To My Useless Friends

What are you really able to do of yourself? If you were not useless you’d be dangerous. Praise God you are hopeless and useless. That way God is glorified.

If you could do things of yourself and make things happen the way you want them to, then you would be tempted to do evil things. If evil people have the power to get ahead by evil actions then everyone would be tempted to become evil. Your uselessness is a great protection for all of humanity.

Uh?

Solomon explains it like this. “A man will not be established by wickedness”. Wicked actions do not bring lasting benefits and perpetual profit. The root of the righteous, however, will not be moved, no matter what wickedness is thrown against him (see Proverbs 12:3).

The reason for this limitation is God. God gives favour to good people and He condemns a person of wicked devices (see Proverbs 12:2). So, what can you do of yourself? You are totally dependent on God for lasting benefits from your actions. If you honour and follow Him then you can expect His blessings. If you rebel against Him and do evil, there is nothing you can do to protect yourself against Him.

Now, that’s what is indicated in the ‘fear of God’. When we realise that the consequences of our actions are not what we produce by our actions, but what God does in response to them, then we are awakened to the fear of God. We can do nothing toward our personal success, but keenly follow God’s instructions, leading to great success. Or we can do everything in our power to gain success, while rejecting God and His wisdom, and find that we have no chance of success.

God is the true arbiter of the outcomes. God controls the events and rewards us for our heart toward Him. Unless the Lord protects our assets, we are wasting our time trying to do it ourselves. And unless the Lord is supportive of our attempts to make progress, we are wasting our efforts to get there by ourselves. For King David’s take on this check out Psalm 127:1.

“Except the LORD builds the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the LORD keeps the city, the watchman wakes but in vain.” Psalm 127:1

So, my useless friends, your greatest asset is not your personal assets, but your relationship with God’s incredible assets – which puts us all on a level-playing-field, all equally able to do the impossible and live in the miraculous, all equally useless and all equally open to the fullness of eternity operating in our lives.

It turns out I’m as useless as you, so we have plenty in common. Let’s be friends.

Ira D Sankey – hymn writer

This is the day that … a weekly newspaper, The Christian Age, dated 13 May, 1874, printed a poem, which fell into the hands of Mr Ira D. Sankey.

With his friend, D.L. Moody, beside him, the two American evangelists sat in a railway carriage travelling towards Edinburgh. Moody had just completed the Glasgow campaign.

In that newspaper Sankey found a poem and read it to Moody, “only to discover that he had not heard a word, so absorbed was he in a letter.” However, Sankey kept the poem – “I cut it out and placed it in my musical scrap-book.”

At the second meeting of the Edinburgh campaign Moody preached on “The Good Shepherd”, and whilst the chairman (Dr Bonar) made some closing remarks, Moody asked Sankey to sing something appropriate to close the meeting. Sankey tells us in his autobiography that singing the 23rd Psalm crossed his mind, but … let Sankey tell the story … “At that moment I seemed to hear a voice saying: ‘Sing the hymn you found on the train.’ But I thought this impossible, as no music had ever been written for it! Nevertheless the inner conviction persisted.

“Placing the little newspaper slip on the organ in front of me, I lifted my heart in prayer, asking God to help me … I struck the chord of A flat and began to sing. Note by note the tune was given which has not been changed from that day to this” (pages 306-307). After the service Moody asked his friend, “… where did you get that hymn?” to which Sankey replied: “Mr Moody, that’s the hymn I read to you yesterday on the train, which you did not even hear…”

The hymn was written by Elizabeth Clephane (who also penned Beneath the Cross of Jesus).

And the hymn? …
There were ninety and nine that safely lay
in the shelter of the fold,
But one was out on the hills away,
Far off from the gates of gold.
Away on the mountains wild and bare,
Away from the tender Shepherd’s care.

But none of the ransomed ever knew
how deep were the waters crossed;
Nor how dark was the night that the Lord passed through
’ere He found His sheep that was lost.
Out in the desert He heard its cry –
Sick and helpless, and ready to die.
(From My Life Story and the Story of the Gospel Hymns, by I.D. Sankey, page 304).

Columba – Arrival at Iona

This is the day that … Columba landed on the tiny isle of Iona off the northwest coast of Scotland in the year AD 563.

Columba had been a monk in Ireland … and had surreptitiously copied a Book of Psalms belonging to the Abbot.  When this was discovered, St Finnian demanded the copy be given to him, and Columba refused.  The High King of Ireland at Tara even decided that the copy belonged to the Abbot, but Columba was not going to give up without a fight.  Literally!  A fierce battle took place – both sides had gathered armies – and “the king’s forces were severely defeated” (The Man with the Coracle, by M. Backer-Benfield, page 6).

F.F. Bruce, in The Spreading Flame, also refers to this incredible war that took place over the Book of Psalms – “Some accounts represent Columba as vowing he would not return to Ireland until he had won as many pagans for Christ as had fallen in the battle – 3000 all told!” (page 387).

So to Iona he journeyed, and there founded a monastery.  “From this primitive abbey went missionaries who carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to Scotland, then to England, to France, Germany and all of Western Europe.”  Iona became “a lighthouse to the Dark Ages” (Decision  Magazine, March, 1975).

And it was Columba who first reported seeing the Loch Ness monster!  In 565  (The People’s Almanac, Volume 2, page 1278).

And Columba’s copy of the Book of Psalms is still to be seen at the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin (National Geographic Magazine, May, 1977, page 626).

The Holy Spirit as a Dove

The Holy Spirit descended on Jesus Christ in the form of a Dove. And so the humble dove has become a perennial symbol of the Holy Spirit and peace. It is with that connection in mind that I share the following simple thought with you.

Two weeks ago I was in a staff meeting where one of my fellow pastors brought out a guitar and led us in a few worshipful songs. The experience was sweet and it prompted a couple of images to tumble through my mind. One of those thoughts was about releasing the Holy Spirit within me.

It is wonderful to worship God with abandon, such as David did as he welcomed the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem about 3,000 years ago. David readily put his own decorum aside and did not care if he looked foolish as he praised God. A word which David frequently used in his psalms, telling us to praise the Lord, means to be ‘clamorously foolish’ – so abandoned in adoration that we seem to be ‘over the top’ to others.

In practice, however, most of us are self-conscious and tend to adjust our own worship activity to match that expected or expressed by those around us. In a quiet setting everyone becomes quiet. In a noisy prayer meeting everyone tends to make more noise. If others are being restrained we tend to be restrained too.

During the morning devotion I am talking about there was a sweetness but also a level of polite restraint. As I pondered that I realised that many Christians restrain the work of the Holy Spirit in their life. The ‘dove’ of the Spirit settles in their chest and stirs them from time to time. The Spirit gives us witness and various stirrings that make us sensitive to God’s presence and work. When we worship we can even feel a sense of the dove wanting to spread its wings and soar. But to really let the Spirit soar we must cast off more of our decorum and social restraint.

As these thoughts trickled through my mind an image formed of what could happen when someone allowed the dove out of the cage. I imagined a person abandoning themself in worship and flowing with the impulse of that heavenly dove stirring within them. My imagination observed as the dove, powering upward into the heavenlies, was transformed into a majestic eagle. The verse about mounting up on eagle’s wings jumped into mind as I imagined a person, free in their worship, rising out of their restraint and into the lofty realms to which the Spirit of God could carry them.

The diary note I made after that worship time reads as follows: ‘Our spirit is like a dove inside a cage. If we let it out, let it fly and soar – by giving vent to the Spirit within us, rather than restraining our worship style to suit what those around us would prefer – then that dove takes flight and is transformed into an eagle – we rise up on wings as an eagle and soar in the heavenly places, far above all principalities and powers.’

I encourage you to flow with the Spirit of God and yield to the Spirit. I believe there is much that God has for us to enjoy, that is yet untouched while we are locked in stiff restraint. Some of you may well discover that being ‘clamorously foolish’ is as powerful and rewarding for you as it was for King David three millennia ago.  

Psalm or Bucket? A Poem

1Corinthians 14:26 describes Christians arriving at church with something to contribute. Everyone has a psalm, a doctrine, a message in tongues, a revelation or an interpretation of a message in tongues. Yet in today’s church many people stagger in with nothing to give, but keen to make a huge withdrawal. They need the music, atmosphere, message and program to meet their needs, rather than them contributing to others.

This poem speaks to that situation.

When you come please bring a psalm.
Have no bucket in your arm.

Bring a hymn and prophecy.
Let us set each other free.

Let us make a banquet feast
Open even to the least.

Bring along a grace to share.
All contribute to the fare.

But alas the well is dry.
“Give me, give me” is the cry.

People only come to get,
Complaining when no needs are met.

Burned-out leaders walk away.
It’s too hard to serve today.

Where are those who love to give?
Where’s the flow that makes men live?

So when you come please bring a psalm.
Have no bucket in your arm.

Bring a hymn and prophecy.
Let us set each other free.

Chris Field, April 18, 2008