Watching Daily At Wisdom's Gates

A Yorkshireman's take on life, death, and eternity

Month: September, 2016

Place

For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.
Psalm 84 : 10

Where is your favorite place in the world? For the sons of Korah it was the temple of God. Would you say your favorite place was church? I love church, but kind of subconsciously to be honest, and I had to think twice before I felt I could concur with the Psalmists.

The most mundane job in the house of God is the doorkeeper. It pretty much involves greeting people with a handshake, or if they are Yorkshire folk, more appropriately a nod of the head and an “alreet?” Perhaps there’s more to it than that, in a busy place of worship it involves crowd control. It helps to have a knowledge of health and safety concerns. And in the light of the terrorist attacks at the church in France there probably needs to be a security consideration.

But even the most menial of worship tasks is better than dwelling in the tents of wickedness. The worshipper would much rather be in the house of God at the weekend than nursing a hangover in a stranger’s bed. Better to enjoy God for all eternity than to chase after the transient pleasures of sin.

“Oh Lord of the angel armies, my King and my God, thank you for the priviledge of coming to worship you. What an honour to serve you in even the simplest of tasks. I would rather praise you than to be living in sin. Forgive me for when my priorities are upside down, in Jesus’ name, amen”

Woe

Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!
Isaiah 5:20

We live in a society which takes pride in what God calls sin. We live in a culture which celebrates evil and calls it good. The LGBTetc lobby promote what God condemns, and condemn the consciences of those who oppose them. Christians have had businesses sued for conscientiously refusing to call evil good, and some have even lost their jobs for refusing to validate what God has forbidden.

Lot survived in Sodom by hiding his light under a bushel, but we are to promote good and speak out against evil. In our society children are seen as an inconvenience and many are aborted in the womb. As Christians we should be speaking out adopting babies that would otherwise be killed.

Marriage is despised as a piece of paper, or something that people can enter into whatever their gender or “self identification”. In reality it is a God given committed union between a man and a woman. This world is upside down: we might not be able to turn it right side up but we can stand out for Jesus in a crooked and depraved generation.

The reality is we’re all evil, however we identify ourselves. We all face woe for our woeful attitudes and decisions in life. But God loves us and can wash us clean in the blood of the Lamb. We might suffer for our wrongdoing, but the Lord can restore us back to himself.

“Lord God Almighty, have mercy on us for our messed up morality. In your wrath please remember your love. And please forgive us because of Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf. In his name, amen”

Regard

Stop regarding man, in whose nostrils is breath, for of what account is he?
Isaiah 2:22

Judah was facing an existential threat. The Assyrian empire had already swallowed up her Northern neighbour of Israel. Egypt was a danger to the south. And Babylon, the empire that would eventually overthrow her, was growing in power.

We live in similarly testing times. Brexit has thrown up a lot of regional uncertainty. The refugee crisis continues, fueled by instability in Africa and the Middle East. Putin seems determined to rebuild a Russian empire. America is about to elect a president who will be unpopular whoever wins, as the nation is rocked by shootings and racial tensions. I could go on…

Solomon says in Ecclesiastes that whoever watches the wind will not plant. Similarly here, God is trying to give us perspective and to encourage us to get on with our lives quietly. Why worry about people, who are just a breath, then they are gone. Far more important to have regard for God, the divine orchestrator.

Maybe it’s a difficult work situation. Maybe it’s an idolised relationship. But having regard for man will cripple us and make us ineffectual. Far better to have regard for God who empowers us to live fruitful and productive lives.

“Lord God of the angel armies, help me to have regard for you rather than people, who are just a breath. Forgive me when my perspective is skewed and I worry about things that you have got in hand. Thank you that you are in control, and that I am yours, in Jesus’ name, amen”

Reason

Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.
Isaiah 1:18

In the courtroom of heaven, we are in the dock, and we can only plead guilty. God knows all things, he knows our offenses against him. He knows our disbelief, idolatry, profanity, restlessness. He knows our disrespect, hatred, lust, thefts, lies and covetousness.

We deserve to be sent down to hell for eternity for our cosmic crimes against our creator. But even though we weren’t looking for a plea bargain, our judge deliberates with us. We have nothing to say against his judgement, but he declares innocence over us.

The judge knows we’re guilty. He sees the red stains of our murderous, drunken, shameful selves. But he says he’s going to wash them away, leaving us as white as snow or wool. We are a blot upon the face of the earth, but God is going to wipe the slate clean and we will be aquitted.

How can a holy God justify us? Is this not just wishful thinking that the judge of all the earth would declare us guiltless? Not at all, because the spotless Lamb of God has been slain for us, and his blood washes us clean and restores us to a right relationship with God.

“Lord of the angel armies, I deserve your condemnation for my sins against you. But you sent your Son to give his life for me. Thank you that through faith in him I am washed as white as snow, and reconciled to you in your Holy Spirit. In Jesus’ name, amen”

Love

Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal on your arm, for love is as strong as death, jealousy is fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, the very flame of the Lord.
Song of Songs 8:6

Three times in the Song of Songs the listeners are charged to not stir up love until it’s ready. This verse is the reason why. Love is like fire, a beautiful, but dangerous, unpredictable thing that needs to be controlled. Biblical love is more of a wood burning stove than a bonfire in the back garden.

The beloved is asking her lover to commit himself to her: to set her as a seal upon his heart and arm. Marriage isn’t just a piece of paper; it’s a seal of approval to say that we are prepared to commit to each other for life. The bonfire in the back garden is out by the 6th of November, but the wood burning stove can keep you warm all winter.

Love is as strong as death, but as with any fight there can only be one winner. Love and death might be well matched, but love beats death. Jesus proved that when he died for love of us and rose again victorious over the grave.

Uncontrolled forest fires can be massively destructive. So can unrestrained love. But a wood burning stove can keep you warm on a cold night. Married love is one that can sustain you til death do you part, and you are united with Christ forever if your faith is in him.

“Heavenly Father, I want to thank you personally for the blessing of marriage that I see in couples I love. Help me in singleness or marriage to love you with an undying love. Forgive me for times I have been unfaithful, hurt others and been hurt myself, and please restore me to faithful love of you and of others. In Jesus’ name, amen”

Repentance

And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptised every one of you in the name if Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit”.
Acts 2:38

I’m going to someone’s baptism today. But as he told me his testimony on Friday, he had to tell me off for jumping to conclusions and butting in with my Bible quote assumptions. Peter on the other hand was patient with the crowd that accused him of being drunk. Instead of jumping to the punchline: “Repent!” straight away, he explained to them why they needed to repent.

In evangelism, it’s all very well knowing the answers, but if we’re not prepared to listen and then build up a reasoned argument for repentance, we’re not going to get very far. Peter explained to his hearers that they were responsible for the death of the Lord of glory. Their sins nailed him on the cross.

The casual reader today might wonder at the significance to us. Well it was the Father’s will to crush Christ on the cross, for the sins of the world. So we are all guilty of deicide. Every bitter though, every foul word, every evil deed, “crowning his bloodstained brow” as the song puts it.

We all deserve to be crushed underfoot for the crucifixion of Jesus, but God promises something better for us. If we repent we are spiritually baptised: washed in the blood of Christ. Then we receive the Holy Spirit. And water baptism is the public sign that God has forgiven and transformed us.

“Lord our God, forgive us for the death of Christ. Thank you that he defeated death, and please transform us by your Holy Spirit. In Jesus’ name, amen”

Enjoyment

Rejoice, oh young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth. Walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes. But know that for all these things God will bring you into judgement.
Ecclesiastes 11:9

Solomon gives the impression that he was a pretty lenient dad. The gist of this verse is “do whatever you like… but know God will judge you”. Sadly his son Reheboam turned out to be a fool, so it’s not enough to have the wisest parent who’s ever lived to set you up for life.

It’s tempting to judge Solomon for how his son turned out. But I think we should consider his wisdom here. God as Father often seems to be lenient. He gives us free will, and often allows us to get into all sorts of trouble before he disciplines us and brings us back.

Solomon had the wisdom to know that he was not like the divine judge. Once his son had become a young man, there was only so much he could do to parent him. So he took on a fatherly, advisory role.

People sometimes make God out to be a cosimic killjoy. But his scripture here commands young people to enjoy themselves. All it does is add the essential clause that for all that we do in our pursuit of pleasure, we will be judged. Far better to find pleasure in God than in all the world has to offer.

“Heavenly Father, thank you that you give me license to enjoy myself, to go out and have a good time. But thank you too for warning me that whatever I do will be called into judgement. I praise you for Christ, in whom I will be declared righteous on the day of judgement. For your glory, amen”.

Restoration

Jesus said to Peter the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything, you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.”
John 21:17

Simon had given up on his dream of following the Messiah. Yes, Jesus might have risen again from the dead, but Peter had denied him three times at his trial. Surely now he was good for nothing but to go back to fishing.

So Peter pitched out into his boat one night, taking other disciples with him. If Christ wasn’t going to restore the kingdom to Israel they may as well get back to their old lives. But Jesus had other ideas, and prepared a breakfast barbecue for them on the beach.

After they ate, Jesus took Peter aside. Three times He was denied, three times He asked Peter if he loved Him. He was heartbroken, insisting that Jesus knew that he loved Him. But Jesus had work for Peter to do: he was restoring him to serve.

I haven’t exactly denied Jesus, but I’ve let him down often, especially in two bouts of acute mental ill health. We all let God down, but if we belong to him, he will restore us to serve him. Even if we sin against him, God knows our hearts, and he knows if we love him.

“Lord God, you know that I love you. I’m sorry for the times I’ve sinned against you, and simply failed you by my ineptitude. Thank you that you restore me to serve you, please help me to do so well. For your glory, amen”

Sonship

When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold your son!”
John 19:26

What would your last words be? Some profound philosophical statement? Or something more simple, like “I’ve had a good innings!”? Jesus to the very end was always thinking of others.

As in any healthy culture, the responsibility of looking after the elderly rested with their children. They didn’t just cart them off to a home, but would take them into their own homes. But as Mary’s eldest son died aged 33, he made sure she’d be looked after.

Mary had other children, but at this stage they didn’t share her faith in the Son of God. So Jesus called upon one of his closest friends John to look after her. From that time on, John took Mary into his home to look after her.

How amazing that as he died in agony at the hands of sinners, Jesus’ first thought was for others. His care for others was always perfectly timed: just what they needed. Do we have the same care for the needy in our midst? The mark of a healthy society is how well it looks after the weak and vulnerable.

“Father God, please give me your heart for others. Thank you for your Son who gave his life for me. Forgive me my selfishness and help me to give myself for others. In Christ’s name, amen”

Care

When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold your son!”
John 19:26

What would your last words be? Some profound philosophical statement? Or something more simple, like “I’ve had a good innings!”? Jesus to the very end was always thinking of others.

As in any healthy culture, the responsibility of looking after the elderly rested with their children. They didn’t just cart them off to a home, but would take them into their own homes. But as Mary’s eldest son died aged 33, he made sure she’d be looked after.

Mary had other children, but at this stage they didn’t share her faith in the Son of God. So Jesus called upon one of his closest friends John to look after her. From that time on, John took Mary into his home to look after her.

How amazing that as he died in agony at the hands of sinners, Jesus’ first thought was for others. His care for others was always perfectly timed: just what they needed. Do we have the same care for the needy in our midst? The mark of a healthy society is how well it looks after the weak and vulnerable.

“Father God, please give me your heart for others. Thank you for your Son who gave his life for me. Forgive me my selfishness and help me to give myself for others. In Christ’s name, amen”