Psalm 119 – 161-168

Rulers persecute me without cause,

but my heart trembles at your word.

Even those who would control our lives have no ground – they envy the power of the Word.  I tremble with bodily emotion – with a spiritual sense – of the power of God’s word.  What a thing to say, if you could say ‘There’s only one thing that scares me – God’s Word!’

I rejoice in your promise

like one who finds great spoil.

Yes!  In Jesus we have such cause to be glad.  Here is the treasure in the field, the pearl of great price, the only-real wealth – the true utterance of God, changing us to be more like his Son.

I hate and abhor falsehood

but I love your law.

This is the great spoil!  This is the characteristic of the changed worshipper, finding themselves in love with the law of God.

Seven times a day I praise you

for your righteous laws.

A perfect and complete pattern of life is to worship him for the perfection and goodness of what he has decreed.

Great peace have they that love your law

and nothing can make them stumble.

Our feet can stand strong and steady, our hearts can be certain that this way is the good way.

I wait for your salvation, O Lord,

and I follow your commands.

Now in faith and not impatience – and this waiting accompanies obedience.  This is sanctification – that we should have a heart to change and the willingness to wait or go and let him change us at his own timing.

I obey your statues,

for I love them greatly.

It has become very simple: we now obey out of love.

I obey your precepts and your statues

for all my ways are known to you.

This is all of my life – I’m only obeying your Word, not looking for a path of my own.  I walk along paths that God himself knows and is fond of.  Jesus likes this way, himself.  Amen!

Psalm 119 – 153-160

Look upon my suffering and deliver me,

for I have not forgotten your law.

God cares to look on us and our circumstances – and he doesn’t confuse them.  He knows what is being done to us and what state we are in.  The memory of God’s law is the doing of God’s law: real remembering is enacting, and recalling and meditating on it is doing it – being changed by God’s word.

Defend my cause and redeem me;

preserve my life according to your promise.

What is my cause?  The upright way – and in defending it and proving is, God redeems us.  Through Jesus (who is the absolute example of, and the living truth of, the cause of God) we are redeemed.  His promise has preserved our lives and has preserved my life.

Salvation is far from the wicked,

for they do not seek out your decrees.

How far we have to travel to be in daily salvation!  And how much further when we become lax or passive!  Seeking God’s decrees is vital.  Unless we seek his laws for the time, for our communities, his words for our life and our families and our friends, we will fall behind the running tide of God’s salvation.

Your compassion is great, O Lord;

preserve my life according to your laws.

God’s compassion dissolves this great distance between wicked people and salvation: his laws are alive in Jesus, who preserves life, whose name means Saviour.

Many are the foes who persecute me,

but I have not turned away from your statutes.

Constant prickles of temptation and worldliness are frequent, but tiny.  They alone cannot turn you from the path, the right way.  That comes with the decision to stop seeking.

I look upon the faithless with loathing,

for they do not obey your word.

To grow in faith is to do with obedience.  A faithful friend obeys his conscience, the Spirit, Jesus’ life – all of God’s Word.  So how natural that we will loathe the life of faithlessness.  How horrible to be without God’s presence in life, staying unadvised and unhelped.

See how I love your precepts;

preserve my life, O Lord, according to your love.

And I am amazed at myself!  Not boasting to God, but in amazement and wonder at the passion that arises inside me.  And now, for the third time, life comes from God’s love.  Jesus.

All your words are true;

all your righteous laws are eternal.

Yes – true and applicable, living, responsive, reactive, initial and prioritising.  This is the nature of righteous judgement – to go first, to live by the Spirit, to respond to different situations – and this is what is true about the Word.

Josh Davidson 4.2

wp-1473764965004.jpgPart II

They were building a new shopping centre in Chesterfield and one morning Josh came past the site. He paused for a while, watching. He was watching two contractors – brothers – on the scaffolding. They were brickies, men his age, paid well for working fast and straight. He knew them from work they’d done previously, but this morning he wasn’t interested in what they were building.”Simon!” he shouted. “Andy!”

The two men looked up – gave him a bit of a wave – and paused.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

“Cladding this wall,” shouted Simon back. “What’s it look like?”

Continue reading

Josh Davidson 4

Dry thistles at Thames Barrier Point

Dry thistles at Thames Barrier Point

Part I

Now, Joshua didn’t stay there long. He followed the voice that told him to go out into the hills and woods of the country, and underwent a test of his own self. A time of self-seeking, some might call it, although this Joshua already knew who he was and what he was called to do. But every accusation that could come at him, as he walked and thought and prayed, attacked him with the voice of the devil. Because he wasn’t eating or drinking, the whole time, longer than a month, and if you’ve never been without food that long then you can’t say you know what hunger was. But he knew what hunger was – past the pangs of longing, into the feeling of bodily need, when your own body feels light because you have metabolised every scrap of fat between your sinews and under your skin. When the cushions of cartilage and fluid are empty and your nerves run directly over your bones.

“Hungry?” asked the Devil scornfully. “But you don’t even need to be hungry! You’re just indulging your need for drama – and needlessly. You’re going to survive – so why invite all this pain and starvation? Only a sadist does that. And are you a sadist?

“And anyway, didn’t we all hear it? If you are God’s son, you can turn any of these stones from the path into something good to eat – you can call a tree to fruit right in front of you. And I thought you liked that whole blossoming, fruiting, growing thing anyway? There’s no need for this stupid fast.”

But he knew why he was there. The hunger was the unavoidable companion of the degree of discipline and sacrifice he had chosen. The Devil was just trying to distract him from the real reason for his fast. “I know what it says,” replied Joshua to that needling voice. “Food doesn’t keep you going and breath doesn’t keep you breathing – it’s God’s promises that keep us alive.” He remembered the way his dad Joseph had said that – sometimes when he had been hungry and sometimes right before a feast. His dad had stuck to what he knew to be true.

But then it was as though Josh’s wanderings had brought him, suddenly, around a dry-stone wall and beneath overhanging trees to the pinnacle of the tallest tower in London, the city spread our below him, the trains rushing into and out of London Bridge station, vans delivering, riverboats accelerating away, and no-one looking up. And the Devil challenged him again.

“I don’t even know why you’re being careful with yourself. If you fall, you’re not going to die! If you were God’s son he’d send an angel to catch you, wouldn’t he? Like it says in that book you love – ‘His angels have orders to protect you, so they’ll carry you and you won’t even stub your toe.’ It’s a written promise, isn’t it? So just jump and leave all this stubborn walking.”

Joshua shook his head. “And it says ‘Don’t joke about with God’s promise.”

But then it was like Joshua had climbed even higher, so that in one view he could see all the countries of the worlds, their rulers and parliaments, all the wonderful diverse and developed kingdoms of men. And he heard the Devil say. “And where is God, anyway? Have you heard him, after all this time not eating or drinking? But you can hear me. Do what I say and you’ll have this – you know you will. You’re powerful enough to take it, if you let me direct you. If you choose me instead…”

“Don’t you dare,” said Joshua. “Don’t you dare even suggest it, you liar! I know what it says: ‘You belong to God – so don’t let anyone else take charge.’ I know what will happen if I choose you, you liar! Go away.”

And that was the last he heard of that needling voice. But I tell you what, he didn’t stub his toe on any stone as he came off the hills and back towards home. And whichever way he looked he saw figures guarding and guiding. And they even fed him with a food that he couldn’t quite recognise. And by the time he was back from his walk, he looked better and fitter than ever.

On the journey back he heard that John Waters had been arrested and was being held pending charges. He returned to his mum’s place and picked up a few things. And then he went down to Chesterfield, because it had always been said that when God would choose to change things, he’d start there. Perhaps because if God could change Chesterfield, he could change anywhere. So that was when Joshua Davidson started to tell people. “Change your life,” he’d say. Whether it was someone on the bus next to him or when he got on local radio or a visit to a school. “Change your life, because God’s reign is coming.”

First forgive anyone

Mark 11:25 But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your father in heaven will forgive you your sins too.

This is Jesus’ answer to the disciples’ desire to work miracles. It is straightforward for him – grudges and dissatisfaction are obstacles to the expression of God’s power. However deeply buried, unforgiveness will always work out in lack of faith, because unforgiveness is rooted in a selfish world-view. Releasing others and ourselves from grudges is absolutely necessary for a continuing Christian walk, as well as the only way to see God’s power work through our lives.

In fact, it is so much the prioriry that Jesus has changed the conversation here from one about miracles in the world to being about the greatest miracle we can experience: forgiveness of our own sins and justification with God. It’s not in keeping with Jesus’ lessons of a good father or the Hebrew scriptures to launch from this verse into a validation theology – that our salvation is dependent upon our forgiveness of others – but it is fairly observable that unforgiveness presents an experiential obstacle to appreciating our salvation!

Taking Jesus at his simplest here and in the previous verses, all I can see is that he links our ability -or desire – to really believe in God with the degree of intimacy we have with him, and unforgiveness and grudges, regrets and other unhealthy emotions obstruct that intimacy, not because He is unable to surpass them but because we become preoccupied with them! How wonderful that one promised day, we will no longer have to fight to keep our attention on God – and that every believer is in the process of being changed into this place by God’s sanctifying Spirit.

It is our job while here on earth, through God’s Holy Spirit, to present ourselves as living sacrifices, blameless and acceptable – to work out our salvation by engaging with the process by which the Spirit of God changes us to resemble Jesus. So be free of anger and hold no grudges and see God’s power work through you.

Who is Josh Davidson? 2

jd1It wasn’t a good time to have a baby. The whole UK had been in an increasingly tight grip of a government pretty much recognised to be heading to autocracy. But it was a short while after he was born that they’d had visitors. Joe hadn’t want to tell people about this – it was so wild and dangerous. These strangers had turned up, one evening, a group of about ten, Chinese and Tibetan and an Arab man, a woman from Russia, at the flat, on the doorstep, in a minibus. Seekers after truth, he’d been terrified at first. But they brought with them an air of peace and he’d let them in to the front room where they’d squeezed together and had a cup of tea in all the mugs and cups in the house while Moira brought the baby down. And as she’d come down the stairs, they’d fallen to the floor, all at once.
And there’d been the pop star, the American singer, who’d turned up right then. Joe had opened the door to his knocking and he’d walked right in, kissed the baby on the head and placed a big envelope on the mantlepiece above the gas fire. “You’re going to need this,” he’d said.
It was like another dream.
The strangers had given them strange, oriental lotions for the child, to help him grow, for cleaning, and weirdly, an ointment that was labelled for corpses at the undertakers. He’d shivered reading it, thanked them, and eventually they left, leaving Moira and Joe and the baby sitting on the sofa by the gas fire breathing in the smell of all the strangers and the baby crying too.
And then someone had said that the Seekers were a cult – they were wanted. Joe had known it was a set-up – there’d been nothing wrong with them. They hadn’t been criminals, he thought, but he didn’t want to be mixed up in it, but the next night he’d woken up in a cold sweat with a ringing voice in his ears, “Get out, get out…”
He’d shaken Moira awake, wrapped up the baby, taken the baby bag and the pram and a few clothes, the big envelope, and they’d left the flat without telling anyone where they were going. Joe had learned to trust those dreams.
Something compelled him to get to the Netherlands on the ferry, and there, on the early morning news, he watched the footage of a anti-terrorist squad searching for the Seekers as they rammed down the door of a very familiar Long Eaton flat and felt sick.
It was all to do with their son. He didn’t know why, but Joe knew that the government weren’t after the Seekers at all. They were after his boy, the little red, bawling fist of life wrapped in a crocheted blanket and held tight against his chest.
Leaving was the right thing to do. There were arrests and people detained – including some of Moira’s family – some without charge. But Joe and Moira found a place to work and live near Gronigen, somewhere entirely overlooked, while they began to build their family and raise their boy.
After three or four years the party tumbled and the minister who’d been scaring the country into self-destruction with his xenophobia and hatred, well, he’d died nastily. And the next people in had published a general amnesty, and they’d come home. The Davidson family had come home, but settled nearer Sheffield, put a bit of distance between themselves and some very scary memories.
From one perspective, it all made sense to Joseph Davidson. It felt as though protecting his family was his life’s work, providing for them and for Moira the highest calling. But from another, it looked like a badly-plotted drama on tv, something unbelievable, something that should only have happened in a far less civilised country. But it hadn’t. It had been their story and it had been his life and it was real. That was undeniable. The boy was there, Moira was there, they were living in a too-small house and although the old van had gone for scrap long ago and the cash in that envelope had gone too, there was still that bottle of ointment on the mantlepiece, so long a part of the family that its quiet threat had become an inaudible harmony to their ongoing life. Every now and then Joe would pick it up, hold it to the light, tip the yellowish liquid and watch it move sluggishly against the faceted glass.
And then most days he’d head out to work.

Who is Josh Davidson? 1

jd1

“Oh yes,” Joe would say, “There’s royal blood in us. Way back, but royal blood.” And he’d sit his son on his lap, even when he was nine or ten and tell him about where he came from. “My dada, your grandad, Matthew Davidson, he was in the trades too. He died when you were very small. But he loved you, didn’t he, mum?”
And Moira would turn around, drying up the dishes or folding the clothes and say, “Oh yes. Your dada, he loved you, little Josh. When we got back he was always poking his finger into your face, laughing with you. You used to cling onto his big finger like that,” and she’d show the boy. The others would sit there around, little Jude tugging at something, James in his cot, the girls, a bit older, helping their mum or playing at house.
“And his dad, dad?” Josh would ask, and Joe would huff and puff and pretend to struggle to remember – but he loved this bit. He knew them all the way back.
“His dad was Elbert Davidson, he was a milkman. And his dad, who was born back in Queen Victoria’s time, he was George Davidson, and he was a blacksmith who moved here from Yorkshire. But he was descended, eventually, from a royal line, you see. Kings of the hill country, back, back in the distant past. And so are you. This is your country, lad. And all of yours,” for Joe tried his best not to let his firstborn son seem over-special in the family, although the truth was that he loved him like he loved nothing else in the world.

For it hadn’t been an easy birth and Joe Davidson, who didn’t talk about it that often and, when he did think about it, was amazed by what they’d been through and amazed by his power to begin to forget it, he was inclined to think of it as a miracle.
They’d been in love. Joe was starting out working for himself, subcontracting and labouring when couldn’t get the skilled work, driving around the Notts-Derby border in a beat up Vauxhall van. And Moira had just finished college, got herself a qualification in hospitality, although she spent most of her time looking after her aunt, who lived in the house. And they were going to get married, God knew how, with no savings and precious little to live on, when Moira, one tear-stained evening by the Trent, told him that she was going to have a baby.
It wasn’t his. Because although they’d been sweethearts through school and their teenage years, nothing had ever passed between them.
Joe had been heartbroken. He’d put Moira back in the van, driven her to her parents’ without talking and gone home to his own mum, cried and cried with frustration and disappointment. Life had only been just beginning.
His mum had said they were young, he still had plenty of chances, but he hadn’t wanted to fall at the first hurdle. He’d always wanted a wife and a family and boys crawling on the kitchen lino and girls to walk to school in their cotton dresses, one on either hand. And Moira… She was such a sweet thing. Overlooked. His. He had thought.
A bad week had followed. A bad week of work, he’d cut his hand and thrown the chisel away in self-disgust and anger. He’d taken long walks and not wanted to tell anyone anything.
And then the dream, which he barely remembered now, but he remembered it by its shadow. It had been so powerful, so important, that it had shaped his life, and though he couldn’t remember what the man had looked like or even what he had said anymore, his whole life since then had been changed.
He’d been sitting on a concrete wall, his legs dangling, looking down at the water and at the gravel embedded in the roughcast beside him. He could still feel the cracks in the concrete where he sat. And he’d looked up and there’d been someone walking along the very edge of the parapet, arms out, balanced, enjoying the edge, but not at risk, and as he’d come closer, he’d spoken to Joe in the dream and said, “Don’t be frightened.” Yes, Joe remembered that. And then the man had comforted him, somehow, with words or an arm around the shoulder and he had the feeling that Moira’s baby wasn’t a mistake or a broken promise at all, but like the sun that was sinking into the sea in front of him, was something that defined everything it touched. And he’d known, absolutely known, that it was going to be a boy, and a boy he could love, his son even if it wasn’t quite his son. For all children are gifts from God and belong to him, whoever conceives them or raises them.
And when he’d woken up, he’d even known what he would call him. Joshua. And he got out of bed and went to find Moira and instead of leaving her on her own to cry and weep and feel abandoned, he had chosen to be the man she needed as a husband and the man she deserved. They went through with the wedding, but brought it on. Civil ceremony, no big party, and they moved into a flat near her mum’s place, and he watched the child grow inside her and worked and worked to be the man he had dreamed he might be. And when the baby was born, Joe had told her all about the dream and she’d cried.

Manna on the Ground

Last Sunday, 28th February, I preached this sermon at the 11:00 service at St Mary’s Church Islington, where I’ve been a member of the congregation for about three and a half years.  My theme and scriptures were set by the Ministry Team but I believe I was still obedient to the Father in preaching a message about our need for God, the value of His past blessings and how we can satisfy our spiritual hunger with a real relationship with Jesus.  With more time there’s lots more that I could have said!

You can listen below.  All responses happily received.

Very proud to sit under this man’s teaching today. Well done @martinnoutch

A photo posted by @chezadamos on

 

Isaiah 32 14-20

The fortress will be abandoned, the noisy city. deserted; citadel and watchtower will become a wasteland forever, the delight of donkeys, a pasture for flocks,

These words of Isaiah are concluding a section in which he promises, in God’s name, that things are going to change! He directly addresses complacency, warning that the very things we can delight in are the most liable to changing – but the rhythm of these chapters has a pattern of renewal, not destruction.  We all need renewal at stages in our life of faith, particularly when we have become too attached to the ‘pleasant fields and fruitful vines’ or have begun to trust in ‘citadel and watchtower’ instead of in the person of God.  Things can change in an instant!

till the Spirit is poured on us from on high, and the desert becomes like a fertile field and the fertile field seems like a forest.

Jesus’ ministry was the long pouring out of the Spirit of God.  Although he promised his disciples that the Helper would come ‘after’ him, he himself, ‘filled with God’s spirit’, had brought God near and their awakening faith – which is the gift only of God’s spirit – proved that they had begun to receive.  This also has the sense that times of renewal and over-turning will necessarily end in a pouring-out of God’s spirit upon us.

The Lord’s justice will dwell in the desert, his righteousness live in the fertile field.

Reading this today I saw the person of the Lord’s justice, Jesus, heading out into the desert to dwell there before his ministry and I heard a voice like is written so many times in the Gospel saying, ‘As it is written…’  I’m sure that as he went, consciously choosing to and unconsciously fulfilling all the prophecies made about him, Jesus would have had these words of Isaiah in his head. The desert is easy to recognise – where is the fertile field?  Well, Jesus loved to talk in the metaphors of a farmer.  He called himself a sower in a field.  Was he choosing to align his behaviour with an ancient prophecy?  That seems like inspired marketing to me.

The fruit of that righteousness will be peace; its effect will be quietness and confidence forever.

Every cycle of disruption and calming does have permanent effects in our character, in the same way that every storm that bends the branches of a tree leaves that tree stronger in places, barer in others.  I’m increasingly aware of ‘renewal’ cycles, which I think happen constantly at different scales in our lives.  At this time of year I love to attend the Renewal conference in South London, where I personally challenge myself to accept disruption of my habits of sung worship – and danced worship – to receive a lasting confidence and quietness.  I can attribute significant changes in my character and my way of life to going to Renewal like this in the last few years and I can’t wait to be there on January 30th.

Renewal-london-2016-jpeg

My people will live in peaceful dwelling places, in secure homes, in undisturbed places of rest.  Though hail flattens the forest and the city is levelled completely, how blessed will you be, sowing your seed by every stream and letting your cattle and donkeys range free.

God does not want us to bind ourselves up in the ‘security’ of wealth, you see.  We are less able to sow, less able to care for our responsibilities – whether animals, the natural world, communities or individuals.  He will disrupt us.  We can accept that and grow to depend on him more or be left like those barren ruins.  I don’t think this a threat from the prophet – he is simply explaining a truth about the process of change.  His inspiration, his insight, as a gift from God, should prompt us to obedience and a keenness to live in reality, but with an insider’s knowledge of what is to come.  Roll on the new year!

Isaiah 32 1-4

We have a role and responsibility in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Isaiah prophesied this in Ch 32: See, a king will reign in righteousness and rulers will rule with justice.

When Jesus comes, and come he has, he invites rulers to rule for him. Not to follow their own desires but to administer justice – fairness, obedience to God and concern for the needy.

Each one, says Isaiah, will be like a shelter from the wind and a refuge from the storm, like streams of water in the desert and the shadow of a great rock in a thirsty land.

We each cast a shadow, and Jesus gave us a promise about this in John 7: Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink! Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.

Your faith in Jesus, friends, and your obedience to th Holy Spirit as you discover him within you, is God’s Plan for the Kingdom of heaven.  You might not feel influential, but let me tell you, this doesn’t depend on your skills or strength of character. The rock casts a shadow because of the brightness of the sun – the waters spring from the aquifers beneath the earth. He will make his power work in you and you will create safe places and shelters for people around you.

Pay attention today. Who prefers your company? Those in need? Then offer them the rest they seek by sharing your story.

All this was prophesied 2500 years ago. God gave Isaiah a picture for you. Jesus gave you the power to live in it through his name.