was convinced that God was real and was speaking to him. And this same God was going to use Abram to show the world what a real living God could do compared to lifeless idols.

We often think of the great figures of the Bible as people who encountered God in a different way from us. If only we had their faith, if only we could hear God as clearly as they did then, we too would be great saints. Yet we are not told that Abram heard God any more clearly than we do. God called him into a relationship with Himself out of a civilisation just as decadent, just as complicated, just as difficult to live in as we live now. The heartbeat of God that Abram heard is still detectable today, if we will only listen for it.

How do we do that? There are two ways and at first they seem opposite. The first is to remove ourselves from the hustle and bustle and busyness of life. It is very hard to discern the presence and the life of God around you when you are distracted by everything under the sun so taking time out at regular intervals is essential for us. That is what Jesus did

Mark 1:35-36 (NLT)
Proverbs 1:23-24 (NLT)

There is a danger when we start talking about creating separate space in our lives, which we set aside for God to think that God can be compartmentalized and that some parts of our lives are sacred and other parts are not.
If we believe that every aspect of our life should be brought under the Lordship of Jesus then we need to be able to connect with him in the midst of our activity, to detect his presence in the ordinary tasks, remember he is as real and alive when we are doing the washing up as he is when we are here on a Sunday morning.

If our awareness of God is reduced to a certain time and place, namely a few hours a week inside a church building we are missing out not only on precious times of fellowship with the living God and also fail to discern what God is doing by his Spirit in the world.

if we listen hard enough we will discover God is still ahead of us. In the rubble of man’s inhumanity to man, in what looks like a wasteland of secularism and atheism and in the chaos of our confused value systems there is the heartbeat of God. In it all he is still there, waiting to be found.

2. Living in step with the heartbeat of God

“One of the most important things about prayer is that we are transformed through the experience. We draw close to the heart of God. We hear the heartbeat of God, the things that God is after, the rhythm of God. We learn how God works.”

~ Richard Foster

Abram had to make a choice.
The Lord said to Abram, ‘Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land that I will show you’.
These days the current trend is to want a kind of spiritual buffet, where we have a little bit of a lot of dishes rather than choose one main course.

Abram learned quickly that that was not what was required. To keep in touch with this living God who spoke, he had to stop being an idol worshipper. He had not only to believe he had heard the heartbeat, he had to follow it. And that involves trust.
Abram was sure of one thing. He had heard the call of God. But he had no idea where that would lead him.

Hebrews 11:8: “Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance obeyed and went even though he did not know where he was going.”

Abram started out NOT knowing where he was going, only who he was going with. And even his knowing God was bound up with his on-going trust and obedience.

3. Understanding and receiving the heart of God.

We’ve talked a lot about the heartbeat of God, in terms of it being an analogy of God being alive and active. But we also use the term to mean what motivates a person. We ask. “What is their heart?” God’s heart is to bless.
The word to bless has been down-graded in our language and become a little sentimental but it is actually one of the great words of our faith.

The heart of God was to redeem His creation from waste and barrenness and see it reach its true potential. It wasn’t to diminish Abram’s life that God called him way from Ur but to enlarge it.
Abram was to discover that God’s heart is loving redemption. Abram would settle in a new land to build a great nation and be a channel through which all the families of the earth would be blessed.

Even though God had begun His redemptive reclaiming process with Abram, who was just a single individual he had a world view. He had a plan, a clear purpose for the centuries ahead, a plan that reaches even to us today. The heart of God embraces the whole world with his love.

And if God is the creator of the universe and knows what is best for this world and if as Abram discovered this God has a heart to bless not destroy, then what better way to live that to live in harmony with the rhythm of that heart by listening for that heartbeat in the quiet place and also in the chaos of the world. What better way to live than to follow that heartbeat and trust it to guide our lives?

Even more than this, God does not want us just to hear his heartbeat, walk in step with his heartbeat he wants to put his very heart in us so that we become one with him. He promises his mind, is heart, his purposes will not something just outside of us but within us.

Romans 6:17
2 Peter 1:4
This is the promise that God, will give us inward transformation so that our heart so resonates with his that His desires become our desires, His passions become our passions, His priorities become our priorities.

God has always had people from Abraham to the present day who despite the clamour of city life, despite the numerous lifeless idols that are about can hear the heartbeat of the Father. They know His reality, they trust Him with their very lives and they are experiencing the fruitfulness of life in His presence.

Abram teaches us that what we see with our eyes is not all there is to see, all that we hear is not all that there is to hear. If we listen carefully we can hear the heartbeat of God, patiently working His purposes through history and if we let Him, in us and through us.

God bless