Letter from Australia 64 – Rivers of TearsBrothers and Sisters,
Brothers and Sisters,
When were you last upset? Yesterday I had an upsetting day – we had had a great weekend – the grandchildren came to visit, going to church was wonderful and then I reversed the car into a post – with apparently significant damage. I was pretty upset with myself. (By the way if you want to deal with stereotypes then let me point out that my wife is much better at reversing the car than I am!).
But why was I upset? This was a ‘treasure on earth’ where moths and vermin (and bad drivers) destroy and where thieves break in and steal (Matthew 5:19). If my heart was upset about that then surely that indicates that that was my treasure and therefore indicates something wrong with my heart. I know that it is not as simple as that, so I got to thinking about what causes me to be upset – what causes me to cry – and what does the Scripture say?
Apart from the little things of everyday life, something that has been causing me great distress is the current state of the world. I don’t mean that I am personally invested in a particular political point of view (in a social media kind of way where a political viewpoint or personage becomes a bit like supporting a football team – you want your side to win and get upset if they don’t) – but rather just a general sense of darkness caused by observing what is going on in the world. The insanity that is the US election, the incompetence of the UK government, the fall out occurring in the Scottish government, the renewed persecution of the Armenians, the doubling of world poverty caused by the reaction to Covid, the abuse of transgender ideology being taught to our children, or a hundred and one other manifestations of human foolishness and wickedness; all of these just give a general bleak and disturbing picture. Great is the darkness that covers the earth.
But let’s move it up a notch. It’s not just that there is suffering, confusion and evil in the world that should cause us to be upset. It is where that suffering comes from. “Rivers of tears flow from my eyes, because your law is not obeyed” (Ps 119:136). There is a concern for the glory of God, not just the suffering of humanity – although the two are connected. God created humanity in his image, when that humanity is attacked and defaced, then God is attacked and defaced. Sometimes I feel that in the depth of my heart.
There is more. Does not the state of the Church cause you to weep? I know that it is a truism that every church has its problems, and that in every age the church has faced difficulty – but that is of no more comfort than someone with cancer being told that millions have had cancer before them! I don’t live in the 1st, 16th or 19th centuries. I live in the 21st century. More than that I live in the 21st century West – where the church does not need to be persecuted – it is doing such a good job of destroying itself! The latest allegations re Ravi Zacharias make me weep – as when I see the state of the leadership and the heresies being propagated within the church. Ps 137 laments the captivity of the Church…..
Then there is the truth that we cannot really evangelise without tears. We are not selling a product; we are bringing salvation to those who are headed for hell. The advice of McCheyne to preachers, that they should not preach hell without tears, is more than ever needed. We are promised that ‘those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy” (Psalm 126).
Then I think of the tears of Christ at the grave of Lazarus. Jesus wept (John 11:35). He was moved with tears of compassion, sorrow and anger in the presence of death. Or his approaching Jerusalem and weeping over it (Luke 19:41). I often recall my good friend David Meredith telling us that he had witnessed people getting upset over the moving of a communion table, but never weeping for the lost.
In this world we are going to have sorrow. In this world we are going to experience many kinds of emotion – but the trouble is that our hearts are all over the place – desperately wicked and deceitful above all things. Our emotion springs from hearts that are self-centred, not Christ cantered. He has been dethroned. We have distracted priorities – a fender bender upsets us more than Gods law being broken, and Christ’s name being blasphemed. I wonder if we want to share in the sufferings of Christ? If we want to experience his tears? I don’t want to be tearless, because to be tearless would be to be Christless and heartless. We must pray that we would have the same mind as Christ.
To do so will be emotionally exhausting – and yet also invigorating and refreshing. And we know this that in heaven we will be led to “springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from our eyes (Revelation 7:17). The tears of Christ are the source of the river of the water of life – they bring the tree of life – whose leaves are for the healing of the nations. May Christ enable us to weep, care and love as he did.
On the personal front the good news is that Annabel is now working part time as a pastoral worker with St Thomas’s – it’s great that her gifts and skills are being recognised in this way… Speaking of St Thomas’s, I am also seconded to them one day per week as an evangelist – as part of that I write the pastoral letter every second week. In case you are interested I attach this weeks below.
See you next week,
St Thomas’s Pastoral Letter
Brothers and Sisters,
I have a new motto. “Life is surreal, Christ is real”. Many times I hear people sounding confused and concerned about what is going on with Covid and indeed many other issues. Sometimes we may wonder ‘where is God in all this?’, or ‘what is God saying?’. I find it interesting how even secular commentators use biblical language to describe what they see as some kind of apocalyptic event. Sadly, within the church, although there are faithful leaders, sometimes there are too many who give simplistic and false answers.
When John Woodhouse made the announcement that week that our new prospective pastor was no longer coming, he pointed out that this was something to be seen as an opportunity, not a disaster. I think he was right. On a far bigger scale the church, and our political and cultural leaders, need to recognise that Covid gives us an opportunity to recognise an opportunity – even in a crisis like Covid. But an opportunity for what?
I don’t believe that the Lord sent Covid to punish Australia for supporting sinful policies- as I have heard some argue. Nor do I believe that God has nothing to do with this – and just stands by helplessly. Over the next few congregational letters I want to look at what God is saying, by looking at what the Bible has to say. What the Word says – God says! It is intriguing to see how many times plague is mentioned in the Bible (along with war, famine and economic ruin).
We begin with Solomon’s prayer of dedication for the temple.
“‘When famine or plague comes to the land, or blight or mildew, locusts or grasshoppers, or when an enemy besieges them in any of their cities, whatever disaster or disease may come, and when a prayer or plea is made by anyone among your people Israel – being aware of the afflictions of their own hearts, and spreading out their hands towards this temple – then hear from heaven, your dwelling-place. Forgive and act; deal with everyone according to all they do, since you know their hearts (for you alone know every human heart), so that they will fear you all the time they live in the land you gave our ancestors.” 1 Kings 8:37-40 NIV
I have heard political leaders, who should have been humbled by their inability to deal with Covid 19, instead proudly proclaim how they are going to defeat it. Sadly, their hubris has often been echoed by the Church. If it is not pride it is despair. But the real response of the people of God is to do what Solomon did – pray, be humbled, and seek the Lord. I am sure that one of the reasons that the Lord has permitted this, is to humble us. Sometimes it is a hard lesson to learn.
We should always read the Old Testament in the light of the New. There is one aspect of Solomon’s prayer that would cause me to despair – if it were not for Christ. “deal with everyone according to all they do” is changed to “deal with me according to what Christ has done.” The difference is eternal. And liberating.
Let’s make sure that we know the joy and peace of the Lord….and that we share this hope with a hopeless world.
My book of the week is a new book that has been receiving rave reviews – Gentle and Lowly by Dane Ortland. It is a beautiful meditation on the heart of Christ based on the words of Jesus “I am gentle and lowly in heart”. You can order it from The Wandering Bookseller by clicking this link and putting the title in the search.
For those who are interested in looking at what is going on in the world from a Christian perspective I produce a podcast called Quantum every week.
Someone sent me this beautiful piece of music – a great hymn sung by a virtual choir. My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less – here.
Finally, don’t forget the men’s breakfast – this coming Saturday 17th of October at 8am in the Memorial Hall. We continue to look at The Way Forward (a book you can also order through the link for the Wandering Bookseller above).