Tuesday, December 25, 2007
A GOD WHO WORKS WONDERS
[The brothers] left Egypt and went back home to their father Jacob in Canaan. 'Joseph is still alive!' they told him. 'He is the ruler of all Egypt!' Jacob was stunned and could not believe them.
When the Lord brought us back to Jerusalem, it was like a dream! How we laughed, how we sang for joy! Then the other nations said about us, 'The Lord did great things for them'. Indeed he did great things for us...
[Jesus] said this and showed them his hands and his feet. They still could not believe, they were so full of joy and wonder...
So Peter was kept in jail, but the people of the church were praying earnestly to God for him... Peter knocked at the outside door, and a servant-girl named Rhoda came to answer it. She recognised Peter's voice and was so happy that she ran back in without opening the door, and announced that Peter was standing outside. 'You are mad!' they told her. But she insisted that it was true. So they answered, 'It is his angel'. Meanwhile Peter kept on knocking. At last they opened the door, and when they saw him, they were amazed.
...the Son of God, who loved me and gave his life for me.
I do have faith, but not enough. Help me to have more!
(Genesis 45:25 and 26; Psalm 126: 1-3; Luke 24:40 and 41; Acts 12: 5, 13-16; Galatians 2: 20; Mark 9:24 -- all GNB)
It was the first lecture of the diploma course and I was briefly surveying the history and religion of Israel. When I recounted the story of God's decisive intervention at the time of the Exodus, there was a sudden exclamation of 'How marvellous!' from one of the forty or so students crowded into the class. Startled by such an unusual occurrence in a normally sedate group, I traced its source to a frail-looking young man -- he looked as though the proverbial puff of wind would blow him over. A few minutes later, when we came to the point where God, in his grace, made a covenant with Israel, he exclaimed, 'That's terrific!'
Back in the staff common room I confided to my colleagues that we had something of an oddity in the first year diploma class. That was when I discovered that Richard -- his name -- was in fact an acute asthmatic who was so frail that he had never attended school; his entire education had been by a personal tutor who had encouraged dialogue and interaction.
Sadly, Richard quickly adapted to the 'hallelujah-less, take-it-for-granted' atmosphere so characteristic of so much of our Christian community. We know the story, perhaps too well, and it fails to excite us. But God is a God of miracles; all things are possible with him (Luke 1: 37) and he does surprise and delight us. So often he works for us in ways that appear almost too good to be true.
It was so with Jacob. There was nothing he could have wished for more than to know that Joseph, his long-lost son, was alive. The joyous assertion of the brothers (Genesis 45: 26) was, for him, too good to be believed. But Joseph was alive!
Or consider Israel in exile in the iron grip of a conqueror who had devastated its land, destroyed its capital and decimated its population. It seemed like a dream when God moved the heart of a heathen king (Ezra 1) and the captives, their long exile over, were back in Judea once more (Psalm 126). But it was not a dream and the God who controlled events on the international scene then is the same today.
Even our prayer life can be permeated by a strange mixture of faith and unbelief. Picture that prayer meeting in Jerusalem (Acts 12) when Peter was under sentence of death: the earnest petitions, the remembrance of God's miraculous interventions in the past. Yet when Peter, very much alive and well, arrived on the doorstep, those godly prayer-warriors were incredulous, unable to accept what God had done! Knowing how often we pray without any conviction of a divine response, we are hesitant to criticise those disciples, but God does work in answer to prayer!
Think, too, of the bleak despair and hopelessness of the disciples after the death of their Master. They were shattered men. How they must have longed for the tumultuous events of those days to be reversed and for their Lord to be restored to them! If ever there was a thing too good to be true, this was it! Luke 24:41 (RSV) has the strange, almost contradictory statement -- 'they still disbelieved for joy'.
But it did happen! Jesus was alive! He had broken forever the bonds of sin, death and the grave! He had answered decisively that age-old question, 'Is there a way out into the unknown -- a bridge into eternity?' Yes, there is. Jesus has pioneered that way and we may travel it.
All these miracles are well documented historical facts. But there is a miracle which takes place in our personal experience, the miracle of Christ's redeeming love for the individual: 'the Son of God loved me and gave his life for me' (Galatians 2:20). How impossible that must seem! I can comprehend that 'God loved the world' (John 3: 16) -- the world is a big place, with millions of people. But for the Son of God to love me -- just one amongst five thousand million people in the world today -- in a universe so immense! It seems too good to be true. But this is the glory of the gospel and its message of redeeming love. It reaches right down to the individual, it is personal and we can both accept it and rejoice in it. 'What is man, that you think of him; mere man, that you care for him?' (Psalm 8: 4, GNB) P.S. And Richard? He longed to serve Christ amongst young people, but in a few brief years after leaving college his flail body gave up the struggle. I can well imagine what he has been exclaiming since! 'How marvellous! That's terrific!' There is so much morel
The validity of the Christian faith rests on one supreme miracle: the cornerstone upon which the whole superstructure of Christianity rises or fails, depends on the truth of this miracle -- the resurrection of Jesus Christ...
No other religion has ever dared to put forth this challenge, has ever dared to make its appeal to miracles, and rest its appeal on a miracle.
Kathryn Kuhlman, I Believe in Miracles
So often we pray with such little belief in the efficacy of prayer that we are 'astonished' when the answer comes. How we need the word of Mark 11: 34, 'When you pray, believe that you receive... and you shall have...' Other conditions being satisfied, this believing before receiving is a mighty prayer secret.
Guy H. King, A Day at a Time
Each of us is created in God's own image, and it means that, though we are creatures and full of sins and defects, there is the deep-down likeness between us and God, and our destiny is to be with him. When we say that God loves us we mean that he cares for each single one of us as if there is no-one else for him to care for.
He cares for you in all that unique individuality which is yours. He wants you to be with him forever, to share with you all that he has to share.
The wonderful thing about man is that he is described as being in God's own image. Not that God and man are identical in all respects -- far from it. God remains the Creator, and we always remain creatures, utterly dependent upon him. Yet there is a true affinity between God and man. Man has powers of memory, thought, consciousness, purpose, appreciation of beauty, appreciation of truth, moral distinction between right and wrong, and a rare potential of freedom. Above all, he has the possibility of really knowing God, and having fellowship with God.
Michael Ramsey, former Archbishop of Canterbury
It is a thing most wonderful, almost too wonderful to be, That God's own Son should come from heav'n, And die to save a child like me. And yet I know that it is true...'
William Walsham How
God commends his love - Greater could not be - While I was a sinner, Jesus died for me.
Why did he love me? I never can tell. Why did he suffer to save me from hell? Nothing but infinite grace from above Could have conceived such a story of love
G.R. Harding Wood
Here might I stay and sing, No story so divine; Never was love, dear King! Never was grief like thine! This is my friend, In whose sweet praise I all my days Could gladly spend.
What can I offer the Lord for all his goodness to me?
Psalm 116: 12, GNB
Love so amazing, so divine, Demands my soul, my life, my all!
We may have as much of God as we will. Christ... bids us take all we want. If a man is admitted into the bullion vault of a bank and told to help himself and comes out with one cent, whose fault is it that he is poor? Whosefault is it that Christian people generally have such scanty portions of the free riches of God?
Lord, I thank you for the gift of love; indeed I am fearfully and wonderfully made. I praise you for all that goodness and tender mercy which have surrounded me all the days of my life; for those divine interventions, both great and small, which have marked out the days and years of my pilgrimage.
Above all, I thank you for the miracle of the new birth in your Son, my Saviour, Jesus Christ, that in him I am a new creation. Like Paul, I confess myself to be the chief of sinners, but you loved me and you have bound me to yourself, eternally, by your love and grace. I cannot fully understand such love, but I can and do rejoice in it; I cannot begin to comprehend why you should choose such a person as I am to serve you, but I gratefully accept that role as your servant -- and the servant of all, for the sake of Jesus Christ.
Help me never to take you for granted; never to lose sight of the wonder of your love; never to cease to respond sacrificially to your love; never to lose the hope of seeing the miracle wrought out in my life worked out in the lives of those about me, however unresponsive they may seem to be.
Go into this day in the consciousness that the Lord God Almighty invited you to walk with him. May the humility which marks out the person who walks daily with God be accompanied by a sense of your thrill and wonder at the way in which the Almighty works in your life and in his world -- today.
High Mountains, Deep Valleys, by Rowland Croucher ed., Albatross/Lion, chapter 5